(Translated from Arabic by Ghulam Rasool, New Age Islam)
Tunisian salafists burned down the Gafsa mausoleum of Syedi Ben Naji and the shrine of Syedi Baghdadi in Monastir on Sunday (January 27th). The attack came a day after Minister of Culture, Mehdi Mabrook asserted that an urgent security measure would be taken to put an end to the desecration of Sufi shrines and mausoleums.
The minister of culture said: “we are in dire need to protect Sufi shrines after we found out that there is a well-organised plan by some religious extremist groups to completely destroy these historical symbols; something that indicates an intention to target our national memory”. He further said that “a stern and uncompromising step must be taken to counter this challenge, and we demand a security unit be assigned to protect the Sufis and their shrines which are an integral part of our national memory”.
Muhammad Al-Hani, Chief of a Sufi union, welcomed the government's decision, but at the same time severely criticised the government for its failure in investigating several crimes committed against many Sufi shrines and holy sites that still represent a religious and civilisational dimension of the country.
Until now, more than 34 shrines have been attacked in eight months. It suggests out that these attacks are being launched with a deliberate intention and systematic plan by extremist religious movements. These radical groups want to provoke strife by desecrating the mosques, mausoleums and shrines of Auliya (Sufis) in the name of Islam.
A 60 year old Tunisian woman, Zubaida Salihi says: “It's good to see the government pays heed to the preservation of the rich cultural and historical symbols of our country, and has decided to tackle those who want to impose their extremist ideas by force and violence. But we criticise the government for its delay. All that we demand from the government now is to hold to account those extremists and safeguard our religious heritage, without trying to sympathise with them for political interests and electoral gains".
Mohamed Boudhni, 66, says: "The state is the protector of our country's security, history and religion, so it 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 implement the law on those who perpetrated these attacks and not to suffice with only condemnations."
Last Friday, the Tunisian government spoke out against the wave of salafist violence. A government statement said that, “Tunisian Sufi shrines are a part of our national memory in its cultural and civilisational depth, so we cannot allow anyone to attack and burn them down just on some controversial religious basis and doctrinal justifications, as these have never been a matter of concern for Tunisians who are known for their moderation in thought and balance in faith and behaviour.”
Over the past few months, Tunisians witnessed scores of historic Sufi shrines being destroyed and desecrated, most notably the Syedi Bu Said al-Beji mausoleum, a tourist landmark.
The Union of Sufi Orders in Tunisia blamed these attacks on Salafists, who apply their own interpretation of Sharia, according to which the mausoleums and shrines are places of shirk (idolatry).The vice-head of the Sufi Orders in Tunisia, Mazen al-Shareef believes that those extremists are employing their strategy to change the country according to their radical vision and extreme interpretation of Islamic Shariah. He says, “It's just the beginning. They are on the lookout to destroy archaeological sites in Carthage and El-Jem, and will also force men to grow beard and women to wear the niqab."