Fate of Jonah’s tomb and memories of a Hindu childhood

Growing up in India, Hinduism had a great influence on my life. I grew up listening to ancient Hindu epics and tales. They were full of captivating characters no less fascinating than the modern day super heroes or super-villains.

My grandfather had scholarly knowledge of Hindu scriptures and occasionally referred to the passages from the Bible and quoted verses from the Quran in his conversations – these where often long monologues, but in an age prior the advent of 24-hour-television, I listened to them with great attentiveness, vividly painting the details in my imagination.

Some of those epic tales and references have remained etched in my memory and have shaped my worldview. The biblical narrative of Prophet Jonah is one such powerful reference.

Jonah was certainly not the most obedient of the prophets and was thus referred to as the ‘unwilling prophet’. When God commanded him to go to the town of Nineveh and warn the inhabitants of their impending destruction, Jonah decided to flee in the opposite direction instead, boarding a ship sailing to the port of Tarshish.

Even as a non-religious person, that I am today, Jonah remains my great personal hero.

He was a man with his share of self-doubt, yet strong enough to chart his own course. He lived in the moment, so much so that he cared more about the inconvenience caused to him by the desert sun, than to ponder on spiritual matters right after performing the greatest miracle of his life (act of saving the inhabitants of Nineveh). His brutal honesty about himself and his disinterest in opinion of others makes him my greatest hero.

However, even in his disobedience, he was not a forsaken or a condemned man; God never stopped talking to Johan and Jonah never stopped talking to God.

The discerning reader may rightly point to my lack of skills in interpreting sacred texts, but this is how I have related to the biblical narrative – with my lay understanding.

The news of the destruction of Prophet Jonah’s tomb by fighters of the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” in northern Iraqi city of Mosul, or Nabi Yunus as he is locally referred, has left me with an uneasy sense of personal loss.

We would never know if the destroyed tomb actually was the final resting place of the prophet; revered by the member of all of the three Abrahamic religions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

That however is beside the point. What is more significant is the fact that the perpetrators had no doubt about the identity of their target. They desecrated the shrine and the emptied the magazines of their firearms and fixed explosive charges in and around the shrine. They blew up the complex in broad day light in full view of the city’s inhabitants and even proudly filmed their ‘exploits’.

It is not sufficient for a ‘faschistoid’ gang in its quest for total control to eliminate rivals, purge its own ranks, and to terrorize the subjugated population; it has to destroy the collective memory, culture and history as well.

Most disturbing and nearly deafening is the silence of the liberal intelligentsia of the world. Those who lay siege of public spaces at slightest hint of a perceived ‘grievance’, have decided to look away from the wanton destruction of our shared human heritage.

Just like the Nazi-led book burnings in Germany, and destruction of the magnificent Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, this day too will live in infamy.

You don’t have to be a great historian to predict what will happen next. Once again the evil has walked away unchecked and considers itself invincible.

About the Author
Vijeta Uniyal is an Indian journalist based in Europe. He is Contributing Editor for the Commentator and Senior Distinguished Fellow at New York-based Gatestone Institute. He graduated from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi) and worked for more than 10 years in international organisations, including German Foreign Office, German Minister for Economics and Technology, Goethe Institute and Humboldt Foundation.
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