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Manhattan Children's Museum Gets Funding for 'Muslim Worlds' Exhibit

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Whirling dervishes, mosaics and 1,001 tales will soon be coming to the Upper West Side, thanks to a $40,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities. The Children's Museum of Manhattan says its future exhibition new "Muslim Worlds" is the first show of its kind in the U.S. geared toward a family audience.

"Muslim Worlds" will have hands-on exhibits, performances and other events geared toward getting children involved with the thousands of years of cultural heritage that has come from Muslim countries.

Though the museum promises to "bring to life the similarities and differences of Muslim cultures," John Jay College Sociology Professor Mucahit Bilici said that exhibits like this operate on the assumption that Muslim people are separate from American society.

Visitors to the Children's Museum of Manhattan dance as part of a festival celebrating Muslim culture."I would say that the major problem with this project is that it treats Muslims as exclusively external people -- as foreigners," he said. "I'm sure that a significant percentage of their audience, like the kids who will visit that exhibition, will be Muslim. I wish that they would be aware of this and that they would frame it in a much more inclusive way."

Cyrus McGoldrick, the civil rights manager of the New York Council on American Islamic Relations, argues that the exhibit will do good things for the Muslim community. He said a lot of the civil rights violations that he investigates happen to Muslim kids who are mocked by their peers at school. 

"Kids are growing up learning or inheriting bigotry and prejudice and using this rhetoric of Islamic terrorism against their fellow students," he said. "That tells me that kids are not immune to the aftereffects or the ripple effects of 9/11. But because of the availability of information, the world is much smaller and the city is much smaller. I hope that we can all be more acquainted with each other's cultures and this is a great place to start."

There is plenty of time for debate and polemics between supporters and detractors of the exhibit. The tentative start date for the "Muslim Worlds" exhibit at the Children's Museum of Manhattan is 2014.