In Benghazi in Libya Muslims have broken headstones in two war grave cemeteries with more than two hundred headstones broken or damaged. I do think I need to point out that it is the stones only that have been broken the graves themselves have not been touched but still, people all around the world – of any faith and of none, will find such an act of disrespect very offensive. The National Transitional Council have condemned the act and have promised to seek to bring the culprits to justice.
In November 2010 I was in Tobruq having driven from London as part of an aid convoy travelling to Gaza. It so happened that it was Remembrance Day during my stay there and we convoyers were all invited to attend the ceremony. Ambassadors of many countries and local dignitaries came to pay their respects and speak a few words about the terrible human cost of war, along with clergy of all denominations who said prayers, including an Imam. The war graves cemeteries that I visited that day were very neat and well cared for. A few family members of fallen soldiers had flown in to visit the graves, but in reality these young men have few left to remember them and we were told that attendance on Remembrance Sunday was falling every year. Walking around the cemeteries reading the names, it was easy to tell which were Muslim names and there were quite a few Indian Muslims in the British graveyard and also in the French cemetery, presumably from former colonies such as Algeria who had later settled in France. The ages on the gravestones were so young, from 17 years old, which made me feel very sad. I reflected on how strange the Libyan desert must have felt to the Europeans in the days before package holidays made overseas travel accessible to all. The alien environment and the extreme heat must have been something difficult to deal with. It seems as if we have learned nothing from history as Netanyahu pushes for yet another war, the victims of which will all be sons of heartbroken mothers, fathers of orphaned children, brothers and uncles.
In Islam it is forbidden to have large gravestones or to spend money on ostentatious graves. This is common sense really as spending money on the dead will benefit no one, better to spend on the living. However, the gravestones on the war graves in Libya are in no way extravagent, they are neat and carry the minimum of details such as name, age and regiment.
One comment on the B.B.C. website suggests this action may have been taken in retaliation for the burning of the Quran in Afghanistan. I really do not think this was the motivation as the video of the men kicking over the gravestones shows them to be very calm rather than angry. It appears to me to be the result of an over-zealous interpretation of the Islamic law on gravestones. What they did not think of is the fact that such behaviour is not only offensive to the families of the dead, but offensive also to the majority of people in the world. What is absolutely forbidden in Islam is going to the graves of the dead and praying to them believing they can benefit anyone. The only One who can benefit us is Allah s.w.t.
Western backed Arab rulers and dictators have a lot to answer for with regards to Islamic institutions of learning which have been so oppressed and reduced to insignificance that the people have had little Islamic guidance for too long. I really hope that the Arab Spring will see an Islamic revival. Places such as Al Azhar in Cairo have such a long history of scholarship yet such learned institutions became mere puppets of the Dictators, to the point of having to make fatwas to suit the whims of the rulers. No Islamic scholar should ever be on the payroll of the ruler, for fear of him becoming corrupt and there are authentic narrations of the Prophet Mohammed p.b.u.h. warning the scholars to stay away from the rulers. If the scholar pleases the ruler his religion will likely become corrupt, and if he displeases the ruler his life may be in danger. Many of Islam’s famous scholars spent a lot of time in prison at the hands of rulers who didn’t like their judgements.
Despite the Zionist and Neo-Conservative agenda to portray Islam as a violent and brutal religion, in fact the opposite is true. Sadly, many Muslims have been brutalised by war such as in Afghanistan and Somalia or have been living for decades under severe oppression such as in Egypt, Libya Tunisia and most of the Arab world. Indeed, Zionists have destroyed old Palestinian graveyards in Jerusalem and built over them, no doubt as part of the ongoing process to erase the existence and history of the Palestinian people on the land that Israel wants to claim as theirs. However, I do feel that as Muslims we need to set a better example. The way forward must be through more Islamic education.
وَلَا تَسُبُّوا الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ فَيَسُبُّوا اللَّهَ عَدْوًا بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ زَيَّنَّا لِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ عَمَلَهُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِم مَّرْجِعُهُمْ فَيُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah , lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge. Thus We have made pleasing to every community their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them about what they used to do.