A video has appeared on YouTube which gives credence to some of the world’s worst fears about extremist entity ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, now calling itself simply the Islamic State). According to Iraqi civil defense officials,the video shows the militants destroying the shrine known as the Tomb of Younis (biblical Jonah), located in the Iraqi city of Mosul.
The Sunni group has rampaged through the land, seizing control of great swathes and imposing its own radical interpretation of Islamic law. Refusal to comply is unacceptable, as ISIS issued an ultimatum to Christians in Mosul last weekend: convert, pay or die.
Nor is Thursday’s apparent destruction the first threat ISIS has posed to Christian holy sites and artifacts. Earlier this month, it was discovered that much of ISIS’s financing has come from the illegal sale of various archaeological artifacts. Anything the group deems “apostasy” and it cannot use, it destroys.
Destruction of the Tomb of Jonah
The tomb of the prophet Jonah was thought to be located in Mosul, which is in the biblical region of Nineveh. According to the Bible, Jonah was sent to the people of Nineveh to warn them of their impending doom, should they not repent of their sinful ways. Initially unwilling to obey, Jonah fled from the mission and was swallowed by a “big fish”.
After praying to God, Jonah was vomited onto the shore, where God reiterated His command. This time Jonah complied, and the people of Nineveh repented and were saved. Jonah is among the many prophets common to Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions.
The shrine itself was housed in a Sunni mosque in Mosul. Declaring that it “had become a place for apostasy, not prayer,” ISIS members began evacuating the immediate area Thursday, closing the road. According to reports, it took only an hour to pack the mosque full of explosives and detonate the shrine.
Reactions came in from around the city. “ISIS militants have destroyed the Prophet Younis (Jonah) shrine east of Mosul city after they seized control of the mosque completely,” an anonymous security source told the Iraq-based al-Sumaria News.
“[The] Islamic State completely destroyed the shrine of Nabi Yunus after telling local families to stay away and closing the roads to a distance of 500 meters from the shrine,” an anonymous official from the Sunni Endowment, which manages Sunni religious affairs in Iraq, told AFP.
Mosul resident Abu Abdullah told NBC News, “In the beginning we were so happy to get rid of the government, but yesterday it was like a turning point … Now most of the people who welcomed ISIS started to think more deeply, to think of what ISIS would do in the future.”
A former Iraqi officer who lives in Mosul also said, “Allah spared Jonah’s life from the whale to be killed by ISIS.”
The tomb of Jonah was not the only holy site destroyed, but, according to one local official, “the worst destruction was of Nabi Yunus, which has been turned to dust.”
Among the shrines destroyed is also the alleged tomb of the biblical prophet Daniel, who served in King Darius’s court. His faith was tested when his enemies in the court convinced Darius to pass a law forbidding the worship of any other figure but himself. Although devastated when he realized the decree punished his close advisor, Daniel, who refused to pray to the king, Darius nevertheless enforced the order and had Daniel thrown to the lions’ den. Miraculously, Daniel escaped unscathed, and those who recommended the law were sent there, instead.
There is some dispute as to where Daniel is buried, with some scholars suggesting his tomb is actually in Susa, Iran, not Iraq.