Iraq: Artists In Mosul Secretly Practised Their Music Despite ISIS Terror


In an attempt to breathe life back into Mosul following its liberation from ISIS’ terror, musicians and artists are reviving the musical scene throughout the city.

Mohammed Dhurar, a guitar player from Mosul, sits among fellow musicians as he talks about life under ISIS and the group’s repression of music.

Mohammed’s story under ISIS’ so-called caliphate is perhaps an odd one. Music was banned by ISIS and those caught playing instruments were punished heavily, with some given death sentences.

But despite this, Mohammed says that he not only circumvented the group’s rules by playing music, but in fact learned how to play the guitar during ISIS’ occupation of Mosul.

“This was a problem for us, not as musicians, but as human beings especially that I learned music during ISIS’ occupation,” said Mohammed. “I tried to leave the city but could not; I wanted to do something to fill my time.”

After searching for people to teach him music in secret, Mohammed found Khaled, an oud player from the city, who would travel in secret, carrying his musical instruments in big bags to hide them. “He used to arrive sweating for fear; the music penalty was death,” said Mohammed.

Following the defeat of the militant group, artists have attempted to revive the musical scene in the city to bring life and culture back into Mosul.

“You do not find music only in developed countries, but also in our city,” said Khaled, the oud player. “Despite the devastation and circumstances that have passed, you can find music or a concert here or there in the city.”

Amongst the first musicians to hold a concert in Mosul was Karim Wasfi, an Iraqi maestro originally from the city, who held a concert on top of the rubble of the Nuri Mosque in the Old City after its liberation in order to commemorate the sacrifices that the residents made in the war against ISIS. Since his first concert, Wasfi has attempted to revive the musical scene in the city in order to promote culture and tolerance amongst the different ethnic and religious groups.

“Mosul has not died. Nineveh is not dead. Iraq will not die. Civilisation will not stop,” said Wasfi. “There is a human, cultural, intellectual and scientific extension which is impossible to stop in this part of the world.”

As Mosul continues to regain normalcy, the promotion of art and culture becomes increasingly needed, as they help citizens heal from the wounds of war.