Moslawi musicians counter ISIS extremism through music

After over two years under ISIS rule, civilians recently liberated by Iraqi forces in eastern Mosul have returned to their hobbies and pastimes. For a group of four friends, this means a return to playing music.

Using music as their weapon to combat ISIS’ extremist ideology, the four friends return to liberated areas of eastern Mosul, playing music for civilians to hear. For some, this is the first sound of live music since the terrorist group entered the city in the summer of 2014.

Under ISIS, music was considered haram, forcing the musicians to play in secret and in quiet. Due to the potential punishment if caught, however, many had to alter the way they played their instruments to avoid being heard. “My friends and I were cautious,” said one of the young musicians. “I used to close the windows tight and tried as much as possible to play music with my fingers to reduce the sound”.

The prohibition of music was one of many freedoms banned by ISIS in Mosul. This often included watching TV, surfing the internet or reading ‘unfiltered’ literature. Art was also banned and many sculptures, which the group considered heretical, were destroyed.

These four men, however, are not alone in combatting ISIS’ restrictive ideology. Artists from Mosul defied the group’s rule by painting, drawing and sculpting in secret. Mustafa al-Thai’, an artist from Mosul, even painted pictures that he witnessed on the streets of formerly ISIS-held Mosul, including offenders being beaten and lashed in public.

As ISIS’ hold on the city wanes – the group controls less than 5% of the city – artists are flocking onto the streets of Mosul to paint over black symbols and writing to remove the memory of the group. For many, this includes re-drawing images of unity and Iraq’s vibrant heritage, which contains a mosaic of cultures and religions.