Pagan Architecture and Art in Islamic Law

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A Muslim author wrote an article for Tony Blair Faith Foundation. He is trying to prove to us that the damage to cultural arts and monuments by ISIS is not according to Islam.

The justification for these acts is often linked to the time of the Prophet Mohammad in which, according to hadith literature, he destroyed idols and images depicting pagan deities in the Kaba after the conquest of Mecca. However, according to early Islamic historians, images of Jesus, Mary, and Abraham inside the Kaba were kept on the orders of the prophet himself.

There is scant regard for the example of the early Muslims.

Furthermore, when the companions of the prophet and earlier generations of Muslims conquered lands containing historic sites like Petra, Nimrud, the Pyramids of Giza, the Bamiyan Buddhas and Palmyra, they did not feel compelled to destroy the historical monuments.

The truth

When the Persian capital of Ctesiphon in province of Khvarvaran (today Iraq) fell to the Muslims in 637 under the military command of Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas during the caliphate of Umar, the palaces and their archives were burned. The Tarikh al-Tabari describes that Waqqas wrote to Caliph Umar asking what should be done with the books at Ctesiphon. Umar wrote back: "If the books contradict the Qur'an, they are blasphemous. On the other hand, if they are in agreement, they are not needed, as for us Qur'an is sufficient." Thus, the huge library was destroyed and the books, the product of the generations of Persian scientists and scholars were thrown into fire or the river Euphrates.

Persecution of Zoroastrians increased significantly under the Abbasids. Their temples and sacred fire shrines were destroyed.

al-Baldahuri writes, under the reign of Caliph al-Mansur, Hisham bin 'Amr al-Taghlibi after conquering Kandahar, destroyed its idol temple and built a mosque in its place.[1]

What about the spared monuments?

If the Caliphs have spared some famous monuments and artworks of non-Muslims, it does not mean they can be forgiven for the destruction many other monuments.

  1. Yohanan Friedmann (1972). "A note on early Muslim attitudes to idolatry". Israel Oriental Studies 2. Faculty of Humanities, Tel Aviv University.