Desecration of caliph's tomb by Iran-backed militias sparks outrage

By Zia Ur Rehman


Members of a religious party protest in Karachi in December 2018 against the killings perpetrated by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. [Zia Ur Rehman]

ISLAMABAD -- Reports of the desecration of a Muslim shrine in Idlib Province, Syria, by Iranian-backed militias have sparked outrage across the Muslim world.

A video published by pro-regime social media on May 26 showed the militants raiding and exhuming what is believed to be the grave of Umayyad caliph Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz, also known as Umar II, the Daily Sabah reported.

Umar II was the eighth Umayyad caliph and ruled from 717-720. He was named the fifth righteous caliph of Islam for his adherence to justice during his rule.

In February, regime forces set fire to the area around the shrine when they took control of the town, reportedly damaging the graves of both al-Aziz's wife and servant.


A still from a video showing the destruction of the tomb of Umayyad caliph Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz in Syria. [File]

In response to the videos, Pakistani religious groups Monday (June 1) announced a countrywide protest against the Syrian regime and Iranian-backed militias to be held Friday (June 5).

"We also urged the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), an international body consisting of 57 Muslim member states, and the Pakistani government to take notice of the incident and act against the elements responsible for it," Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, chairman of the Pakistan Ulema Council, said on May 31.

Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, the speaker of the Punjab Assembly, also condemned the act and demanded that the federal government immediately press Syrian authorities for the recovery of the remains.

"We demand severe punishment of those responsible for the desecration," Elahi said.

The desecration of the shrine and tombs of holy personalities is a condemnable and unacceptable act, said the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), a conglomerate of 19 religious groups.

"The saboteurs have been defaming Islam, and the objective of such acts is to create unrest in the Muslim world," said Allama Hussain Qadri, a SIC leader in Karachi.

"We will organise large-scale protests across the country against the Syrian regime for exhuming the tombs of Islamic figures," he said.

In the past, Pakistani religious parties have organised large-scale protests across the country against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad for killing thousands of Muslims.

"Everyone knows that al-Assad used Iranian militias headed by Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)'s Quds Force, for the massacre," said Qadri.

Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad on January 3.

History of disrespect

Al-Assad's forces and allied militias backed by Tehran have a history of exhuming graves and disrespecting places of symbolic importance not only for residents of Syria and Iraq but for Muslims as a whole.

In February, videos surfaced showing Syrian regime forces and Iranian-backed militias desecrating and exhuming the graves of numerous opposition fighters and commanders buried in Sunni areas, the Middle East Monitor reported May 30.

Other videos showed Syrian soldiers playing with the skulls of exhumed bodies.

"This reckless destruction of historical and religious sites bears similarities to the campaign of destruction carried out by Daesh and other extremist groups throughout the region," the analysis said, referring to another name of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) terrorist group.

Similar videos appeared in 2015 when regime forces demolished dozens of tombs in Homs.

"In the past, al-Assad-led forces desecrated the historic mausoleum of Islamic figure Khaled bin Walid in Homs," Qadri said.

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