Mosul’s Once Great Mosque of al-Nuri



As if destroying Nimrud and Palmyra weren’t enough, now this. The latest destruction of a heritage site by the criminal gang known as Islamic State (ISIS or Daesh) is actually a Sunni Muslim mosque, Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul.




History of the Mosque

Old photo of Mosul with al-Nuri’s minaret in the background.
It was famous for its leaning minaret, which gave the mosque its nickname, “the hunchback.” Built in the latter part of the 12th century, the mosque of al-Nuri was affectionately called “the hunchback” due to its leaning minaret. It was built by the Zengid ruler Nur ad-Din, the former boss of the famous Saladin who retook Jerusalem from the Crusades in 1187.

The building has functioned as a Sunni mosque in what is now the old city of Mosul ever since. The exception may have been during the brief periods of Safavid rule when perhaps it was converted into a Shia mosque (I can’t seem to confirm this though).

The Leaning Minaret

Old photo of the al-Nuri’s minaret
Though it was large and with an intricately decorated interior, the mosque’s most prominent feature was its leaning minaret. There are legends as to why the minaret leans to one side. Some Muslims say that it is preparing to bow before God. Others claim that the minaret tilted after the Prophet Muhammad passed by on his way to Heaven. Even local Christians have an explanation; they believe that the mosque is tilting towards the tomb of the Virgin Mary, which legend says is somewhere in Arbil (a.k.a Erbil, the current capital of Iraqi Kurdistan).

There is of course the scientific explanation which is that the sun causes the bricks to expand towards one side and that over the years, this has caused the minaret to tilt.

The Fate of the Mosque

Whatever the reason was, sadly the minaret and mosque exist no more. ISIS claims that it was destroyed by Iraqi and US-coalition forces while the Iraqi government and the US claim just the opposite. I guess though at this point it does really matter. The great mosque, along with countless Iraqi lives and other heritage sites, has become another casualty of this destructive war.

I guess perhaps the only solace is that it was here ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared their so-called caliphate in 2014. The mosque though where this declaration was made is now gone. May it be that their false caliphate and terrorist state suffer the same fate.


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