The IMMC opened in April 2001 with a debut exhibition, Moorish Spain: Its Legacy to Europe and the West as part of The Majesty of Spain, an international exhibition at the Mississippi Arts Pavilion.
The exhibition came about when in 2000, Ms. Okolo Rashid was as excited as most other Mississippians at the prospect of the upcoming blockbuster exhibition “The Majesty of Spain: Royal Collections from the Museo del Prado and Patrimonio Nacional.” The third in a series of biannual international exhibitions hosted by Jackson’s Mississippi Arts Pavilion, “Majesty” was expected to attract half a million visitors—including King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain.
A devout and well-read Muslim, Rashid knew that one of Spain’s most illustrious periods had been the roughly 800 years of Muslim rule in Al-Andalus (Andalucia), the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula. It was a time of productive and mostly peaceful coexistence among Spain’s Muslims, Christians and Jews, as well as among the many mixes of nationalities. As a leader in one of Jackson’s two mosques, Rashid welcomed the Spanish exhibition as an opportunity for showcasing the positive legacy of her faith.
Much to her surprise, Rashid realized that the upcoming exhibition was going to leave out the important contributions of Muslims in Andalucia and would focus on European influences only. This was disappointing news but a catalyst to what started the International Museum of Muslim Cultures in Mississippi. A decision was made after reaching out to the local mosque community to create an accompanying exhibition that would highlight the “Majesty” of Islamic Spain.
The exhibition would explore the Golden Age of Muslim rule in Spain and the Islamic legacy inherited by Europe and the West in terms of the vast cultural and scientific contributions, which sparked Europe’s Renaissance and brought it out of the dark ages. The exhibit featured artifacts and information about Muslim rule in Spain, as well as its contributions to both the sciences and the arts. These contributions were passed down to America and the rest of the West, and cover the 8th through the 15th century. Perhaps, Islamic Spain’s greatest legacy was to foster a culture of tolerance where Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived together in peace and harmony creating a unique social fabric and inspiring a cultural flowering unmatched in history.
The exhibit proved to be a great success and paved the way for the opening of the museum and the debut of the Legacy of Timbuktu exhibition.