Syria’s sectarian civil war endangers Shi’ite shrines
Iran has condemned what it called a Syrian rebel attack on a shrine where remains of a 7th-century figure revered by Shi’ite Muslims were dug up and taken away, highlighting how Syria’s civil war is inflaming sectarian anger.
A report of the desecration of the Hojr Ibn Oday shrine near Damascus, posted with photographs on Facebook in late April, could not be verified but it prompted the Shi’ite leadership in Tehran to urge respect for holy sites in a conflict where the rebels include Sunni Islamists hostile to Iran.
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by Iranian Press TV saying: “Such acts could ignite the fire of religious rifts among followers of the divine religions”. He urged international organizations to safeguard sacred Islamic and Christian places in Syria, an ancient crossroads for religions.
Syria’s two-year-old conflict pits insurgents, most of whom are drawn from the country’s Sunni majority, against Iranian-allied President Bashar al-Assad and an elite dominated by his Alawite minority, whose faith is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.
The rebel movement includes Syrian and foreign fighters imbued with ideas of Sunni Islam, prevalent in Saudi Arabia, which deem Shi’ites apostates and their shrines as unIslamic pagan symbols that should be smashed. Some Islamist militants pledge allegiance to al Qaeda, whose interpretation of Sunni teaching has fueled sectarian bloodletting in neighboring Iraq.