I remember touring the historic landmarks of London and Paris. We admired Westminster Abbey, and stood for more than a minute taking in the breathtaking view of the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral overlooking the river Seine. While I enjoyed my time in both cities and enjoyed them on an aesthetic level, it wasn’t until I visited Turkey and Spain that I learned the emotional tug history and historic sites can have. Neither Turkey or Spain are my genetically ancestral homelands but visiting them, seeing the sites, I felt myself drawn in on a level that transcended mere aesthetic admiration. I felt a connection. Standing on the same streets where ancient thinkers once stood, taking in the same sunsets they once did– it revealed to me a part of who I was.
In 2001 I read horrified about the Taliban destroying ancient Buddhist statutes that stood the test of time for centuries succumbing to ignorant interpretations and intolerance. But this destruction of history and important artifacts are not limited to destroying that which is held dear by other faiths and cultures, that same religious school of thought is happy to destroy that which is dear to adherents of its own faith too as evidenced by the destruction-happy Saudis who have been toppling like legos all sites dear to Islam’s cultural and religious heritage from Abu-Bakr’s home [the first Caliph] razed to make a Hilton, to the house of the Prophet’s wife Khadijah destroyed to create public bathrooms, his birth place, and his mother’s grave site which was destroyed, leveled, and set alight. For what? To create luxury five-star hotels, penthouses, and malls for Paris Hilton’s handbags.
Seeing the destruction of these sites, now replaced with hotels and penthouses made me think of the quote by Charles V who walked in on his people dismantling the Grand Mosque of Cordova with its brilliant architecture and designwork. He was horrified and ordered them to stop immediately lamenting to create something ordinary you destroyed something extraordinary.
If the Saudi destruction is any indication, it’s a historic truth that we learn little from history.
Some might shrug and say the destruction is sad but nothing to get too worked up over, but as this article points out, this destruction of ancient religious sites is dangerous not just for the tourism value, but for other more important reasons as well:
It’s not just our heritage, it’s the evidence of the story of the Prophet,” What can we say now? ‘This parking lot was the first school of Islam’? ‘There used to be a mountain here where Mohammad made a speech’? … What’s the difference between history and legend?” “Evidence.
The destruction over the years is depressing and frustrating- but today…. today I am rendered speechless upon hearing the Saudi government intends to destroy the gravesite, the tomb, the final resting place of our beloved Prophet Muhammad later this year.
Someone once remarked that the historic sites of Mecca and Medina should be granted independent status like The Vatican- funded by all Muslim countries and decisions about those sites, dear to billions of people worldwide, made by a collective whole of the faith, not the people who happened to be born in the area where the sites reside. Reading about the newest intention to raze the tomb of the Prophet I can’t help but agree. I am outraged. I am furious. And yet there is nothing I can do. No change.org petition or twitter hashtag to start- nothing can be done. They will do what they will do, and in doing so take away any signs of the origins of the faith. In my lifetime, all evidence of the origins of my faith will be gone. In pursuing the creation of ordinary they will continue to destroy that which can never again be replicated.