Ramadan traditions and Mosul’s revival after Daesh

Published on 13 May 2021

Dr Saaed Adris Saaed

Head of English Dept and Postgrad Studies, College of Basic Education, University of Dohuk

Nearly two billion Muslims around the world are celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the festival drawing the holy month to a close. In this blog, Dr Saeed Adris Saeed, from the University of Dohuk, Iraq, reflects on both the particular traditions of his hometown, Mosul, and the significance of rebuilding holy and heritage sites following conflict and their destruction by Daesh.

Taraweeh prayers during Ramadan in the rebuilt Al Basha mosque in Mosul, Iraq. Credit: Zaid Alobayde
Taraweeh prayers during Ramadan in the rebuilt Al Basha mosque in Mosul, Iraq. Credit: Zaid Alobayde (shared with kind permission)

Though I have experienced fasting Ramadan in several places, the experience of fasting this holy month in my hometown, Mosul, is unique. Ramadan in Mosul has a special flavour not only for its rituals but also for the effective role of the mosques in practicing and reviving these rituals. Mosul, the city which has suffered a lot from Daesh (so-called Islamic State), is the place where I was born and raised up until I completed my college life in 1999. After that, I left Iraq as I found a job abroad. Since then, I have been to different places. In this blog, I would like to write about the rituals of Ramadan in Mosul and how local people joined forces to rebuild Al-Basha mosque and gathered again to perform Taraweeh prayer as can be seen from the photos recently taken.

As is the case in most Islamic countries, the month of Ramadan is sacred and prestigious among the people of Mosul, whether they are elders, youth or even children, whether they are poor or rich, they all celebrate Ramadan’s particular customs and traditions, inherited from their parents and grandparents.

Firstly, people start getting ready for Ramadan early, right from Rajab and Sha`ban, which are the two months preceding Ramadan in the Islamic Hijri calendar. For example, many people  begin to fast, especially on Mondays and Thursdays. This fasting is often done voluntarily, to get physically and psychologically ready to fast for a whole month. Another early preparation is preparing the foodstuffs for the month: Mosuli families work hard to provide a great deal of the basic foodstuffs which they will consume on daily basis during Ramadan such as rice, bulgur and its derivatives which are known as rashta and habiya (kishka) which all come from wheat, lentils, chickpeas, flour, dates, raisins, spices and others. As the month approaches, the focus starts to be on mosques which have a central role to play during Ramadan, when people probably stay in mosques more than they stay at home.

Mosques play a central role during Ramadan

Welcoming Ramadan starts on the last Friday of Sha’ban, as a number of worshipers gather in the mosques prior to ‘shaa prayer, the evening prayer to welcome the month of Ramadan. This welcoming is often performed in the minarets and around the domes and the roofs of mosques to announce the imminent arrival of the holy month by having some readers or maddahs chant glorification, cheer takbeer, and sing some noble prophetic praise.

Once the month starts, there is a clear change in people’s lives. Abstaining from eating, drinking, and breaking the fast increase the feeling of tranquillity, spiritual sublimity, and the radiance of faith. The entrances and balconies of restaurants and cafes, which are closed during the day and do not open their doors until just before sunset, are covered with thick cloth, with the exception of those restaurants licensed by the municipality to remain open for people who do not have to fast either because they belong to other sects or because they have legitimate excuses.

Also, what distinguishes Ramadan is the Tarweeh prayers which are performed at night (only during Ramadan) after ‘shaa prayer where people gather at mosques in large numbers. People are encouraged to perform additional optional rakats of prayers (most often performed in 4 pairs of rakats) and listen to and reflect on the recitation of the Quran. Since there is a rest after each pair of rakats, this prayer is called Taraweeh which means to ‘rest or relax’ in Arabic.

Heritage destruction by conflict and Daesh

Mosul is famous for having hundreds of mosques scattered across its old and modern neighbourhoods, on its right and left sides. They form a strewn arch and have beautiful minarets above the sky of the city and form a surreal painting of the city’s Islamic history, which extends for more than 14 centuries.

And yet, these mosques were one of the things destroyed by Daesh, supposedly on a mission to restore the Islamic caliphate, after they took control of Mosul. Daesh’s wanton destruction of Mosul’s historic mosques was under the pretext of the presence of graves inside them (which they believe should not be placed inside mosques to avoid being worshiped by people). Other mosques were destroyed during the military operations that sought to expel Daesh from the city. The historic and archaeological important Al-Basha Mosque is one of those mosques which was destroyed (both by Daesh and the military operations).

Mosulis painstakingly rebuild (one of) their historic mosques

The construction of Al-Basha Mosque dates back to 1169 AH (mid 1700s) by the Governor of Mosul, Minister Hajj Hussein Pasha Al-Jalili, and was completed by his son Al-Ghazi Muhammad Amin Pasha. After liberating the city from Daesh and in order to preserve the historical identity of Al-Basha Mosque in its original form, artists, sculptors and calligraphers participated in the reconstruction campaign in which the same previous pieces and stones were returned to their place, carved, polished and painted, based on plans and pictures from the Department of Antiquities of Nineveh. Al-Basha’s reconstruction was completely carried out by the local people and without any assistance from the government or international organizations.

I was so happy when I saw the photos of people worshipping once again this beautiful and historic mosque that I decided to write this blog to call on the people in Mosul and Iraq, the government, and every local or international body or organisation to join hands for the reconstruction of the stricken Mosul. Last but not least, the houses of worship in Mosul, including mosques and churches, are considered a world heritage with a historical significance, and rebuilding it is not only a local duty but an international one as well.

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