Militants from the Islamic State have embarked on a campaign of religious destruction in the “caliphate”, erasing shrines and mosques connected to the Shia Muslim and Christian faiths.
A large amount of the destruction has taken place in the cities of Mosul, the first city captured by the Islamic State in its recent charge through northern Iraq, and nearby Tal ‘Afar.
The Islamic State believes the veneration of tombs in religious places is against the teaching of Allah, and as such has used explosives and bulldozers to destroy centuries-old monuments.
In a video posted by the Islamic State three days ago, entitled Upon the Prophetic Methodology, the Islamic State showcases its destruction of Shia mosques and shrines.
The diversity of Iraq’s cultural heritage bears witness to centuries of peaceful coexistence among all communities making up the society of the country. Irina Bokova, Unesco director-general
The video talks of the mujaheddin duty to “remove blatant appearances of evil”, while the latest edition of the Islamic State’s glossy magazine, Dabiq, features pictures of shrines being destroyed.
Last week the Islamic State militants also destroyed one of the most important mosques in Mosul, the mosque of Prophet Jonah – which is built on a site dating back to the eighth century BC. Jonah is a prophet in both Islam and Christianity, best known for being swallowed by a whale.
Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova said, following the destruction of the mosque of Prophet Jonah: “I am shocked by this violence against the millennial heritage of Iraq. Destroying places of religious and cultural significance is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.”
“The destruction of the shrine, a significant place of worship and pilgrimage with a centuries-old history, is one among several recent attempts to destroy religious and cultural heritage in Iraq.”
She added that the intentional destruction of cultural heritage represents a war crime.
“The diversity of Iraq’s cultural heritage bears witness to centuries of peaceful coexistence among all communities making up the society of the country,” she added.
The destruction of shrines is not limited to Iraq. In another Islamic State video, mujaheddin who have been enforcing sharia law in the Syrian city of Raqqa are rewarded by blowing up a Shia mosque.
Unesco is so concerned about the destruction being carried out by the Islamic State that it has implemented an “Emergency Action Plan” for the area.