Published On:28 September 2011
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Putting Islam on the world's treasure list

A two-day meeting of the Islamic Heritage Committee has resulted in much progress in the fight to preserve some of the region's greatest monuments, reports Nevine El-Aref

A draft form of registration for Islamic monuments on the Islamic Heritage List has been approved at a meeting of the Islamic Heritage Committee (IHC).

Also approved were the mapping of a common ground for the promotion and preservation of Islamic heritage, as well as the launch of a draft resolution on sustainable development of Islamic heritage in the Middle East, North Africa and the rest of the Islamic world.

Members of the IHC have gathered in Cairo over the past two days to attend their second meeting at the Supreme Council of Culture in association with Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and the Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO).

The IHC, which was set up in 2007 in Tripoli, Libya, by the fifth Islamic Conference of Culture Ministers, is a body reporting to ISESCO and comprising six members representing the Arab, Asian and African regions. It acts closely with the World Heritage Committee (WHO) and the Arab Heritage Committee in helping to preserve historical monuments and natural reserves; protect and promote intangible heritage; assist in safeguarding historical sites damaged by natural disasters; provide legal support to recover looted property; combat the illicit trade in cultural heritage artefacts and offer technical support in building an inventory of cultural heritage and helping develop good governance principles to preserve cultural heritage. It also enables member states to inscribe their archaeological sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The IHC's first meeting was held last year in Rabat, Morocco, and this year it has been Egypt's turn to host the convention which was attended by delegates from Niger, Senegal, Malaysia, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt.

One of the three main topics for discussion were the adaptation of a technical and documented report on excavations carried out by the Israeli occupation authorities in Jerusalem.

A guidance note on the importance of Islamic cultural heritage for economy and sustainable development as the first step of a draft resolution on Heritage and Sustainable Development was also discussed.

Egypt's SCA Secretary-General Mohamed Abdel-Fattah underlined Egypt's efforts to preserve and promote its Islamic monuments and Islamic heritage in general. He also pointed out that the magnificent historical monuments and treasures in the Islamic world need to be carefully preserved and passed on intact to future generations.

"Preserving such great edifices does not just come about because of the historical responsibility that we all must shoulder, but also as a way for us to maintain our historical roots, preserve our cultural integrity, build the present and establish a solid foundation on which to erect a better future," Abdel-Fattah said.

However, despite all the effort to ensure the preservation of Islamic monuments, IHC members saw them as minor issues compared with those involved with education, health, economics and urban development. Members therefore recognised the need for a better distribution of budgets between the Muslim countries depending on the economic potential and importance of each state.

For a better future, they recommended a thorough evaluation of the effort that has been put into heritage preservation in Muslim countries and a closer look at recent national experiences and at how life aspects had changed. These demonstrate that the working tools used to address heritage issues in the Arab Muslim world need to be reviewed and modified, and that Muslim nations should establish common ground and identify priorities for action regarding heritage promotion issues.

Abdel-Aziz Saleh, an archaeologist representing ISESCO, said that according to ISESCO's working documents the preservation of Islamic heritage could be achieved through establishing high quality preservation centres and laboratories across the Islamic world and enhancing contact between them, and through conducting a comprehensive inventory of Islamic heritage and strengthening basic infrastructure such as museums and depositories to ensure the best possible preservation conditions. Using the media, educational, cultural and political institutions to conduct awareness-raising campaigns was another way of preserving Islamic heritage, Saleh said, as well as involving the public in the heritage development policy and integrating heritage into the global cycle of development consistent with trends in the global economy.

Morad Ramah, director of the Al-Qayrawan restoration project in Tunisia ,suggested the organisation of an annual International Islamic Heritage Day to promote heritage tourism. This day could be launched as a major event and as part of the celebration of Islamic cultural capitals, and a date should be agreed up by the capitals involved as well as a common programme and theme for lectures on the issues of Islamic cultural heritage in their different dimensions.

In this regard, Ramah said, it was possible to envisage the twinning of sites, monuments, museums and manuscript libraries. Similarly it was plausible to propose that Islamic cultural capitals invite other cities and choose one of them as a guest of honour with a view to strengthening cooperation between the cities of member states and encouraging the active involvement of municipalities.

Mokhtar El-Kasabani, a member of the IHC scientific committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that Islamic monuments should be promoted among younger generations through their educational system at all levels. This, he added, would help create a better interactive link between youngsters and their cultural heritage. The IHC, El-Kasabani said, would also encourage public cultural interest in Islamic heritage through, for example, exhibitions of manuscripts which had topics relevant to daily public life.

"We have to work hard to restore the glory of our Islamic heritage and to preserve its historical edifices," El-Kasabani said.

IHC spokesperson Gihan Zaki told the Weekly that the most important topic discussed and approved was the draft form of a plan to document every Islamic monument in Arab, Islamic and other foreign countries in an attempt to list these monuments on the World Heritage List. This would be used by all nations.

Each form, she explained, represented an identity card for each Islamic monument and site in every country, as it showed not only the name, the physical state, the historical description and the geographical location of each monument, but also its outstanding universal value, integrity, authenticity and exposure to threats. Zaki said each country should fill in the form listing every Islamic monument in its territory for submission to the IHC at its next meeting, scheduled for next year. The forms will be submitted to ISESCO to be classified as a step to listing all monuments on the World Heritage List.

Zaki pointed out that the second meeting proved how successful it was, since it allowed scientists and archaeologists from different fields to share views and experiences. These included restorers, archaeologists and experts from the World Heritage Committee and those involved in archaeological documentation.

One session of the IHC meeting was dedicated to excavations carried out by the Israeli occupation authorities in Jerusalem. The aim was to release a legal report by the ISESCO committee proving illegitimate work by Israel in the area round the Al-Aqsa Mosque in deliberate breach of international conventions, hoping that the relevant international bodies would take the necessary measures to put pressure on the Israeli authorities to cease such violations.

The technical report document written by the ISESCO committee, of which the Weekly has a copy, reveals the new Israeli design plan for the region's Islamic landmarks in Jerusalem. This features continuing excavations in the precincts of Al-Aqsa and the Al-Boraq wall, as well as Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi in Al-Khalil and the Bilal Ibn Rabah Mosque in Bethlehem.

(Courtesy: Al-Ahram Weekly)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on September 28, 2011. Filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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