Monday, September 07, 2009
Muslims 'planning a mosque' on the tomb of Ezekiel
Update to the update: At the request of the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq in Israel, Dr Jabbar Jamal al-Din visited the shrine with a friend and questioned the director, who denied that there were plans to build a mosque.
Update: The Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq in Israel received the following letter from Dr. Jabbar Jamal al-Din* of Najaf university, categorically denying the report:
It is not true at all that there is an intention to build a mosque on the site of the Prophet Ezekiel's tomb at Kifel. My closest friends are living near the Kifel. If there would be such thing my friends would have informed me. All it is is that the Kifel became a Shi'i Waqf for the sake of reconstruction and restoration. Many pilgrims are visiting it to receive its blessing. Most of the visitors are Muslims. Besides the Tomb there are another four tombs of Jewish prophets: among them is Baruch the Prophet. The inhabitants of the districts respect and esteem the Prophet. There is no need to worry. We are your 'front base' in keeping and defending the Jewish synagogues and sites. Finally I would like to inform you that the city of the Kifel is only 15 km from us. The news travels fast from there. Please accept our best regards.
Jabbar Jamal al-Din
A group of Muslims intend to build a mosque on the site of the tomb of Ezekiel at al-Kifl, traditionally one of the most popular with the Jews of Iraq. However, a group of Iraqi intellectuals are opposing the move.
A German-based Iraqi scholar tipped off the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq in Israel about the plan.
This would not be the first time that the tomb of Ezekiel, the shrine most closely associated with the Jews of Iraq, has been the focus of a bitter struggle for control. Jews used to go on pilgrimage to the tomb of Ezekiel, a two-hour drive south of Baghdad, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur when the book of Ezekiel was read. It was popular with Muslims too, being on the route of the Hajj to Mecca.
In the 14th century, the Mongols turned the synagogue of the prophet Ezekiel into a Muslim prayer house. They also began to build a mosque, now ruined by flooding, but its minaret exists to this day (see top picture).
Around 1778, when the mosque was destroyed by floodwater, the local Muslims tried to turn the outer yard into a mosque. They appointed Khadims as caretakers. Until the 1820s the Jews were banned from passing through the yard - now converted to a mosque - to the tomb.
In the 1840s, the Jews managed to regain control of the synagogue next to Ezekiel's tomb. At the time, the Turkish authorities needed the Jews to pay for repairs to the 'outer yard'. In spite of protests by the Shi'ite Muslims who controlled the tomb precincts, the Jews removed the Muslim symbols and ritual items from the outer yard and turn it into a synagogue again. The Turks (plied with generous Jewish gifts) expelled the Shi'ite caretakers and allowed the Jews to erect new buildings. To reinforce their hold on the site, the Jews set up a yeshiva staffed by scholars from Baghdad and their families. Jewish traders and craftsmen from Hilla, Baghdad and elsewhere went to settle in Kifl.
In the 1850s, the Turks expelled the last of the Shi'ite caretakers. The Jewish official now in charge was elevated to the same status as the keepers of the Shi'ite shrines. Jewish control was complete. The Muslims made two more attempts to wrest control of Ezekiel's yards - in 1860 and in the 1930s when they took over the synagogue for prayers. After a few months the occupation of the synagogue ended. Until their departure for Israel in 1951, the Jews of Kifl continued to maintain the yards of the prophet Ezekiel's tomb.
Iraq - the Biblical Mesopotamia -is almost as rich in Jewish history as the Land of Israel. Here Abraham first discovered the one God, and the prophets Ezra, Nehemiah, Nahum, Jonah and Daniel are all buried there.
The struggle for control of Ezekiel's tomb
*This seems to be the same philosemitic Dr Jamal al-Din who penned this poem