Awwab Saad Hayat, Al Hakam
It is commonly said that in order to be better equipped for the future, one must have a good understanding of the past. Just as a driver uses the rear-view mirror to know their surroundings while safely driving and moving forward, it is important for a nation to also look back at its past to fully understand it.
The Holy Quran refers to past nations a great deal; it discusses their lives, habits and ultimate fates. We can gain valuable lessons and insights from these accounts, as they can provide timely assistance in our personal and spiritual growth.
Archaeology is a great means for unearthing the histories of past nations and individuals. When we brush over the history of archaeology, we uncover how mankind has been able to provide an open window to the past.
Physical remnants of the past, such as artefacts and structures of historical importance, have been preserved over time and provide insight into their way of life and beliefs. For Muslims, in this current era, the study of archaeology, joined with the divine teachings of the Holy Quran, offers a comprehensive understanding of the history of humanity, providing lessons and wisdom for the present and future generations.
In the Holy Quran, we read:
وَاَخۡرَجَتِ الۡاَرۡضُ اَثۡقَالَهَا
“And the earth brings forth her burdens,” (Surah az-Zilzal, Ch.99: V.3)
In the Five Volume Commentary, under this verse, we read: “There will be a vast release and upsurge of knowledge of all kinds, relating to physical as well as spiritual sciences, especially in the sciences of geology and archaeology.” (Five Volume Commentary, Vol. 5, p. 3422)
Every day, new discoveries are being unearthed through ongoing research and investigation. These findings often disclose vital lessons and data that shed light on the past and offer a thorough understanding of the world and its history.
Additionally, Allah the Almighty has repeatedly encouraged us in the Holy Quran to explore and observe the world:
قُلۡ سِيۡرُوۡا فِي الۡاَرۡضِ فَانۡظُرُوۡا كَيۡفَ كَانَ عَاقِبَةُ الَّذِيۡنَ مِنۡ قَبۡلُ
“Say, ‘Travel in the earth and see how [evil] was the end of those before [you]! Most of them were idolaters.’” (Surah ar-Rum, Ch.30: V.43)
Here, it is not mere travelling that has been mentioned; rather the emphasis is on observing and gaining insight into the fate of past civilizations and peoples, which can be accomplished through visits to ancient cities, archaeological sites, and museums, among others. This type of observation enables a deeper understanding of history and the lessons that can be gleaned from it.
Unfortunately, many countries, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, have encountered grim problems with their archaeological sites due to a lack of awareness and neglect for their preservation among local communities and governmental institutions. Sadly, some people haphazardly dig at these sites in search of gold or other valuable items that once belonged to the early inhabitants of these places. This, if done haphazardly, naturally results in the demolition of sites of great historical significance.
The terrorist group Daesh was responsible for the systematic destruction of cultural heritage sites, monuments, and artefacts in the territories it controlled in Iraq and Syria. This is documented in numerous reports and articles that can be viewed online. The group controlled over 1,800 of Iraq’s 12,000 registered archaeological sites and used bulldozers and machinery to destroy ancient landmarks. Museums were also targeted, with sculptures being destroyed using hammers and drilling machines. In 2014, Daesh took control of Mosul and continued their destruction, posting videos on social media of the removal of statues. (www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-27838034)
In early 2015, Daesh reportedly started the demolition of Nimrud, an Assyrian city from the 13th century BC. The United Nations cultural organisation, UNESCO, deemed the destruction of the historical city of Nimrud a war crime. (whc.unesco.org/en/news/1339) This heartbreaking loss of history was a result of Daesh’s ongoing war on cultural heritage. The remains of Nimrud are among the most significant archaeological sites in Iraq, having been established in the 13th century BC along the banks of the Tigris River near Mosul. (www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-31769164)
The monstrous acts of Daesh in Iraq and Syria, unfortunately, tarnished the name of Islam through their misguided actions. However, it is broadly agreed that there can be no religious explanation for the damage to mankind’s cultural heritage.
Reflecting on the reports at that time that terrorists had destroyed historical monuments and artefacts in ancient Iraqi cities, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih Vaa, said during his keynote address at the 12th National Peace Symposium hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK, that such attacks were a clear violation of Quranic teachings. Huzooraa said:
“For more than 1400 years these cities were preserved and protected by successive Muslim rulers and governments and yet now the extremists claim to have destroyed them in Islam’s name. This can only be branded as an extreme cruelty and a transgression of Islam’s teachings. No true Muslim could ever comprehend acting in this way.” (“Muslim Leader says Justice and Honesty required to prevent Outbreak of third World War”, www.pressahmadiyya.com/press-releases/2015/03/)
The actions of Daesh in destroying cultural heritage sites, monuments, and artefacts, such as stone carvings, were not based on a proper understanding of Islam. Such individuals, who create disorder on Earth, are part of a larger group of people who are uninformed about the true essence of religion.
The Promised Messiahas once said that religious fanatics of such ilk sometimes publish advertisements containing a fatwa or innovation prohibiting travel to any destination other than the three mosques of Islam: Masjid al-Haram, the Holy Kaaba; Masjid An-Nabawi, and the Masjid Al Aqsa. (Aina-e-Kamalat-e-Islam, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 5, p. 605)
The Holy Quran instructs individuals to reflect upon the experiences and eventual downfall of the previous nations. It highlights how sudden and unexpected divine punishment can be, occurring at any time, whether during the night, day, or even while a nation is engaged in leisure activities. This serves as a reminder to always be mindful of one’s actions and maintain a righteous demeanour.
For example, the Holy Quran tells us about the People of Lot in Surah al-Hijr:
“Then the punishment seized them at sunrise. We turned their town upside down and We rained upon them stones of clay. Surely, in this, there are Signs of people of intelligence. And that town is situated on a road that still exists. Surely, this is a Sign for those who believe. The People of the Wood were also wrongdoers, And We chastised them also. Both these cities lie in an easily identifiable way. The People of Hijr also rejected the Messengers as liars. And We gave them Our Signs, but they turned away from them. They used to hew out houses in the mountains, dwelling therein in security.” (Surah al-Hijr, Ch.15: V. 74-83)
Take, for example, the City of Iram that is mentioned in the Holy Quran and has also been discovered in the Ebla tablets, dating back to around 2500 BCE to 2250 BCE. In the early 1990s, an archaeological team led by explorer Ranulph Fiennes uncovered the remains of a settlement in southern Oman that directly points to the City of Iram. Prior to this, the City of Iram was completely unknown from an archaeological standpoint.
Similarly, the Holy Quran mentions Prophet Solomon as a wise and powerful ruler who built a marvellous palace. While some archaeologists today have claimed to have discovered the remains of the palace at Megiddo in Israel, these claims have yet to be carefully inspected and scrutinised by experts over a long period of time.
We should cultivate our faith in the Holy Quran by learning about the historical sites mentioned in it and the remains of those who perished in natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. We should learn from their fate, rather than destroy any evidence of their existence that we have.