Timbuktu: Destroying tombs and shrines of Islamic saints is an act which will defend the purity of Islam against idol worship. This is the mindset of Al-Qaeda linked extremists who claim to be Islamist fighters.
The Al-Qaeda linked extremists of the country, Mali, who destroyed many earthen tombs and shrines of local saints – who spread Islam in the region with love and affection, in the famous desert city of Timbuktu, while claiming that they are preserving the purity of Islam and discouraging, which they call, “idol worship.”
The controversial act of the Islamic extremists in Mali has not only raised concerns of the historians but other Islamic sects, following moderate Islam, have also condemned their blasphemy against the holy personalities/saints of Islam.
According to the historians, the destruction of Islamic symbols including tombs and shrines in Timbuktu, a UNESCO-listed city, by Islamic extremists is crushing the part of Islamic history in the African continent.
They said with disappointment that they are not only vandalizing the services of the saints for spreading Islam but they are also defaming their centuries-old message of tolerance which is the real spirit of Islam.
A Professor at New York's Columbia University and an expert on Islamic Philosophy in Africa, Souleymane Bachir Diagne, commented, “They are striking at the heart of what Timbuktu stands for ... Mali and the world are losing a lot.”
The Islamists of the Ansar Dine, a rebel group which in April seized Mali's north along with Tuareg separatists, have downed at least eight mausoleums and several shrines in Timbuktu during the only last very few days.
Timbuktu is also known as “City of 333 Saints” due to having shrines of several Islamic saints and is a symbol of Sufi version of Islam in the African region which teaches love and affection for all human beings regardless of their caste, sect and religion.
An ancient Saharan trading depot for salt, gold and slaves developed into a famous seat of Islamic learning after it survived occupations by Tuareg, Bambara, Moroccan and French invaders for centuries in Timbuktu. The local people are used to offering prayers and doing meditations at the shrines for spiritually connecting with the holy individuals.
The Islamic extremists like the fighters of Ansar Dine, who call themselves “Defenders of the Faith,” follow the Salafi sect of Islam which is associated with the Wahhabism, a sect of Muslims found mostly in Saudi Arabia. Ansar Dine fighters hate the Sufism and its traditional worships which is widely popular in the Muslims across the Islamic world.
Diagne said, “A Salafi would say that creating a culture of saints is akin to idol-worshipping.”
An Ansar Dine spokesman in Timbuktu, Sanda Ould Boumama, rejected the claims that there is a wave of condemnation inside and outside Mali against the shrine destructions while talking to an international media last week. He said that Ansar Dine’s actions are in line with the group's aim of imposing Shariah or Islamic law across all of divided Mali.
Boumama defiantly stated, “Human beings cannot be elevated higher than God ... When the Prophet entered Mecca, he said that all the mausoleums should be destroyed. And that's what we're repeating.”
The Malian Culture Minister, Diallo Fadima Toure, said in a UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in St. Petersburg on Sunday, “Ansar Dine's depredations have nothing to do with Islam, a religion of peace and tolerance.”
“Are we just going to let this go and stand and watch? Today this is happening in Mali, tomorrow where will it be?” she added.