News / Africa

Timbuktu Residents Reject Islamists' Reason for Destroying Shrines

Nancy Palus
DAKAR — The armed group Ansar Dine is destroying shrines to Muslim saints in the ancient city of Timbuktu, saying the sites are idolatrous and un-Islamic. Residents of the northern Malian city say this is baseless and a false pretext. Some worry that condemnation by the international community only provokes Ansar Dine to expand the destruction.

In Mali and in other parts of the world where extremist groups have destroyed shrines, the groups say the sites amount to idol worship and are therefore sacrilegious.

Timbuktu natives say this argument - which they say may or may not be Ansar Dine’s true motivation - denotes a complete misconception of the sites’ significance.

A writer and historian from Timbuktu, who requested anonymity, said, “These saints are not adored by the people of Timbuktu. The people do not see these saints as divine. They go to these sites simply to pay homage to these saints who lived so honorably and consecrated their lives to God.”

He said from centuries back, Muslims of Timbuktu never venerated a human being, only God.

The historian said Timbuktu through the centuries has been dominated by many groups, including Tuareg, Songhoï, Peulh, and the French. But, he said, none ever defiled these saints as is happening today.

A jab at the international community

Several Malians said they see Ansar Dine’s talk of idolatry as nothing but an excuse. They say the group’s actions have nothing to do with Islam; rather they are part of the ongoing battle between terrorist groups and the west.

Haïdara El Hadji Baba, a member of parliament from Timbuktu, said, “Ansar Dine’s real motivation in doing this was to defy the international community.” He noted that militants began demolishing Timbuktu’s shrines right after the United Nations cultural agency classified the ancient city’s heritage as "in danger."

The lawmaker says Timbuktu can only expect worse after the head of the International Criminal Court told the French news agency on Sunday that the actions were war crimes and called on the perpetrators to stop. “With its condemnations the international community is only intensifying Ansar Dine’s desire to destroy.”

UNESCO says it rejects any correlation between its declaration and the vandalism in Timbuktu.

Lazare Eloundou Assomo, head of the Africa unit at UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, said  it’s only normal that UNESCO and other international entities would denounce this destruction of what is world heritage. “Would you have UNESCO remain silent about this? No. It’s crucial that we declare that these sites are important to the entire world and it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect them.”

UNESCO expressed concern about Timbuktu’s ancient mosques and mausoleums earlier on in the Malian crisis. In May, just weeks after Tuareg separatists and Islamic militants took control of northern Mali, armed men desecrated one of the shrines.

The recent rampage on the Timbuktu shrines has triggered worldwide condemnation. One Malian says he is troubled that the international clamor over the destruction of objects has surpassed attention paid to the people, who have been suffering for months.

Boubacar Ibrahim, a resident of Bamako who’s originally from the north, said: “I’m asking myself, why is there such a furor over the destruction of these sites in Timbuktu, while since the occupation of northern Mali human lives have been in danger. Of course I respect these sites, but there are human lives that must be protected here.”

The historian from Timbuktu wants less talk and more action. “When it comes to terrorists, the more the international community butts in, the more atrocities these groups commit,” he said. “The world must stop talking and act.”

Gallery of Timbuktu heritage sites

Loading...

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Tije Njue from: Abuja
July 05, 2012 1:18 PM
But why are Muslims so comfortable with the actions Islamists take in the name of Allah? No muslim cleric has risen his voice in condemnation to the masacre and suffering inflicted by Islamists. And its getting worse by the day.

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
July 04, 2012 11:06 AM
It's really really regrettable! In Nigeria it's boko haram, in Mali it's tuareg rebels. All these come from the religion of "peace". This is most doubtful. A religion that preaches peace will never allow this form of destruction - both of human lives and property. Yet everyday we are inundated with disclaimers - rehearsed rhetorics only designed to deceive the gullible. In these nations where these terrorists ply their trade for islam, there are imams and heads of the religion. None of them has raised a voice to condemn them or their act. Saying their action is unislamic is not enough, LET US HEAR SOMEONE PLACE A CURSE ON THEM FOR THAT ACT, for curses are highly respected in islam. Keeping quiet as the heads of the religion in Tehran and Riyadh have done only shows that it is a case of running with the hare and hunting with the hound. Is someone listening? Let's have a national day of prayer in all these countries troubled by ISLAMIC terrorists in which the chief imams gather to declare a CURSE on these terrorists. Any imam that fails to attend should be queried. Thereby we can find out who really are behind these terrorists.

by: JR from: brazil
July 03, 2012 7:24 PM
It's regretable!
In Response

by: JR from: Brazil
July 04, 2012 5:56 PM
To Hilda. I said regretable because I thougth that it could express all my disapproval about. However I've never heard about egypicians neither palestinians destructions as you told. About the other countries do somenthing to avoid that, what do you think they could do? A war to protect the shrines set abrod?
In Response

by: Hilda from: Holland
July 04, 2012 10:15 AM
"regrettable...?" that is all you could come up with...??? we have seen this desecrations all over the world... Egyptian Muslimes destroying the ancient pyramids and Monuments of Laxur... Taliban Muslimes destroying the ancient monuments of Buddha.... Palestinians destroying the ancient monuments of the house of Israel... yet the world does not react because its tied with the Politically Correct mentality that will lead to its destruction...

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs