Ramadan spirit revived in post-ISIS Mosul

Celebrations in eastern Mosul, liberated in January 2017, were much more visible.
Sunday 03/06/2018
Iraqi men buy food in an open air market in Mosul, on May 2. (AFP)
Festive season. Iraqi men buy food in an open air market in Mosul, on May 2. (AFP)

MOSUL - After iftar, the sunset meal breaking the day-long fast during Ramadan, Mosul residents gather in coffee shops. Many clutch water pipes or smoke cigarettes while families descend on parks along the Tigris River and shops remain open late at night. Residents of Iraq’s second largest city are enjoying their first Ramadan since the Islamic State (ISIS) was defeated.

For more than three years under ISIS’s draconian rules, the people of Mosul were deprived of observing festive Ramadan traditions.

“The holy month became strange to us because of the restrictions imposed by Daesh terrorists,” said Mosul municipality employee Asma Yassin, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. “We were banned from exercising the simplest Ramadan rituals and traditions, which are inherited over hundreds of years.”

“Ramadan this year is definitely different. The people of Mosul are determined to celebrate the way they did before ISIS. Life goes on despite the calamities that we have been through,” said Yassin, who lost her husband in shelling during the battle to liberate the city.

Under ISIS, gatherings were prohibited and many Ramadan traditions were banned. Anyone who defied ISIS’s rules was severely punished, sometimes with lashings. Some violators were executed.

Although the populace is relatively conservative, many are not fasting this year and are public with their snacking. Issa Abdel Rahman, an 18-year-old student, is one of them.

“The fear that dominated the people is now behind them. There is no rule that compels anyone to observe fasting or even pray in the mosque,” Abdel Rahman said. “My parents are conservative and adhere to Islam’s teachings but they give me the freedom to practise without pressure, which they were compelled to use during ISIS control.”

Under ISIS, those who were not fasting had to eat in private or in cafes that covered their windows. Eating in public was extremely dangerous.

Now, however, many cafes are staying open all day.

Abdel Rahman hailed this year’s Ramadan spirit as being more joyful than even before the time of ISIS. “Restaurants and cafes are open till late at night and some even stay until dawn. Music is played in public places and comic prank shows are showing on large screens in cafes. This is the way we should go about life, without prejudice and fanaticism. We have no other choice but to move forward,” he said.

Ali Zanoun, a 30-year-old Mosul resident, contends that ISIS’s intolerance provoked strong reactions from the mostly conservative society in Mosul, which is rejecting any form of radicalism.

“The militants’ restrictive practices are the reason for that. The displays of joy and amusement are obvious in most parts of the city, although many families are still living in dire conditions after losing their homes and being displaced,” Zanoun said.

The relatively normal life in Mosul is concentrated in the newest part of the city that did not sustain as much damage as the old city, which was largely reduced to rubble.

Ramadan is not as joyful for Oum Dalia, a widow and mother of five children whose husband was killed by the militants and her home flattened in the battle.

She does, however, say Ramadan is less stressful than the rest of the year thanks to the food assistance she receives from charities. “Outside Ramadan, we strive to bring food to the table, my elder son and myself. Moreover, we need to secure the money to pay the rent,” she said.

Oum Dalia said she misses the “true spirit of Ramadan” in her old neighbourhood when the fasting month brought families and communities closer together.

Obvious differences exist between Ramadan celebrations on the two sides of Mosul. In western Mosul, which was liberated in July 2017 and contains the Old City, Ramadan is barely noticeable because of the destruction of buildings and displacement of residents. Celebrations in eastern Mosul, liberated in January 2017, were much more visible, with many shopping and enjoying the month.

Eastern Mosul has witnessed increased stability and activity since its liberation. This is the second time the area celebrated Ramadan without the presence of ISIS. Many famous Ramadan traditions have been revived, in particular the messaharati, the drummers who wake people up before the beginning of the fast to eat and whose performances were banned under ISIS because the group viewed it as heretical.

Despite improvements, the legacy of ISIS is still visible, including destroyed homes and infrastructure, the lack of services and the general poverty.

ISIS won’t soon be forgotten because of the great physical and moral damage it caused to the people of Mosul.

A return to normalcy. Iraqi men play cards after breaking the fast during the holy month of Ramadan in Mosul, on May 26.            (AFP)
A return to normalcy. Iraqi men play cards after breaking the fast during the holy month of Ramadan in Mosul, on May 26. (AFP)