Doha, Qatar; Manama, Bahrain; and Kuwait City, Kuwait
The three small Persian Gulf states of Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait are closely tied to the United Arab Emirates in terms if history, culture and great modern architectural ambitions. This is particularly true of neighboring Qatar and Bahrain, which at one point were nearly incorporated into the UAE. Huge quantities of oil has transformed all three of these tiny states into oases of wealth and culture, whose capitals now overflow with gleaming skyscrapers, grand new mosques and fascinating museums. Collectively Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, along with the UAE, form the greatest hub of modern Islamic culture in the Middle East.
Despite its location where the Tigris-Euphrates River flows into the Persian Gulf, and despite being at the crossroads of Arabia, Mesopotamia and Persia, the history of Kuwait is not much older or more prominent than that of its smaller emirate cousins further to the south. While Islam arrived in the region that is now Kuwait as far back as the 7th century, it wasn’t until nearly a thousand years later that immigrants from Arabia began settling in Kuwait in large numbers. It was even longer before Kuwait began coalasing as an independent state in the 20th century.
The contemporary histories of Bahrain and Qatar are more or less identical to that of the UAE emirates. Essentially backwater provinces that were sparsely populated by local Bedouin tribes until the mid-20th century, they played a negligible role in the history of the Middle East. However, with the discovery of huge sources of oil in the Persian Gulf, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait emerged as significant economic powers. Like the United Arab Emirates, these small, relatively underpopulated states became fabulously wealthy overnight, and by the 1970s and 1980s breathtaking development was underway across the Persian Gulf region.
Like the cities of the UAE, the capitals of Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar have poured money into the construction of public works, skyscrapers, cultural institutions, and so on. All of these cities boast spectacular new mosques, from the Grand Mosque of Kuwait in Kuwait City to the Masjid Al Fatih in Manama, Bahrain. The latter, completed just in 2006, is considered to be the most magnificent mosque in the Gulf outside of the UAE.
Collectively these three small states are home to a dozen of the best museums in the Muslim world. In addition to the three National Museums located in the capitals, there are art museums, historical and cultural museums, and even a museum dedicated to calligraphy and the Qur’an. Probably the finest museum in the region, and one of the best museums in the Middle East, is the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar.
The hulking Masjid Al Fatih in Manama is the largest mosque in Bahrain and the second largest mosque in the Persian Gulf region. Although it utilizes styles that hearken back to earlier times, the modern elements of the mosque clearly stand out. This is especially true of the minarets, which are a strangely aesthetic combination of neo-gothic like pillars capped with classical-Greek like platforms. The great dome in the middle is one of the largest in the world, and in fact is a world-record holder as the largest fiberglass dome yet built.
The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha is probably the most modern and avant garde building in the Persian Gulf. This is not surprising as it was designed by I.M. Pei. Just opened in 2008, it houses nearly half a million square feet of galleries devoted to Islamic art, culture and religion. Exhibits include every imaginable aspect and period of Islamic art, from Africa to Turkey to India, from earliest times to the present day.
The Masjid Al-Fatih is located on the southeastern outskirts of Manama, approximately 320 miles west of Dubai. It is open all day for Muslims and Saturdays through Wednesdays from 9:00am-2:00pm for Non-Muslims. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.bahrain-tourism.com (official tourism website of Bahrain) The Museum of Islamic Art is located along the waterfront near the center of Doha, approximately 240 miles west of Dubai. It is open Sat-Mon & Wed-Thu from 10:30am-5:30pm and Fridays 2:00pm-8:00pm. There is no cost of admission, but tickets must be acquired in advance. Web: www.mia.org.qa (official website of the Museum of Islamic Art)
Manama in Bahrain probably has the all around best collection of mosques in the Persian Gulf, and in addition to the Masjid Al Fatih boasts the Masjid Souk Al-Khamis as well as the Friday Mosque which dates back to before World War II. Also in Manama is the Beit Al-Quran, a museum which houses one of the world’s finest collections of Qur’ans. Kuwait City is home to an even greater collection of museums, though some are still recovering from the Iraqi occupation in the early 1990s, when numerous valuables went missing. Among Kuwait’s best museums are the Tareq Rajab Museum, another worthwhile art museum, and the Sadu House, which features exhibits on early Bedouin history and culture. The Grand Mosque in Kuwait city is the nation’s largest.