A celebration of the past, present and future of Islamic art

The Al Burda Festival's message of beauty and peace is a balm for troubled times

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Attendees looking at an art on display at the Al Burda Festival, Shaping the Future of Islamic Art and Culture at Warehouse 421, Abu Dhabi.  Leslie Pableo for The National for Melissa Gronlund’s story
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From the exquisite calligraphy of the earliest handcrafted editions of the Quran to the intricate geometric patterns and motifs of traditional design and architecture, the rich heritage of Islamic art and culture has always been associated with vibrant creativity. Today, as the Al Burda Festival in Abu Dhabi demonstrates, that creativity is not only thriving in the 21st century, it has an important ambassadorial role to play, promoting a positive, progressive image of Islamic culture. The festival, organised by the Ministry for Culture and Knowledge Development, has blossomed out of the Al Burda awards, which over the past 15 years have celebrated the contribution to Islamic art and design of almost 300 artists from around the world.

The festival, which will be held every two years, aims to broaden this international engagement, bringing together artists and creative leaders from around the world to collaborate and share ideas. There are exciting plans to export the festival to other countries. In addition to celebrating the traditional forms of Islamic culture as pillars of global heritage, it seeks to secure its future, educating young people and inspiring them to innovate and create Islamic art for the modern world.

Through developments such as Louvre Abu Dhabi, which last month celebrated the first anniversary of its opening in the museums district  on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi is developing a reputation as a global hub for art and culture. The Al Burda festival further enhances that reputation, positioning the emirate as a guardian of Islamic culture and creativity – a commitment to which its $50 million financing of the rebuilding of the historic Al Nuri mosque in Mosul testifies.

We live in troubled times, in which the humanity and beauty of Islamic culture is often obscured from view by those who wish to misrepresent both the faith and those who follow its teachings of peace and tolerance. In promoting Islamic art forms and traditions at home and around the globe, the organisers of the Al Burda Festival are to be congratulated, not only for seeking to inspire a renaissance in the Arab world, but for building the foundations of a global cultural dialogue that has surely never been more urgent.