Why do some Muslims hate pre-Islamic art with such frenzied intensity that they would destroy it, despite its historical and archaeological value? Why did the Taliban blow up the Buddhas of Bamiyan, and why do some Islamic supremacists in Egypt today want to do the same thing to the Sphinx and the Pyramids?
It isn’t just because they are artifacts of a religion that Islam rejects as false and idolatrous, although that is a large part of it. It is also because the Qur’an says that the ruins are a sign of Allah’s punishment of those who rejected his truth:
Many were the Ways of Life that have passed away before you: travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those who rejected Truth. (Qur’an 3:137)
This is one of the foundations of the Islamic idea that pre-Islamic civilizations, and non-Islamic civilizations, are all jahiliyya — the society of unbelievers, which is worthless. Obviously this cuts against the idea of archaeological preservation. V. S. Naipaul encountered this attitude in his travels through Muslim countries. For many Muslims, he observed in Among the Believers, “The time before Islam is a time of blackness: that is part of Muslim theology. History has to serve theology.” Naipaul recounted that some Pakistani Muslims, far from valuing the nation’s renowned archaeological site at Mohenjo Daro, saw its ruins as a teaching opportunity for Islam, recommending that Qur’an 3:137 be posted there as a teaching tool.
Their hatred for their own heritage and past was a point of pride for them, inculcated by the Qur’an.