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Muslim scholars denounce Taliban statue destruction
By Emad Mekay, Cairo

Muslim scholars called on Afghanistan's Taliban militia to overturn a decision to demolish statues across the country, but also said Western outcry over the monuments was misplaced as thousands of human souls are lost to hunger and wars with no comparable uproar.

The ‘Taliban should focus on fighting poverty, diseases, unemployment and bloodshed on its soil and not on destroying relics, which are a living lesson of history,’ said Shaikh Yousuf al-Qaradawi, a popular Muslim ‘alim based in Qatar. ‘The U.N. and Western countries should also show similar anger over Israeli aggression towards the Palestinians and towards famines and wars across the world,’ he added.

The Taliban militia, whose government is recognized only by three Muslim states, says the destruction of the statues will stop the worshiping of ‘false idols.’ The Taliban, or movement of religious students, seized Kabul in 1996 and have imposed a mix of Pashtun tribal and a strict interpretation of Islam.

UNESCO said it would seek the intervention of the Organization of Islamic Conference, a pan-Muslim organization of all Muslim nations, to try and stop the destruction of the priceless monuments.

‘Taliban should consider going back on its decision,’ Qaradawi said. ‘The UN and Western countries too should know that in Islam the living take precedence over the dead and therefore they should give some attention to human souls that get killed by the Israeli occupation in Palestine and others who die because of poverty.’

Officials at Egypt's al-Azhar Islamic University, Sunni Islam's most prestigious bastion of learning, echoed similar appeals to Taliban while several preachers condemned the action in their Friday sermons as ‘mostly harmful to Islam.’

The ‘Taliban should have consulted with scholars before taking such a decision - and away from fanaticism,’ said Mufti of Egypt, Muhammad Fareed Wassel, the top religious authority in a Muslim country whose capital's main square is decorated with a 3,000-year-old colossal statue of the Pharaonic King Ramses II. ‘Such statues are only a recording of history. Their presence does not in the least impinge on the Islamic faith.’ Wassel said his country, Egypt, has been the venue for thousands, ‘if not millions’, of statutes and ancient relics, mostly Pharaonic and Roman, without a single Muslim scholar saying their presence violated the principles of Islam.

‘Destroying the Pharaonic monuments in Egypt for example would be a mistake,’ Wassel said. ‘Their presence helps the economy and brings in foreign currency through tourism.’

In Iran the official Iranian News Agency, IRNA, quoted the country's Cultural Heritage Organization as saying ‘Strangely enough, certain Taliban-led individuals, calling themselves 'clerics,' have ordered the destruction of ancient sites of mankind, citing blasphemy and idolization as reasons.’

The statues slated for obliteration include the almost 2,000-year-old Buddhist magnum opus in the central province of Bamiyan, including the world's tallest standing Buddha measuring 50 meters (165 feet).

An edict announced by the militia's supreme leader, Mulla Muhammad Omar, calling for the destruction of all statues in line with ‘Islamic’ laws, has sparked the current controversy and sent shock waves around the world.

Afghanistan is home to an array of pre-Islamic historic treasures from its days as a key stop on the ancient Silk Road and a strategic battleground for conquerors dating back to Alexander the Great and the Aryans before him. (IslamOnline)

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