Iraq and UAE reaffirm pledge to rebuild Al Nuri Mosque

The 12th Century site in Mosul was destroyed by ISIS militants in 2017

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Three years after ISIS blew up Al Nuri Mosque and its leaning Al Hadba minaret in Mosul, the Iraqi and UAE governments have reaffirmed their commitment to rebuilding the 12th Century monument.

Speaking to The National, Iraq's newly appointed Minister of Culture Hassan Nadhim said "the best response to those horrific, terrorist acts is to rebuild", adding "there is serious work ongoing to rebuild Al Nuri Mosque and Al Hadba and the two churches Al Tahera and Al Saa'a which we will be completing with the UAE government".

The UAE has pledged $50.4 million (Dh185m) to restore Al Nuri Mosque and the Hadba Minaret, in addition to providing expertise and support to coordinate the reconstruction.

Last October, the Emirates also said it would fund the rebuilding of two neighbouring historic churches, Al Saa’a and Al Tahera.

The 45-metre tall Al Hadba minaret was built 840 years ago. Prior to its destruction, its distinctive lean gave it its name, which translates as 'the hunchback' in Arabic.

There is serious work ongoing to rebuild Al Nuri Mosque and Al Hadba and the two churches Al Tahera and Al Saa'a which we will be completing with the UAE government"

Mosul itself has been called Al Hadba. The famed minaret was destroyed by ISIS on June 21, 2017, as militants retreated amid a battle that left much of the historic city in ruins.

Earlier this month, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi visited Mosul and the grounds of Al Nuri Mosque. During his visit on June 10 he vowed that ISIS would never again regain control of the site, insisting history “will never be repeated”.

Hosham Dawood, the Iraqi Prime Minister's adviser, told The National "the Prime Minister visited on a painful anniversary of the betrayal of Mosul, and it is not possible to visit Ninewah without stopping at the place that symbolises the spirit of Mosul, that is Al Nuri Mosque".

He added “the Iraqi government and its friends are committed to rebuilding Al Nuri and its famed minaret... the Prime Minister is committed to rebuilding this important monument and the city of Mosul and we thank the UAE that has provided crucial support to us”.

Mr Nadhim, who assumed his position on June 6, met with the UAE Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, Noura Al Kaabi, by teleconference last week “and we agreed on how we will respond to these terror attacks by rebuilding within the appropriate time frame”.

Ms Al Kaabi told The National that everyone involved in rebuilding Iraq's historic mosque was "laser focused" on rebuilding.

Work is underway to restore the ancient cultural site. Courtesy: UAE Ministry of Culture.

Ms Al Kaabi said “we don’t just see Al Nuri as just a mosque, rather what is symbolises from a historical collection of humanity, plus the two churches adjacent to it”.

She added that the “commitment from the UAE government, specifically from Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, is a sign of our total rejection of what happened and the dark memory that it brings back when we look at the anniversary”.

“We feel ashamed that our religion was abused in this way," she said. "How can you reconstruct this image? Not just from a physical perspective, from a spiritual perspective, and the importance of inclusivity, leading to a better result for all involved”.

A number of organisations are involved in the rebuilding of the Al Hadba and Al Nuri, including the Sunni Waqf. Unesco is the implementing partner on the project.

Moreover, Iraq has had three ministers of culture since the 2018 announcement of the rebuilding of the mosque.

However, Ms Al Kaabi said “despite the changes, we are all laser focused with the goal of delivering this project”. Ms Al Kaabi admitted that current circumstances given the Covid-19 outbreak had complicated matters, but that the project was still "on track”.

Unesco initially launched a process to consider ways of rebuilding the mosque and minaret, including ideas of reconstruction in its original form. Others suggested modernising its architecture.

There was widespread support from Maslawis to keep the mosque in its original form. Mr Nadhim confirmed “in my meeting with the UAE minister of Culture last week, we agreed that the reconstruction is to be in the original form, without modifications”.