Collections & Exhibitions

The MFAH initiative to collect works of art from the Islamic worlds emerges from a desire to advance appreciation for this artistic tradition and foster a deeper understanding of the complex civilization behind its development. 

Islam, the religion founded by the prophet Muhammad in the 7th century in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, spread over a large territory stretching from Spain to Southeast Asia. During the following 14 centuries, this area witnessed the development of a new artistic tradition that is alternatively called “Islamic art” or “arts of the Islamic worlds.”

Islamic art is not only religious—as the term may seem to suggest—but was also created for secular purposes. Although the production of Qur'ans, and religious architecture and furnishings, remain a major focus of artistic patronage, secular works of art account for the greatest majority of Islamic art. These objects include ceramics, glass, ivories, metalwork, textiles, and illustrated books.

Islamic art is also transnational; despite its many regional styles and productions, a unified nature and distinct features characterize it across time and geographies. The prominent use of the written word and a preference for allover ornamentation of abstract nature, both geometric and vegetal, are two of the most recurrent features. While figurative motifs are often thought to be prohibited in this tradition, they represent an equally important source of artistic inspiration, and predominantly occur in secular contexts.

The installation of the permanent collection has been generously underwritten by

in recognition of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's commitment to the Art of the Islamic Worlds.

Pictured above: Turkey, Scene of Feasting (detail), c. 1594, gouache with gold, the MFAH, gift of His Highness the Aga Khan Shia Ismali Community of Houston; the Levant Foundation; Mr. and Mrs. Akbar Ladjevardian; the Francis L. Lederer Foundation; Marathon Oil Company; Mr. and Mrs. Omar Rehmatulla; Strategic Real Estate Advisors, London; Monsour Taghdisi; His Excellency Sheikh Sultan bin Suhaim Al Thani; and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, with additional funds provided by the 2007 Arts of the Islamic World Gala.