Muslim heritage has been an influential factor in the emergence of UNESCO’s 1972 Convention, whose priorities build extensively on decades of engagement with heritage places across the Muslim world. The World Heritage List today features sites of Islamic and non-Islamic history across Muslim societies, as well as remnants of Muslim life in secular and non-Muslim contexts. However, by the time the Convention came to fruition, relationships between UNESCO and Arab States, the most cohesive group within UNESCO that represents Muslim communities, were terse on account of political developments in the region. In addition, the particular framing of religion in the world of the Convention undermined the commitment to cultural heritage ideals in the context of predominantly Muslim societies. In this article, I review these legacies and describe the specific ways in which the World Heritage List represents the people of Islam within and beyond the Middle East and North African territories. In these discussions, I assess the influence of the Committee’s work in shaping ideas of local and global heritage preservation for these regions, as well as the political and ideological challenges contained in the work of the Convention.
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