Yemenis seek to protect heritage from ISIL

By Abu Bakr al-Yamani in Sanaa

The shrine and mosque of prominent Sufi scholar Ali al-Rumaimah is shown before and after the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' attacked it on March 31st. [Photo courtesy of the Yemeni Ministry of Culture]

The shrine and mosque of prominent Sufi scholar Ali al-Rumaimah is shown before and after the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' attacked it on March 31st. [Photo courtesy of the Yemeni Ministry of Culture]

The recent bombing of the mosque and shrine of a prominent Sufi scholar in Taez, part of a string of similar attacks by extremists, has drawn sharp condemnation and calls for help to protect Yemen's heritage.

The "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) on March 31st bombed the mosque and shrine of Sufi scholar Ali al-Rumaimah in the Mashraa wa Hadnan directorate of Taez province.

The historic mosque, which dates back 600 years and has served as a centre of learning and the directorate's first school, was damaged in the attack.

The Yemeni ministries of culture, tourism and endowments and guidance, the Tourism Promotion Board and other religious and social organisations strongly condemned the attack.

In a statement carried by Yemeni media outlets, the Ministry of Endowments and Guidance described the attack on Yemen's history, heritage and civilisation as an act of vandalism carried out by "gangs and terrorists".

Help to protect heritage

In its statement, the ministry noted there has been an increase in the targeting of religious and historic shrines and monuments, which aims to efface the cultural identity of the Yemeni people.

The ministry appealed to the Yemeni people, army, international community and international organisations concerned with the protection of human heritage to criminalise these destructive actions and help to prevent them from recurring.

The Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Promotion Board also condemned ISIL's destruction of the Ali al-Rumaimah shrine, saying it was one of the province's historic landmarks.

In a statement carried by Yemeni media outlets, the tourism ministry and board condemned the "criminal acts targeting the identity and history of the Yemeni people by attacking historic shrines and domes".

There have been previous attacks on heritage in the provinces of Hadramaut, Lahj, Aden and Daleh, and most recently the bombing and total destruction of the Imam al-Sudi shrine in Taiz province, the statement said.

"This group continues to carry out its belligerent terrorist acts against Yemen’s heritage without any religious or moral qualms," the ministry said.

An attack on Muslim sanctities

The Islamic Sufi Forum said in a statement that the bombing had damaged the shrine's historic mosque, which had served as the first school in the Mashraa wa Hadnan directorate.

"This destructive act is one in a series of acts and crimes that have been carried out by the so-called ISIL group in the directorate, including murder, slaughter and the burning and demolition of homes and shrines," the statement said.

The bombing of the shrine and damage caused to the mosque adjacent to it "is an attack on Muslim sanctities and the mosques and houses of God", said Yemen Scholars Association member Sheikh Yahya al-Najjar.

"These acts are condemned by Muslim imams and their congregations because they violate prohibitions set by sharia," he told Al-Mashareq.

Al-Najjar described the perpetrators as "criminals and terrorists".

The attackers "deemed permissible the spilling of the blood of Muslims and they slaughter them alive, so how can they refrain from attacking them when they are dead in their graves?" he asked.

A crime against Islam, Yemen

Deputy Ministry of Tourism Abdul-Jabbar Saeed described the attack on the shrine and mosque to Al-Mashareq as "a crime against religion and the country".

It is a crime against Islam because it "targeted the tomb of a righteous scholar and a mosque of God", he said, "and it is a crime against the country because it targeted a historic shrine".

He called on international and civil society organisations to take a stand against the destruction and vandalism of Islamic landmarks in Yemen by extremist armed groups.

Tourism Promotion Board media officer Akram al-Jawlahi also called on international organisations to "take a clear stand" against the attacks on Yemen’s heritage and to designate Yemen's heritage as endangered.

He called on Yemen's warring sides to put an end to the ongoing conflict, which has enabled extremist groups to expand, and urged them to help put an end to any tampering with historic and archaeological sites.

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As a Yemeni citizen, I reject all the barbarity that is being carried it within Yemen.