26 May 2015
A picture taken on 14 March 2014 shows a sculpture found in the ancient Syrian oasis city of Palmyra, 130 miles northeast of Damascus, and now displayed at the city’s museum. From the first to the second century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Greco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. (photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)
Now that ISIS has gained control of Palmyra — and, some fear, could destroy many of the priceless artifacts in the ancient Syrian city — an important Muslim voice has been raised, calling on the world to protect and defend these treasures.
Al Azhar, one of the oldest universities in the world and a center of Sunni Muslim learning, has declared that “protecting archaeological sites from destruction and plundering is the battle of all humanity.” The Cairo-based institution has called on the world community to prevent ISIS from “destroying the cultural and archaeological landmarks of the city.” As one of the most authoritative voices in Sunni Islam, Al Azhar stated that the destruction of world heritages sites and artifacts is haram — that is, forbidden by Sharia law.
Al Azhar has reason to be concerned for Palmyra.
In March 2001 the Taliban shelled and destroyed the giant statues of Buddha that had been erected in the Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan. Scholars estimate that the statues were built between 507 and 554, before the birth of Muhammad and the arrival of Islam. It was the most widely publicized destruction of antiquities in recent times.
Unfortunately the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was not an isolated example of barbarism in the name of religion. Since 2001 — and with increasing frequency recently — religious extremists have been attacking artistic and ancient artifacts in the name of religion. The most notorious of these desecrators of what the U.N. calls objects of World Heritage has been the self-proclaimed Islamic State, known in the Middle East by its acronym Daesh.
The present rampage of wanton destruction of the art and history of the Middle East is unparalleled in magnitude since the Mongol invasions under Hulagu Khan in the 13th century. The Mongols destroyed Baghdad in 1258 and brought the Golden Age of the Abbasid Caliphate to an end. Ironically ISIS, which claims to have reestablished the caliphate, is behaving in the same way as those who brought the caliphate in that part of the world to an end.
With the fall of Mosul in July 2014 ISIS members sacked the Mosul Museum which had been home to many artifacts dating from the Old through the New Assyrian periods (2015-612 B.C.). While some of the plundered artifacts were sold on the black market, many of the irreplaceable objects were simply and wantonly destroyed.
The world can only hope that the voices of concern raised by Al Azhar will be heard — and heeded.
22 May 2015
Tags: Syria Art ISIS Historical site/city
The father of a man who was killed by ISIS militants in Libya earlier this year attends a service in the Virgin Mary Church near Cairo on 3 May. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
21 May 2015
Two young students take a break during class at the Armenian School inside the convent in the Old City of Jerusalem. To learn more about the lives of Armenians in this small, close-knit community, read “Living Here is Complicated” from the Winter 2014 edition of ONE.
(photo: Ilene Perlman)
20 May 2015
The sun sets on the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. The city contains architecture of one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world. Saturday, ISIS militants seized part of Palmyra. Read more about efforts to save some of the city’s statues here.
(photo: Tibor Bognar/Getty Images)
19 May 2015
Girls play in front of Holy Cross Church in Purakkad, India, built by the Portuguese in the 15th or 16th century. To learn more about this traditional fishing village, check out “Purakkad’s Natural Harmony” in the May 2009 edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
18 May 2015
Traditional honey cakes, as well as souvenirs, are sold at an annual fair in Máriapócs, a little Greek Catholic village that is Hungary’s most beloved pilgrimage site, with a special devotion to Mary. To learn more, read “Hungarians Gather to Honor Mary” in the May 2005 edition of ONE.
(photo: Jacqueline Ruyak)
15 May 2015
Three families displaced by the war in Ukraine now share one small apartment in Svyatogorsk. To learn more about how the crisis in Ukraine has impacted people living there, read “Casualties of War” in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Ivan Chernichkin)
13 May 2015
At the Good Shepherd Church in Suez, one of the sisters has saved the first rock that broke through the window of the church in 2013, when hundreds protested the ouster of President Muhammed Morsi. To learn more about efforts to rebuild after the violence, read “Out of the Ashes” in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: David Degner)
12 May 2015
Iraqi Christian refugee Steven Osama, a 27-year-old from Mosul, plays guitar on his bed at St. Ephraim's Syrian Orthodox Church, where the church provides shelter for Iraqi Christian refugees, in Amman, Jordan. To learn more about the lives of Iraqis like Steven Osama, check out “Finding Sanctuary in Jordan” in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Nader Daoud)
11 May 2015
A small shrine adorns the home of Marlene Dachache, who works as a nurse at a charity dispensary in Beirut, and her husband Joseph. The family has been struggling to make ends meet since the influx of Syrian refugees in the country. To read more, check out “Lebanon on the Brink” in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)