Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Symbolic Meaning of Mosques in Iraq: Cultural Heritage Turned Political Identity – Ashton

Robert Bevan discusses in his book The Destruction of Memory, that “It is the ever-changing meanings brought to brick and stone, rather than some inbuilt quality of the materials or the way in which they are assembled, that need to be emphasized.” My paper examines the way in which mosques in Iraq have become highly places of highly political meanings due to attacks, raids, lootings and other destruction during the Iraq War and U.S. occupation of Iraq. I examine three particular mosques which each have run a different course throughout U.S. occupation in Iraq.

The Golden Mosque of Samarra, or the Askariya Shrine, is a 1000 year old mosque, famous for its beautiful architecture, as well as its historical importance to Islam. The mosque holds the tomb of the tenth and eleventh imams, and was the place of the disappearance of the twelfth imam, the “hidden imam,” who, according to Islamic faith, is still living and the time when he resurfaces will mark the beginning of the end of the world. In February 2006, the golden dome was destroyed in a bombing planted by Al Qaeda, strategically placed in this Shiite mosque (located in a mostly Sunni area) to start civil war in Iraq. The attack created chaos on the verge of civil war between the two Islamic groups, but now the rebuilding process has brought the neighborhood together, of which the mosque is now a symbol.

The Abu Hanifa Mosque, about 5 miles from Baghdad, was the stage for a U.S. raiding in November 2004, in which several civilians were killed while at prayer. The raid has caused great anti-American sentiment, and efforts to protect the mosque have made the mosque a symbol in the community for the anti-American feeling that has become widespread in Iraq, and throughout Iraq.

Saddam Hussein’s “Mother of All Battles” Mosque was built with many military allusions, and appears to be a shrine to himself and the victory of the Gulf War. The minarets of the mosque resemble rifles and scud missiles, several of which reach a height of 43 meters to represent the 43 days of conflict with the U.S. during the Gulf War. The mosque’s confused message of worship for the Islamic faith and Saddam may be represented in the 600 page Koran, written in Saddam’s blood, located in one of the minarets. After the fall of the regime, the mosque is subject to new interpretation, although it too has become a symbol for the American presence in Iraq and the turmoil of the times.

All share in common the way in which, though built as monuments of religion and cultural heritage, they have been transformed into political symbols due to the atrocities commit to them or around them during U.S. occupation.


Golden Mosque of Samarra (before destruction on left, after on right);

Abu Hanifa Mosque;

Saddam’s “Mother of All Battles” Mosque;,%202003.html


"New Role for Mosques in Iraq," BBC News Article --

"Rebuilding Hope" Video about Golden Mosque of Samarra --


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