PARIS - In the middle of growing tensions surrounding Muslims worldwide, Louvre museum is uncovering a new wing of Islamic art on Tuesday, September 18, in a bid to restore the full glory to Islam whose image has been tainted by a handful of terrorists.
The aim is to show an "Islam with a capital I," Sophie Makariou, the head of the department of Islamic arts at the Louvre, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"That means the civilization as a whole, not with a small 'i' designating just the religious sphere.
"We must give back the word Islam its full glory... and not leave it to the jihadists to tarnish it," she said.
The wing, to be inaugurated by President Francois Hollande on Tuesday, is a brainchild of former French president Jacques Chirac and dates back to 2001.
About 3,000 precious works from the 7th to the 19th centuries will be displayed over an area of roughly 3000 square meters, subdivided into only two levels.
The Louvre groups 18,000 treasures from an area spanning from Europe to India and Persia.
Erected within the museum, a curvilinear glass roof covered inside and out with sheets of golden metallic links will shelter art from the Islamic era, grouped together for the first time in one enormous gallery.
Designers say they aimed at creating a "gentle and non-violent integration" of an architectural design within a place of historic importance.
"You can call it a flying carpet, a huge tent, a luminous veil or simply golden clouds," said the canopy's designer, Italian architect Mario Bellini.
The canopy consists of 2,350 netted triangles fitted together.
"The challenge was not to overwhelm the Western language of the courtyard with the collection," he said.
"It had to be discreet and in tune with one of the world's best-known monuments.
Collecting pieces from India, Iran, Egypt, Andalusia and Syria, the new wing showcases a once flourishing Islamic civilization.
"Islamic art is not confined to the art of the Muslim community," Makariou, the head of the department of Islamic arts at the Louvre, said, referring to mixed populations in several Islamic empires.
It is the art of all those who comprised the Islamic world and in it there were Christians and Jews.
The artefacts include Moghul-era carpets from India and miniature paintings from Iran showing depictions from the Thousand and One Nights.
It also showcases an astounding silver and gold inlaid basin from Egypt or Syria and dating between 1330 and 1340.
The basin was used for the baptism of France's King Louis XIII and bears the inscription "Work of Master Muhammed ibn al-Zayn."
The collection brings together pieces from Andalusia (Spain), Egypt's Mameluke "slave" dynasty, the Moghul Empire in India, Persia and Central Asia.
The new wing costs nearly 100 million euros ($131 million), funded by the French government and supported by handsome endowments from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Kuwait, Oman and Azerbaijan.
Saudi Prince Waleed bin Talal's Alwaleed Foundation, which gave $20 million for the project, said it hoped the "space shall bring much-needed understanding and tolerance by offering visitors... a glimpse of Islamic civilization and culture."
The Saudi prince said at the time of the donation that "relations between Europe and the Islamic world are going through a turbulent period."He said he hoped the new wing "will assist in the understanding of the true meaning of Islam, a religion of humanity, forgiveness and acceptance of other cultures."