Ahmad Masjed-Jameʻi said at the book launch of “Behesht-e Baqiʻ”: We should not limit Baqiʻ to a Shiite concept; we can have an Islamic approach toward it. Even we can go beyond the Islamic perspective and make it a human heritage; since it is accepted in the international community.
The book launch for “Behesht-e Baqiʻ”; a representation of the holy cemetery of Baqiʻ, based on historical and artistic sources and documents, was held on Friday 17th of June, 2022, with the presence of Ahmad Masjed-Jameʻi (the deputy of the Centre for the Great Islamic Encyclopaedia), Hassan Taremirad (the scientific deputy of the Encyclopaedia Islamica Foundation) and Ahmad Khameyar (the author of the book) in the Culture Hall of the International Conference Center of the National Library and Archives of Iran.
Ahmad Masjed-Jameʻi, the deputy of the Centre for the Great Islamic Encyclopaedia, stated that with the current view of Saudi Arabia toward the story of Baqiʻ, such an incident probably would not have happened. About 20 years ago, during an official trip to Riyadh, we visited the Riyadh Museum at the suggestion of the Saudis. The museum was very poor, but from the reports of the Minister of Culture of Saudi Arabia about the agreements with countries like England and France for studies on the history and heritage of their country, I realized that they based reconstructing their Arab identity on paying attention to the historical heritage.
Pointing out that even one historical inscription can bear a lot of information about a historical period, he added: Now we are accused of not knowing about the early history of Islam. There are many books and documents, mainly from the second century AH onwards, but we have fewer documents and works from the first century. The reason is that, unfortunately, they have not been appropriately preserved.
Stating that our Islamic identity and the history of Islam are connected with Baqiʻ, Masjed-Jameʻi mentioned: Baqiʻ is the first place that became a Muslim cemetery in Medina. Unfortunately, many countries in the region are looking for identity building in opposition to Iran; for instance, they try to gather documents to prove that the Persian Gulf has not been an ancient name.
He pointed out that the author’s narration in the book “Behesht-e Baqiʻ” is completely Iranian and added: The author has shown the examples of Seljuq tombs in Baqiʻ are similar to the ones in Qazvin, Qom, and other cities of Iran and justified it with photos. He has also collected various quotations and works from museums and other institutions. Still, the Shiite aspect of Baqiʻ has prevailed in his work, which is understandable and natural due to our respect for the Shiite imams.
He stressed that the Islamic approach to Baqiʻ and its related issues including its destruction needs further strengthening and stated: We should pay more attention to all Muslims’ efforts in continuation of the existence of Baqiʻ. In fact, we should not make the issue of Baqiʻ Shiite but approach it from an Islamic perspective. Let’s even go beyond the Islamic viewpoint and make it a human heritage; because this is accepted in the international community.
Mentioning that human heritage can also be religious and Shiite, Masjed-Jameʻi added: Baqiʻ is a human heritage, and we must make our demands in this context. We should not see it just related to Saudi Arabia. He pointed out that the collection of information in the book “Behesht-e Baqiʻ” is beneficial for the Islamic world and stated: We need to theorize the participation of other countries in maintaining this heritage. This first step is a perfect start because no theorizing is possible without referring to the previous literature. However, today’s literature of the world, the region, and the Islamic society should be considered as well. In Saudi Arabia, there are good capacities for us to reach a comprehensive theory that could be presented globally.
He referred to the declaration of public mourning in the streets of Iran at the time of the destruction of the Baqiʻ cemetery and added: At that time, they issued announcements with international standards since they were supposed to defend an idea accepted by the world. He declares that Baqiʻ belongs to the whole world, especially the Islamic world, and a single country cannot decide its issues. It is the point that we should focus on now.
Masjed-Jameʻi said: Today, we have gone a step further. We should state that acting on human heritage without the opinions and viewpoints of influential groups is impossible. Baqiʻ cemetery is one of the cases that, with proper theorizing at an appropriate time, we can present as a human heritage in international forums and preserve this part of the human heritage.
He added: What we can do now is to use the architectural style of the destroyed buildings in Baqiʻ in the constructions being built for the imams of Baqiʻ in the holy Shiite cities. It means to update that architectural style with the new requirements and keep this memory alive.
At the beginning of this meeting, Hojjat ul-Islam Hassan Taremirad, the scientific deputy of the Encyclopaedia Islamica Foundation, pointed out that the book’s subject is a representation of a part of Islamic cultural and civilizational heritage. He said: Rebuilding Baqiʻ mustn’t be merely a Shiite demand. If we look at the history of the Islamic world from the beginning, we recognize that Baqiʻ is exclusively Islamic. At first, it was a large land covered by the “Gharqad” trees. Later, houses were built in place of the trees, and then it turned into the burial place of many residents of Medina, especially the Prophet of Islam, our imams, and the companions of the Prophet.
Hojjat ul-Islam Taremirad emphasized that significant people have been buried in Baqiʻ cemetery since the beginning of Islam and added: Baqiʻ is the cultural history of the Islamic world. Of course, another essential aspect of this cemetery for us is our religious respect for the graves of imams, which we consider shrines.
He mentioned: The case of the Baqiʻ cemetery is related to the whole Islamic world. In 1926, when the House of Saud destroyed Baqiʻ with the coordination of scholars and judges affiliated with the Wahhabi movement, the Islamic world boycotted Hajj and a global protest was formed. Our scholars, who protested, mostly considered it a disaster in the Islamic world. He emphasized that we as Shiites have a greater responsibility regarding the destruction of Baqiʻ, but this is a demand of the Islamic world. He stated: The destruction of Baqiʻ was not prejudice but deviation. Just as ISIS was a movement of deviance, not an Islamic bond, as the foreigners portrayed.
Hojjat ul-Islam Taremirad mentioned that one of the ways to preserve the history and culture of a former civilization is to maintain the memory of the past and said: People can’t be connected to a religion and accept it without understanding its history. We should not consider the tombs as merely places to express our devotion to religious figures. Although this aspect is precious, these tombs also show our history. The huge mistake of destructing Baqiʻ was conceivably a plan to erase the history of Islamic civilization, which our scholars mentioned during the 100 years of the obliteration of Islamic traditions and customs. A general demand in the Islamic world should be made to call for compensation, even in a diplomatic form. At the end of his speech, Hojjat ul-Islam Taremirad mentioned that in the introduction of the book “Behesht-e Baqiʻ”, the author has presented a valuable report on the history of Baqiʻ with pictures and illustrations, and has shown the 1300-year history of Baqiʻ appropriately.
The viewpoint of the book “Behesht-e Baqiʻ” is beyond religion
Ahmad Khameyar, the author of the book “Behesht-e Baqiʻ” said: The research process lasted about three years. More than fifty books have been written about Baqiʻ, which made writing this book much easier. But I attempted to deal with the issue of Baqiʻ from a new perspective: the revival of the visual memory of Baqiʻ.
He pointed out that the historical constructions in Mecca and Medina are so rare, and Orientalists, citing this issue, question the existence of the Islamic government in the early Islamic centuries. Therefore, the evidence we can refer to is visual memory and pictures left in manuscripts, of which essential examples have been tried to be presented in this book.
Khameyar said: There are at least 150 pictures left from Baqiʻ cemetery. I limited myself to a collection of 35 less seen and more significant images in the book “Behesht-e Baqiʻ”. In some manuscripts, I saw a series of pictures that had not been published before.
He added: After collecting the images, it was necessary to write a suitable scientific introduction for the book, most of which was related to the existing manuscripts about Baqiʻ. It became a comparative study, which could be published as an independent book.
The author emphasized that the book has a viewpoint beyond religion and stated: To demand and pursue the revival of Baqiʻ, we cannot only have a Shia and Islamic perspective. Today’s conditions require another approach; it is imperative to show the world that Baqiʻ is a historical site and a heritage of human civilization.
The book launch with participation of the author and other guests took place at the end of this ceremony.
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