Posted by Neveen Hammad on July 24, 2015 in Blog
Thousands of years of rich, Arab and Islamic culture and history were destroyed instantly on June 12th in Yemen this year when a nighttime airstrike executed by Saudi Arabia severely damaged the Old City of Sana’a. As Yemen’s capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sana’a has been inhabited for over 2,500 years and holds great political and religious value to Arabs and Muslims, especially those of Yemeni descent. According to UNESCO, from the 7th century on, Sana’a was a major influence for spreading the Islamic faith. This is demonstrated in the archaeological remains in the Great Mosque, which was allegedly built during the Prophet Mohammad’s lifetime. By the 11th century, Yemenis built 103 mosques throughout Sana’a.
Yemen is currently in a dangerous state and its economy and civilization are suffering. Yemenis in America and around the world are no longer able to visit their homeland and are cut off from family that may be in the country. This disconnect can be conflicting because it is important for some people to hold on to the language they speak, the food they eat, and the customs they practice if they are not in an environment that helps foster these fundamental cultural values. Without the opportunity to spend time in Yemen to keep those ties intact, the association with and connection people feel with Yemen can fade.
When an archaeological site, namely a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is destroyed, the physical remnants of an ancient people, their culture, and the lessons we can learn from them are also destroyed. It is important to preserve archaeological sites because they serve as a precious tool for discovering, unraveling, and understanding the lives of people and societies that would otherwise be forgotten. For Yemenis, especially those who live someplace other than Yemen, this is particularly important. With the increasingly dwindling opportunity for Yemenis to visit the place of their heritage, preserving what is there and respecting thousands of years of rich history is necessary for keeping the rich Yemeni culture and history alive.
Neveen Hammad is an intern with the Arab American Institute