Why is Khulafa Mosque's minaret on verge of collapse?

The minaret of the historic Khulafa Mosque in Baghdad is on the verge of collapse, which may spark sectarian tension in the city.

al-monitor The Khulafa Mosque is pictured in Baghdad, Sept. 1, 2014.  Photo by Wikipedia/Osamah Ibrahim.

Topics covered

archaeological sites, reconstruction, sunni-shiite conflict, sunnis, shiites, sectarian politics, mosques, sectarian conflict in iraq

Apr 21, 2017

BAGHDAD — On April 4, the Sunni Endowment Diwan revealed that the minaret of the historic Khulafa Mosque, built in A.D. 900, could collapse due to water leaking into its foundation. It also warned that this historical monument in Baghdad could fall apart. The 35-meter-high (115-foot) minaret, which is surrounded by markets and urban buildings, has started to lean over. Given its location in Shorja, one of the busiest markets in Baghdad, in particular at al-Jamhouriya Street, the mosque has been damaged by pollution. In addition, Sunni historical monuments are often neglected due to sectarian issues.

On April 14, a field report blamed the governing Shiite parties who have adopted ideologies against such landmarks since 2003, after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s (Sunni) regime. This was manifested by the destruction of statues and monuments, such as the statue of the founder of Baghdad, Abu Jafar al-Mansur, in 2012, whom Shiites see as an unjust ruler.

It seems that sectarian neglect has become a phenomenon that has reached other areas, as well. For instance, on March 12, 2007, a newspaper report referred to the neglect of the Sharabiya school in Wasit, which was built in A.D. 1234, because its founder was Iraqi Gov. Hajjaj al-Thaqafi, who is considered by Iraqi Shiites to have been a tyrant. This is why officials neither gave the school much attention nor did they allocate funds for this historical edifice.

On Feb. 5, head of the Sunni Endowment Diwan Abdul Latif al-Hamim made a press statement expressing his “regret for the great negligence that has afflicted the archaeological mosques in Baghdad."

In this context, Mazen Younis, the chairman of the Committee on Antiquities in Baghdad’s Provincial Council, told Al-Monitor, “The negligence at the Khulafa Mosque is the natural result of the deliberate neglect of Abbasid monuments in Baghdad, which lack proper maintenance and restoration. There are even attempts to eliminate such monuments altogether, such as the Ancient Abbasid Wall of Baghdad, which has now turned into a landfill. In addition, the Sahrourdi minaret, dating back to A.D. 1235, is also threatened by collapse.”

Younis said, “Baghdad’s Provincial Council does not have solutions to this problem in light of the financial crisis, and therefore has contacted the Ministry of Culture and its media [office] to warn them about the risk of losing such monuments, particularly the Khulafa Mosque’s minaret, which has been exposed to significant damage over the years.”

Meanwhile, Hakim Abdul Zahra, the spokesman for Morality of Baghdad, told the media on April 9, “The Khulafa Mosque and its minaret have a historical and touristic dimension. Several bodies are responsible for the mosque, including the Sunni Endowment Diwan and government archaeological authorities, as well as Morality of Baghdad.”

A simple walk around Baghdad is enough to see the major difference between the luxurious Shiite mosques, whose minarets are painted gold, and the Sunni mosques and their minarets, which seem outdated due to lack of maintenance and the impact of erosion.

Although Younis considers this “proof of sectarian politics by the competent authorities,” cleric Hatem Hussein of Babylon refuted these allegations and told Al-Monitor, “The Shiite Endowment Diwan and the Shiite religious thresholds administration are handling maintenance and restoration with the help of volunteers and donations from citizens. The government has nothing to do with this.” He added, “The Shiites of Iraq are spending a lot of money to renovate the holy sites, while the Sunnis are only doing it to a limited extent.”

Al-Monitor visited Khulafa Mosque on April 14, which happened to be a Friday, a day in which the surrounding market is crowded with people, especially since the spinning market, where animals and birds are sold, opens on Fridays. The mosque’s perimeter has become part of the market activity. In the absence of security, it is an easy target for bombing attempts. On Jan. 25, there was a bombing in Shorja followed by a rigged car incident near the mosque on Jan. 31, which affected the structure of the mosque and minaret, resulting in a broken sewer and a water leak.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, member of parliament for the Sunni Iraqi National Forces Alliance Raad al-Dahlaki criticized the “sectarian discrimination against historical monuments, with a clear intent to erase the traces of a certain sect from the history of the country.”

He added, “This will result in major losses for everyone, as Sunni citizens feel marginalized. This also affects tourism, impedes national reconciliation and reduces prospects of tolerance.”

The solution, according to Sabah Ahmad al-Mudi, the director general of the Engineering Department, “begins with the steps taken by the Sunni Endowment Diwan, in sending engineers in coordination with the advisory offices, Morality of Baghdad and the Ministries of Interior and Culture to discuss the mechanism of keeping the minaret from falling and conducting damage assessment to carry out urgent treatments.” He told Al-Monitor, “The minaret should also be added to the list of human heritage [UNESCO World Heritage list] as soon as possible.”

The preservation of the Khulafa Mosque’s minaret in the center of Baghdad, an area inhabited by both Sunnis and Shiites, makes it an exceptional task because it reminds the Iraqis of their history and paints the capital with mixed religious symbols, turning it into an environment of civilized interaction between different sects, which Iraqis are in dire need of today.

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