Mali Crises–Destruction of cultural heritage was written on the wall

Special report of Dispatch News desk (DND)

MALI: It was written on the wall that Al-Qaeeda backed Islamist rebels will leave Timbuktu after destroying cultural heritage of the city as they did in Bamiyan Afghanistan in year 2001. They have burnt down a library full of ancient manuscripts in the Malian town of Timbuktu as they fled. They had also destroyed the shrines of more than 300 Sufi saints dotted around the town. In radical Islam or Salafism, there is no place for such Sufi and saints. Taliban destroyed tombs of saints including of Rehman Baba in Peshawar and attacked tomb of Data Darbar in Lahore Pakistan. Salafi are of the view that graves must be destroyed and Sufis were not Muslims as they believed in music and interfaith harmony. They also believe that concept of cultural heritage is wrong.

The majority of the ancient books burnt were written in Arabic and covered a wide range of topics such as astronomy, music, poetry, medicine, geography, history and religion. The oldest dated back to the beginning of the 13th century.

The South African-funded library contained thousands of priceless documents dating back to the 13th century. “The rebels sit fire to the newly-constructed Ahmed Baba Institute built by the South Africans … this happened four days ago,” Timbuktu Mayor Halle Ousmane Ciffe informed international media. He said he received the information from his chief of communications, who had travelled south from the town.

The manuscripts were being kept in two different locations, an old warehouse and a new research center – the Ahmed Baba Institute. Both buildings were burned down, according to the mayor, who was unable to say immediately if any of the manuscripts had survived in fire. Named after a Timbuktu-born contemporary of William Shakespeare, the Ahmed Baba Institute housed more than 20,000 scholarly manuscripts. Some were stored in underground vaults.

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“The manuscripts were a part not only of Mali’s heritage, but the world’s heritage. By destroying them they threaten the world. We have to kill all of the rebels in the north,” added Ciffe.

The Islamist fighters also burned down the town hall and the governor’s office, and reportedly shot dead a man who was celebrating the arrival of the French military.

The Islamist rebels had captured the trading town nine months ago. During their rule, the militants have had systematically destroyed UNESCO World Heritage sites in Timbuktu, according to its mayor.

Timbuktu is situated 950km north of Mali’s capital of Bamako and lies on an ancient caravan route. The destruction of the town’s library marked the latest inroad by the two-week-old French mission to oust radical Islamists from the northern half of Mali.

It may be mentioned that at least three mausoleums in Mali were reportedly destroyed on 23 December, including that of the Al Hassan and Al Houseyni twins. Islamist militants regard such shrines as idolatrous and thus prohibited in their religion. They especially target Sufi shrines, which they believe are sacrilegious. Sufism is a mystical dimension of Islam considered offbeat and frowned upon by Islamic hardliners. The Sufis, who brought Islam to much of sub-Saharan Africa, dance, pray and preach using drama and humor. In a similar attack in 2001, the Taliban destroyed ancient Buddhist relics in Afghanistan.

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