ISIS Destroying Iraq's Cultural Heritage One Site at a Time

A photo posted by ISIS that shows the destruction of what appears to be a Sufi shrine. Photo: via Hyperallergic.

A photo posted by ISIS that shows the destruction of what appears to be a Sufi shrine.
Photo: via Hyperallergic.

Iraq's religious and cultural heritage is currently under attack from the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), report sources including Newsweek and Hyperallergic. The group has bulldozed, blown up, or otherwise destroyed churches, shrines, and mosques across the country, as well as ancient statues, artifacts, and archeological sites.

Using Twitter, ISIS and its operatives have posted multiple photos of religious buildings being demolished, including the Shia Saad bin Aqeel Husseiniya shrine in Tal Afar and Mosul's al-Qubba Husseiniya mosque. The group is also occupying the Chaldean cathedral and the Syrian Orthodox cathedral, both in Mosul, and has replaced crosses on the building spires with the Islamic State's black flag.

A photo posted by ISIS showing the destruction of religious sites. Photo: via Newsweek.

A photo posted by ISIS showing the destruction of religious sites.
Photo: via Newsweek.

Made up of ardent followers of the Sunni strain of Islam, ISIS has predictably focused much of its destructive energies on holy sites for the Shia sect. This is hardly surprising, given the long history of violence and conflict between the rival factions, but even Sunni religious buildings are not safe. This is due to the group's strictly conservative interpretation of the faith, which permits only the worship of Allah. Several Sunni mosques in Nineveh have been destroyed due to purported instances of idolatry, such as visiting tombs.

According to the Daily Mail and a YouTube video attributed to ISIS, the tomb of Jonah, the biblical prophet most famous for having been temporarily swallowed by a great fish, has also been destroyed. ISIS has also desecrated the Mosul grave of Abu al-Hassan al-Jazari, a 12th- and 13th-century historiographer, known as ibn al-Athir.

The group, which recently declared itself a caliphate, is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who claims to be a descendent of Muhammad. Its activities endanger all religious minorities, including non-fundamentalist Sunnis, as well as important cultural, religious, and archeological sites.

A photo posted by ISIS that shows the destruction of a Shiite religious site. Photo: via Hyperallergic.

A photo posted by ISIS that shows the destruction of a Shiite religious site.
Photo: via Hyperallergic.

According to the Guardian, Isis “was also known to have reaped windfalls from smuggling all manner of raw materials pillaged from the crumbling state, as well as priceless antiquities from archaeological digs."

Reports based on the group's social media activites speculate that ISIS plans to target Mecca, the all-important, obligatory pilgrimage site for Muslims. The holy city is home to the Al-Masjid al-Haram mosque, held by Muslims to be the most sacred mosque in the world. It includes a granite and marble building called the Kaaba, believed to contain a footprint from Abraham and a cornerstone laid by Muhammad himself.

“If Allah wills, we will kill those who worship stones in Mecca and destroy the Kaaba. People go to Mecca to touch the stones, not for Allah," said ISIS member Abu Turab Al Mugaddasi , reports APA based on a Turkish news article.

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A mosque being blown up by ISIS.
Photo: Via Twitter.

UPDATE: According to a report from the Conflict Antiquities blog, the site in the video purportedly showing the destruction of the tomb of the prophet Jonah does not match known photos of the tomb. A comparison of video footage also rule out the possibility that the tombs in the video included the final resting place of the prophet Seth, which has also been mentioned in reports.