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Ancient ‘Islamic Treasures’ make way for ‘Young, American and Muslim’ authors

Felicia Haney | 9/18/2013, midnight

By FELICIA C. HANEY

Staff Reporter

If one were to let some dust settle on that keyboard or smart phone, they may uncover an artifact here in the heart of the city that is as rich in history as it is on the cutting edge of modern-day times. At the intersection of Superior Avenue and E. 6th St. lies the gem that is the Cleveland Public Library – the perfect match of beauty and brains. Fall in love with it all over again when it unveils one of its hidden treasures this weekend as part of the “Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys” program – a partnership with the Cleveland Heights/University Heights Public Library in conjunction with the American Library Association.

At 1 p.m. this Saturday, Sept. 21, the Special Collections Department of the Cleveland Public Library will feature some of its beautiful and rare materials on Islamic culture from the renowned John G. White Collection of Folklore and Orientalia titled “Islamic Treasures.” Guests will enjoy viewing the items surrounded by the ambiance of the Reading Room located on the third floor of the historic Main Branch building of the Cleveland Public Library, 325 Superior Ave.

Step inside the Special Treasures Department and one would be hard pressed to find decorated guards standing at attention, white-gloved prim and proper professionals and a room temperature so cold you could see your own breath. On the contrary, it is a warm and inviting peek into history with a museum-esque décor and a personable staff that is willing to guide the wanderer down a path of unique items guaranteed to pique the interest of the passerby. On my guided tour, I was able to get a glimpse of some of the Islamic treasures set for display this Saturday afternoon courtesy of employees Stacie Brisker and Kelly Brown. Their focus of the exhibit will be art, architecture and literature. “Most people think we walk around in white gloves handling everything, but actually it’s not good to wear gloves when thumbing through these things. They don’t have the same feel of your fingers and can actually cause tears in the pages and whatnot,” said Brown. “Gloves are preferred when looking at photographs though, because the oils from your hands can break down the quality of the image and eventually leave a fingerprint or ruin the photo.” Interesting mental notes to refer back to as I perused so many one-of-a-kind pieces of merchandise.

Amongst those items were ancient Qurans, bound in the thickest leather with pages adorned in the most beautiful calligraphy with gold-colored foiling and textile-like handcrafted designs. There were books that covered more unlikely topics such as astrology, poetry, magic, illustrated texts and the most controversial subject of them all… A Quran wrapped in human skin! Now, you will NOT see this item on display due to the nature of controversy and possible element of disrespect of a religious doctrine that comes along with it. But, out of curiosity and a pinky swear promise not to destroy the ancient text – and my career as a journalist along with it – I was granted permission to lay my eyes on this legend. After a few side-eye glances, squints, hand rubs and close inspections, I came up with… Nothing! I couldn’t tell if the heavily bound book was the skin of a forefather or a fawn. If urban legends are designed to keep you guessing, this one has delivered its promise.