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Destruction of Buddha Statues -- Islamic or Unislamic

Destruction of Buddha Statues -- Islamic or Unislamic

Author: Vinod Kumar
Publication: The Hindu Renaissance
Date: Chaitra Shukla 1, 5103

On Monday February 26, 2001, Afghanistan's Taliban militia supreme leader Mulla Mohammad Omar, an Islamic scholar himself, issued a decree: "Based on the verdict of the clergymen and the decision of the supreme court of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) all the statues around Afghanistan must be destroyed."(1)

This included two giant Bamiyan Buddha Statues over 1500 years old and towering 120 and 175 feet, carved into a mountain side, that had withstood the ravages of time and weather, the invading hordes, and the cannon shots ordered fired by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.

Elaborating, the Talibans say these statues are un-Islamic and an insult to Islam. They accept that no one in Afghanistan worships them now but sometime in the future people might worship them. They want to prevent that.

The decree evoked sharp condemnation and outcry from Tokyo to New York and from ordinary citizen to the United Nations and its cultural wing UNESCO. In the last ditch attempt to save the world's cultural heritage, UN Secretary General met in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan with Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil.

Secretary General Annan walked out of the meeting after his plea to stop the destruction was rejected by Muttawakil and was told "Work on destruction of the Bamiyan statues has already started, and there is not much left."(2)

Many Islamic scholars including Maulana Wahiduddin Khan have called the destruction of Buddha statues un-Islamic saying: "There are verses in the Quran which state: "Do not worship idols". But there is no verse in the Quran which says: "Destroy idols". The way of Islam is to purify that heart of idolatry; it is not to destroy statues made of stone."(3)

Let us see if the destruction of these statues is Islamic as the Talibans claim or un-Islamic as others assert.

"Of the 6,236 verses of the Holy Quran not one prescribes the destruction of idols" wrote Qazi Faez Isa, reinforcing what Maulana Wahiduddin claimed. (4)

However, the Holy Quran does narrate the destruction of idols by Prophet Abraham (21:56-57). If the Holy Quran does not call for the destruction of idols, it also does not condemn or criticize the destruction of idols by Prophet Abraham.

The Talibans pride themselves on following the true Islam and their decree cannot be brushed away by mere statements that it is un-Islamic. They are unlikely to do something that goes against the spirit and the letter of Islam. Since there is no verse in the Quran which calls for the destruction of the idols, where do they get their religious justification from?

For a Muslim, the Quran, --"the word of God, immutable and unalterable; it contains guidelines which a Muslim must follow" (5) -- forms the first and the foremost "guidelines" but that is not the only one. What one cannot find in the Holy Quran, one has to emulate from the life of the Prophet. According to Rafiq Zakaria, an Islamic scholar: "The Prophet is presented in the Quran as the best example of its teachings and a perfect model of human behaviour ……Muhammad's life is a mirror for his followers; in him they see the fruition of the Quranic values -- he is the ideal to be followed." (6)

And Maulana Wahiduddin Khan also agrees: "Throughout his (the Prophet) life, not only was he a supremely successful person himself, but also stood out as a superb model for others to imitate." (7)

Let us now turn to second most important article of faith for a Muslim -- the life of the Prophet.

Sahih Muslim -- one of the four most authentic traditions of the Prophet records "The Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) entered Mecca. There were three hundred sixty idols around the Ka'ba. He began to thrust them with the stick that was in his hand saying: 'Truth has come and falsehood has vanished. Lo! Falsehood was destined to vanish." (8)

These words are narrated in sura 17:81 also. Mohammad Marmaduke Pickthall, in the footnote to the above sura writes: "These words were recited by the Prophet when he witnessed the destruction of the idols round the Ka'bah after the conquest of Mecca." (9)

Tabaqat ibn Sa'd -- an important source on the life of the Prophet and the Companions -- wrote that "'Ali was chosen to destroy the idols (which he did by mounting the shoulders of the Prophet) and 'Umar the pictures on the walls of the Ka'ba. Other men were sent to the neighboring areas for the same purpose and for looting the temple treasuries. Khalid b. Walid was sent to Nakhl to destroy the idol of Al-Uzza, the tutelary goddess of Banu Kinan and the Quraish; Umro b. Al'as to destroy the idol of Suwa'; and Sa'd b. Zaid al-Ashahali to destroy Al-Manat, the deity of the tribes of Aus and Khazraj. (10)

Sir William Muir notes that images were destroyed and the pictures of Abraham and Angels painted on the walls of the Ka'ba were obliterated. (11) The demolition of idols by the Talibans, however barbaric it might seem to the rest of the world, is not un-Islamic as it is fully in accordance with the traditions of the Prophet.

1 Destroy ancient statues -- Taliban Leader, Report, February 27, 2001, Times of India
2 Annan walks out of Taliban minister's meet, Agencies, March 2, 2001, The Hindustan Times
3 DeIslamizing Islam: The Taliban Project, Khan Maulana Wahiduddin, March 14, 2001, Times of India
4 Destruction of Bamiyan statues, Isa Qazi Faez, March 11, 2001, The Dawn
5 The Struggle within Islam, Zaakaria Rafiq, 1988, Penguin Books, pp302
6 Muhammad and the Quran, Zakaria Rafiq, 1992, Penguin Books, pp. 8 - 9
7 Islam and Peace, Khan Maulana Wahiduddin, 1999, Goodward Books, pp. 60
8 Sahih Muslim, Siddqi Abdul Wahid (Translated by) , 1994, Kitan Bhavan, vol. 3. Pp 978
9 Meaning of the Glorious Koran, Pickthall Mohammad Marmaduke, Mentor Books, pp 209
10 Understanding Islam through Hadis, Swarup Ram, 1983, Exposition Press, pp. 115 (quoted from Tabaqat, vol. 1 pp. 484-486)
11 The Life of Mahomet from Original Sources, Muir Sir William, 1992, Voice Of India, pp. 409

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