The religious shrines frequented by Shi’a Muslims in Nineveh province still lay in ruins more than three years after the province was retaken from ISIS.
Of the ten major shrines destroyed by ISIS, one shrine was reconstructed.
ISIS launched a massive offensive in the middle of 2014 and took control of Tal Afar, in west Nineveh province, which has a majority of Shi’a Turkmen, and areas with a majority of Shi’a Shabaks in the districts of Bartella and Bashiqa, in northeast Nineveh.
Worshippers await reopening their shrines
“I used to visit the shrine of Imam Sa’d every week, […] and I hope those days will return when the place was bustling from visitors from different regions of Tal Afar and Nineveh,” says 57-yearold Gulshan Ali as she sheds tears at one of the religious shrines that ISIS blew up during its control of Tal Afar in the summer of 2014.
She added in her interview to KirkukNow, incredulous, "I do not understand the amount of the hatred that those individuals carry to make them blow up and destroy a building that contains nothing but the grave of a righteous man who is loved and revered widely by Muslims."
I do not understand the amount of the hatred that those individuals carry to make them blow up and destroy a building that contains nothing but the grave of a righteous man
After tightening their control over the Tal Afar district in mid-June 2014, ISIS militants blew up many mosques, Shi’a shrines and other places of worship in the Turkmen villages in and around the district.
The lineage of Imam Sa’d bin-Aqil goes back to prophet Muhammad. His shrine was built in 1142 AD, in the middle of Tal Afar.
ISIS destroyed 56 religious sites in Tal Afar and the surrounding villages, including 26 mosques, and 26 Hussainiyas, and seven religious shrines.
ISIS destroyed 56 religious sites, including seven shrines, in Tal Afar
ISIS militants used large amounts of explosive to make sure those religious cite were completely destroyed, as they considered them "idols and centres of polytheism."
The shrines are waiting to be rebuilt
The Imam al-Hussain Shrine association announced on 5 November the formation of a committee to study the reconstruction process of the places of worship, especially Tal Afar.
38-year-old Hasan Salem believes that “it would have been more appropriate for the government, that works to strengthen community cohesion and national unity and restore life to Tal Afar, to take the initiative to rebuild the shrines and mosques that were destroyed by ISIS. But the opposite is happening, most of them are still in ruins and piles of rubble just as after they were blown up by ISIS."
it would have been more appropriate for the government to take the initiative to rebuild the shrines and mosques that were destroyed by ISIS
He explained in an interview with KirkukNow that "only one shrine, which is the Shrine of Khidhir Elias (4 km south of Tal Afar), has been rebuilt modestly and without government participation”
Shrines in Shabak areas are not much better
The shrines that ISIS demolished in the Shabak areas do not fare much better than the shrines of Tal Afar, as three shrines are still in ruins.
Ali Qasem, a Shabak activist, told KirkukNow: "As soon as ISIS took control of the Nineveh Plain, they blew the religious shrines of the Shi’a Shabaks."
Qasem says that none of the shrines that ISIS blew up have been reconstructed yet.
"Despite the liberation of the province since 2017, the construction process of the shrines that were destroyed by ISIS is still in its initial stages. The shrines were supposed to be rebuilt by now," said Qasem.
Activist Imad Qusay Abbas told KirkukNow: "When I was in the abroad, I was devastated to see a video on social media broadcasted by ISIS as they were blowing up the shrine of Imam Zain al-Abidin in the Shabak village of Ali Rash, in Bartella district.”
When I was in the abroad, I was devastated to see a video on social media broadcasted by ISIS as they were blowing up the shrine of Imam Zain al-Abidin
Three shrines in the Shabak areas are still in ruins
A source close to the Shi’a Endowment, who asked not to be named, told KirkukNow that there are three demolished shrines in the Shabak areas of Nineveh province, all of which are demolished.
The first is the shrine of Imam al-Ridha Ibn Musa al-Kadhim, which is located in Bashiqa district in the village of Tiskharab considered to be one of the holy sites of the Shabak.
The Shabak visit this shrine on the 10th of the month Muharram, and on religious occasions such as the Prophet’s birthday, the birth of Shi’a imams.
The second shrine is the Imam Zain al-Abidin Shrine, located in Ali Rash Bartella district. The Shabaks hold their largest annual march in the memory of Ashura on the 10th of the month of Muharram.
The source said that those three shrines are the only shrines the Shi’a Shabak have in Iraq, as they only reside in Nineveh province.