30 January 2013

Tunisia to Secure Sufi Shrines

Tunis — Salafists continue to desecrate the graves of revered saints in Tunisia.

Tunisian salafists torched the Gafsa mausoleum of Sidi Ben Naji and the mausoleum of Sidi Baghdadi in Monastir on Sunday (January 27th).

The attacks came a day after Culture Minister Mehdi Mabrouk said that an urgent security plan would be drawn up to put an end to the desecration of Sufi shrines.

Protecting the shrines "has become an urgent matter after we found out that there is systematic plan by some religious extremist groups to completely destroy these historical symbols; something that indicates an intention to target our national memory," the minister said.

"There must be a firm stance to counter this challenge," Mabrouk added. "We demand that a security unit be assigned to protect the Sufi brotherhoods, shrines and mausoleums, which represent an integral part to our national memory," he added.

Sufi union chief Mohamed El Heni welcomed the government's decision, but at the same time criticised the government's failure to investigate crimes committed against many Sufi holy sites, which still represent a religious and cultural dimension of the country.

He added that more than 34 shrines have been attacked in eight months, and said this shows that there is a deliberate plan by extremist religious movements. He added that radicals want to sow strife and desecrate the mosques, brotherhoods and shrines of renowned sheiks in the name of Islam.

"It's good that the government pays attention to the country's cultural and historical symbols and decided to stop those who want to impose their extremist beliefs by force and violence," commented 60-year-old Zoubaida Salhi.

"However, we blame the government for its delay, and all that we want now is to hold to account those perpetrators and to secure our religious heritage. The government shouldn't sympathise with the perpetrators for election-related interests," he added.

In his turn, Mohamed Boudhni, 66, said, "The state, which is the protector of the country's security, history and religion, must shoulder its responsibility in full because attacking shrines and mausoleums is a red line, and is a crime against our Islamic heritage. Therefore, it has to apply the law on those involved in these attacks and not to suffice with condemnations."

Last Friday, the Tunisian government spoke out against the wave of salafist violence.

The Sufi sites were "part of the national memory in its cultural and civilizational depth, and we can't allow anyone to attack and burn them based on controversial religious and doctrinal justifications, as these things have never been an issue for Tunisians who are known for their moderation in thought, faith and behaviour," a government statement said.

Over the past several months, scores of historic Sufi shrines have been desecrated, including the Sidi Bou Said al-Beji mausoleum, a tourist landmark.

The Union of Sufi Orders in Tunisia blamed these attacks on salafists, who they said were applying their interpretation of Sharia, which views the mausoleums and shrines as idolatrous.

Mazen Cherif, vice-head of the Sufi Orders Union in Tunisia, believes that those extremists have a strategy to change the country to fit their radical vision.

"It's the beginning because after that, they will destroy archaeological places in Carthage and El Jem," he said. "They will also force men to grow beards and women to wear the niqab."

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