Following ISIS's takeover of Palmyra in Syria, Al-Azhar issued a statement in which it expressed concern over this development and called upon the international community to take swift measures to prevent ISIS from destroying the ancient ruins and monuments there. The statement said that destroying archeological remains and mankind's cultural heritage, as well as trading in stolen antiquities, are forbidden by the Islamic shari'a. It said further that, in destroying antiquities, ISIS and other terror organizations implement a colonialist ideology whose sole purpose is to empty the Arab and Islamic countries of heritage, culture and history.
A condemnation of ISIS's destruction of antiquities was also issued by Dar Al-Ifta, Egypt's official institution responsible for issuing fatwas. As part of its campaign against radical Islam, Dar Al-Ifta has been operating a body to respond to fatwas by radical elements. The body, which was established in December 2013, responds by issuing fatwas of its own which refute the claims of the radicals and explain the correct ruling, according to its lights. Following the Islamic State's destruction of archeological sites and museums in Iraq and Syria, as well as the ban it issued on teaching archeology in the university of Mosul, Dar Al-Ifta issued a fatwa explaining why these actions contradict the laws and the spirit of Islam.
The following are the main points of the fatwa by Dar Al-Ifta.
ISIS destroying antiquities in Iraq (Image: english.alarabiya.net)
The fatwa explains that the Koran commands to protect archeological sites so that mankind can learn from the past: "Allah commanded us in more than one Koranic verse to tour the land, see the remains left by our predecessors and take a lesson from them. [Koran 30:9] says: 'Do they not travel in the land, and see what was the end of those before them? They were superior to them in strength, and they tilled the earth and populated it in greater numbers than these (pagans) have done, and there came to them their Messengers with clear proofs. Surely, Allah wronged them not, but they used to wrong themselves...' The fatwa explains further that the study of archeology is one of the ways to learn from ancient remains, as Allah commanded, and that the Prophet also instructed the believers to preserve ancient remains when he "forbade the destruction of the castles of Al-Medina."
The fatwa proclaims that ISIS's actions and its attitude towards antiquities reflect "the utter ignorance of these radicals, who do not examine the Koran and the heritage of the Prophet..." Moreover, the opinions upon which they base their views are "baseless and misleading... and do not contain any convincing arguments anchored in religious evidence." The conduct of ISIS, the fatwa adds, also stands in contradiction to the conduct of the Prophet's companions, who are meant to serve as a model for the Muslims, because "ancient remains existed in all the lands that were conquered by the Muslims [in the Prophet's era], but they [i.e., he and his companions] did not order to destroy them and even allowed [people] to go near them... Some of the Prophet's companions came to Egypt at the time of the Muslim conquests and found the pyramids and the Sphinx. [They] did not issue any fatwa or a religious ruling regarding these antiquities, which have immense historical value."
The fatwa also addresses ISIS's claim that antiquities, if not destroyed, may encourage polytheism. It stresses that "Muslim law does not forbid to appreciate other things besides Allah, but only to worship them, as was done by the people of the pre-Islamic era, who believed that the objects they worshiped were gods..."