Watch: New York museum lets children discover Muslim culture

The United States may have seen an unprecedented anti-Muslim backlash in recent months, but one New York museum has challenged perceptions by teaching children about the wealth and diversity of Islamic culture from Michigan to China.

The Children’s Museum of Manhattan on the Upper West Side has been turned into an indoor playground where children can touch and experiment with artifacts of Muslim culture in a vibrant, colorful exhibition.

One little girl wraps a piece of Senegalese fabric around her middle like a sarong and wriggles around. “It’s lots of fun for dancing!” she says.

Other children in her class are sorting through Turkish ceramics or inhaling the rich aroma of spices from Zanzibar.

Called “America to Zanzibar,” the exhibition focuses on culture in Muslimcommunities, not religion itself, so the tenets and practices of Islamic doctrine have been left well alone.

“We don’t interpret the religion,” said Andrew Ackerman, executive director of the museum. “It’s about the people. It’s about how people that share a common belief express it so differently,” he added.

The 2016 race for the White House has been dominated by the rise of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, a New York real estate mogul who has repeatedly bashed Muslims and advocated a ban on them entering the country.

Recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California have heightened whatMuslim Americans call an unprecedented backlash in a country increasingly fearful about the risk posed by the so-called Islamic State extremist group.

Ackerman says current events had nothing to do with the decision to mount the exhibition, which has been six years in the making. His desire is to lift the lid on culture in Muslim countries that is either poorly understood in the United States or not represented at all.

The word Muslim doesn’t mean much to Alex, one of her pupils, but he hasn’t been bored at all. During the first week of the exhibition, which opened February 13, the museum welcomed more than 13,000 visitors despite exceptionally cold temperatures.