Sheikh Hamood Omar Hilal the Imam of al-Nuri Mosque was taking a shower when his phone rang several times on Friday 5th of July 2014.
He couldn’t answer the phone calls on that day which was the onset of an era of destruction in Mosul.
It was around 11am and Sheikh Hilal prepared his Friday sermon and headed to the mosque.
There were many Islamic State (IS) fighters in the streets and alleys leading to the mosque and many were also present in and around the mosque.
“When I got close, I saw the padlocks of all the doors were broken and even the decorated verses of Quran that we hung from the walls had been removed,” Sheikh Hilal said.
He asked one of the guards why they removed the verses and the guards replied that it was not allowed in Islam to hang decorated verses from the wall. It was then that Sheikh Hilal realized that the several phone calls he had received on his mobile earlier that day were from the bodyguards of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“We will give the Friday prayer sermon,” one of the guards told Sheikh Hilal.
The mosque was very busy that Friday and there were many new faces amongst the crowd that Sheikh Hilal did not recognize.
The Islamic State had taken Mosul a month earlier forcing thousands of Iraqi soldiers to flee for their lives. Sheikh Hilal who had given Friday sermons since 2009 in al-Nuri Mosque noticed that the guards forced everyone to switch off their mobiles and followed anyone who went to the bathroom, IS militants were also present when the mosque’s electricity generator was switched on.
“No one is allowed to take photos,” the militants warned. All the mobile phones and internet providers were down until 5pm that afternoon.
As someone in the front row stood up and said the call for prayer, he was followed by another person. “Now Sheikh Ibrahim Awad al-Badri will give the Friday sermon,” the second man announced.
Sheikh Ibrahim Awad known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gave a 15 minutes sermon. Baghdadi spoke about Ramadan which was approaching, and then emphasized the importance of “Jihad in the path of Allah,” according to Sheikh Hilal.
Sheikh Hilal stayed in the mosque like everyone else and when the sermon was over many people went over and shook hands with Baghdadi and kissed him. After prayer, Baghdadi left the mosque immediately.
“This was the beginning of Islamic State rule and many people supported them; the mosque was so busy that it took half an hour for all the people to leave the mosque.”
The following day the so-called Diwan of Mosques, a branch of IS dealing with mosques, informed Sheikh Hilal not to give sermons in the mosque anymore. “We will appoint someone to be the Imam and if you have a complaint you can lodge your complain at the Diwan of the Oppressed.”
Sheikh Hilal stays at home and does not go back to that mosque. “Initially, most people welcomed what IS militants had to say but their actions were different from their words and when they started burning people’s houses and taking their vehicle on charges of links with the Iraqi security services, people started fleeing,” Sheikh Hilal said.
Sheikh Hilal spoke to Kirkuknow in east Mosul on June 19, as he was waiting for his mosque to be retaken by the Iraqi security forces.
Sheikh Hilal was eagerly waiting to return to his the mosque; however, On June 21, IS militants blew up the mosque and its Hadba minaret, only 20 days before the Iraqi government declared end of the Caliphate in Mosul.