Tuesday, 29 January 2013

More Sacred than the Blood of the Martyr

Richard Dawkins this morning alerted me to the attack in Mali upon the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu which holds one of the most extensive collections of 14th, 15th and 16th century Islamic manuscripts on earth. It gets most of its funding from South Africa.

When the Roman empire finally fell completely in 1453 it was to the Turks who thus acquired a great deal of the ancients' learning. This reinforced an extant respect for learning within Islam: knowlege ("Ilm") is the third most common word in the Qur'an, there is a tradition that Mohammed said that "the best form of worship is the pursuit of knowlege" and mosques themselves have a key role in education.

The Ahmed Baba Institute held many manuscripts of great significance for all branches of Islam and for Arabic and African culture. Some of the manuscripts are written in local languages Initially the Institute had been seconded by Islamist fighters as sleeping quarters, but as frech led Malian troops pushed further into Timbuktu they fled and set light to the library. It was believed that some of the manuscripts had already been damaged when they were moved by the fighters who were sleeping there.

There is a vindictive wickedness in attacks like this. Not only does it violate a basic tenant of their faith, but it is a grossely selfish act which denies their descendants access to their rich past. It seems obvious to me that the people who attacked this centre of learning have no respect for other people and no respect for Islam or Mohammed.

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