A young team of people largely working pro bono have helped to complete the first Islamic Museum of Australia in just four years.
Director Moustafa Fahour, 32, is nervous but excited that the $10 million institution, mostly privately funded with less than 20 per cent government input, will open to the public on 3 March 2014.
A prayer room overlooks a billabong at the former warehouse in Anderson Road, Thornbury.
Visitors can eat Arabic sweets at a cafe near gum trees, and learn the origin of camels in the outback.
The museum will explain the tenets of the Islamic faith, and the meaning of misunderstood terms such as jihad and sharia. Patrons can stand in a minaret and listen to the call to prayer.
Displays detail the story of the Prophet Muhammad and list Muslims' inventions in maths, science, literature and chess.
Another exhibit tells the story of Australia's Muslims, including Indonesians who traded with Aborigines in the 1700s.
Artworks will include surfboards with Islamic motifs by artist Dr Phillip George, a portrait of commentator Waleed Aly by Archibald Prize finalist Abdul Abdullah and intricate glass mosaics by Anisa Sharif.
Mr Fahour's sister, MasterChef finalist Samira El Khafir, will run the cafe, accessible from the Merri Creek walking trail.
Two 72,000-litre water tanks here are painted with ''calligraffiti'' - Arabic calligraphy by Shakeel Tariq stating the museum's motto: Art, Heritage and Discovery.
Mr Fahour says financial and moral support, including from Christians, Buddhists and and Jews, has been ''phenomenal''.
The project began in 2010 when he and Lebanese-born wife, Maysaa, despaired at TV reports linking Islam with terrorism and oppression. Education seemed the key. ''I thought, 'what better way can we showcase what Islam is, and the positive contributions Muslims have made to civilisation, and more importantly to Australia?''' he says.
Mr Fahour, who is now a Dubai-based construction executive, says his Lebanese-migrant parents Siham and Abdel-Raouf Fahour had inspired him. They ran a sweet shop and grocery, raised eight children in Preston, and taught him to give back to the community.
Mr Fahour and his wife are among a core team of about 10 people who have moulded the museum, including its general manager Ashraf Naim; art director Nur Shkembi, and education director Sherene Hassan, a longtime Islamic Council of Victoria representative.
Hassan said more than 30 schools from throughout Victoria, as well as Tasmania and South Australia, had contacted the museum to organise a tour.
She said the tours provided an interactive experience for students across five galleries: Islamic faith, Australian Muslim history, Islamic contributions to civilisation, Islamic architecture and art as well as a series of visiting exhibitions.
"Students will be able to try on clothes pilgrims to Mecca would wear," Ms Hassan said.
"They can learn about the Muslim contribution to maths, astronomy, arts and music and play chess on an oversizes chess board and participate in workshops exploring mosaic and calligraphy."
Ms Hassan said the museum would also launch a dedicated, free online resource built around the national curriculum, which she and museum founder Mustafa Fahour, hoped would further promote cross-cultural harmony.
Carolyn Webb, "Our first Islamic museum opens" The Age - Australia February 7, 2014
Julia Irwin, "Islamic Museum of Australia opening in Thornbury next month" Nortcote Leader February 3, 2014
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today