In Iraq, citizens celebrate Ramadan 'with the taste of victory' over ISIS

By Khalid al-Taie

Iraqis buy vegetables at a market south of Mosul in mid March following its liberation from ISIS. [Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP]

Iraqis buy vegetables at a market south of Mosul in mid March following its liberation from ISIS. [Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP]

The holy month of Ramadan this year comes with a different flavour for the residents of Mosul, Iraq, as most of their neighbourhoods have been liberated from the grip of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

They are now able to practice Ramadan rituals and customs, many of which had been restricted by the group, freely and without fear.

Motaz Ali, 36, a resident of Somar neighbourhood in eastern Mosul, decorated his house with lights and lanterns in preparation for the holy month.

"We have had three years of Ramadan during which we were under the control of the terrorists," he told Diyaruna. "They deprived us from the joy of fasting, worship and visiting relatives."

"We were powerless except for prayers, and we thank God that he responded to our call," he said.

Ali said he had vowed to prepare meals for the poor throughout the month of fasting after his city was liberated. "Now is the time to fulfill that vow," he said.

During ISIS's rule over Mosul, the terrorist group banned all aspects of celebrating the arrival of Ramadan such as house decorations, exchanging food and sweets, and evening gatherings that typically include popular Ramadan traditions such as the Iraqi ring game called al-Muhaibis.

The group also prevented religious celebrations.

Lifting veil of fear, terror

Fear of persecution and punishment by the militants pushed residents to stay in their homes and not leave except when absolutely necessary, said Abu Bakr Kanaan, head of the Sunni Endowment in Ninawa.

"The period of ISIS rule is a dark period in all the meaning of the word," he told Diyaruna.

"Residents were afraid of the group's brutality and its sanctions against anyone who violates its orders," he said.

As a result, many of the rituals and social customs associated with the month of Ramadan disappeared.

"Residents also preferred to pray taraweeh and jamaat prayers in their homes to avoid going to mosques led by ISIS imams and listening to their speeches and lectures filled with inflammatory and deviant ideas about Islam," Kanaan said.

"What is important now is that this era is over with no return, and Ramadan this year is without terrorism and fear," he said.

Ramadan with the taste of victory

This return of freedom and worship without fear "comes as our military forces continue their victories and approach the liberation of all neighbourhoods of Mosul", Kanaan said.

Evidence of this is that the Sunni Endowment in Ninawa has prepared a busy programme for Ramadan, he said.

"We will hold sermons, seminars and educational lectures in the mosques of Mosul and the province to emphasise the tolerance of our religion and its rejection of extremism and all forms of violence with the call for unity and nation-building," he said.

ISIS elements have subverted all the values of the Islamic faith, said MP Ali al-Allaq, head of the Iraqi Parliament's endowments and religious affairs committee.

"They used Ramadan, the month of benevolence, giving and compassion, to carry out the worst crimes against the innocent, deny all that God allowed and assault the rights of people," he told Diyaruna.

"The people of Mosul lived in difficult Ramadan months with these criminals, [...] but Ramadan this year is with the taste of victory."

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