From the Archives: A Focus on Ramadan
As Archives Intern at World Monuments Fund (WMF), one of my main tasks was to organize its collection of photographic slides. The slide archives, which date predominantly from the 1990s and early 2000s, depict WMF sites from all over the world. Not only was this project great hands-on experience with photographic archival material, but it was also fun! I felt like I was taking a trip around the world.
As the holy month of Ramadan, which began on April 2, comes to an end, I thought it would be apropos to write a blog post that celebrates this important Muslim holiday. Therefore, I am sharing some of the photographic slide images from WMF’s archives that feature important Islamic sites to which the organization has contributed its conservation efforts over the decades.
My personal interest in Middle Eastern heritage and culture was born during my time in the United States Air Force. I spent seven years on active duty as an Arabic cryptologic language analyst, and much of that time was dedicated to continuous learning in the Arabic language and Middle Eastern area studies. When I left the Air Force in 2020 and pivoted into a graduate program for library and information science, I became interested in the protection of libraries and archives in areas of conflict, and much of my graduate research has focused on the protection of cultural heritage. When an internship opportunity at WMF came up, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to combine my professional, academic, and personal interests.
Of the twenty-five sites recently announced this past March as part of the 2022 World Monuments Watch, ten are located in countries whose populations are principally followers of Islam:Mosque City of Bagerhat (Bangladesh), La Maison du Peuple, Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Abydos (Egypt), Sumba Island (Indonesia), Heritage Buildings of Beirut (Lebanon), Benghazi Historic City Center (Libya) , Koagannu Mosques and Cemetery (Maldives), Tomb of Jahangir (Pakistan), Nuri (Sudan), and Soqotra Archipelago (Yemen). Indeed, WMF has a long history of working to preserve cultural heritage in Muslim regions, and this was certainly demonstrable to me as I worked through weeding the organization’s slide collection.
An ancient metropolis founded by Alexander the Great in the late fourth century BCE, Uch later became a haven for Islamic scholars fleeing surrounding areas of conflict. The site remains an important tourist and pilgrimage destination today.
As one of the most famous religious sites in the world, Hagia Sophia truly needs no introduction. It was the largest church of the Byzantine Empire before it was converted into a mosque under the Ottoman Empire. The slides that struck me the most from this group were the in-progress shots of conservation work being done on sections of decorative Arabic calligraphy in the building’s interior. In the realm of Islamic art, calligraphy is perhaps the most vital element, so it was satisfying to see some behind-the-scenes images of conservation work in this area.
Ghana’s oldest mosque, Larabanga has a long history as an important pilgrimage site for the country’s Muslim population. There were quite a few slides of Larabanga Mosque in WMF’s collection, and I was really stunned by their quality. I am also typically drawn to images that depict on-going conservation efforts, as is the case in many of the Larabanga slides.
Tarim is an important Islamic site that has a well-established history as the theological and academic center of Hadramaut Valley. The main attraction is Al-Muhdhar Mosque, which also includes the Al-Ahqaf Library—a repository of over 14,000 religious manuscripts—which is definitely a fun fact for me as a library student!
It is a privilege to share a small sample of WMF’s compelling visual history. I hope you all enjoy these brilliant little images as much as I did.
Eid Mubarak—عيد مبارك—to all those who celebrate!