As it swept through Iraq, the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) laid waste to numerous mosques and houses of worship, using many of those that were spared as pulpits from which to propagate its deviant ideology.
In the most recent example of its wanton destruction, the group on Wednesday (June 21st) blew up Mosul's Grand al-Nuri Mosque and its historic al-Hadba (hunchback) minaret, which had graced the skyline for centuries.
Over the course of its three-year occupation, ISIS damaged or destroyed hundreds of other mosques, shrines, churches and temples in Mosul alone, deeming them "illegitimate" based on its own radical ideology.
The remaining mosques were turned into military barracks, weapons stores, munitions workshops and hotbeds of extremist ideology, distorting their reputation as houses of prayer and violating their sanctity.
Poisoning minds from the pulpit
ISIS has "greatly damaged the noble religious and moral role of mosques", said Sheikh Mohammed al-Shammaa, imam and preacher of al-Nabi Yunus Shrine.
"The terrorists have turned these places of worship into media platforms through which they promote their nonsense and beliefs that are a far cry from the essence and teachings of Islam," he told Diyaruna.
They sought, through their preachers, to poison people’s minds and spread extremism, he added, while moderate preachers were forced into exile.
"Worshippers preferred to perform their five [daily] prayers and Friday prayer in their homes instead of coming to mosques and hearing sermons full of hatred and violence towards everything," he said.
During the battles to liberate the city, ISIS fighters holed up in local mosques, he said, using many of them as military barracks.
"When houses of God become barricades, weapon stores and explosive-making workshops and are used as bases to launch suicide and sniper attacks against security troops and civilians, that is the height of baseness and barbarism," he said.
"Dozens of ancient places of worship, including al-Nabi Yunus Shrine, were blown up by the terrorists without a shred of respect for their historic status as landmarks tied to Mosul’s cultural identity," al-Shammaa said.
Enemy of religion and humanity
"ISIS has no moral or religious holdbacks. It is inhumane and devoid of any values," Iraqi Scholars Association head Sheikh Khalid al-Mullah told Diyaruna.
The group has destroyed places of worship associated with all religions, he said.
ISIS has even turned the remaining mosques in Mosul into fortresses, his said, in blatant disregard for their sanctity as houses of worship, even in Ramadan.
"ISIS has revealed its true nature as a group without religion or concern for its crimes against human beings and stones alike," Sheikh Shihab al-Shuwaili, secretary of Sheikh Mohammed al-Kulaini Shrine in Baghdad, told Diyaruna.
"Even houses of God and religious shrines have not escaped these crimes," he said. "They have destroyed them to distort Islam’s image and blur the principles of tolerance, religious co-existence and justice guaranteed by our religion."
"The terrorists have fought all religions and sects and prohibited people from holding their rites and rituals based on a deviant religious interpretation that decrees those who do not believe in their ideas infidels," al-Shuwaili said.
"These are not the enemy of just a certain sect, religion or ethnicity and not the other, but they are the enemies of all Iraqis and the whole of humanity, and the time has come to extinguish them," he said.