When Fareed Farukhi toured the Fish Interfaith Center at Chapman University about a year ago, he noticed that something was missing from its display of holy scriptures.
“They showed me the Book of Mormon, a Bible from the Chapman family, and a Torah from Lithuania,” he said. “I said, ‘We have all these beautiful scriptures, but I don’t see the Koran, which completes the Abrahamic faiths. You’ve got two out of the three.’ ”
So Farukhi, who founded Universal Heritage and Research Center — an Orange County group promoting cross-cultural understanding — decided to do something about it.
He assisted the university in developing a new exhibit for the Fish Interfaith Center that features a 15th-century illuminated Koran from Syria inside a custom designed seven-foot tall display cabinet with intricate wooden inlays of Arabic calligraphy and Islamic geometry.
The exhibit was officially unveiled May 16.
“This display of the Koran and the cabinet shows how beauty can be expressed through religion, using arts, culture and language,” said Farukhi.
The Koran exhibit, which will include a rotation of several copies of the Koran, is now the fourth scripture on display at the Fish Interfaith Center. It joins the Bible of C.C. Chapman, the university’s founder who died in 1944, the Book of Mormon donated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a Lithuanian Torah that survived the Holocaust.
Each of the scriptures is housed in an elaborate wooden cabinet designed by Los Angeles artist William Tunberg, who specializes in marquetry, a form of woodwork in which smaller, colored pieces of wood are inlaid to create a design.
Tunberg, who is Presbyterian, said he had little exposure to Islamic art and architecture before embarking on this project, but he ended up finding familiar ground.
“Ninety-nine percent of Islamic design is geometric, and that goes right down my alley because I also use geometry in my sculptures,” he said, noting that Islamic architecture also relies on many of the same styles the ancient Greeks and Romans used.
To ensure the cabinet had a distinctive Islamic character, Tunberg said that he immersed himself in Islamic art, architecture and calligraphy, just as he studied Judaism and Mormonism to make cases for the Torah and Book of Mormon.
“I try to make it comfortable for people in that religion to look at and appreciate the objects inside,” he said. “Each one of these things is like getting a new education.”
In the center of the cabinet, an eight-pointed star is formed out of Islamic calligraphy spelling “Allah,” the Arabic word for God. On the cabinet’s outside panels are other geometric designs that also contain the word “Allah” in the curved Thuluth script.
On top of the Koran cabinet is a sculpture of the Dome of the Rock, the mosque in Jerusalem where the prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended into heaven with the angel Gabriel.
Beneath the dome is a third form of Islamic calligraphy, the angular Kufic script, which reads, bismillah ir-rahman ir-rahim, “in the name of God the most gracious, the most merciful,” a phrase that is recited before each chapter of the Koran.
Gail Stearns, dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel at Chapman, said that it’s Tunberg’s commitment to understanding each religion that sets his work apart.
“The thing that I love about Bill’s work is that he spends an enormous amount of time to educate himself about what he’s building,” she said. “He spent a lot of time learning about Islam and building this to make it authentic, but also unique and creative.”
Together, the four scriptures and cabinets send an important message, Stearns said.
“When you see these displays side by side, you see what we have in common, the scripture and how important it is — and some of the marquetry work moves from one cabinet to the next,” said Stearns. “And it also shows the distinctiveness.”
“And that’s the beauty — to have both our uniqueness and also our commonality.”
Fish Interfaith Center at Chapman University is at 1 University Drive, Orange. For more information, call (714) 628-7289.
CAITLIN YOSHIKO KANDIL is a contributor to Times Community News.