THE MYSTERY benefactor of London's first purpose-built Islamic arts centre, at London University, is believed to be the Sultan of Brunei, the world's richest man, writes Amanda Baillieu.
The pounds 10m bequest will enable the university's School of African and Oriental Studies to erect a new building in Bloomsbury. Planning permission was granted by Camden council last week.
In addition to funding the new centre, which will include two art galleries, teaching space and an Islamic garden, the Sultan has agreed to donate part of his collection of Islamic art for display and to endow the 40,000 sq ft (3,716 sq m) centre with an income for running costs.
The man credited with putting SAOS in touch with the Sultan is Dr Nasser Khalili, who owns the finest collection of Islamic art in existence, a part of which is likely to find a home in the centre.
Last November, Dr Khalili offered the British government his entire collection on condition that it provided a museum in central London and was prepared to bear the hefty insurance cost. The collection must also be housed in a building of at least 38,000 sq ft, a condition that will be met by the SAOS building. Mike McWilliam, director of SAOS, confirmed that talks have been held with Dr Khalili about lending his collection, even if the Government fails to accept his offer.