Islamic shrines desecrated in Africa
Give the Islamic militants credit: They don’t discriminate when it comes to wanton destruction.
Monday in the west African nation of Mali, radical Islamists destroyed the “sacred” door of one of Timbuktu’s three ancient mosques after smashing seven tombs of Muslim saints over the weekend, witnesses said.
“The Islamists have just destroyed the door to the entrance of the Sidi Yahya mosque … they tore the sacred door off which we never open,” said a resident of the town.
A former tour guide in the once-popular tourist destination added, “They came with pick-axes, they cried ‘Allah’ and broke the door. It is very serious. Some of the people watching began crying.”
The Sidi Yahya mosque was completed in 1440, and was named for its first imam. It is one of Timbuktu’s three great mosques.
The action by Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) was the latest in a three-day rampage that involved destroying cultural treasures in the historic city.
The door on the south end of the mosque has been closed for centuries due to local beliefs that opening it will bring misfortune.
“In legend, it is said that the main gate of Sidi Yahya mosque will not be opened until the last day (of the world),” Alpha Abdoulahi, the town imam, told Reuters.
Yet eight Islamist fighters smashed the door open early Monday, saying they wanted to “destroy the mystery” of the ancient entrance, he said.
It leads to a tomb of saints; however the Islamists appeared unaware of this as one witness said if they had known, “they would have broken everything.”
According to the website of the UN cultural agency (UNESCO), Sidi Yahya is one of Timbuktu’s three great mosques and was built during the city’s golden age as a desert crossroads and center for learning, according to Agence France-Presse.
The three mosques formed the “university” of the fabled city, also known as the “City of 333 Saints.”
The Islamists threatened to destroy the mosques over the weekend if they contained the remains of any saints, considering the shrines idolatrous.
They began their destruction of tombs on Saturday, after UNESCO put Timbuktu on its list of endangered world heritage sites.
Islamists of the Ansar Dine group say the centuries-old shrines of the local Sufi version of Islam in Timbuktu are idolatrous. They have so far destroyed at least eight of 16 listed mausoleums in the city, together with a number of tombs, according to Reuters.
International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda warned that the destruction of historical and religious buildings could amount to a war crime.
“My message to those involved in these criminal acts is clear: stop the destruction of the religious buildings now,” Bensouda told Agence France-Presse in an interview in Dakar, Senegal. “This is a war crime which my office has authority to fully investigate.”
(Above: Photo of Sidi Yahya mosque in Timbuktu, Mali. The mosque was built in 1440.)