Arabs rewrite their history

People want to rewrite Arab history to serve vested interests: Al-Zuwailaei


Published: Feb 15, 2010

JEDDAH: Those who wish to rewrite the history of Arabia are motivated by their ideologies and do so to promote partisan views, said Saudi historian and archaeologist professor Ahmad Al-Zuwailaei.

“Some people want to rewrite our history to serve the interests of a particular ideology as happened in the 1960s and the 1970s when the leftist ideology gained prominence in the Arab world,” Al-Zuwailaei told Al-Madinah newspaper.

“These people consider the Prophet (peace be upon him) a revolutionary fighting the aristocracy of the Quraish and consider his companions as socialist leaders. They apply Marxist ideology to our history to suit their interests. This is in fact a mockery of history,” said Al-Zuwailaei, who won the 2008-2009 Prince Salman Prize for Historical Studies on the Arabian Peninsula.

Born in Al-Hubail, Qunfuda, in 1942, Al-Zuwailaei studied in the UK and the Kingdom, and has authored over 50 books. He has also taught at universities across the Kingdom, undertaken numerous archaeological excavations and served in various positions related to archaeological studies and tourism.

Al-Zuwailaei said there was a system of reporting of events during the time of the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions, and that with the help of accredited tools of studying history researchers can determine the veracity of reports from that period.

He added that historians should not approve or reject historical evidence due to personal interests.

“This does not mean I don’t approve of an objective approach to history. I never object to critical studies and the evaluation of conclusions on the basis of reason,” he said.

Commenting on the importance of oral history in the Kingdom, Al-Zuwailaei said events of up to 50 years could be recorded on the basis of oral narrations. He also commended the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for recording the history of various regions with the help of elderly men from these regions.

Regarding some hard-liners who oppose archaeological studies in the Kingdom, he said, “Their opposition is unreasonable. The majority of people do not think the study of antiquities is unlawful. Islamic antiquities differ from the antiquities of other periods which include idols,” he said. Al-Zuwailaei said it is important to study antiquities to understand history in a better fashion. For an archaeologist, a gold coin and a piece of clay are equally important.

However, verses in the Holy Qur’an encourage contemplation about the earth and its people, he said.

“There were many instances in the past when we historians avoided going to places which were full of archaeological potential because we were afraid the hard-liners would destroy them when they learned we were interested in them,” he said.

“They even razed some ancient mosques arguing that they wanted to rebuild them. While some of them argued that they demolished ancient monuments to prevent any future situation that might lead to polytheistic practices, others justified their acts saying the ancient buildings stood in the way of progress,” he added. He said the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) was doing its best to protect and maintain the Kingdom’s archaeological sites. “The SCTA’s archaeology and museum division has taken several steps to attract tourists to archaeological sites. There are large hotels in Madain Saleh and facilities for foreign tourists to come to the area by air. There are also licensed guides to help tourists,” said Al-Zuwailaei.

Al-Diraeah is also on the way to become one of the largest tourist centers in the country, he added.

Speaking about the Encyclopedia of Jeddah project, he said work is ongoing and that the encyclopedia would be published in a few years.

Replying to a question on why women are absent from the field of archaeological studies, the professor said many women had graduated and completed higher studies in archaeology and museum.

He also stressed the importance of the historical and artistic value of old graves, particularly gravestones that contain information about the people whose graves they mark. He denied that he has ever experienced any opposition when conducting studies near graves, adding that he takes special care not to step on graves when studying them.

“If you want to make a study of the families who ruled Makkah, the inscriptions on their tombstones — which include their names, ranks and death dates — will give you a lot of valuable information,” he said.

Regarding ways of repairing the loss of antiquities in Makkah, he said rare photos taken by Western and Arab travelers are available in books, many of which have been acquired by the King Abdul Aziz Foundation.

“Before the expansion of the Grand Mosque was launched, our colleagues studied Mamluk and Ottoman architecture before their demolition. Harah Al-Aghwat is an example. All these buildings were removed in the expansion work. It was also reported that some large boxes, which contained old relics, were found while digging in the area,” he said.

He also stressed the need to open more museums to make people aware of their heritage.

© 2010 Arab News

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