Advancing radical Islamists lay waste to religious heritage in Muslim world
The grim sacking of Sufi shrines in Timbuktu is the latest chapter in an assault on prized religious heritage across the Muslim world that has picked up over the past decade with the spread of radical Islamism.
The world got a first taste of this iconoclasm in 2001, when Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban blew up two huge 6th-century statues of Buddha despite an international outcry.
Since then, radical Islamists have also struck holy sites of other faiths, especially Christian churches. But their most frequent targets have been mosques and shrines of other Muslims loyal to a version of Islam less puritanical than their own.
This violence has spread through Pakistan, starting near the Afghan border and fanning out to strike famous Sufi shrines as far away as Lahore and southern Punjab.
It broke out in the Middle East last year when, in the wake of the Arab Spring, once-repressed Salafi groups destroyed shrines in Egypt. In Libya, some militants dug up Sufi saints’ graves and dumped their remains on garbage heaps.
Like the radicals’ strict theology, this assault on rival religious heritage goes back to the dawn of Islam and is rigorously enforced in its birthplace, Saudi Arabia.
Sanda Ould Boumama of the Ansar Dine group now reducing Timbuktu’s tombs to rubble told France’s RFI radio: “When the Prophet (Mohammad) entered Mecca, he said all the mausoleums should be destroyed. And that’s what we’re repeating.”