Restoration of al-Nuri mosque sends a message

Rebuilding the mosque highlights the UAE’s role in safeguarding world heritage and in preserving cultural assets through the adoption of sustainable initiatives.
Sunday 10/02/2019
A view of the destroyed Great Mosque of al-Nuri  in Mosul.  (AFP)
Safeguarding world heritage. A view of the destroyed Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul. (AFP)

CAIRO - The United Arab Emirates is helping rebuild the Great Mosque of al-Nuri and its landmark minaret known as al-Hadba — “the hunchback” — in Mosul, Iraq. The famous monument was destroyed during battles that pushed the Islamic State (ISIS) out of the city.

The initiative comes as part of the Emirates’ efforts to help Iraq restore its most important archaeological monuments, which were defaced by terrorism.

The United Arab Emirates struck an agreement with Iraq and UNESCO — in cooperation with the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property — to reconstruct the al-Nuri mosque and its “hunchback” minaret. The project, the largest of its kind in Iraq, will cost $50.4 million.

The project extends to Iraqis — and the world — the message that Mosul and Iraq can reappropriate Islam’s moderate values instead of the fanaticism and intellectual, religious and cultural extremism promoted by extremist organisations.

The project includes recreating the mosque’s distinctive minaret and annex buildings that were destroyed when ISIS controlled the city. Infrastructure around the mosque and its historic gardens will also be rehabilitated.

A memorial building containing artefacts of mosques and cultural, social and educational spaces for the benefit of the Mosul community will be erected.

Noura bint Mohammed al-Kaabi, Emirati minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, said the Emirates’ initiative is a strong message meant to promote tolerance and eradicate terrorism.

“The scenes of al-Nuri mosque, after being damaged by Islamic State terrorism, have caused pain for all, especially the people of Mosul, who lost a landmark that represents the spirit of their ancient city. That is why the UAE seeks to rebuild this historical and cultural monument,” Kaabi said.

She stressed that the project carries a message of coexistence in a multifaith and multicultural society and coincides with the UAE declaration of 2019 as a Year of Tolerance.

Rebuilding the mosque, Kaabi said, highlighted the UAE’s role in safeguarding world heritage and in preserving cultural assets through the adoption of sustainable initiatives guaranteeing the rights of future generations to archaeological and heritage sites.

“The UAE has a history of safeguarding world heritage and this strategic step embodies the partnership between the UAE and UNESCO in reconstructing this very important historic landmark,” Kaabi said, adding that al-Nuri mosque is a landmark for all humanity.

“We look forward to cooperating with our Iraqi brothers, UNESCO and all our partners in this project to accomplish the work required for the bases of the mosque to be restored, for the minaret to sound with the voice of truth again and for this historical monument to play its leading role as a witness to human civilisation and an eternal global heritage that time cannot erase,” she said.

Abubaker Kanaan, director of the Sunni Waqf in Iraq’s Nineveh province said the Great Mosque of al-Nuri is — having been built nearly 850 years ago — one of the oldest mosques in the country and holds a special place in the hearts of all Iraqis.

Kanaan added that the mosque was distinguished by its 55-metre tall humpback minaret that was decorated with unique ornamentation reflecting Iraqi history.

Hossam al-Din al-Abbar, a member of the Nineveh Provincial Council, said reconstruction of the minaret would match the same ancient archaeological style but keep what remains of the base untouched as a reminder of ISIS’s crimes.

He pointed out that the project would be implemented with the help of about 1,000 workers and with coordination at the highest level with the UAE and UNESCO.

Musab Jassem, director of the Nineveh Antiquities Department, said the UAE’s offer to finance the reconstruction of al-Nuri mosque was a pioneering and important step for the people of Mosul.

He said the “hunchback” minaret, in particular, has been considered a symbol for Mosul throughout history.

Al-Nuri mosque was destroyed in June 2017. The Iraqi Army accused ISIS of setting off bombs in the complex, which, in 2014, was the site of a public appearance by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during ISIS’s declaration of the establishment of its caliphate.

Al-Nuri mosque, on the eastern side of Mosul and famous for its east-facing convex minaret, is one of Iraq’s most historic mosques. It was originally built by Nur ad-Din in the 12th century. Its most recent restoration, prior to the destruction by ISIS, was in 1944.

Mosul needs at least $2 billion in reconstruction aid, the Iraqi government estimates. In addition to helping with the work on the mosque, UNESCO is spearheading efforts to restore the Mosul market, the central library of Medina University, two churches and a Yazidi temple.