Thursday, January 27, 2011

Day and Night in the Middle East

JORDAN, here:

For nearly 50 years, Wadi el Kharrar served as a highly militarized border zone — littered with land mines — between the Israeli–occupied Palestinian West Bank and Jordan. Only after Israel and the kingdom entered into a peace treaty in 1994 did the Jordanian authorities de–militarize, de–mine and open up the area to experts. Then in 1997, Dr. Waheeb’s team of archaeologists conducted a survey of the site. Recognizing the religious importance of the valley, the Hashemite royal family soon launched an ambitious plan to develop it as a major destination for pilgrims. Unlike other religious sites, however, they decided to preserve the Wadi el Kharrar as a naturalist park rimmed with modern churches and pilgrimage facilities. The plans to restore the baptismal site belong to the royals’ larger goals of preserving Jordan’s rich religious patrimony and making it a destination of choice for pilgrims to the Holy Land.

The Baptism Site Commission, a nonprofit organization headed by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, currently manages the area. That a member of the Hashemite family is responsible for the Christian holy site should come as no surprise. Since the kingdom’s establishment in the 20th century, the Hashemites have enforced a strict policy of religious tolerance. Jordan’s constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, providing for the rights of Christians in particular to build churches and participate in civic life, including the governance of the nation.


We Saudis are not particularly eager to look for pre-Islamic artifacts. There's a prevailing opinion among the conservatives that items not Islamic belong in the ground because displaying them risks a tacit endorsement of the culture or religion the artifacts represent.

We have a habit sealing off ancient sites….We have been known to neglect or destroy them. Saudis don't want to run the risk of turning a site into a place of idolatry.

It's right that churches are not permitted in the Land of the Two Holy Mosques. But what's less certain is whether crucifixes, if found, should be destroyed or hidden. More precisely is the issue of whether Christian or Jewish artifacts can be displayed in the proper context in a Saudi museum as an acknowledgment of a people who called pre-Islamic Arabia their home.

My guess is that most Saudis will say no. Many Saudis believe there is no place in the Kingdom for such relics.

The Associated Press the other day reported that Sheikh Mohammed Al Nujaimi said non-Muslim artifacts "should be left in the ground." He said that Muslims would not tolerate the display of non-Muslim religious symbols. "How can crosses be displayed when Islam doesn't recognize that Christ was crucified?" he said. "If we display them, it's as if we recognize the crucifixion."


Samn! said...
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Samn! said...

Saudi Arabia has also destroyed almost all early Islamic archeological sites, most famously the home of Khadija in Mecca and the Tomb of the Prophet in Medina, thus making (non-textual) scientific research on the origins of Islam almost impossible.

Milton T. Burton said...
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Milton T. Burton said...
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Milton T. Burton said...

In Muslim eschatology Jesus is supposed to come awake from his "suspended animation," destroy all Christian symbols and reign for forty years as king of the world before he will finally die and be buried beside the Prophet in Medina. Considering that End Times prophecies are much more important in Islam even than they are in fundamentalist Christianity, one can't help but wonder what would happen if Median were to disappear in a cloud of nuclear vapor.

John said...


I didn't realize that about the Saudi destruction of even early Islamic sites, but I am not at all surprised. I have been to the Baptism site, but was unaware, at the time, of the Hashemite connection. The Jordanian attitude (as in Syria) seems to be very supportive of all archealogical sites--anything to increase tourism.

The Saudi attitude reminded me a bit of Turkey, believe it or not, where there is a casual disregard for anything pre-Ottoman. The big difference there is that their attitude is not really tied so much to Islamic thought, but is part and parcel of their Turkification of everything. Schoolchildren do not know that Haghia Sophia was not built by the Ottomans. And there is a Museum of the "Turkish" Genocide (yes) in Igdir. Attitudes seems to be changing a bit--here again due to the advent of the tourist dollar.

Milton T. Burton said...

Upper class Saudi men are the most loathsome people on the planet: a gaggle of pinheaded, machismo-addled freaks. I also note that the head freak, King Thud or whatever his name is, has verbally "blasted" the protesters. To pony Andrew Marvell's wonderful poem:

"At his back he seems to hear
Rebellion's chariot hurrying near."

...nor shall I mourn his passing.