Address of H.E. Dr Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, the Director General of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO):
The Islamic World Heritage Committee has been established at a time of ongoing challenges to the Muslim Arab Ummah, which include destruction and looting of centuries-old cultural and civilizational heritage in Iraq and Afghanistan. Worse are the excavations by the Israeli occupation forces in the environs of Al Aqsa Mosque, in total lack of deference to the archaeological and religious monuments in Al Quds Al Sharif which Muslims and Christians treat as sacred.
On top of the cultural rights of both individuals and communities comes the need to preserve cultural and civilization heritage, in its being a crossing point of past, present and future and a melting-pot where people’s identities and creative genius blend together, which is why ISESCO gives prior attention to Muslim Arab heritage in its plans, programmes and activities, as evidenced by the establishment of the Islamic Heritage Committee.
An adequate mechanism is therefore of the essence to assess the current situation of Muslim heritage and identify historical, cultural and religious monuments in danger, with the use of modern ICTs. Based on the recommendation of ISESCO, the Islamic Conference of Culture Ministers at its fifth session held in Tripoli, Libya, on 21-23 November 2007 decided to set up the Islamic Heritage Committee to best coordinate and make more effective ISESCO’s action in areas relating to Islamic cultural heritage.
We seek through this link to bring to a close the Muslim world civilizational heritage, and press for protecting it by all possible means from destruction and preserving it for future generations. This much is clear: this ancient heritage does not belong alone to the Muslim Ummah, but also to the entire humanity, hence the necessity to exert all possible efforts to save it from destruction, looting and judaization.
Here you, dear visitors, will find an introduction to the Islamic Heritage Committee, membership, mandate, inscription conditions on the Islamic Heritage List, and other relevant material.
Our great hope is to see this link expanded to include cultural and civilizational heritage across the Islamic world.
Allah we ask for guidance.
Islamic World Heritage Committee (IHC)
Islamic World Heritage Committee Brochure :
- As part of the interest taken by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) in preserving the Islamic civilizational heritage, and pursuant to the relevant resolution of the fifth Islamic Conference of Culture Ministers (Tripoli, Libya: 21-23 November 2007), the Islamic Heritage Committee, a specialized governmental committee, was established to preserve the human cultural heritage in Member States, in general, and Islamic heritage, in particular. One of the major reasons for establishing this Committee was the fact that the human heritage in Member States is less represented in the UNESCO World Heritage List (WHL); this situation reflects neither the true value nor the diversity of this heritage. Hence, it was necessary to create an international governmental mechanism with a view to promoting coordination, cooperation and concerted efforts and ensuring that the Islamic civilizational heritage occupies a prominent place as a component of the world heritage.
- The Committee consists of Nine members who are elected by the Islamic Conference of Culture Ministers for a four-year term from among the representatives of the Member States of ISESCO: Three states for each one of the Arab, African and Asian regions. The Member States concerned elect their representatives from among cultural heritage experts. The Committee’s Bureau consists of a Chairman, a Vice-Chairman and a Rapporteur, who are elected from among the Committee members.
- The Islamic World Heritage Committee is operating in concert with the World Heritage Committee and the Arab Heritage Committee to propose the appropriate mechanisms and coordinate common positions in order:
To inscribe cultural archaeological sites of the Member States on the Islamic World Heritage List regardless of the civilization and the period to which they belong;
To preserve historical monuments and natural reserves in the Member States;
To safeguard and promote intangible cultural heritage;
To provide emergency assistance for the protection of archaeological sites damaged by natural disasters;
To provide legal support to recover looted cultural property;
To combat illicit trafficking in cultural property;
To offer expertise and technical support for inventorying cultural heritage and ensuring good governance in the field of cultural heritage;
To support Member States’ competent authorities to inscribe their archaeological sites on UNESCO World Heritage List;
To prepare reports on the situation of Islamic cultural heritage.
Requirements for inscription on the Islamic Heritage List :
- To provide full information substantiated with relevant legal and administrative evidence concerning the status of protection, maintenance and restoration of the site, and report any imminent dangers to the site that might cause immediate or delayed damage;
To submit registration files directly to the Committee’s Secretariat at ISESCO using the inscription form, at least six months prior to the meeting of the Committee. Only files fulfilling all the conditions specified in the form will be considered by the Committee;
A panel of experts shall examine the files in terms of form and content before referring them to the annual ordinary meeting of Islamic Heritage Committee (held in October) which determines whether to inscribe the nominated site or to defer its registration;
The Committee reserves the right to defer registration process and to request any supplementary information or documents from the competent parties.
Working means :
- 1- Scientific and Technical Commission
The applicant shall give full information substantiated with relevant legal and administrative evidence concerning the status of protection, maintenance and restoration of the site; and report any imminent dangers to the site that might cause immediate or near-term damage.
Registration files shall be submitted directly to the Committee’s Secretariat at ISESCO, at least six months prior to its Committee’s meeting. Only the files fulfilling all the conditions of the form will be considered by the Committee.
A panel of experts shall study the files, both in form and in content, before referring them to the annual ordinary meeting of Islamic Heritage Committee (every October) to express its views and take a decision either to register the site immediately or at a later date.
The Committee shall have the right to defer registration process and to request any supplementary information or documents from the competent parties.
Working Means of the Committee :
- I. The Scientific and Technical Commission :
It is a commission intended to assist the Islamic Heritage Committee. It shall be set up by ISESCO Director General from among archaeologists specializing in cultural heritage (tangible and intangible) and natural heritage. It shall undertake the following :
To consider issues and matters submitted to the Islamic Heritage Committee and suggest appropriate solutions thereto.
To propose projects and activities for increasing visibility of and ensuring protection for the Islamic cultural heritage, as well as for promoting it and developing methods for its integration and utilization in economic, cultural and social development.
It shall be a permanent secretariat reporting the General Directorate of ISESCO, and shall be entrusted with preparing the Committee’s meetings and ensuring follow-up to the implementation of its resolutions.
Islamic World Heritage Committee (Challenges and Prospects)
- The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) has, under its successive action plans, granted an increased interest to Islamic civilizational heritage in the Member States as part of its firm belief in solidarity and cooperation in all areas, particularly in cultural fields including protection and restoration of Islamic civilizational heritage. ISESCO is well aware of the huge gaps identified in the preservation of archaeological sites as well as historical and religious monuments at the national, regional and international levels. In fact, the deterioration of a part of this Islamic cultural heritage will be a considerable loss for the Islamic world in particular and the world at large.As part of its interest dedicated to preserving human civilizational heritage in the Member States, and based on reports and assessment studies on the situation of archaeological sites in the Islamic world, ISESCO has realized the need to establish a specialized body to preserve Islamic heritage, namely the Islamic World Heritage Committee (IWHC).
- I- Definition of the Islamic Heritage Committee
The Islamic World Heritage Committee is an intergovernmental specialized body established pursuant to the resolution of the fifth Islamic Conference of Culture Ministers (Tripoli, Libya, 2007) to preserve the rich cultural heritage of Member States, which is part of human heritage in general and the Islamic heritage in particular. This committee was also established to promote synergy and efficiency in the action undertaken by ISESCO in the protection of civilizational heritage.
What is meant by Islamic heritage?
The name of this committee brings us to give a succinct definition of Islamic heritage. This incorporates the Member States’ heritage existing within their territories, including the heritage dating back to pre-Islamic civilizations. Indeed, Member States are entrusted with and responsible for its preservation, being part of Islamic heritage. In this regard, the world states have preserved this heritage throughout the ages, and numerous ancient civilizational landmarks have been preserved and integrated by Islamic civilization. Furthermore, this designation does not suggest that Islamic heritage is limited only to the part produced by the civilization of Islam. It also incorporates all stages and civilizations of the human heritage existing in the Islamic world.
- II- Reasons for establishment of the Islamic Heritage Committee
The establishment of the Islamic World heritage is mainly justified by the following reasons :
1. Under-representation of the Islamic heritage on the World Heritage List :
The place Member States’ human heritage occupies on UNESCO World Heritage List does not reflect the true value and diversity of this human heritage. Hence, it was necessary to create an international governmental mechanism whose mission is to promote coordination cooperation and concerted efforts and to stress that Islamic civilizational heritage should occupy a prominent place in the world heritage. By creating the Islamic Heritage Committee, ISESCO had no intention of duplicating the efforts of similar specialized organs (the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO or the Arab Heritage Committee of ALECSO). In fact, the action of the IHC will complement the work of these international and regional bodies. In addition, this committee was created to coordinate efforts to preserve the memorials and all expressions of Islamic cultural heritage.
2. Coping with multiple threats to the civilizational heritage in Member States :
The situation of multiple elements of cultural heritage in the Islamic world, particularly archaeological sites and cultural property is a matter of concern because of natural hazards and armed conflicts that cause serious harm to human heritage. These hazards include:
A – Natural disasters : Natural disasters cause enormous damage to the architectural fabric in general and, more particularly, to heritage sites. Human activities contribute to worsening this damage. This should prompt the IHC and its affiliated scientific commission to urge the relevant parties to develop preventive structures that protect the cultural heritage in such a way as to mitigate the impact of activities and natural disasters. The Committee is also expected to propose providing urgent aid to countries whose heritage sites or cultural institutions have suffered from natural disasters.
B – Construction of dams and its ensuing effects : Dams are considered as the largest hydraulic works ever constructed by man. They are situated on the banks of rivers and lakes to store water, to regulate water flow, channel it into the generation of electricity, and avert the effects of floods and drought seasons, etc. However, construction of these dams and reservoirs on the banks of rivers and lakes, combined with higher water levels, landslides and increased humidity, pose a real threat to archaeological sites and historical monuments in these locations. In this connection, we can mention the damage caused to archaeological sites and historical monuments in the Nile Basin in southern Egypt and northern Sudan have been flooded due to the construction of the High Dam and the Merowe Dam. The same phenomenon occurred in other regions of the Muslim world. This requires the IHC to put forward practical proposals to assist these countries in the processes of relief, protection, awareness-raising, maintenance and restoration and enable them to inscribe their sites on the of Islamic heritage list.
C – Armed conflicts and wars Armed conflicts and wars have a direct impact on the civilizational heritage. This holds true for the conflicts that are currently occurring in the Islamic world, especially in Palestine where the Israeli occupation authorities mobilized all their military resources and expansionist schemes to judaize the Islamic heritage and deprive the human heritage of invaluable Islamic and Christian monuments. In this context, the Israeli occupation authorities are undertaking regular illegal excavations in the area surrounding Islamic sanctities in Al-Quds Al-Sharif. In fact, these excavations that threaten the foundations of the Al-Aqsa Mosque have never been called into question despite the fact that the heritage sites of the city of Al-Quds have been inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 1982.
The same can be said about the dangers to which archaeological monuments and historical sites in Iraq were exposed in 2003. In this regard, seven of the largest national museums in Iraq have been targeted, including the National Museum in Baghdad, in addition to the fire that destroyed thousands of Islamic manuscripts in the national library. Iraq has lost priceless archaeological and artistic treasures belonging to the civilization of Mesopotamia which date back to more than 5,000 years. Thousands of archaeological objects were stolen from the National Museum of Baghdad. Some of these objects are illegally trafficked. Therefore, the IHC will have to combat this phenomenon under international law.
Furthermore, conflicts that took place in Afghanistan over the last three decades have encouraged the pillage and looting of cultural property and the demolition of archaeological sites dating back to the pre-Islamic era. In this respect, ISESCO strongly condemned these acts which caused the loss of an invaluable part of the world heritage.
The social, political, economic and cultural challenges facing the Islamic civilizational heritage are constantly increasing in scope as various threats jeopardize their existence in the Member States. However, there is no doubt that the preservation of this heritage comes at the top of priorities of the cultural rights of individuals and communities. Therefore, the Islamic world is sorely in need of an appropriate mechanism to assess and preserve its civilizational heritage, inventory endangered cultural, religious and historical sites and monuments and find appropriate ways to use new technologies in the maintenance of this heritage. Here lies the role of the IHC to address these challenges and take all necessary measures for the protection of this heritage through inscribing its components on the Islamic heritage list, even in the World Heritage List. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that the IHC is not supposed to assume the role of States in the preservation of their civilizational heritage. Therefore, the Committee will perform its tasks through the rules and means to be determined in consultation with the relevant parties.
3. Raising Member States’ awareness about the importance of their civilizational heritage
Member States extend over a large geographical area and are home to the remains of most ancient civilizations (Assyrian, Babylonian, Pharaonic, Greek, Roman and Islamic). Therefore, they need protection from intergovernmental bodies which should work towards registering their tangible and intangible heritage on the World Heritage List. Indeed, much of this heritage has not aroused the interest of specialists and officials in charge of registering the world heritage. If these intergovernmental bodies exist at the Arab and international levels, in the Arab world, the existence of an intergovernmental body at the level of the Islamic world ought to be a major priority. Many of these heritage assets are not listed as world heritage for several reasons including lack of awareness about the importance of monuments and their inclusion in the World Heritage List. This had a negative impact on the development of cultural tourism and development in general. In this regard, there is dire need for establishing a heritage committee in these states with a view to raising awareness about the importance of their civilizational heritage.
4. Highlighting the contribution of Islamic countries’ civilizations to the universal heritage
The Islamic world countries have witnessed the greatest civilizations of mankind. Within their borders, we can still enjoy the landmarks, monuments and works of art of these civilizations. This civilizational heritage, which constitutes a core component of the Islamic cultural identity and reflects the significant contribution of the Islamic civilization to the universal civilization should be preserved and safeguarded. This is a mission the Islamic world has to accomplish so as to pass on such a rich heritage to future generations since the revival of the Islamic world hinges upon its origins dating back to time immemorial. Having realized the importance of their civilizational heritage in recent decades, the Islamic countries have paid particular attention to this invaluable cultural heritage that must be maintained and explored through archaeological excavations. These countries are building more museums and modernizing their specialized libraries. In the same vein, thousands of manuscripts were collected and indexed, maintenance standards revised, and many meetings, conferences and seminars are devoted to showcasing this heritage.
By safeguarding their heritage and valuing their identity through the IHC, the Islamic peoples bring their input to the human civilization, which is in fact the result of a crosspollination of world cultures and human civilizations. So, every culture counts for human civilization in its quest to expand its reach and embody diversity and cultural plurality.
5. Proposing appropriate legislation to safeguard the Islamic cultural heritage
Under their national cultural policies, the Member States should adopt laws that are in line with relevant international instruments. They are making efforts to train professionals in modern methods of protecting and promoting heritage. However, the growing threats to this heritage require the enactment of appropriate legislation and the provision of adequate training. To this end, the IHC is invited to make practical proposals to assist Member States desiring to promptly fulfill their responsibilities in this area.
- III. IWHC Membership
The Committee consists of Nine members with established expertise in cultural heritage. They are elected by the Islamic Conference of Culture Ministers for a four-year term from among the representatives of the Member States of ISESCO: three states for each one of the Arab, African and Asian regions. The States concerned elect their representatives from among cultural heritage experts. The Committee’s Bureau consists of a Chairman, a Vice-Chairman and a Rapporteur, who are elected from among the Committee members.
- IV. Duties of the IWHC
The IHC is entrusted with the registration of civilizational heritage components of the Member States on the Islamic Heritage List (IHL), with the ultimate aim of including them in the World Heritage List (WHL), unless they have been already included. To this end, the Committee provides the necessary support to competent parties in the Member States to enable them to:
Register the archaeological cultural sites and historical monuments of the Member States on the IHL under the following conditions:
To provide all information concerning conservation, maintenance and rehabilitation status, corroborated with legal and administrative documents and references, while drawing the attention of the Committee to the imminent dangers or potential threats to the relevant monuments.
To present registration records directly to the IHC Secretariat at ISESCO, using the relevant Registration Form, at least six months before the Committee meeting. Only applications meeting the requirements of this form will be submitted to the Committee.
A small committee composed of specialists will examine the records in terms of substance and form before submitting them to the regular annual session of the IHC (October of each year), which decides whether to register or to defer registration.
The IHC may defer registration and ask the relevant parties to provide the information and documents deemed necessary.
Preserve and restore sites and cultural property in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan :
The IHC plays a major role in observing the state of the degradation affecting cultural heritage and assesses the imminent dangers post to it in the Member States, including Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. Among its other duties, the Committee proposes urgent solutions through the mobilization of the human, technical and material resources necessary for this operation, in consultation with the specialized bodies of UNESCO and the Islamic world.
Provide emergency assistance to protect endangered archaeological sites :
Archaeological sites are exposed to many hazards, be they natural or a result of armed conflicts. The Committee is therefore required to act immediately to preserve and restore archaeological sites affected by natural disasters, and to work, in line with its standards and priorities, for strengthening its means of action by establishing urgent response funds for the protection of these sites.
Provide legal and technical assistance for the recovery of looted cultural property :
Under the Convention of the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT), on cultural property stolen or illegally exported, and in collaboration with UNESCO, the IHC urges the Member States concerned to provide the legal assistance necessary for facilitating bilateral negotiations and entrusting the recovered property to bodies that are fit to ensure its safety. In addition, the Committee is invited, through its scientific commission, to technically assist the Member States in strengthening their legislation relating to heritage protection and implementing activities and programmes aiming to raise awareness of the importance of heritage preservation and the need to train human resources in this area.
Counter illicit traffic of cultural property :
The IHC is in charge of developing educational programmes for professionals and stakeholders in the Member States. These programmes should particularly highlight the significance of cultural heritage in the lives of individuals and communities, as well as the need to develop adequate measures to counter illicit trafficking of cultural property. In addition, the Committee provides, where appropriate, a report on the situation of heritage in the relevant States in order to assess the dangers threatening it. The Committee also contributes to raising ethical awareness of professionals in charge of heritage preservation in the Member States.
Safeguard and Promote Intangible Cultural Heritage :
The concept of “intangible cultural heritage” emerged in the beginning of the last decade of the 20th Century, following a meeting held in Marrakesh by UNESCO with the aim of drawing attention to the importance of not focusing only on tangible cultural heritage. Indeed, the intangible aspect of cultural heritage did not receive the same attention given to its tangible components at the international and regional levels.
According to the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which adopted by UNESCO in 2003 and came into force in 2006, the term intangible cultural heritage denotes “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.”
Support Member States to register their archaeological sites on the World Heritage List of UNESCO :
It is planned that the Islamic Heritage Committee, in cooperation with its scientific commission, will oversee the development of an Islamic Heritage List, featuring the most emblematic aspects of this heritage. This IHL will highlight sites of memory with a spiritual and cultural specificity for the Islamic World, in order to ultimately include them in the World Heritage List of UNESCO. To this end, the IHC will provide the competent parties in Member States with the necessary assistance to enable them to register their sites on the IHL.
To prepare reports on the situation of Islamic cultural heritage :
Given the risks threatening the Islamic cultural heritage, the IHC is required to prepare reports on the situation of this heritage in the Member States and circulate them to all regional and international stakeholders, including UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee. The aim of this approach is, indeed, to highlight these risks and take immediate action, when deemed necessary, particularly with respect to sites and monuments inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO. Moreover, these reports will contribute to the efforts devoted to fighting all forms of illicit trafficking associated with the lack of sufficient information on items looted from archaeological sites and museums, on the one hand, and with the absence of collaboration between the police and customs in the Member States, on the other.
Pool and coordinate the efforts of Member States at the meetings of UNESCO technical committees and the World Heritage Committee :
The meetings of the national committees and UNESCO technical committees, concerning cultural heritage in general, and the World Heritage in particular, provide an opportunity to make important decisions on Islamic cultural heritage. Thus, the IHC should coordinate the positions of Member States and unite their efforts in this context. It also needs to support its candidates to join appropriate committees and thwart Israel’s repetitive judaization attempts against Palestinian archaeological sites and monuments in such a way as to allow for their inclusion in the WHL.
As part of the planned collaboration between the Islamic Heritage Committee and the World Heritage Committee, the Arabic language will be adopted among the working languages of the Committee, since the Quranic script represents an aesthetic element as well as scientific component of Islamic archaeological monuments and Arabic manuscripts.
V. Working means of the IWHC
1. Scientific and Technical Commission :
It is an auxiliary commission of the Islamic Heritage Committee that was established by the Director General of ISESCO. It consists of archaeologists and experts in cultural (tangible and intangible) and natural heritage. It undertakes the following functions:
- Examining the issues and files submitted to the Islamic World Heritage Committee and proposing appropriate solutions;
- Proposing projects and activities to publicize, protect and promote Islamic heritage, and the means to integrate it into economic, social and cultural growth.
The IHC Secretariat reports to the General Directorate of ISESCO, prepares the committee’s meetings and ensures follow-up to its resolutions.
Moreover, with the reasons of its creation, its functions, and its working means, the Islamic Heritage Committee constitutes a new and effective mechanism to protect the civilizational heritage in the Member States and ensure its conveyance to future generations.
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Al-Quds Al Sherif
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