Former UAE teacher hopes book will improve perceptions of Muslim world

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SHAFAQNA – A former UAE teacher has published a book on Islamic art for children that she hopes will help to improve perceptions of the Muslim world.

Mary Beardwood spent six years researching and writing Discovering Islamic Art, the second book she has written about the culture and traditions of the region.

A retired teacher who worked at Jebel Ali Primary School, Rashid School for Boys and Emirates International School in Dubai, Mrs Beardwood is also author of The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Arabia, which has sold 20,000 copies since the first edition was released in 2001.

Although she hopes her new book, aimed at 8 to 12-year-olds, will also fly off the shelves, the project is about much more than commercial success.

“Muslims are living peacefully all over the world, and so to have this perception of them as being dangerous and terrorists is a tremendous problem,” said Mrs Beardwood, who spent more than a decade living in the UAE before returning to her native UK.

“If this book could do anything to show people there’s another side to Islam – a history, a culture, this kind of knowledge – I hope it would be helpful.

“I think it’s absolutely essential children grow up with all-inclusive attitudes in life, and [are not] condemnatory about different groups, particularly those which they don’t know and have no experience of.”

Released by Medina Publishing, the book includes chapters on various types of Islamic art, including geometric patterns, arabesques and calligraphy, before looking at particular topics such as animals in art, Islamic gardens and mosque decorations.

Mrs Beardwood finds Islamic art “beautiful”.

“[It is] fascinating to see how it was done and the thoughts behind it. The craftsmanship, to me, is just amazing,” she said.

Mrs Beardwood feels her new book is especially timely, as the number of museums showcasing Islamic art, both in the Gulf region and the West, is increasing.

Her own interest in Islamic art was developed by a 12-week course at the British Museum in London. Yet she said it was often difficult to find books that explained the subject to children. Her new book contains activity sheets for the youngsters.

“It’s a difficult subject for children to relate to, all these patterns, so I thought giving these activities in it would engage them,” she said.

Mrs Beardwood and her accountant and finance director husband, Michael, lived in Oman between 1978 and 1986, followed by three years in Qatar and 11 years in the Emirates.

The couple, who have a son, a daughter and four grandchildren, left the UAE in 2000 and now live in Norwich, in the eastern county of Norfolk, where Mrs Beardwood grew up.

They like to return to the Middle East, and earlier this year Mrs Beardwood visited Dubai for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, as part of which she conducted workshops in several Dubai schools.

Discovering Islamic Art, which is priced at Dh60, is available in UAE bookshops including Kinokuniya, Jashanmal and WH Smith. There is a website with activity sheets at medinapublishing.com.

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