|The Thoddoo head, destroyed by|
Photo: South China Morning Post
One of the statues believed to have been destroyed last week was the so-called Thoddoo head, a coral stone representation of Buddha found on Thoddoo Island in the 1950s. Ironically, the statue had been deliberately buried inside a temple, apparently hidden by islanders hundreds of years ago to protect it from destruction after the conversion to Islam. [my emphasis]That is, the concern of non-Muslims that Muslims would destroy their artworks goes back hundreds of years. Indeed, t'were ever so: the Islamic urge to destroy all vestiges of cultures before Islam, which we've seen in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi, Iran and elsewhere that Islam is the major religion, dates from the death of Muhammad. It flows from the Islamic concept of Jahiliyyah, the "Days of Ignorance", prior to the "revelations" of Muhammad, "ignorance" being the alleged "condition that Arabs found themselves in pre-Islamic Arabia". This belief that there is nothing of value prior to Islam is what led to the criminal destruction of the Buddahs of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in 2001.
[there's no link to the SCMP story as it's behind a paywall. Click below to see my cut/paste. An earlier report on the NYT is here]:
Islamists smash Buddha statues
Like Taliban in Afghanistan, mob destroys islands' irreplaceable collection of pre-Islamic relics, seeing them as idols
|Nearly a week after an Islamist mob stormed into the Maldives National Museum and destroyed almost 30 Buddhist statues - some dating to the 6th century - the broken glass has been swept away and the remnants have been locked up.|
But officials said the loss to the island nation's archaeological legacy can never be made up.
Amid the recent political turmoil that has racked the tiny Indian Ocean nation of 1,200 islands, a half dozen men stormed into the Chinese-built museum last week and ransacked a collection of coral and limestone figures, including a six-faced tantric Buddhist statue and an exquisite 50cm representation of the Buddha's head.
No pictures of the destruction have been released.
Officials said the men attacked the figures because they believed they were idols and illegal under Islamic and national laws.
There were contradictory reports about whether any suspects had been arrested. Ali Waheed, the director of the National Museum, said five men were caught at the museum, but a spokesman for the police, Ahmed Shiyam, said on Monday that investigators were still collecting evidence and had not made arrests.
The attack on February 7 is reminiscent of the Taliban's demolition of the great Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in early 2001 and has raised fears that Muslim extremists are gaining ground in the Maldives, a Sunni country that is believed to have converted to Islam in the 12th century from Buddhism.
One of the statues believed to have been destroyed last week was the so-called Thoddoo head, a coral stone representation of Buddha found on Thoddoo Island in the 1950s. Ironically, the statue had been deliberately buried inside a temple, apparently hidden by islanders hundreds of years ago to protect it from destruction after the conversion to Islam.
The Maldives has long incorporated elements of Islamic laws in its jurisprudence. Idols cannot be brought into the country, and alcohol and pork products are only allowed at resorts catering to foreigners.
On the same day that the statues were destroyed, Mohamed Nasheed, who was elected president in 2008 in the country's first democratic election, stepped down in what he said was a coup and what his opponents argue was a voluntary resignation.
His resignation came after nearly a month-long protest by Islamic and other opposition political parties, some of whom criticised him for not cracking down on massage parlours that operated as brothels and for proposing that hotels on islands inhabited by Maldivians be allowed to serve alcohol. At present, only hotels on islands where no Maldivians live or at the airport can serve alcohol.
Waheed said on Monday that officials might be able to restore two or three of the statues, but the rest were beyond repair. Waheed's staff recently moved some palanquins, beds and jugs from the past 100 years into the gallery that previously housed the statues on the ground level of the museum, built by the Chinese government as a gift to the Maldives.
"The collection was totally, totally smashed," Waheed said. "The whole pre-Islamic history is gone."
Naseema Mohamed, a historian who retired from the museum last year, said the loss was particularly devastating because many of the country's ancient artefacts dispersed across the archipelago had been lost or destroyed over the years by locals and rulers.
"There was very little left," she said.
Both Mohamed and Waheed said there had never been any threats to the statues in the past, although in recent years some conservative Muslims had suggested they be removed from the museum, citing both the country's ban against the import of idols and the Koran's prohibition against worshiping idols.
Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari, who was minister of Islamic affairs for the Maldives until last week, said the country's laws specifically exempted ancient figures from the regulations governing idols. "This is our heritage, and it has to be protected for future generations," he said.
Officials with the Adhaalath Party - an Islamic political party that was a part of the protests against the Nasheed administration and has criticised the previous government for pursuing anti-Islamic policies - condemned the attacks on the statues. The party said it had never objected to their presence in the museum.
"It is something to be concerned about," said Mohamed Iaad Hameed, president of the party's trade and economic development committee. "And we as a party are fully against extremism."