The concept of conserving art and cultural heritage in the Islamicate world is a concept as old as the religion itself but there is a discord between the past and present practices in different Muslim communities. As opposed to what many people in the west might believe, Islamic societies are not monolithic but depict many forms of diversities and identities.
Such find their origins way back from Islam as a faith arrived to regions like in Africa, Asia and other parts of the world. More over we see overlapping practices on promoting arts and cultural patronage and this is because of the existing diversity of interpretations and practices of Islam in different parts of the world.
One of the biggest historical achievements of Islam is the towards poetry and arts particularly calligraphy that is based on elegant form of writings scriptures in different languages that has heavily influenced the Islamic Culture.
Calligraphy is very popular part of the Muslim society and still in use in countries including Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, India and others where globally acclaimed artists have produced some of the most beautiful artifacts that have stood the test of time.
Through this collaboration, we attempt to debunk the stereotypes on Islamic perceptions of preserving cultural heritage that has gained much negative attention in recent times. But they have been shaped by events taking place in the Muslim world that do not represent some 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. In 1996, the Afghan Taliban destroyed one of the world’s wonders, the monumental Buddha statues of the Bamiyan Valley in their attempt to impose an extremist version of Islamic law across the country using distorted justifications of Islamic teachings.
This incident created a lot of well deserved outcry and hue among international and local public because Taliban campaign of cleansing away all traces of a rich pre-Islamic past was deemed equivalent to Islamic teachings.
Another militant group, ISIS has also conducted similar campaigning in Syria Iraq and other places where they have destroyed scores of artifacts, statues (some of which have been beheaded), temples, palaces and cities from ancient empires in order to ‘cleanse’ these lands of idolatrous worship and false deities.
Many archaeological and cultural sites in other Muslim countries have also fallen prey to such extremist threats that continue to feed the narrative that Islam does not support arts, culture and historical plurality.
Its important to be critical while discussing the trends within present Muslim societies where preservation practices and value of arts is still in an infancy. We keep witnessing disturbing news of attacks on religious and cultural patronage of minorities in many Islamic countries.
For instance, in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan there is a continuous trend of demolishing the Hindu temples and churches for commercial and religious purposes. Here the widespread social and cultural discrimination against minorities has given strength to ridiculous ideas to people that think that by attacking Hindus or their places of worship, they have earned a place in heaven.
We also cannot stay silent on the actions of KSA, as the Saudi rulers have a long history of destroying historical sites within its ow borders as well as in other places, a recent example being Yemen. The humanitarian catastrophe has resulted in the systemic degradation of the country’s millennia-old cultural heritage by the Saudi coalition, its Yemeni opponents, and ISIS. There are reports with credible evidence which show that much of this damage, notably that from Saudi air strikes and from demolitions carried out by the IS, are deliberate.
The west is complicit in such war crimes and the notorious campaign of erasing Yemeni people’s cultural identity. Many countries including super powers such as the USA, United Kingdom, France, Australia and Italy are into arm deals with the Saudi monarchy that are being used since the beginning of the Yemen war.
Clearly Islam, is heavily plagued by the ignorance and personal vendettas of some of its adherents and also ineffectual governance which allows many Islamic states to deliberately ignore investing in preservation of cultural diversities and providing state protection towards heritages.
Quoting from the Quran, “And if anyone of the idolaters ask protection of thee, grant him protection so that he may hear the word of Allah: then convey him to his place of security…” (Quran, 9:6)
This should provide ample food of thought to people that Islam has a big space for conducting civilized discourses and peaceful negotiations are encouraged with believers of any polytheistic doctrine, and that their protection is also mandatory.
Moreover it becomes a duty to ensure the protection of those who have sought it. Internationally there is a trend to associate the news of incidents of demolition and destruction of cultural religious heritage within Islamic countries with teachings of Islam.
But this informational amnesia cannot undo the reality that throughout history Muslim have unanimously accepted the importance of preserving heritage, despite certain points of disagreement.
This myth is debunked with another verse from the Holy Quran in Surah 2 verse 256 that says, “There is no compulsion in religion) meaning that Do not force anyone to become Muslim, for Islam is plain and clear, and its proofs and evidence are plain and clear. Therefore, there is no need to force anyone to embrace Islam.”
And nowhere we see teachings that promote violence against others, inherently Islam does not permit targeting and demolishing of the inanimate objects and sanctuaries of different faiths.
Part II : Written by Papatia Feauxzar of Between Sisters, SVP!
Once, Salman al-Farisi, may Allah be pleased with him, was digging a trench he had proposed to Rasool sallallahu aleihi wassalam to be built as a military move to help the ummah against their enemies. He was stronger, and he had the strength of ten men masha’Allah. As Salman al-Farisi, dug, he came across a rock that he couldn’t bypass with his tool. Rasool sallallahu aleihi wassalam took over and started hitting the rock instead. As he stood by, this blessed companion witnessed a miracle as the Prophet sallallahu aleihi wassalam stroke this challenging rock. He was amazed by the light that shot out the rock. So, he spoke up. The Prophet sallallahu aleihi wassalam was delighted to know that this miraculous event didn’t escape the eyes of his companion.
The Prophet sallallahu aleihi wassalam replied, “As for the first strike, Allah granted me the fath of Yemen. As for the second strike, Allah granted me the fath of Sham and the lands of Magrib (North-West Africa.) As for the third strike, Allah granted me the fath of the East.”
As you can see, the diversity of the adherents of Islam is not a mistake. Thus, if the cultural heritage of such adherents doesn’t go against the tawheed pillar of Islam, there is no need to discard the practice or the preservation of that practice as history is preserved via culture practices that support the foundations of Islam.
Furthermore, it is written in Lost Islamic History that the former king of Sindh refused to return some Muslim captives taken on a trading Muslim ship returning from Sri Lanka (Ceylon at the time.) This motivated the Umayyad army to conquer the lands of India. Muhammad Ibn Qasim was the commander. He proved himself to be a young and fair leader. Hajjab Ibn Yusuf, former governor of Iraq was his mentor. With Ibn Qasim’s army of 6000 Persian soldiers, they entered the Indian subcontinent in 711. The locals were promised religious freedom, and they in turn submitted to the Muslim Empire. Buddhists and Hindus received religious freedom under this young ruler originally from Ta’if. The Buddhist Temple officials actually marched with the Muslim army from city to city. They established and found common ground. Temples and idols that had been destroyed were rebuilt by the new Muslim governors. This can come off problematic, but the Quran says not to make fun of people’s false gods. This is certainly the logic that allowed the Muslim rulers of the time to offer relaxed terms to adherent of different faiths—Jews, Christians, Indus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians—than them. This atmosphere created a coexistence and peaceful environment alhamdullilah.
“In 70 AD, the Roman Empire exiled Jews from Jerusalem. It was not until the Muslim conquest in 637 that they were allowed back to the Holy City.” Lost Islamic History by Firas Alkhateeb
So, for those same reasons and peace goals, Muslims and non-Muslims should make an effort to find common grounds and stop destroying each other’s places of worships and other cultural heritages. As long as, none of them are trying to destroy or sully a Muslim’s place of worship, so called Muslims should not mess with non-Muslim belongings. The Qaaba is mainly what I am trying to refer to as an example that non-Muslims might take to justify their acts against Muslims or Muslims themselves might use this example to target non-Muslim things. The Qaaba is The House of Allah, a place of worship built by Abraham and his son. May Allah be pleased with both of them, aameen. As such, no polytheism should take place in and within its vicinity under no circumstances. In time, people strayed from monotheism, and the Prophet sallallahu aleihi wassalam was sent to clean it out of idols and restore its monotheist nature. Non-Muslims were promised security if they didn’t fight the Muslims in return.
“Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.” [Quran 60:8]
It is also imperative to note that it was the lifestyle of the Umayyad and their unislamic taxation policy between new Muslims and old Muslims that brought the downfall of the empire. Once again, matters of money and financial disputes make mischief in the affairs of the ummah. Money is usually the cause of many disagreements. Not faith that seems like the apparent scapegoat.
To continue, Muslims themselves have also destroyed a large amount of early righteous belongings based on distorted interpretations of the Quran and the Sunnah. While we can no longer see these places with the naked eye, these places are still protected and adorned by Allah subhannahu wa ta ala in the unseen way. These graves are luminous and shining subhanallahu. It’s sunnah to visit the dead and recite duas when we enter upon their place of dwellings. But today the KSA has made this nearly impossible for many true Muslims especially during hajj season. Astagfirullah.
Ibn Abbas reported that the Prophet sallallahu aleihi wassalam said while passing the graves of Madinah, “Peace to you, dwellers of this home, you have gone before, and we will follow. We ask Allah for well-being for us and you.”
While the KSA’s actions might have been fueled by Muslims who have no knowledge of proper etiquettes in a graveyard, it’s a shame that many people while in hajj have to go through a lot of hoops in order to see these sacred places and send their humble greetings to the Messenger sallallahu aleihi wassalam himself, the Sahabas, the Ansars, the Tabieen, the Tabi-tabieen and so forth. May Allah be pleased with all of them, aameen.
To end, Allah says in the Quran 2: 2-3, “This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah – Who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them.”
Open your eyes, dear ummah and embrace your Islamic heritage, your cultural heritage that doesn’t contract your Islamic beliefs and mind your business. Stick to your roots. Leave non-Muslims who don’t antagonize you alone. Allahu alim.
‘The Written vs. NOT Written Stuff’ is the copyrighted online series on issues within the global Muslim communities- joint initiative of two Muslimah writers, Papatia Feauxzar & Saadia Haq. We appreciate your attention and feedback, so write to us here or firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyrights @2015 – 2020.
Bio Papatia Feauxzar: an American author of West African descent, the online magazine editor and the unwavering writer of; Between Sisters, SVP! and creator of Fofky’s; an Online Book and Coffee/Tea Shop.
Bio Saadia Haq: not your regular feminist aka Pakistani woman journalist with masters degree in Business Administration and the person behind this blog!