Mosul and its remains: Al-Nuri Grand Mosque, History, Identity
Many opinions was divided about the destruction of Al-Hadbaa minaret, its importance, and the importance of the Old city of Mosul; the city that the latest military operations led to its destruction. Some say that there is no significant value in the old town and it is only a tiny portion of the total area of Mosul, which is true geographically speaking. Others lessened the minaret’s importance and said foolishly and gracelessly that it is “odd-looking” and that Mosulis do not know it and there are no real ties that bind them to it! Others related Al-Nuri Grand Mosque to the crusades and Nuri-din Zinke’s campaigns against the Crusaders and the Fatimids! Where others wanted to present an impression that the Iraqi military (which mostly consists of Shiites) must die at its stony steps to liberate it from ISIS. Those general presumptions lead to an erroneous understanding of Mosul. As those “journalists’ who become “experts” and “Twitter Experts” know nothing the real and genuine understanding of the Mosuli functionalism and do not comprehend Mosul as a “historical concept” that has its complex coextensions, developments, and connotations that cannot be interpreted easily through single report here and there. The inference to the historical and social values of the old city that is rich with historical and profound icons. Is very challenging and requires original studies, unlike those so-called “experts” and their attempts to segregate Mosul’s communities and name them based on religion, sect, and ethnicity, are hazardous attempts that lead to non-stop wars and further destruction of the region. Maybe the majority of those “experts” did not have the chance to read a little bit about Nadir Shah’s siege of Mosul. In 1744 the city confronted him with an army of 6 thousand Christians, 450 Jews and many Yazidis; which all stood with Haj Hussein Pasha Al-Jalili to fend Nadir Shah’s aggression towards the city.
In fact, ISIS provided hundreds of jobs for those “Neo experts” and start to unleash critical historical judgements about Mosul, its society, and its heritage. This paper was first intended to present a brief understanding of Mosul and its legacy. But, I found myself obliged to elaborate extensively with vague details about the value and importance of the historical icons of the old city, and illustrate furthermore on the Mosuli identity and the city’s market and the role it plays in shaping the city’s identity. It is an attempt to me to demonstrate and understand Mosul and its heritage historically and indicatively. Here, I am writing in two capacities: one in the position of a historian. And second in the ability of the city’s son, who grew up in the city and witnessed its pre-ISIS, ISIS reign, and post-ISIS eras. Watching every event and development very carefully, in an attempt to disconnect Mosul and its heritage from the misconceptions and false facts that were formed about it and bring back the real and genuine value of the old city’s culture, history, and society.
In this article, I list the historical sites, the markets, the schools and the ruins that got destroyed during the military operations and irreplaceable.
Al-Hadbaa (The hunchback) minaret and Al-Nuri Grand Mosque: the obscurity of History and belonging
History exists to help resolve the complex obscurities in reading the current events and not to make them more complicated and increase their obscurity. Since al-Baghdadi’s declaration of his self-claimed caliphate at Al-Nuri Grand Mosque. Tens of studies, research papers, journalistic reports, theories, and opinions were formed by those self-claimed “experts”, claiming that al-Baghdadi’s choice of Al-Nuri Grand Mosque, in particular, is because its correlation with Nuri-din Zinki who led several campaigns and aggressions against the Crusaders, which is a point of view that benefits Al-Baghdadi and those who continue to lay the foundations of the eternal clash of civilizations between the east and the west. Also, they form their points of view from Edward Said who created the problems between the east and the west in his book “Orientalism”. Those self-claimed “Neo-theorists” who expanded the concept of journalism to the establishment of passing historical judgements as facts, and lost their ability to distinguish between “Journalism” and “History” because of the enormous influx of information on the web. And to a greater extent, they laid the foundation for historical delusions about Mosul that went viral in the world of journalism and start to promote wrongful theories about Mosul and its heritage and society (and that is based on their desire for press advancement and other desires).
The jihadi groups always use Nuri-din Zink’s name about the victories Zinki achieved against the Crusaders and the Assassins. Their History weaponization led, for the most part, to convince the youth to relate to them and follow their historical doctrines. The reception of the jihadist’s rhetoric about Zinki and Mosul was incorrect!
Hence, this is an attempt to disengage Nuri-Din Zinki and Al-Nuri Grand Mosque and its “crooked” minaret, and reinstate the historical facts that Al-Nuri grand Mosque was not built based upon religious or sectarian bases, as many propagate, and that al-Nuri great mosque was never external to the Mosuli functionalism, and ISIS’ employment of the mosque (even though ISIS is Islamic) has nothing to do with the Mosulis and their connection to the mosque and the Minaret. The minaret served Mosul as a symbol of perseverance and survival that has historical roots in the Mosuli sentiment (or psyche).
With this, the Mosuli historian Ahmad Qasim Juma says (who spent 40 years studying the blueprints of Al-Nuri Grand mosque and its history) in an interview with me : “When a Mosuli says ‘I am the son of Al-Hadbaa’, if you were to get the stones to speak, they would have addressed boldened speeches and given significant connotations about the minaret and the mosque”. The Minaret and the Mosque are located in the heart of Mosul’s markets, and they are a pure Mosuli Identity. Over the course of time, the Mosque was the beacon where it helped various types of sciences and literature to flourish and thrive, like humanities, geology, architecture, La Perspective, and Pure Sciences. It is like a crystal, once it is illuminated, it shines with Mosul’s heritage at its finest details, and it is in itself a remarkable architectural marvel.
The exegesis of the construction of the Mosque and the minaret determines its urban significance to the Mosulis. History tells us vivid and important details about the moment when the suggestion of the construction of the mosque was established and who was behind the idea. Although the mosque was named after Nuri-Din Zinki, the fine details behind it stays within the Mosulis functionalism. Al-Imad Al-Esfahani (519-579) tells us tales of its pre-construction in his book (Al-Barq Al-Shami): “The reason after its construction is that there was a large ruins space at the centre of the city, and the spreading rumours around it made people repelled from it. There were legends about those ruins that anyone who attempted to build them, or cultivate them, one’s life dwindles away, and whatever one’s intention was, would never attain. Then, Mui’ynu-Din Omar Al-Mawsilli, known as ‘Al-Malla’a’ (died 570 Hijri / 1174 A.C.) and he was the grand sheikh of Mosul, advised him to build it”. Therefore, the idea was primarily Al-Mallaa’ Al-Mawsilli’s idea, and the desire was to inhabit and cultivate this space of ruins, and it was never built on top of any worshipping house. The mosque was a new form to revive the city. For the most of the Mosque’s life, the mosque was named after Al-Malla’a as Ṣabt Bin Al-Jawzi narrated “it was named Al-Mallaa’ by this name because he used to fill clay jars (with water from the river) and lived on day-to-day work and never owned anything”. Al-Malla’a Al-Mawsilli had a good reputation in his Mosuli environment. He also was called “Omar Al-Mawla” because he took upon himself to manage and construct the mosque, and Nuri-Din Zinki assigned the mosque to him. Also, Abu Shama tells in his book (Al-Rawdhatain fi Akhbar Al-Dawlatain) about the events of 566 that the first to celebrate the prophet’s birth was Al-Malla’a. He used to conduct the celebration annually in the presence of princes and poets, filled with joy and gladness. And, Al-Mallaa’ was the first to advise Nuri-Din Zinki to endower property to the mosque for the benefit of the poor of the city.
After finishing the construction of the mosque, life flourished on the ruined grounds, and Al-Malla’a Al-Mawsilli was successful in reviving life back to those ruins. Later, a shrine was built for AL-Malla’a outside the railings of the city on the road to the Tigris river, where people continue to visit his shrine as Yassin Al-Umari mentioned in this book (Muniyat Al-Udaba’). Also, there is an ally named after Al-Malla’a about Sheikh Omar Al-Malla’a, which what Al-Nuri Grand Mosque used to be known as until the seventeenth century A.C. The Mosque was a Mosuli landmark, named after its founder, builder and then its manager. This engagement with Nuri-Din Zinki came after studies were conducted and engaged the mosque with Nuri-Din Zinki for the sole purpose of connecting the mosque to the crusades and promoting the view of Islamic wars against the crusaders; the very same light that served the clash of civilizations and it is the very same theory propagated by the “Neo-theorists” today who are laying the foundation for the idea that the minaret’s “crookedness” is an anti-government symbol, where in fact, the minaret’s arched shape in itself has a supreme symbolism in the Mosuli sentiment as the markets formed within the vicinity of the mosque and many crafts and professions were established around it and lasted until today. The mosque has become a pure Mosuli symbol, and it is closely linked to the Mosul’s identity that resulted in this architectural, civil and economic integration and the capability for urban resuscitation.
The Mosuli archaeologist Dr Amir Al-Jumaili (a professor at the University of Mosul) says in an interview : “The minaret is a symbol and an identity of Mosul. Mosulis have always looked at the minaret as their symbol of perseverance, and its existence is coupled with the presence of the Mosulis. Any sectarian and/or civil conflict with regards to Nuri-Din Zinki and connecting him to Al-Nuri mosque just because he dispatched massive forces from Mosul to fight the Crusaders’ and the Alawiyat states, Sheikh Al-Jabal, and the assassins, has nothing to do with Al-Nuri mosque at all as it is solely a Mosuli symbol, and any attempts to replace it is slaying the Mosuli identity, its people and its future, and any future rebuilding of Mosul that does not consider rebuilding the Minaret is a catastrophe”. “Each city has its pigment, and Al-Hadbaa is Mosul’s pigment. Whenever we couple Mosul to the Assyrian Nineveh we use the Assyrian symbols (the Lamassu) with Al-Hadbaa minaret. The Mosulis spent years to preserve its architectural style and Mosul’s memory. Al-Handbaa’s memory is not only architectural but also cultural that is coupled with the development of the Mosuli colloquial language and society”.
Ahmad Qasim Juma believes that “Mosul without Al-Hadbaa is like a body without a heart, and retrieving it is a historical necessity for the world as Al-Hadbaa is not only a Mosuli heritage but also a global one. It is possible to rebuild it in just 6t months because we have all the blueprints for its structure and embellishments. We handed those blueprints to the UNESCO long time ago. The UNESCO’s engineering consultant Mohammad Taib Al-Laila (who was killed after bombing his house during an airstrike on the Eastern Bank of Mosul) re-drew the blueprints of Al-Hadbaa, and it is possible to rebuild it in less than eight months if all the necessary material, tools, and the will to rebuild it.”
For centuries, The Mosulis come around Al-Hadbaa regardless of their religious backgrounds. Al-Jami’ Al-Kabir neighbourhood (previously Darb Daraj) where Muslims and Christians lived next to each other and created their crafts and professions surrounding the mosque, and they established their businesses by this midmost heart of Mosul, as the Mosulis refer to it by “Our Old Lady Hadbaa”. Raghad Hammadi, 21-year old young lady, who lived under ISIS’ reign for three years and lived every detail of the liberation war, says in her interview: “Al-Hadbaa is my identity. She’s not just stoned, but she is Nineveh’s glory and its glorious history. By blowing it, they stole our symbol with it. The minaret’s hunchback is no longer hunched, yet, it is Mosul’s back that got humped”.