Islamic and Biblical Heritage Under Threat

The recent military victories by ISIL whereby they have captured a few cities like Mosul in Iraq, not only possesses a political and security threat in the region, but also an ideological one. The group has recently declared its Khilafah with Abu Bakr Baghdadi being declared as their Khalifah. No doubt not many Muslims are buying into their rhetoric. The group has been holding onto its gains so far and plans to extend its reach not only in Iraq but also beyond into Levant. So far they have been very brutal and ferocious killing civilians by the dozen.

What has also been a cause of concern and anxiety for common Muslims is their threat to historical Islamic structures. Over the years we have already seen that many extremist groups among Muslims have vandalized and destroyed revered shrines and even gone to the extent of bombing such places thereby killing hundreds of pilgrims as well. These kind of deaths have happened across countries like Pakistan, Syria and Iraq where extremist violence has seen a spiraling increase in the last few years. Shrines in Syria and Iraq have been specially targeted, leading to deaths of hundreds of pilgrims.

With extremists taking a firm grip in cities like Mosul, there are reports by residents and in social media that they have demolished ancient shrines in and around the historic Iraqi city. Pictures posted on the Internet by the so called Islamic State (IS) showed the group has destroyed dozens of shrines revered by both Shia and Sunni Muslims besides Shia mosques in the city.

It is not only the Islamic shrines that the group has targeted but also Biblical Heritage as well. Local residents confirmed that the buildings had been destroyed and that militants had occupied two cathedrals as well. “We feel very sad for the demolition of these shrines, which we inherited from our fathers and grandfathers,” said Ahmed, a 51-year-old resident of Mosul. “They are landmarks in the city.” 

Before rebels took over Mosul, it was home to about two million people. It was a Middle East trading hub for centuries. Mostly populated by Sunni Muslims, Mosul and Nineveh were home to Shia Arabs as well as ethnic and religious minorities such as Kurds, Turkmen etc.

The destruction of shrines and other places of worship has been a common strategy practiced by most religious extremist groups. When The Taliban ceased power in Afghanistan, they also unleashed an extreme ideology on the country. The Taliban also destroyed the centuries old Buddhas in the Bamiyan valley. Various other extremist groups like AL–Shabab and Boko Haram have also resorted to destruction of shrines. It is a very disturbing phenomenon, one which needs to be seriously viewed. It is not only the destruction of a few brick and mortar buildings, but centuries of heritage and history. The destruction of these heritage buildings also raises a question: Why are extremists bent upon erasing the history of Muslims?

The developments makes it all the more necessary to counter the growing religious intolerance that has seeped into Muslim community. 

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