Quirks & Quarks

Protecting Islam's archaeological heritage against vandalism and development

Islamic archaeology needs protecting in the wake of being wilfully destroyed as well as being lost to urban development.
Mosul's leaning Al-Hadba minaret at Al-Nuri mosque taken on June 20, 2017. It was destroyed days later by Islamic State (IS) group fighters. (Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty)

A recent conference in Bahrain brought experts in Islamic archaeology together to discuss ways of protecting Muslim heritage. 

The conference — Islamic Archaeology in Global Perspective — provided shared expertise from archaelogists representing 14 countries. Many had first-hand experience in trying to safeguard iconic sites — both ancient and Islamic — in war-torn countries where wilful destruction by radical militants groups like ISIS has already taken a toll. 

Others had witnessed the loss of the more everyday Islamic archaeology due to an increase in urban development, often before artefacts had even been documented. 

An image distributed by Islamic State militants on social media on August 25, 2015 purports to show the destruction of a Roman-era temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. (Reuters)

Two archaeologists who share a passion for Islamic archaeology are Dr. Timothy Insoll, who helped organize that conference, and Dr. Amr Al Azm, who has been active in documenting and preserving sites in Syria. Dr. Al Azm is an Associate Professor of Middle East History and Anthropology at Shawnee State University in Ohio. Dr. Insoll is a professor in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter in England.