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” Since my area of study is Israel, I have no direct connection to these unfolding events.
But issues involving cultural heritage arise repeatedly in my own research.
That mosque, the al-Hussein Mosque, still stands in Cairo today, and it too claims to have Hussein’s head within.
Meanwhile, the minbar (the shrine’s pulpit) of the Ashkelon mosque was removed to Hebron (al-Khalil in Arabic), taken perhaps in the late twelfth century by Salah al-Din (Saladin) when he destroyed Ashkelon to keep it from being recaptured by the Crusaders.
Sharing a story from my own experience may help, I think, to illuminate issues of cultural heritage, to bring the past into the present, to deal with the “ancient Near East today.” It involves the Mashhad al-Nabi Hussein (or Mashhad Sayyidina Hussein), “the Shrine of the prophet (or our lord) Hussein”.
There were protests at the time, namely from Shmuel Yeivin, head of the new Israeli Department of Antiquities.But even this destruction is not the end of the story; memory of the sacred location persisted.As reported by the LA Times in 2008, thousands of Isma‘ili Sh‘ia Muslims from Pakistan and India would visit the site every year – now on the grounds of Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon.Yeivin objected to Dayan’s blowing up the building given its historic nature (it was covered by antiquities law, which protected any building constructed before 1700 CE), and noted that it was only one of a series of such buildings Dayan destroyed at the time.These also included mosques at the villages of Yibna (Yavneh) and Isdud (site of ancient Ashdod).
In fact, this tradition itself is a later one that cannot be traced back to the seventh century.