The destruction by Daesh of the Grand al-Nuri mosque in Mosul has wiped out a centuries old place of worship built by one of the giants of Islamic history.
Three years ago, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi chose this venerated site to declare Daesh’s so-called caliphate. The location was loaded with significance. The Nuri mosque was constructed in the 12th century by Nur ad-Din, a devout man who built the mosque to express his devotion to God. A contemporary chronicler details how Nur ad-Din rode in person to survey the building work, which was completed in the year 568 (CE 1172).
Its famous minaret leaned and was known as al-Hadba, the hunchback. Different local traditions claimed the minaret was bowing to the Prophet as he ascended to heaven or that it was pointing towards the reputed tomb of the Virgin Mary, said to be in Erbil. So well-known was this precarious, ancient structure that it was celebrated on Iraqi banknotes in the past.
From its earliest days, an Islamic school was attached to the mosque. In the medieval period, the scholar Ibn Battuta visited and noted that the minaret was already tilting. Incredibly, it survived nearby bombing during the Iran-Iraq war though ended up leaning a little further.
But now it has all gone. Daesh has placed itself above Nur ad-Din and centuries of Muslim worshippers and scholars. It has conferred on itself the right to destroy this jewel of Sunni Islam. And worse, it has chosen to commit this act during the holy month of Ramadan. Daesh has tried to pass the blame on to US forces but the evidence on the ground points overwhelmingly to the terrorists.
This level of violence and destruction from Daesh is not entirely unexpected. The former Imam of the Nuri mosque was amongst many Sunni scholars and religious leaders killed by Daesh when they entered Mosul. Al-Nuri is certainly not the first site of historical and cultural significance they’ve destroyed.
It was also not the first time Daesh had attempted to blow up al-Nuri itself. Mosul residents had bravely linked arms to stop Daesh militants blowing up the minaret when the group entered Mosul. They formed a human chain around al-Hadba. On that occasion they were successful. But as with other ancient monuments, it’s more than likely that Daesh had laced the mosque complex with explosives primed to go off at a moment of their choosing.
From now on, anybody wishing to remember a mosque built by a great figure of Islamic history will only have photographs, films and banknotes to rely on. But the Iraqi Government has signalled its defiance saying that this wanton act of cultural vandalism is a sure sign that Daesh is facing certain defeat.