Magharebia (Washington DC)

Tunisians Decry Sufi Shrine Attack

Tunis — The Tunisian town of Sidi Bou Said took its name from a Sufi mausoleum.

Last week-end, vandals set the revered site on fire.

"This crime against our culture and history must not go unpunished," the presidency said about the January 12th arson attack in the scenic tourist village near Tunis.

In a country where shrines represent cultural and civilisational symbols, the desecration of the 13th century UNESCO World Heritage Site is raising concerns about extremists.

"Entities in the salafist current consider such shrines to be a form of association of others with God," Sidi Bou Said resident told Magharebia.

Last month, five salafists were arrested for a similar blaze at the mausoleum of one of Tunisia's most revered Sufi saints, Saïda Aïcha Manoubia. The Arab League Education, Culture and Science Organisation (ALECSO) strongly denounced the October 16th attack.

"The fact that these attacks on holy shrines, including an attack on Saïda Aïcha Manoubia about 2 months ago, were repeatedly staged without the relevant circumstances being revealed poses many questions," the opposition Popular Front said on Sunday. The party condemned the attack on "a religious, cultural and historical landmark respected by most Tunisian men and women".

"There is no doubt that the goal of these attacks is to provoke, sow fitna and hatred," the Popular Front added. "This also shows an ignorant, malicious, and obscurantist mentality."

The El Emen party issued a similar condemnation.

"This incident is a part of a series of programmed violent acts committed by paid, ignorant, and barbarian groups disguised behind religion and working for non-patriotic agenda to create a culture of violence and hatred of all forms and meanings," the party said in a statement.

"As much as it is a stark assault on morals, culture and civilization, burning holy shrines is a serious deviation in the course of revolution aimed at distracting the people away from their goals and diverting their attention away from their real issues in development, employment, health and quality education," the statement added.

Local resident Mofdi Allouche told Magharebia: "I understand that those people reject the holy shrines that some people visit as they consider this to be a form of association of others with God. I personally refuse to visit such shrines or to offer sacrifices and other gifts. However, this phenomenon shouldn't be combated with violence; rather, people should be made to understand their Islamic faith calmly."

"These shrines chronicle our Arab and Islamic culture over thousands of years," he added.

A rare manuscript of the Holy Qur'an was destroyed when the Sidi Bou Said shrine was torched on Saturday, he noted.

"Those who attacked the place should have known that these places contain manuscripts of the Holy Qur'an," Allouche said.

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