Preserving heritage is a duty for all Muslims

If Muslims don't collectively preserve Islamic heritage, one day there may be none left

Every week brings news of a historical or sacred Muslim site being lost through deliberate destruction or neglect.

Three such sites have been on my radar in the past few days. The Hebron Hills mosque in the village of Mufaqra in Hebron was destroyed by Israeli forces. The Umayyad mosque in Aleppo, one of Syria's oldest and largest mosques, was destroyed during recent fighting. And a mosque belonging to the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, in Rakhine state, was destroyed, with graffiti left on the walls saying "Rakhine will drink Kalar blood". Kalar is a derogatory epithet used to refer to Muslims.

One of my great distresses in recent years is how rapidly and ruthlessly our communal Muslim history is being destroyed, through neglect or destruction. As these examples show, the causes of destruction are many, and are conducted by those who are not Muslim as well as by Muslims themselves.

I strongly and passionately believe in protecting this legacy, which exists for the entire world. But I also believe that it is implicit in the Quran to preserve what has gone before, for reasons of sacred space and as Islamic signs, and also to leave a legacy so that we can see what and who has gone before us and reflect on our place in history.

I have always been enraptured with the verses of the Quran that direct Muslims to travel the Earth and see what has gone before, from Delhi to Granada, to Mecca's mounts of Safa and Marwa mentioned in the Quran as the "signs" of God. To be able to see these places and understand their history is different from reading about it in books.

I'm not the only Muslim to have experienced such epiphanies. Muslim travel and tourism is estimated at US$126 billion (Dh463 billion). Countries that care about their connection to Muslim history are preserving sites, which helps their own industries, but more importantly makes a contribution to the sense of self of the ummah, or shared worldwide Muslim community.

There is a growing movement to discredit the origins of Islam. If these early sites are destroyed, where will evidence and research come from?

Muslims are quick to become enraged at the destruction of Muslim heritage by those who are not Muslims. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference was founded in response to an arson attack against Al Aqsa Mosque in 1969. Yet this destruction goes on before our eyes in Muslim nations, and it is not being stopped by the collective will of the ummah.

Muslim heritage belongs to the ummah, not to a single nation. The exquisite mosques of Mali, the mausoleums in Pakistan, and the sites where the Prophet himself was born and lived are disappearing into history.

The first step is for Muslims to reignite a passion to save our history - whether that be the Ferhat Pasha mosque being reconstructed in Bosnia, the libraries of Baghdad sacked in the Iraqi invasion, the Joplin mosque burnt down in Missouri or the historic mosque in Aleppo destroyed by fighting.

Our passion must be a global movement that strives to protect these sites in the interests of the ummah today, to safeguard our future, as well as to reinstate what should be instinctive respect for our sacred spaces. We must save Muslim history wherever it is, and from whoever seeks to destroy it. If we don't take steps now, there will be nothing left. I give you this simple plea: save Muslim history.


Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at

Published: December 15, 2012 04:00 AM


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