God has bestowed man with physical, psychological and spiritual capabilities and culture is the manifestation of the development of these capabilities. Culture would be deemed incomplete if it doesn’t include any one of the aspects of man’s life. This is because man can’t be satisfied by mere physical amenities and material luxuries. Art, crafts, architecture, literature, etc. are just the manifestations of the cultural taste of humankind. Culture is thus an attitude of mind which expresses itself in good manners, good taste and purity of thought. According to Spengler, culture is actually the sum total of people’s life. To him, culture is born, gets development and dies out.
When culture is perishable, it needs preservation for its extinction would deprive the coming generations of the grandeur and splendor of their past achievements. They would have to start their intellectual and spiritual journey afresh if the link between them and their past is cut off. Moreover, the ‘love of perfection’ which is the sole motive behind man’s Endeavour will also vanish and culture too will lose its very meaning.
The cultural grandeur of the civilizations like Sind, Babylonia, Egypt, Greek, Rome, etc. has come to fore through different means over the years. The cultural loftiness of these civilizations and their respective decline and fall brings home the fact that as soon as a people cease to contribute positively, their days come to a close and a new civilization comes forward with a new culture. A group of people which becomes beneficial for the humankind as a whole is given a chance to prevail. As such, the reflections of the bygone cultures are of a great value for the present and the future generations.
Now, according to T. S. Eliot, we can’t conceive of a culture without religion. As such, each religion has created a culture as per its worldview and philosophy. Multiple cultural remnants related to the life of Buddha have become the cultural heritage of the Buddhists. The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered from the depth of Dead Sea, have linked the Jews with their antiquity. Same is the case with the cultural heritage of other religions.
Islam too, in its own distinct way, has emphasized on the preservation of culture. The Holy Qur’an depicts the architectural grandeur of different people for drawing lessons thereof. It cites the example of those people who carved houses out of rocks. It also records the examples of those people who constructed high and huge dams for agricultural purposes. The Holy Qur’an also cites the example of the preservation of the corpse of Ramesses II of Egypt who was the contemporary (Pharaoh) of prophet Moses (AS). The Holy Qur’an says: “This day shall We save you in your body, so that you may be a sigh to those who come after you.” (10:92)
When carbon dating was applied to the mummified corpse, it was proved to be the earthly remains of the same Pharaoh who was the contemporary and the antagonist of Prophet Moses (AS). This was thus the scientific proof of the Qur’anic position vis-à-vis the struggle between Moses (AS) and Ramesses II.
Nevertheless, Islam maintains its position by confining the importance of the cultural artifacts for taking lessons there from. In Islam, therefore, there is no provision for the deification of any cultural symbol, big or small. This is notwithstanding the fact that the ‘preservation of culture’ connects humankind with the history of its origin and development.
Holy Qur’an talks about the cultural symbols/entities of different people differently and lays out the importance of these symbols for the people concerned. For example, it gives reference of the Ark of the Covenant of the Children of Israel (Banu Israel) and its importance for them in Holy Quran, ‘And (further) their Prophet said to them: “A Sign of his authority is that there shall come to you the Ark of the Covenant, with (an assurance) therein of security from your Lord, and the relics left by the family of Moses and the family of Aaron, carried by angels. In tjis is a Symbol for you if you indeed have faith.’(2:248)
As such, there was ‘peace of mind’ for the Children of Israel in these relics. Therefore, except taken for deification and worship of any kind, relics have their own importance and Islam doesn’t negate that. Islamic civilization has, in its own way, preserved its cultural symbols for posterity. From the earliest copies of the Holy Qur’an to the sacred cloak of the Prophet (SAW), different cultural artifacts of Islam are preserved in different famous museums of the world. For example, one of the manuscripts of the Holy Qur’an prepared during the Caliphate of Hazrat Uthman (RA) is in Tashkent. Another is in Topkapi Museum of Istanbul and one another copy is in the India Office Library.
The Cultural heritage of Kashmir also needs preservation and care. Although different cultural cites of Kashmir have been taken by the Archaeological Survey under its care and control but a lot needs to be done in this regard. In this regard, the Royal Graveyard of Kashmir (Mazar-i Salatin) needs a full-fledged process of preservation. The Graveyard of the Last (Chak) dynasty of Kashmir (Yusuh Shah Chak, Yaqub Shah Chak and their royal family) situated in Biswak, Bihar and still known as Kashmiri Chak needs attention of the lovers of Kashmiri cultural heritage. Moreover, the shrine-type mausoleum of Shah Mir (whom the locals, with love, call Sultan Padshah), the founder of the Shah Mir Dynasty of the Kashmir Sultanate which is situated in Anderkote, Sumbal, Bandipore also needs attention of the authorities, especially from the Kashmiri cultural experts and the historians.
Further neglect of these cultural symbols would not only rob us of our cultural identity but it would also mark an unbridgeable break between our present and past. And, as such, our future generations would find no cultural legs to stand upon. They would thus be lost in a dark and rootless obscurity. So it is a better late than never situation for the preservation of our rich and unique cultural heritage.
(Author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies)