Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Farewell Samarra?

Here at millinerd I don't make it a point to comment on every current event (my apologies to anyone for whom this is their primary news source). But today, because of an uncanny coincidence, I couldn't resist.

This semester I am auditing a course on the Arts of the Islamic World. Today we were, strangely, scheduled to discuss the archaeology of Samarra. A brief history lesson: The first Islamic caliphate was the Umayyad one, whose capital was Damascus. They were denounced as irreligious and were overcome in a bloody rebelllion by the Abbasids who placed their capital near the once famed Babylon in Baghdad (726). Soon however an intellectual party developed in Baghdad who suggested that the Koran may have been written and redacted by people, and that it might even be profitably interpreted allegorically. These more (for lack of a better term) Hellenized Muslims moved the capital from Baghdad to Samarra. Samarra, one might then argue, was one of the first sites of "progressive" Islam. The professor then showed us Samarra's Al Askari Mosque pictured above, and then showed it to us blown up. The attack, most likely committed by Muslims, happened a few hours before the lecture.

Now granted the Al Askari Mosque was built much later (10th century) and completed only in the 20th, admittedly a good while after the intellectual heydey of Samarra that I have described. Nevertheless, the fact that our professor had just described Samarra as a center of progressive Islam and then showed the rubble of its central mosque is an image that will stick with me for a very long time.

More on this to come.