Islamic history: Preserving our heritage

Now you see it, now you don’t

With every kidnapped journalist, every attack perpetrated against innocent civilians, and every threat levied against western civilization, Muslims the world over brace themselves for the inevitable association of Islam with violence.

When Muslims reject violence in the name of religion, we often present Islamic civilization’s historical record as evidence of the religion’s inherent capacity for peace, tolerance and justice. Most Muslims honor this history not because we seek to recreate an exact replica of its reality, but because it represents an enlightened realization of the spiritual principles upon which we draw daily sustenance in these trying times.

Yet, as much as we profess to honor our past, it is our past that lies in ruins across much of the Muslim world. From Cairo to Baghdad to Mecca and Medina, many of the most important historical sites of Islamic civilization, that in many ways represent our collective tradition of tolerance, peace and pursuit of that which is beautiful, lie either in ruins or at the brink of collapse.

The reality is not just symbolic, it is very real. The fact that Muslims from around the world would be up in arms if a stone from the Dome of the Rock was misplaced, but hardly raise a concern when the house of our beloved Prophet is near to being razed to the ground, demonstrates an overriding political orientation of our priorities that betrays the principles of our heritage. If the Muslim world today has failed to establish Islam upon the enlightened principles for which it stands, then the least we can do is make an effort to protect the historical record of those who successfully did so before us.

While concern for historic sites in Mecca and Medina have garnered some limited media attention, by and large the emphasis placed by the Muslim community towards protecting, preserving and honoring these dignified symbols of our past is scant at best, and non-existent at worst. It is often the case that Muslims are so busy trying to return to a “golden age” that they have forgotten what exactly constituted its many virtues.

In the latest issue of Islamica Magazine, we have collected a number of essays from leading scholars in the field in an effort to assess how various Muslim communities have come to address, or ignore, this critical issue. It is our hope that this effort will promote both discussion and awareness of a subject that should be of concern to anyone who believes that the history of Islamic Civilization is one worth remembering.

Firas Ahmad is Senior Editor of Islamica Magazine.

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