“America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far” is one of the newest exhibits to come to Philadelphia. Opening just a few short weeks ago at The Please Touch Museum in Parkside, this multimedia interactive exhibit highlights the Muslim Culture, Religion, art and traditions. Religion has always been a sensitive subject, especially Islam. Therefore, it was definitely a huge surprise when I learned that ‘America to Zanzibar’ was coming to the Please Touch Museum. One might ask, why the Please Touch Museum? Why a Children’s museum? Exhibit consultant Salima Suswell stated, ”In Islam, we have this term called Da’wa, which is to teach. So it’s a teachable moment for not just children but for their parents as well.” This exhibition’s targeted audience is not only children but for people of all ages as well from various backgrounds and religions.
We are currently living in an era when there is so much controversy and hate happening all over the world, particularly toward Islam and its followers. One way to help foster peace in the world is to teach one another about each other’s religion, cultures, and traditions. Islam is a religion of peace. Philadelphia happens to have one of the largest Muslim populations in the United States, with over 50 Masjids (Mosques), which the Exhibit showcases in one of the
galleries. Thus, one must ask once again, what better city to come to, other than The City of Brotherly Love?
The President and CEO of The Please Touch Museum, Trish Wellenbach, has this vision to break down barriers and bring/teach the importance of diversity to not only Parkside but most of all, to Philadelphia as a whole. After seeing the America to Zanzibar exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, Wellenbach was determined to bring the exhibit to the Please Touch Museum, in order to see her vision of diversity come to life. She did it along with
Salima Suswell, who heads a community advisory group of approximately 20 members from different faiths and cultures. This group helped adapt the exhibit to reflect Muslim culture in
the city of Philadelphia. As a Muslim woman myself, I’d say they have done an excellent job recreating the flavors of the Muslim religion.
At the VIP Grand Opening of ‘America to Zanzibar’, it was evident that this exhibit was not going to be a clichéd, stereotypical version of how Islam and Muslims are usually portrayed. In other words, from the virgin drinks to the halal food, to the heartwarming speeches, to the guests from all faiths and backgrounds, and finally- to walking through the exhibit that has such an authentic depiction of this beautiful and peaceful religion. I must say that I was blown
away! As I have never seen this many Muslims at an event that is not specifically run by Muslims for Muslims. It felt surreal, yet so gratifying! It was so obvious that Wellenbach, Suswell, and the community advisory group worked on every detail to really embody and reflect the true meaning of Islam and its various cultures and traditions from all over the world.
There are so many fun activities that you can do in the exhibit. I can say this because I have already visited the exhibit 3 times, and I plan on visiting again, along with my family and friends. I say this because, to me, America to Zanzibar is not just fun, creative, bold, and filled with valuable and authentic information, but it feels like home. Where I feel safe to believe in my faith and proud of where I come from. This is the safe environment that Wellenbach was hoping to create “As you explore the exhibition and discover the prayer room, I invite you to think about the importance of creating a safe space where Muslim children and families can see their faith reflected with joy and respect and where visitors from all faiths can learn about the Muslim faith in a place of joy and without fear.”
Throughout the duration of the exhibit, there will be a range of art
workshops, led by the artists featured in the exhibit. “My whole idea was to create artwork that young people could then look and find other shapes and symbols in, to learn so it’s always easy to draw someone in, and teach them something then to try to just bang them upside the head with something.” Said Keisha Whatley, a Philadelphia Artist. “So for young people, this style really works, because it’s like all this going on! and they are kind of looking like oh look there’s a star! and hey, what’s that symbol? and oh that’s what that symbol stands for? Oh and that means this! and it opens up a dialogue about the faith, and the culture, the religion and all these other things, as opposed to just being like this is this.
There are other programming activities scheduled to run through
September 2, 2019. Therefore, I recommend asking for an event calendar when you visit the Please Touch Museum, in order to stay up to date with the upcoming events, programming, and workshops. Like the Festival they will have for the first Islamic Holiday, Eid-ul-Fitr on June 4, 2019.
The exhibit consists of five different galleries. You will find one of the
oldest Quran’s, dated from 1854, a prayer room, and a living room filled with objects donated from Muslim families in the community. There is also an architecture area where visitors will be able to see and learn about Mosques from various countries. A global marketplace is the perfect hands-on experience for youngsters. Children and their families will be able to see and smell spices and fruits, wear different African fabrics filled with beautiful colors, see rugs from Morocco and ceramics from Turkey. The representation of Islam and Muslims in artwork is magnificent. I could go on and on, but I would rather let you, the reader go see for yourself and indulge in this amazing journey that America to Zanzibar brings!