It’s easy for me to get jaded, even with novelty. What’s an easy way to alleviate boredom? I occupy empty moments of my day with scrolls, swipes and double-taps. These things have a tendency to become habit. Life as a flâneur has its appeal, but I'm satiated when I can find greater stimulation in my day. The challenge is compounded when the weather outside makes a 10 minute walk feel like a land expedition on Mercury. Surely it's safer to stay in the climate controlled comforts of my hotel. My rationalizations tell me that it's medically impossible to get heat stroke from sliding into too many DMs. That sounds legit. I'm almost convinced, but I have enough of a plan and decide to stick to it. I slide, tap, type and then wait for my ride to arrive. In minutes I'm at my destination and praise the conveniences of 2016. The entrance is just out of reach. I pace my walk so that I can escape the element while not soiling my clothes. I quickly stabilize my vitals. Now I'm frozen. Awe is so much more inspiring when you don’t expect it to strike you. There’s a perfect balance of light. My eyes focus across the building to the windows that stretch skyward from the stone floor. The windows offer the perfect frame for the skyline in the background. As I step deeper into the building my eyes dazzle at the mosaic dome that pinches the ceiling stories above my head. The building alone was well worth the effort of arrival (there's no cost of admission). The billions of dollars worth of art and artifacts documenting over a millennia of history compound the necessity of the visit. This was my experience visiting the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) in Doha, Qatar.
Museums are a sort of sacrosanct space. I put them in the same category with places of worship, libraries, and my home. MIA has spaces for the former (though I wouldn't mind some its contents in the latter). It has the requisite café and gift shop, plus a restaurant for the peckish. The museum houses pieces from across the Islamic world: ceramics from Spain, astrolabes from Iraq, Qur’ans from China. It’s a stimulating environment for neophytes and the erudite alike. On my visit I found a particular exhibit, Muhammad Ali: A Tribute to a Legend, uniquely interesting.
The exhibit gives scope of Ali’s career. There's the iconic image of him standing over a K.O.'d Sonny Liston, a shot from one of his press conferences preceding the “Rumble in the Jungle” vs. Joe Frazier, and the six page letter that he posted to Selective Services requesting exemption from serving in the Vietnam War. It offers visitors the opportunity to better acquaint themselves with the greatest sportsman of our time. Of particular interest to me was a ten minute black and white video clip documenting Ali’s visit to Doha in 1971 for an exhibition fight. On that visit Ali addresses a local crowd, "bismillah al rahman al raheem, assalaamu-alaykum" and expresses his gratitude for the royal welcome he received in Qatar, his surprise at the following he has in that part of the world, and goes on to express his desire to take up classes to develop his ability in Arabic. Today Qatar is an influential country on the international scene, but if you ask some Americans they might tell you it's just an airplane or a soccer team. At the time of Ali’s visit it was just coming onto to map after being a British protectorate since the first World War. One can imagine how removed it was from the average American's vocabulary back then. The modern architecture and infrastructure that constitute Doha today had to have seemed light years away.
Fortunately if you find yourself in Doha before November 5th you’ll be at the ideal intersection of space and time to check out MIA’s exhibit on Ali. The museum itself is a mandatory visit for anyone spending time in Doha. Travel and transport these days are surely easier than when Ali made his original visit to the emirate back in the 70s.