In the week that Jews read the Biblical story of Ezekiel's valley of dry bones, there are resurgent fears that the Shi'a Wakf (religious endowment) wishes to turn the shrine of the Jewish Prophet Ezekiel into a mosque.
Two activists on behalf of the preservation of the shrine, at Kifl south of Baghdad, Mr Maurice Shohet from New York and Professor Shmuel Moreh, an Israeli emeritus professor of Iraqi origin, sent Point of No Return an article published on 2 April in the respected Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat in London and on the Sawt al-'Iraq site (The Voice of Iraq) in Baghdad. The article proves that the Islamic authorities consider that the tomb of the Jewish prophet Ezekiel is an exclusively Muslim shrine.
"That being the case, we find that we have to appeal to international authorities such as UNESCO, the US and European governments to redouble their efforts to save the Jewish character of Ezekiel's tomb," says Professor Moreh.
Religious authorities in Iraq are determined to convert the tomb of the Jewish prophet Ezekiel into a mosque after deleting Hebrew inscriptions, according to Al-Hayat and Sawt al-'Iraq. But a debate is still raging about the ownership of the shrine, and some Iraqis are prepared to stand up for Jewish interests.
The newspaper quotes the official in charge of the Shi'a Waqf (Endowment), Salih al-Haydari, who denies that the shrine belongs to the Jews. He says that the tomb is that of Dhu al-Kifl, a prophet mentioned in the Koran - proof enough that the site belongs to the Muslims. Recent excavations at the site, he claims, prove that it is not a Jewish site, although the findings have not yet been published!
The Shi'a Waqf in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities is currently restoring the shrine. The foundations of the site have always been at risk from flooding and its minaret is in imminent danger of collapse.
However Mrs Mariam Omran, director of the Babylon heritage site, points out that Iraqi Jews used to visit Ezekiel's shrine up until their migration in the mid-20th century. "The removal of Hebrew writings and inscriptions is part of the process of erasing the memory of religious minorities who were the original inhabitants of Iraq and other parts of the Middle East," she says.
Mrs Omran says that the authorities responsible for preserving Iraq's ancient heritage have come under pressure from Islamists to remove Hebrew words and ornamentation, in readiness for the building of a mosque over the tomb of Ezekiel.
The article points out that the tomb was not previously of interest to Muslims until 2003, when the Shi'a Waqf started campaigning for the restoration of the site.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Tourism has denied reports that the character of the shrine is being altered. The tomb is being faithfully restored using original materials and old photographs, he claims.
The Department of Antiquities and Heritage has allocated about 250 million dinars for restoration work and maintenance, which began in the summer of 2008. A spokesman claims that the Muslim prophet Dhu al-Kifl is the same person as the Jewish prophet Ezekiel, who was taken prisoner by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 589 BC.
The shrine dates back to the 14th century. The Ottoman period witnessed a struggle for control between Jews and Muslims. Most of the buildings and surrounding shops belong to Jewish families and rent is still being paid to the landlords in Israel and European countries.
Read article (in Arabic)
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For background information on the struggle for Ezekiel's tomb see label 'Holy sites'