Friday, August 06, 2010
Just when we all thought that the Jewish character of the shrine of Ezekiel was safe, news reaches Point of No Return that the ancient tomb of the Biblical prophet at al-Kifl, south of Baghdad, is still the object of controversy.
According to a source who visited the site recently to take pictures, the Jewish character of the tomb has been damaged and the shrine is in a state of neglect. In the picture above, you can see that one of the outlying rooms, in which Jewish sages and prominent figures are buried, has been stripped to its bare brickwork. The visitor had organised an independent TV crew to film the tomb, but was told the crew could photograph every Jewish holy site except Ezekiel's. The shrine is being used as a mosque and the religious authorities, who still want a free hand to treat the site as a Shi'a shrine, accuse certain individuals in Israel of stirring up trouble and damaging their reputation.
Against the background of this disturbing news comes this article in the Iraqi newspaper al-Nahrain, containing a robust warning by the Antiquities Authority to the religious authorities to stop meddling in the future of the shrine.
The article says that the shrine at al-Kifl has been the subject of controversy since 2003. Iraqi institutions such the Antiquities Authority, headed by the Relics inspectorate, want exclusive control over the preservation and restoration of the site, while the Shi'a Muslim authorities want to determine its (Islamic) 'religious identity.' Secular interests are exploiting the issue to snipe at the religious.
A conflict also going on between Jews and Muslims. Iraq's ambassador to Washington, embroiled in a further controversy over the return of Jewish archives to Iraq, has called media reports 'false' that the shrine's Jewish character has been damaged. The prophet Ezekiel is revered by both faiths and until their exodus some 60 years ago Jews owned property (now frozen) and farmland in the surrounding area.
The article describes the historical struggle for control over the shrine.
The Chairman of the Committee on Culture, Media and Tourism and the Antiquities Council for the province of Babylon told al-Nahrain:
"The shrine of Ezekiel is an Iraqi heritage site which must be dealt with according to Iraqi law. We reject attempts to drag al-Kifl into the arena of conflict and religious strife."
He slammed the Shi'ite authorities for their interference. "To give them this authority is an act contrary to the Constitution. Religious authority is always keen to highlight symbols at the expense of other symbols and this violates the rules of the Antiquities Authority and its laws."
The Chairman wanted to see the Kifl opened to international tourism. "To resolve outstanding problems needs legal clarity and also clearly needs to define the remit of clashing authorities whether inside or outside Iraq."
Read original article in full (Arabic)
Please sign Point of No Return's petition deploring the Shi'a authorities attempts to 'islamise' the shrine of Ezekiel and calling for the site to be placed under the ultimate authority of UNESCO.
For background information on the struggle for Ezekiel's tomb see under the label 'Holy sites'