By destroying relics, ISIS is committing the greatest blasphemy

Published: March 23, 2015
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esterday, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) destroyed an ancient Christian monastery, described as the equivalent of Canterbury Cathedral.

Yesterday, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) destroyed an ancient Christian monastery which has been described as the equivalent of Canterbury Cathedral.

Just weeks earlier, it raided Mosul Museum and filmed themselves destroying all the relics on show, including priceless, irreplaceable Assyrian statues.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2i9583

This is a throwback to the infamous episode of when the Taliban destroyed the ancient great Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan in 2001.

The rationalisation is the same. In typical Wahhabi-inspired nonsense, any cultural artefact that is either culturally foreign or is somehow related to a sacred theme is a threat to a “good Muslim” because that “good” and “pure” Muslim will automatically be tempted into the unforgivable sin of polytheism. To the point where there are influential elements in the Wahhabi establishment that want to destroy the tomb of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself.

This is obvious stupidity. It also betrays a paradoxical lack of faith in the strength of their own faith. I, for one, cannot quite see how a few statues of Assyrian cherubs and kings are likely to rekindle the cult of Ishtar.

I would, in fact, argue that Islam itself prohibits this kind of senseless vandalism. Indeed, by destroying relics of Mosul, ISIS is actually committing shirk (blasphemy). Many of these relics have existed before the days of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Not only did the Prophet (pbuh) and the Salaf – the three generations of Muslims that lived after the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and are believed to be the most righteous – preserve many such artefacts and relics in their own time, but almost all Muslim rulers and scholars of the past up until the advent of Wahhabism also maintained them.

Scholars I have spoken to say this new attitude of destruction is, ironically, an unsanctioned innovation and thus a form of shirk. In effect, ISIS/Taliban/Wahhabis and similarly inspired vandals are claiming they are more enlightened than Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), his companions, his immediate successors and all previous Muslim rulers and scholars. According to them, all previous Muslims including the Prophet (pbuh) himself were essentially wrong and their own interpretation of what counts as polytheism and what can inspire it is correct. So, according to them, the Prophet (pbuh) was wrong, or naïve in his reading of the Holy Quran, but have no fear, 26-year-old Mohammed from London is going to correct this error with his eminent insights after his long and arduous Islamic studies in “Information Systems”.

Now it is certainly true that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did destroy the idols in the Kaaba, but the difference is that these idols were actually being directly worshipped by people at the time, and the cults of these gods posed a threat to the Muslim community – whereas no one is worshipping the relics in the museum. Just like no Muslims had worshipped the statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan.

Indeed, in the past, many Islamic scholars actively encouraged the preservation of great monuments and relics of civilisation, regardless of the fact that they were pre-Islamic. For example, in Egypt, the pyramids and the Sphinx were actively preserved as a reminder of a great civilisation that once dominated the land. That such a civilisation could be swept away and swallowed by the sand is also an enlightening Islamic moral – the monuments were a reminder that the Will of God transcends the shifts of history.

Still it remains a matter of historical fact that in the Golden Age of the Caliphate, the period of history that the ISIS thugs purport to “re-enact”, Islam was an open, accommodating culture, not just eager, but hungry to learn as much as there was to know about the world and its cultures, its religions, its monuments. The Caliphs, the true Caliphs, not the obscure “scholar” at the top of ISIS, did not order monuments to be destroyed or books to be burnt. They ordered monuments to be preserved, or even brought to Islam, and books from all over the world – from Hindu pagans, from Egyptian Copts, from Greek Atheists – to be translated into Arabic. When they did this, Islam was the pinnacle of civilisation. But what ISIS preaches is the exact opposite.

Azeem.Ibrahim

Azeem Ibrahim

An International Security and Geopolitics Lecturer at the University of Chicago. Fellow and Member of the Board of Directors at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and a former Research Scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and World Fellow at Yale. He is the Strategic Policy Advisor to Imran Khan and he tweets as @AzeemIbrahim (twitter.com/AzeemIbrahim)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • islooboy

    Indian trolls coming in 3…..2…..1Recommend

  • https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8559594100366660134#allposts Supriya Arcot

    Sigh … The end of the world is nigh !!!Recommend

  • Usman

    If in Pakistan, these people would probably blow up the Minar-e-Pakistan, Qaid’s tomb, ruins of Mohejadaro, etc using the same logic.Recommend

  • Milind A

    “Now it is certainly true that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did destroy the
    idols in the Kaaba, but the difference is that these idols were actually
    being directly worshipped by people at the time, and the cults of these
    gods posed a threat to the Muslim community – whereas no one is
    worshipping the relics in the museum. Just like no Muslims had
    worshipped the statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan.”

    This is the root cause… Are you saying that it would have been OK to blast the Buddha statues had these been worshipped?
    Recommend

  • L.

    Try something original? Recommend

  • Gurion

    Didn’t Prophet Mohammad (SAW) do the same to the original idols at Mecca?!Recommend

  • Indian Troll

    Not coming.Recommend

  • Rahul

    Ancient scriptures can be interpreted in many ways. That is why god also gave us a brain to think clearly.Recommend

  • 19640909rk .

    ” Islam itself prohibits this kind of senseless vandalism. ”

    How do anybody explain the breaking of statues belonging to Various tribes by Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). Don’t you think these people arw trying to copy him?Recommend

  • Uzair

    Lumping Wahaabis with Taliban/ISIS is a major fallacy on writer’s behalf. Goes on to show how superficial knowledge about religious history can perpetrate false analogies by associating different groups under one umbrella. The writer needs to read more into intellectual history of islam and peruse classical texts before defaming group(s) in vain. Again, please be cautious about the credibility of the ‘scholars’ you consult. This comment should not be taken as favoring terrorist groups like ISIS/Taliban/Boko Haram, etc. This is just an aim to prevent blatant maligning of historical groups without in-depth knowledgeRecommend

  • https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8559594100366660134#allposts Supriya Arcot

    Whats this to do with India or Pak ?Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad

    ISIS terrorists are destroying everything. They have also destroyed every tomb and Islamic symbol under their occupation. After occupying Saudi Arabia, I am sure they will destroy every Islamic symbol in Mecca and Medina.Recommend

  • tman

    this person really has no idea of what he is saying. Shirk means to make partners with Allah not blasphemy . An idiotic articleRecommend

  • Dang

    Whats wrong here? They are doing exactly as they were taught. Stop being hypocrites.Recommend

  • Gul Zaman Ghorgasht.

    They will be here. The Bajran dals, the Vishwa Hindu Parisad,
    Venvasi Kalyan Ashram, RSS, Shiv Sena, They just burnt a
    cathedral in Maharashtra State and a church near Bombay, last
    month. Bharatis are turning into extremists and terrorists since
    Modi got in the auto rickshaw seat.Recommend

  • genesis

    no Muslims had worshipped the statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan….but was stll dynamited becasue it was unislamic.Many pre iand post slamic temples have been destroyed or mutialisted in India.It is not only in India but elsewhere as well.The simple solution is to move all non islamic monuments to anew neutral place under UN to save them for posterity.Recommend

  • wb

    How did your comment get through when I was saying exactly the same?

    Muslims need to open your hearts and minds to the truth and true history of Islam and Muslims.Recommend

  • wb

    “Still it remains a matter of historical fact that in the Golden Age of
    the Caliphate, the period of history that the ISIS thugs purport to
    “re-enact”, Islam was an open, accommodating culture, not just eager”

    This is a blatant lie and a distortion of history.

    The period of caliphs were violent and bloody and miserable.

    In fact three of your four caliphs were murdered by fellow Muslims.

    What golden age? What golden age? What have you been taught in Islamic studies? That milk flew in rivers and dates?

    I want to request the blogger and others who have access to youtube, to please search for Password, Rawal TV and watch just a week old discussion of two extremely honest and forthright people: Munir Sami and Buland Iqbal, as they explain the birth of ISIS and the history of Muslims.

    Contrarily, Pakistanis who don’t have access to youtube can watch debates by Hassan Nisar on Pakistani channels.
    Recommend

  • wb

    That my dear, your own leader of Muslim world, the king of Saudi is doing.

    It’s ironic that you Pakistanis destroyed so many temples and killed Hindus in retaliation for the destruction of one unused Babri mosque which even the tribunal agreed was built on something (a mosque is never supposed to be built on anything else), and yet, you people don’t even know that Saudi government has destroyed dozens of historically important and holy mosques belonging to some of the closest relatives of the prophet.

    Prophet’s own house was destroyed by Saudi, just to accommodate hotels and restaurants.

    This is not a loss to Muslims. This is a loss to humanity that a part of history is destroyed.

    Just google and find out.
    Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Just to point out that the propaganda used by ISIS is false. The Holy Prophet SAW marched into Mecca and forgave everyone. HE FORGAVE each and every person who had tried to kill him and his followers for more than 10 years. The Meccans saw the truth of Islam and became muslims. It was then that the idols placed in the house of God were broken. The idols were not there when the Kaaba was built and they were not there when the Meccans started trade. A chieftain of Mecca had brought one idol some decades ago and people had hewn new idols ever since. Therefore they had zero historical significance, no one was worshipping them and the people who created them did not object to their destruction as they all became muslims, even though they had been forgiven and could have continued to worship as Pagans.
    However, on a side note, there are some relics in certain Hindu temples which almost every good citizen would like removed. Like the depictions of sexual positions, the objects which are in shape of human sexual anatomy and the statues of nudes. I have no idea how Indians take their children to such temples.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    those idols served no purpose, the people who made them did not argue against their destruction, and the idols had no historical significanceRecommend

  • wb

    You’re very funny. As much I don’t like your comments, you do make me laugh. Don’t ever change. Recommend

  • Uzair

    Writer’s argument(s) would have carried weight if he would have stuck to his geopolitical/international relations expertise to analyze the issue at hand. However, showcasing the superficial knowledge about theology and islamic jurisprudence reflects self-affirming behavior that is prevalent in the society. Confirmation bias forces the writers to extract what they want from the history and present them in a biased manner. Of course, those that do not understand the realities and/or other historical narratives are susceptible to be swayed by empty statements that “such and such groups were bad….and this is blasphemous and this is not….i am aware of all the underlying reasons for why this happens..etc”. When a person who lack knowledge states such things he is called the ‘enlightened one’ or ‘true reformist/progressive’. People whose knowledge are grounded in islamic law, jurisprudence and theology are termed as ‘backward’, ‘from stone age’, ‘narrow-minded’. Goes on to show a deeper problem in the society today.Recommend

  • Gul Zaman Ghorgasht

    So did Rama, and Vishnu and Shiva and Brahma and Krishna in all
    his different reincarnations like Banke, Banwari, Girivar, Gopal, Damodar
    Darsh, Gopesh, Govind, Banbihari…and 4852 other deities.
    Recommend

  • Fareed Khan Afridi.

    You are right ! Absolutely nothing! However your fellow countrymen
    and women will make it so. Specially regarding Islam and Muslims.
    There you have it. Comprenez-vous maintenant?Recommend

  • Uzair

    The period of caliphs was violent, bloody and miserable? I know that the writer hasn’t described this period correctly, but this description is as misinformed. After Holy Prophet (pbuh) passed away, disintegration was inevitable. The righteous caliphs were the reason that this message reached to different corners of the world (of course, with the will of All Mighty). These simplistic statements/arguments are uncalled for and need to be reassessed for our own sake. Referring to media personalities (with no formal learning of the religion) for insights to Islam should be avoided as it can misguide the readers.Recommend

  • Uzair

    Why not? If state has the authority to ban veils, bull doze mosques and temples, etc., then this should be fine too. What is the need of such symbolism in secular democracies anyway? Yes, no, maybe?Recommend

  • islooboy

    they usually comment against Islam on news like thisRecommend

  • Milind A

    Then why write a blog pretending to be a liberal Muslim opposing
    destruction by ISIS… ISIS is blowing up ancient artifacts and that
    includes sites sacred to Muslims as well (Prophet’s Younus’ shrine).
    Your
    big daddy Saudi has already levelled the 1400 yr old house of the
    founder of your religion to build a parking lot on top of it.
    And by the way these are not symbolism but historical treasures – hope you realize the difference?Recommend

  • Lt Col Imtiaz Alam(retd)

    Aaaha! Could the Author substantiate his statement with reference to the Quran & Hadith.Recommend

  • siesmann

    ISIS and other groups are the product of Wahabism.Recommend

  • Zulfiqar Ahmed

    @Azeem… Read chapter 22, verse 40. There is no such thing as wahabi, unless you come from some rural areas of Pakistan where they would call me wahabi as use ‘rafa yadain’ during my prayer. ISIS is a khawariji group and if you go into history (which I am sure you have more knowledge than me), they were even confronting prophet Muhammad and accusing him of being dis-honest. ISIS is just a power grabbing political group who is twisting holy text and hadiths for their own benefits…Recommend

  • abhi

    It looks like you were eye witness of this. Just because winners write history doesn’t mean it was for real.Recommend

  • Haroon

    “What golden age?”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_Golden_Age

    Educate yourself wb…Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    actually the history for that particular incident is written by the Meccans who converted to Islam.Recommend

  • Uzair

    How easy it has become to establish causality these days. Yes?Recommend

  • Haroon

    Are you trying to say that ISIS is right?Recommend

  • Hasan

    Read Maximus Decimus Meridius’ comment .
    “The idols were not there when the Kaaba was built and they were not
    there when the Meccans started trade. A chieftain of Mecca had brought
    one idol some decades ago and people had hewn new idols ever since”

    They were built later on. When a church or a temple is built for the soul purpose of worship no one has the right to destroy it. Similarly no one has to right to claim a mosque and convert it into a templeRecommend

  • Uzair

    No one is defending ISIS, Boko haram,etc. The responses are geared to counter the presumed notions that are put forward by the ‘liberal’ writer.The difference between symbolism and ‘historical treasures’ depends on their operational definitions. I think it is good to reiterate the overarching theme of valuing, learning, living and sharing the sacred knowledge of Islam and not focusing on some monuments that have no bearing on one’s faith. One end of the extremist spectrum is ISIS, Boko Haram, etc. who do not represent the essence of Islam at all. On the other end are your ‘enlightened, liberal, progressive’ people who grossly misrepresent the teachings of Islam to serve western values (secular democracy, etc). Writers should be held responsible for the drawing false analogies and jumping to conclusion based on invalid assumptions. That is the aim of most of these responses. I hope this clarifies things a bit, maybe?Recommend

  • Lt Col Imtiaz Alam(retd)

    Don’t dodge the question.Recommend

  • Solomon2

    “In typical Wahhabi-inspired nonsense, any cultural artefact that is either culturally foreign or is somehow related to a sacred theme is a threat to a “good Muslim” because that “good” and “pure” Muslim will automatically be tempted into the unforgivable sin of polytheism.”

    Who says this assessment isn’t correct? When the choice is between being a Wahhabi Muslim or no Muslim at all then why shouldn’t a large number of “good” Muslims choose to convert to other religions instead?Recommend

  • abhi

    “Who converted to Islam” is the key here. Why did they convert to islam only after losing the war not earlier when Mohammed was preaching his religion without using sword? There is something more to it than written in the history books dude.Recommend

  • Nero

    Want to dream up more “history”? Kabba was definitely built long before the prophet of Islam arrived. It represented the tribal religion of the local population, with their complete pantheon of gods, foremost being “Allah”. For instance, the black stone still has religious significance among many tribes across Asia. With respect to your observation about Khajuraho temples, stop giving certificates of “good citizens”. That’s exactly what ISIS is also doing. Such mentality shows repressed sexuality, which reminds me of a bollywood dialogue – “you people yelp and act all prude at the mention of sex, but break world records in producing children”.Recommend

  • Hamza

    “Kabba was definitely built long before the prophet of Islam arrived.”

    Yes by Abraham and Ishmael…Recommend

  • Uzair

    At last, a sane comment! Thank you @zulfiqar_ahmed:disqusRecommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    There were no idols in Kaaba when it was first built. idol worship took place for only 3 centuries.
    As for your comment about the erotic temples. Shielding one’s children from erotica is not being a prude, it is called being a sane human being. I gather from your comment that you are in favour of such public depiction of nudity and erotica, but I do hope that you do not take your children to these profane sites.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    They saw that he won the war and still forgave them. It was customary for the winning side to kill each and everyone of the losers, and then they mutilated their bodies. Seeing that the Holy Prophet Muhammad , may peace and blessings of God be upon him , did not call for them to be punished, but rather he treated them like a brother and forgave them, they came to see the truth.
    And secondly, the war was not to preach Islam with the sword, it was a simple decision to punish an offender. the Quraish had signed an agreement that if anyone of the two, Medina or Mecca, waged war against the others ally, retaliation would be justified. The Holy Prophet , may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, was beseeched by his allies , who had been attacked by the Meccans and their men slain while in the holy sanctuary of the Kaaba. Therefore he was retaliation, there was no mention of spreading Islam, it as simple as punishing a murderer.
    You should read some history before trying to come up with these theories in your head, it will make your comments look better and the brain won’t have to work overtime concocting things.Recommend

  • Lt Col Imtiaz Alam(retd)

    There is no such thing as preservation of Artifacts, relics or idols. All idols in the Kaba were destroyed when the Muslim Army entered Mecca. The only relic preserved by Allah according to the Quran is the body of Feron the Pharoah during Hazart Musa AS’s time.Recommend

  • Milind A

    You didn’t get it…The ISIS is following the Prophet’s message to the core and is emulating him in destroying these treasures.
    In fact the ‘enlightened, liberal, progressive’ liberals whom you deride are doing a favour – they’re chucking away the less savoury aspects of Islam like this idol-smashing, goat sacrifice and trying to reform it to adapt it to modern times, something which other religions have done.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Evidence please.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Can you provide historical evidence for Maximus Decimus Meridius’ comment?
    What about Muslims claim to convert temples into Mosques?Recommend

  • vinsin

    No one worship temples and mosques as far as I know. But yes if state want it can destroy those and should have power to implement laws accepted by its citizens.
    You forget the local culture aspect that secular democracies still has to follow. Destruction of symbolism is not secular democracies, implementation of human rights is, which includes freedom of religion?Recommend

  • vinsin

    Not true we argued but to escape persecution came to India.
    Idols were part of Arab civilization and had historical and scientific significance.
    Destruction of those let to destruction of Arab civilization.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Indian Muslims didnt move to Pakistan after its creation can a similar attack on them will be justified.Recommend

  • vinsin

    But what is your problem with that?Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    wrong. these idols were of no historical significance. And as the “creators” and the “owners” of the idols had no argument against their destruction who are you to argue? eh? If I hew a statue and then it is displeasing me, I have every right to break it if I want. The only person who can contest right to destroy is the person who created the thing and as I am the creator and the owner I have every right to destroy it.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    The attack was a result of infringement of truce. Does there exist a similar truce between India and Pakistan? And even if it did, the truce between Medina and Mecca excluded those living within Mecca, therefore even if you work on some twisted incorrect analogy where the two look similar to your vision, the people living in India are exempted. Sorry to burst your bubble dude, but why don’t you study some history before rushing in here to comment. I see from your comment history that you are against muslims and are quite abusive in most of your posts, so why not take a chill pill while you read some actual history instead of the one taught at Hindutva Recruitment And Militarization.Recommend

  • abhi

    I don’t think there is any basis of your assertion. They probably converted because otherwise they would have been killed by winning army.Recommend

  • Prashant

    “However, on a side note, there are some relics in certain Hindu temples which almost every good citizen would like removed. Like the depictions of sexual positions, the objects which are in shape of human sexual anatomy and the statues of nudes. I have no idea how Indians take their children to such temples.”

    Because we are not good citizens and when I do become a father, I would certainly take my children to those temples and make them a part of the next generation of bad citizens. Also, yes we are lesser humans for being the followers of a lesser religion, so good luck to you for being a good citizen for being the follower of a perfect faith.

    We are not going to destroy any of our temples and join the ISIS bandwagon.Recommend

  • Uzair

    You seem to know a lot about Holy Prophet’s(pbuh) life. I am assuming you get your information from media? Have you read Quran and authentic narrations? It is futile to argue if you have made up your mind already. Thank you for your response :)Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    “They probably converted because otherwise they would have been killed by winning army” I think they have the right to say why they converted. Who are you to say why they converted? What right do you have to make such an assertion on their behalf?Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    “and when I do to become a father, I would certainly take my children to those temples”. but you have not taken your children yet, so it is just an assertion, having children will change your mindset dont worry.Recommend

  • AT

    If you are open to it then try to read the Quran translation all evidence is there.Recommend

  • Prashant

    “but you have not taken your children yet, so it is just an assertion, having children will change your mindset dont worry.”

    Speak for yourself man, I have been to such temples with my family and so many Hindus do the same as well so you are already proven wrong.

    Also, it is not me who needs to worry but it is you for despite being the member of a community which claims to be the follower of a perfect faith, your community seems to be represented by those who by any stretch of imagination cannot be described as civilised.

    I really hope your next generations will be unlike yours which goes around giving unsolicited advise of why not to follow any other faith other than yours.Recommend

  • abhi

    If they have not converted beofre losing the war, but converted only after losing the war it is clear that it was not the logic but force which made them convert. People say lot of things, do we have to take it on face value always?Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    they did not convert after losing the war, that is the best part. they were ready to die. but when they were forgiven they saw the truth and accepted Islam. Let’s see if there is anyone who forgave so many after having such complete power over them.Recommend

  • abhi

    So in other words this was the deal, get killed or conver to Islam and they chose to live.Also if we go by your logic, it means when Prithvi Raj Chauhan let go Mohammed Ghori after first battle of Panipat, Ghori should have been converted to hinduism beacause he was not killed after the war?Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    wrong. “get killed or convert to Islam ” was never he issue. I think I already explained to you that the battle was not a religious one, it was retaliation for killing the allies of muslims in the sanctuary of Kaaba.
    No one gave the Meccans any conditions. And your second statement proves MY pointRecommend