Anbar scholars, imams, district councils and members of the security forces are working together to re-establish control of mosque pulpits to prevent extremist preachers from using them to disseminate hate speech and incite violence.
The Anbar provincial council recently formed a joint committee comprised of members of the Sunni Endowment, district councils and police forces to oversee the selection of preachers and imams in mosques throughout the province.
Committee members include mayors of various Anbar towns, a tribal leader and an imam, provincial council religious endowments committee member Nasser Sami Jareesi told Diyaruna.
"The real start towards building communities and civil peace in Anbar will be by addressing the main problem, which is the religious and media discourse used by the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' (ISIL) to incite sectarian strife and conflicts," he said.
Anbar must be inoculated against another outbreak of sectarianism and extremism, he added, as "it has just been through war and displacement and has yet to heal from it".
"There are some preachers and imams who took over mosques and places of worship and opened unlicensed religious guesthouses in Anbar cities, especially in Ramadi, Fallujah and rural areas and villages," he said.
Under a new plan that provides guidance for Friday sermons, he said, mosque pulpits will be used to invite residents to co-operate with the Iraqi forces and to inform them about important issues that require their attention.
Popular conventions will be held to devise solutions to all the problems and obstacles that may arise in Anbar, he added.
ISIL's corrosive ideology
"The conditions experienced by the cities of Anbar over the last three years, from terror attacks to killings and destruction, are the result of ISIL's ideology and doctrine, which has swept the country and its people," said Sheikh Abdullah al-Ayed al-Rawi of the Sunni Endowments administration in Anbar.
As a result of the spread of this deviant ideology, thousands of families have been displaced from their homes through no fault of their own, he told Diyaruna.
This requires that all parties, including mosque imams and preachers, take a "serious and decisive stance" to confront it and prevent its propagation, he said.
"The religious discourse in the mosques of Anbar will be unified from now on," he said, adding that anyone who incites strife and violence will not be allowed to access the pulpits and will be held accountable.
Endowment committees will be responsible for the selection of preachers for the Friday sermons in all mosques, al-Rawi said.
ISIL was using extreme rhetoric that promoted sectarianism and justified the killing of civilians who were accused of collaborating with Iraqi forces and its designation of security personnel as "apostates", said Sheikh Ahmed Shehab al-Alwani, imam and preacher at Ramadi's old mosque.
When the group took over Anbar mosques and places of worship, it changed their names, created courses to indoctrinate children and outlawed certain prayers "in a clear distortion of Islam", al-Alwani told Diyaruna.
"Security forces, popular and governmental committees will monitor those who stand behind pulpits of mosques, hold religious seminars and even print sharia and Islamic books to prevent any incitement to violence and restore and rehabilitate the minds contaminated by terrorist ideology," he said.
Mosques and shrines destroyed
"Dozens of mosques were destroyed by the terrorist organisation ISIL," said Ramadi tribal fighters commander Sheikh Hamid Badran Theyabi.
This provides "clear evidence of its crimes against places of worship and [shows] it does not know the meaning of Islam and religion", he told Diyaruna. "How could any sane person stand at the pulpit of a mosque and then, after fleeing from the cities of Anbar, detonate it using improvised explosive devices?"
"ISIL has a very dangerous ideology and doctrine of blowing up mosques, religious landmarks, and tombs of God's prophets and messengers," he added.
The group has bombed the Nabi Younis mosque in Mosul, Al-Khodr Imam in Ramadi and the minaret of Annah district mosque in western Anbar, among others, he said, "which is the biggest evidence it does not know Islam at all".
"Religious books which were distributed to the people of Anbar, including Ramadi, by ISIL, are contaminated books with wrong concepts," he said.
The group also forced people to enter mosques, pray and listen to the sermons preached by elements it had brought in from other areas to replace the local preachers and imams, he added.