Homeland Security

Imam of Mosul's Iconic Al-Nuri Mosque, Destroyed by ISIS, Yearns for Return of Caliphate

Image via Shutterstock, the Hanukkah menorah.

The imam of the ISIS-destroyed mosque in Mosul, where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi delivered his 2014 sermon declaring the re-establishment of the caliphate, says now that ISIS may have gone somewhat overboard —even though he yearns for the return of the caliphate.

This shocking admission, including his statements explaining why so many in Mosul supported ISIS, gives evidence that while Islamic State fighters may have been pushed out of the city, the ideological legacy of ISIS lives on.

The 845-year old Al-Nuri mosque, built by Ottoman governor Nureddin, with its iconic leaning Hadba minaret, was destroyed last week by ISIS and now lies in rubble.

The mosque’s long time imam, Hamoud Omar Halil, spoke this week with TRT World:

Iraqi forces have been engaging in a final battle to seize Mosul from Daesh.

Up to 350 militants are estimated by the Iraqi military to be dug in in the Old City among civilians in wrecked houses and crumbling infrastructure. They are trying to slow the advance of Iraqi forces by laying booby traps and using suicide bombers and snipers.

Last week, the terror group blew up the Grand Al Nuri Mosque and its famous leaning minaret.

It was from that mosque that Daesh leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi declared the so-called caliphate in 2014.

Back then it was reported that the mosque’s Imam was executed. But we can reveal he’s alive and has been performing sermons under Daesh’s rule.

In the video, Imam Halil details what happened the day that Al Baghdadi appeared at the mosque in 2014 and describes the enthusiasm with which ISIS was greeted:

On the day that Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi came to the mosque I was an imam there. I was surprised when a strange group came to the mosque. They said we have an Imam with us who will deliver the sermon, then they started removing everything inside the mosque, like Quran verses, clocks and fans.

We felt something important was going to happen.

We were optimistic, because we say in Islam under the caliphate everyone will live in safety and peace. In the beginning there was exhilaration and enthusiasm among people towards Daesh. But after a while the picture became clearer and restrictions were imposed on people who started to turn away from it.

Among their actions was bad treatment, underestimation of people’s lives and souls, this was the only point that raised many question marks.

There are other things that we agreed on, that we hoped for, like cutting the hand of the thief, killing of the killer, stoning of the adulterer. Offenders and those who don’t follow the laws should be punished; we have no problem with these things. The problem is the issue of people’s lives.

The imam then addressed the destruction of the mosque and its historic “hunchback” minaret:

I feel very sad. It is a milestone of history and civilization. It is 800 years old and in one moment it was destroyed. It is a huge catastrophe; it is one of the most prominent names in Mosul. Some people might not known Mosul, but they know AlHadba minaret.

They might rebuilt it, but not like it was, so we say farewell to AlHadba minaret.

And then he explained the support for ISIS in Mosul and expressed hope for the re-establishment of the caliphate:

The reason we supported Daesh is because of the abuses of the army. People started looking for salvation regardless of what the alternative was. People were under a lot of pressure and thought this caliphate is for their safety and security and that is why people were enthusiastic.

If government abuses return, people will once again think of change regardless of what the alternative is Daesh or not Daesh.

We still hope that an Islamic caliphate will be established and we still repeat that, in order for every person to live in peace, Muslim and non-Muslim.

Yesterday, the Iraqi prime minister said the retaking of the al-Nuri mosque was a sign of the end of ISIS control of the region.

But the comments of Imam Halil indicate that the ideological support ISIS relied on during its three years of control in Mosul remains intact. And while the kinetic battle for Mosul might be won (for now), the battle for the hearts and minds continues on.

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