TIMBUKTU, Mali - In 2012 we reported on the modern trend of the destruction of ancient artifacts by radicals, and in Mali the destruction of Timbuktu was an equally notable travesty. It is incomprehensible that any Muslim would try to destroy this legendary center of Islamic academia, but that they employed a strict interpretation of the law to justify their acts of barbarism seems antithetical to the Qur'an in which they espouse to believe.
Ansar Dine Islamist militia which had ties to Al-Qaeda fought with the Tuareg to capture the key towns of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. They remained in control of these cities from 2012 through 2013 until they were defeated and driven out by the French forces.
When the extremists initiated the destruction of Timbuktu, a city that is recognized as an important cultural icon, they did so with the same vehemence with which they bombed the 6th century giant statues of Buddha in Afghanistan Bamiyan in March 2001.
The Taliban extremist Mullah Mohammed Omar in Afghanistan, and a spokesman for Ansar Dine lauded the destruction of these irreplaceable monuments.
“Muslims should be proud of smashing idols. It has given praise to God that we have destroyed them.”
The Islamist militants in Mali destroyed mosques, desecrated mausoleums, and burnt tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts. The mausoleums were particularly targeted because they were “shrines to Timbuktu's founding fathers, who had been venerated as saints by most of the city's inhabitants.” The act of men, dead or alive, being revered was viewed as idolatrous and thus blasphemous according to the tenets of Islam.
Once a great Islamic learning center between the 13th to the 17th centuries, Timbuktu attracted thousands of Muslim students from sub-Sahara and Northern Africa. Even my father visited the famed city while making Hajj when I was a child. Though not as important a pilgrimage as the Hajj, nonetheless many Muslims undertook the journey to study in or visit the famed city. At its height there were nearly 200 schools and universities housed here.
On 20 July 2015 news outlets announced the restoration of fourteen mausoleums. It took local stone masons using traditional techniques just over a year to complete. According to UNESCO, "extremists inflicted significant damage to 14 out of the 16 mausoleums that had been given World Heritage status,” and the restoration of these historical monuments was news worthy and an important step toward achieving tolerance and peaceful coexistence.
Though there is much to be done, the restoration of Timbuktu through the collective efforts and financial support by Muslims, Christians, and Jews, demonstrates that we have the capacity to establish peaceful coalitions in furtherance of the well-being of all. Thus, we have taken these first steps in recognizing the importance of our commonalities over our differences. Despite what is portrayed in the media, there are more good and peace loving people in the world than those who twist religious dogma to justify personal agendas.
So, when radical fundamentalist band together to foment hatred and fear, it is our duty to remember that we too have power. As Edmund Burke said, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”
- Mali makes arrests linked to Islamist attacks: sources (scooprocket.com)
- Official: Mali army disrupts attack plot in capital (usnews.com)
- Mali makes arrests linked to Ansar Dine attacks (worldbulletin.net)
- Ansar Dine claims Mali attacks, threatens I. Coast and Mauritania (modernghana.com)
- Islamists Destroy Timbuktu, Eye Pyramids of Giza (ayannanahmias.com)