On Friday, the media reported that ISIS, the Islamist group that has established a “caliphate” in parts of Syria and Iraq, had destroyed the centuries-old Tomb of Jonah in Mosul, Iraq. Present-day Mosul encompasses the site of the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh, where, the Bible teaches, the Prophet Jonah preached. Although this is disputed, a tradition holds that Jonah was buried within the city, on Tell Nebi Yunus, or Hill of the Prophet Jonah. The was seen by many Jews, Christians, archaeologists and religious scholars as an ancient — and precious — religious artifact. Now, reports indicate, it is little more than rubble.
After destroying the Tomb of Jonah (Yonah), one of the Jewish prophets from Biblical times, shortly after conquering Mosul in Iraq where the tomb is located last July, the brutal Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organization is now planning to construct a park over the important site.
Al Arabiya reported on Saturday that local sources in Mosul had revealed the day before that ISIS is beginning to level the area of the tomb and transform it, noting a budget has been allocated for the project and “specialized companies” have been tapped to commence building.
Responding to the reports, Iraqi Deputy Minister of Antiquities and Tourism Qais Hussain told the local Al-Sumaria News that ISIS apparently intends to transform “the tomb into a park and fun city which is another crime against Iraqi heritage.”
The ministry has “a plan after liberating conquered cities from ISIS,” he said, adding that there is “a committee that is currently working to minimize damages being done to heritage sites.”
So far Iraqi forces aided by US airstrikes and Iran-backed militias have been unable to recapture Mosul, although renewed attempts appear to be imminent.
Mosul in northern Iraq was a key initial victory for ISIS last June, as it gained a foothold in northern Iraq and began its massive offensive that saw it capture larges swathes of the country as well as expansive regions in Syria.
The jihadist group has been destroying non-Muslim or Shi’ite Muslim sites, in an attempt to rewrite history and wipe out other cultures and religions.
Back in July when Jonah’s Tomb was destroyed the tomb of another ancient Jewish prophet, Daniel, was also destroyed in the Mosul area. Jonah’s Tomb is said to have dated from the 8th century BC.
After the tomb was destroyed, thieves reportedly dug into an unexcavated palace in Nineveh that was located underneath the tomb.
So why did ISIS do it? The answer lies in ISIS’s peculiarly “orthodox” — and destructive — theology, which, among other things, abhors all religious shrines because they are seen as a form of idolatry, or shirk. This is par for the course for certain strains of Salafi movements like ISIS, which seek a radical return to their understanding of how the earliest Muslims (or Salaf) lived. These Salafi movements have destroyed tombs before: Some extremists attacked the tombs of Sufi Muslim leaders in 2011, and when Salafis took over Saudi Arabis in the late 1700s and earlier 1800s, they demolished several; tombs that belonged to the Prophet Muhammad’s companions and family members (they left Muhammad’s tomb alone, however).
ISIS used this history to defend their tactics earlier this week, saying “Our pious predecessors have done so … There is no debate on the legitimacy of demolishing or removing those graves and shrines.”