by Tamar Sternthal
It takes a savvy news consumer and careful reading between the lines to begin to decipher the May 1, 2009 AFP article by Joseph Krauss entitled “Muslim shrines bear witness to Iraq’s Jews.” Even the headline’s meaning is shrouded, and likely to mislead the casual reader. The article begins:
Nearly everyone who could read the Hebrew verses carved into the walls of Ezekiel’s tomb left Iraq almost 60 years ago, but their memory is preserved in what is today a revered Muslim shrine.
Between 1948 and 1951 nearly all of Iraq’s 2,5000-year-old Jewish community fled amid a region-wide outbreak of national violence, but today Iraq’s Muslims and Christians still visit its most important holy sites.
In the little town of Kifl, south of Baghdad, the shrine of Ezekiel — the prophet who followed the Jews into Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC — has long been a part of Iraq’s millenia-old religious mosaic.
A 14th-century brick minaret tilts outside the entrance to the shrine, but inside the mosque is shaped like a synagogue, with old wooden cabinets that used to hold Torah scrolls and balustrades that once separated men and women. . . .
The government has launched a project to renovate the interior of the shrine, and the state ministry for tourism and antiquities says it hopes to eventually repair and renovate other Jewish sites across the country.
The text is maddingly ambiguous; will the Kifl tomb and other historically Jewish sites be renovated to restore and maintain their original Jewish character, or will it be renovated in accord with the Muslim shrines they apparently have become? After all, given the history of Islam, this point requires careful clarification. As noted by scholar Raymond Ibrahim, Muslim conquerers have had a tendency to convert Jewish and Christian holy sites into Muslim shrines. Thus, when the Turks conquered Constantinople in the fifteenth century, the famed Hagia Sophia church, along with 500 other Christian places of worship, were converted to Muslim shrines. The Al Aqsa Mosque is deliberately built atop the ruins of the first and second Jewish temples in Jerusalem. And in more recent days, when the bloodied Israeli army withdrew from Joseph’s Tomb in 2000, it was quickly turned into a mosque.
Perhaps Krauss has given away the answer, referring at one point to the revered site in Kifl as a mosque. Yet, the matter is confused when Iraqi spokesman Abdelzahra al-Talaqani is quoted: “The ministry is concerned with all Iraqi heritage, whether it is Christian or Jewish or from any other religion.” Does that “concern” translate to the mission of converting abandoned non-Islamic religious sites into mosques, as is apparently the case with Ezekiel’s tomb? Krauss does not spell out the answer either way and the discerning reader is left to wonder….