By Abdullah Rashid
MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) – As dawn broke over Mosul on Thursday, worshippers knelt between piles of rubble while Eid al-Fitr prayers took place in the city’s oldest mosque for the first time since Islamic State was driven out of the area in 2017.
Groups of men entered silently and sat down to listen to Koranic recitals in the building, which dates back to the Umayyad period in the 7th century and remains largely in ruins following heavy fighting in Mosul’s Old City.
“The message is clear, the al-Masfi mosque is the Islamic epicentre and symbol of the area. It is not only Islamic, but also a symbol of the city,” said Ahmed Najem, a local academic, after prayers.
The mosque was partially destroyed during the brutal occupation by the Islamic State, which proclaimed Mosul the capital of its self-styled caliphate, and an intense campaign of air strikes to liberate the city from the militants.
Like many other heritage and religious buildings in the Old City, it has been left in disrepair, with collapsed walls and mounds of rubble. Local campaigners say this is due to insufficient public funding allocated to reconstruction in Iraq’s northern Nineveh province.
“We need to accelerate its reconstruction,” said Najem.
Volunteers from a local group campaigning for the renovation of the Old City swept the floor and put down rugs ahead of the prayers for Eid, a holiday which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
“We are happy about Eid and other celebrations, but there is also heartbreak because of great destruction in Mosul until this day,” said Ayyub Dhanun, one of the volunteers.
Volunteer groups have sprung up in Mosul since its liberation, with many campaigning for funds to rebuild the city’s architectural heritage and identity.
They have organised events at mosques, churches and recently Mosul’s Spring Theatre, cleaning and tidying damaged buildings as best they can, often with no financial or other support.
“This is an invitation to rebuild this monument and to compensate Mosul residents by rebuilding their houses in old Mosul,” said Dhanun after prayers at the al-Masfi mosque.
(Reporting by Abdullah Rashid, writing by Charlotte Bruneau, editing by Estelle Shirbon)