Destroying history — Conflicting opinions on Madinah artifacts
WITH the ongoing expansion of the Prophet’s Mosque, many historical sites and artifacts in Madinah have either been destroyed or face demolition. The disregard shown for the city’s history has proven to be polarizing with opponents saying the expansion plans include an inconsiderate removal of historical artifacts from the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) while proponents say the artifacts may lead to ‘bid’ah’ (innovation in religious matters) and therefore should be destroyed anyway, Al-Riyadh daily reported.
Aisha Khaja, an expert in Islamic and Prophetic artifacts in Madinah, said many residents of Madinah view the destruction as an attack on their history and culture, but the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) supports their desire to preserve these artifacts.
“Some people view these artifacts as a reason for potential bid’ah and therefore they believe they must be erased from existence. Thankfully, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities wants to preserve these artifacts,” she said.
While emphasizing the need to preserve the city’s history, Khaja recalled a recent trip to a historical castle that was in a state of disrepair. “I was part of a tour organized by the Madinah Research and Studies Center to the castle of Hisham Ibn Abdulmalik, the 10th Umayyad caliph. I was surprised to see the castle in such a dilapidated condition because I knew the owner and how diligent he was in keeping the spirit of the castle alive. I later learned that the owner had passed away and his sons inherited the land and sold it to an investor who is all set to demolish the site regardless of its immense historical significance,” she added.
Local historian Tinaidib Alfaidi said the city’s artifacts witnessed a period of dilapidation after the Ministry of Education passed the responsibility of maintaining them over to the SCTA.
“In the ensuing three years, many of these artifacts were destroyed due to the absence of security around them. With no regulations or laws in place to protect historic places, many businessmen bought them and demolished the structures to build projects such as hotels and shopping centers,” he said. Alfaidi said since many Qur’anic surahs were revealed in Madinah, historical artifacts are not only for remembrance, but are an extended means of interpreting Qur’anic verses. “For example, physically seeing Mount Uhud facilitates our understanding of what went on in the battle of Uhud and why the Prophet ordered archers on the mountain to remain there,” he said.
Alfaidi said he understands fears that artifacts may one day become objects of worship by people he called “weak believers.” However, he said the solution is not to demolish history but to regulate and preserve it in a way monitored and overseen by the SCTA.
“Preserving history should not only be the responsibility of the SCTA but of every citizen. What is left of these artifacts is scarce and precious. Therefore, any form of attention and care must be appreciated,” he added.
Jamal Bint Abdullah Alsaadi, the leader of Ruwaq group of female writers from Madinah, said although countless artifacts have already been lost, the new expansion plans for the Prophet’s Mosque mean many more would be destroyed if something was not done urgently.
“What is lost cannot be retrieved but at least we can still preserve the location of the artifacts instead of losing them to investors who wish to build residential towers and other commercial attractions. These historic sites can attract tourists and funding for their maintenance and preservation,” she said while also dismissing the argument that the artifacts will result in bid’ah.
“By destroying these artifacts and sites, we are losing our roots and our history as Muslims. Awareness regarding the issue must be raised nationally and internationally. All of the concerned institutions must play a proactive role in informing people of their lost history. International Islamic associations must also take a similarly proactive role in the matter. Brochures regarding these artifacts can be given to all pilgrims before they arrive in Makkah. This will make them respect the sites and appreciate their presence,” she said.
Mohammad Alamin Alkhutari, general manager of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance in Madinah, said the artifacts in the city can be divided into two categories: Prophetic artifacts (objects relating to incidents involving the Prophet and his Companions) and artifacts retelling the history of the city and its location. Alkhutari said visiting Prophetic sites is not a religious requirement, something that must be clarified to all tourists and pilgrims.
“The Prophet clearly mentioned that there are only three places on earth worth travelling to: the Grand Mosque in Makkah, the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The ministry fears that people will start visiting Makkah and Madinah not only to visit the sites I previously mentioned but to worship at other historical sites. During the pilgrimage season, many foreigners with distorted beliefs come from different countries. The ministry does not give any emphasis or attention to these artifacts and historical sites as a precautionary measure against such tendencies,” he said.Destroying history — Conflicting opinions on Madinah artifacts