- 'Taliban misunderstood Islamic sayings on heritage'
- Maneesh Pandey
NEW DELHI (March 5, 2001): History repeats itself. The tradition of
but shikani (idol or statue breaking) started by Arab marauders, in their quest to
rule the Indian subcontinent, is well documented. This was done on the plea that idol or
religious object worshipping was un-Islamic. What followed was cultural mayhem -
destruction of famous temples and loot of their wealth.
After almost 1,000 years this intolerance has resurfaced. Only the
actors have changed. It was the Ghaznis, Ghoris or Khaljis yesterday; today it is the
Taliban militia in Afghanistan.
They have justified the destruction of all statues of the Buddha in
Afghanistan by claiming that the `heritage under fire is un-Islamic'. But experts in
Islamic studies cast doubt on the Taliban's understanding of Islamic sayings on heritage.
Montgomerry Watt's Muhammed at Mecca and Robinson's Muhammed which talk
about Islamic ideology in detail show that Islam was, in fact, very conscious of heritage.
There is a clear demarcation between living and dead monuments. Islam
is only against places where worshipping continues and not against a deserted monument.
This was what even Mahmud of Ghazni believed and this tolerance continued till Aurangzeb,
points out Satish Chandra, a historian and an expert on the Islamic period.
He says: ``Their justification that it's un-Islamic and against the
Sh'ariat is itself contradictory and wrong. Even Ghazni ruled that the old or dead
monuments were not to be destroyed, except in war if they were becoming an obstacle.''
A clearer picture emerges from the Benaras farman of Aurangzeb
(now at the National Library, Kolkata). At the outset of his reign, Aurangzeb reiterated
the Sh'ariat position on temples, synagogues, churches, etc, that ``long standing temples
should not be demolished. But no new temples (are) to be built.'' It further says: ``Old
places of worship could even be repaired since buildings cannot last forever.'' This
position of Aurangzeb, known to be a strict Islamist himself, is clearly spelt out in a
number of farmans issued to the Brahmins of Benaras and Vrindavan, said Chandra.
He added: ``Mughal period references don't highlight any such
destruction of dead monuments. Even Aurangzeb ordered firing of cannon shots at the
Bamiyan Buddhas, but he didn't destroy them.''
Other references too highlight the same philosophy. ``Sikander Lodhi
(15th century) tried to destroy some old monuments at Kurukshetra. The Afghan ruler was
persuaded not to do so by the Ulemas, saying they had been there for long. And he accepted
the Ulemas' ruling,'' said Chandra.
The destruction has clearly embarrassed the Islamic world. The
Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the highest platform of the Muslim world, urged
the Taliban on Saturday to abandon its decision to destroy the country's pre-Islamic
The common reaction was ``ravaged cities can be rebuilt, not
heritage.'' OIC stated: ``Historical relics, regardless of where they are located, are
part of the cultural heritage of the whole of humanity, and they must be preserved.''