Friday, 22 July 2016

Gaza's ancient shrines crumble

Most of the population of Gaza is claiming to be a devout Muslim. It certainly helps to get vast amount of donations from Saudi Arabia, but there is not much to show for it in Gaza itself.

After years of neglect, a large number of holy shrines and tombs have simply disappeared. Now only six remain and they are in a pittyful state. All that is left of the Sheikh Youssef shrine is a room surmounted by a dome made of ancient marble. Located on the main road in the village of Bani Suhaila, east of Khan Yunis, the shrine houses a tomb that Gazans believe contains the remains of a mysterious but righteous Muslim man. Although the shrine is in a crowded area, it has become so derelict over the past few years that it has now been closed to the public.
[Sheikh Youssef's shrine, Gaza]
The largest ancient shrine is the shrine of Sayyid Hashim, the grandfather of the Prophet Muhammad, located inside Sayyid Hashim Mosque in Gaza City. But people are starting to forget all about it as well. Certainly, not one government authority pays attention to it anymore.

The al-Khodr shrine, shabbily rebuilt in the 1930s, is considered a holy place for Muslims who believe that a Muslim sheikh named al-Khodr is buried there. However, the writing on the tombstone indicates that the shrine holds the remains of a Christian saint named Hilarius who escaped Roman persecution in the fourth century, when Emperor Julian recanted from Christianity and destroyed the monastery built by Hilarius on the shore of the Sea of Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip. Which is at the very least indicative of the lack of professionalism of Gaza's historians.

Yet, Gaza has an official Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. Jamal Abu Rida, head of the General Directorate of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage says that his ministry is interested in preserving the shrines and other archaeological sites in the Gaza Strip. Well, if I were him, I would say the same thing, but the reality is that nothing has been done for years to preserve Gaza's cultural heritage. Saudi Arabia will not like that.

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