The tomb of Jewish prophet Nahum is at risk courtesy of a possible attack from ISIS
The 2700-year-old sacred spot at Al Qosh in Iraq faces a major threat which stirs up the locals
The history of the Jews in Iraq and the stories concerning the prophet and his tomb add to the antique and religious sentiments of the residents as they carry on guarding the place
Assyrian Christian Shajaa has taken up the responsibility of protection of the tomb following the tradition of his family
Sept 16, 2016: A 2700-year-old sacred site is in a danger of an ISIS attack. The sacred place is the tomb of the Jewish prophet Nahum who had predicted the impending doom upon Assyrian dynasty and the fall of the capital, Nineveh. Situated in Al Qosh of Northern Iraq, the sacred synagogue that houses the tomb is on the verge of experiencing the same fate due to the ISIS warfare.
Being located in a distance of only 15 kilometers from the frontline of ISIS, the threat to the holy place is enough to cause a stir among the local residents of the area. They remain anxious with a rising concern of a potential attack on that area. They have sought for help for preserving the holy site. A resident of Al Qosh, Ghazwan Elias, spoke for the locals and stated that with their very limited ability they are carrying on the task of preserving the sacred place.
The prophet has frequently been regarded as the ‘Elkoshite’ i.e. “of El Qosh” or “of Al Qosh”. Apart from that, some of the crumbling antique walls which are ornamented with the holy script of Hebrew also testify the fact that the tomb is actually of the prophet. It has been heard from local sources that right before the departure of the Jews from Iraq, the sacred spot used to be a much-visited shrine that reportedly saw the gathering of millions of worshippers annually. This adds to the sentiment of the residents and strengthens the motive of protecting the tomb of Nahum.
It has been reported that an Assyrian Christian, born and brought up in Al Qosh, Asir Salaam Shajaa, has taken over the responsibility of guarding the place with great vigor. Convinced as he is, he claims the remains under the holy tomb are really of the prophet. He was found saying that his forefathers were left in charge of guarding the sacred shrine when the last of the Jews left Al Qosh and since then all the generations of his family have been traditionally protecting the tomb.
Preservation and protection of the sacred tomb have thus been a highly concerning issue. God forbids that the ancient holy synagogue does not come to face the wrath of the ISIS in future as the locals fear.
Dark skies were threatening rain over an Iraqi Kurdistan village, but one woman refused to budge from outside a house where two girls were at risk of female genital mutilation.
“I know you’re home! I just want to talk,” called out Kurdistan Rasul, 35, a pink headscarf forming a sort of halo around her plump features.
For many, she is an angel — an Iraqi Kurdish activist with the Germany-based nonprofit Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Cooperation (WADI), on a crusade to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM).
FGM, in which a girl or woman’s genitals are cut or removed, was once extremely common in the Kurdish region, but WADI’s campaigning has reduced the practice.
Rasul, who herself was cut at a young age, is helping to eradicate FGM in the village of Sharboty Saghira, east of the regional capital, Irbil.
She has visited 25 times, challenging its imam on perceptions FGM is mandated by Islam and warning midwives about infections and emotional trauma.
That morning, she used the mosque’s minaret to vaguely invite villagers to discuss their health. When eight women entered the mosque, she patiently described FGM’s dangers.
At the end, a thin woman approached Rasul and said her neighbor was planning to mutilate her two toddlers
That sent Rasul clambering up the muddy pathway to the house, first knocking, then frantically demanding to be allowed in.
But the door remained shut.
“We are changing people’s convictions. That’s why it’s so hard,” Rasul told AFP, reluctantly walking away.
‘Just a child’
FGM appears to have been practiced for decades in Iraq’s Kurdish region, usually known for more progressive stances on women’s rights.
Victims are usually between 4 and 5 years old but are affected for years by bleeding, extremely reduced sexual sensitivity, tearing during childbirth, and depression.
The procedure can prove fatal, with some girls dying from blood loss or infection.
After years of campaigning, Kurdish authorities banned FGM under a 2011 domestic violence law, slapping perpetrators with up to three years in prison and a roughly $80,000 fine.
The numbers have dropped steadily since.
In 2014, a U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF) survey found 58.5 percent of women in the Kurdish region had been mutilated.
This year, UNICEF found a lower rate: 37.5 percent of girls aged 15-49 in the Kurdish region had undergone FGM.
It compares with less than 1 percent across the rest of Iraq, which has no FGM legislation.
“She cut me, I was hurt and cried,” said Shukriyeh, 61, of the day her mother mutilated her more than 50 years ago.
“I was just a child. How could I be angry at my mother?”
Shukriyeh’s six daughters, the youngest of whom is 26, have all been cut, too. But with so much campaigning against FGM, they have declined to do the same to their girls.
Years ago, Zeinab, 38. allowed female relatives to cut her eldest daughter, then 3.
“I was so scared that I stayed far away and came to wash her after they cut her,” she recalled, squirming.
After WADI’s sessions, she protected her other two daughters from mutilation.
“At the time I accepted [it], but now I wouldn’t. Yes, I regret it. But what can I do now?”
‘Women against women’
Rasul told AFP it was hard to combat a form of gender-based violence that women themselves practiced.
“Young men and women agree FGM should stop. But after we leave a village, older women talk to them and tell them: ‘Be careful, that NGO wants to spread problems,’ ” she said.
UNICEF’s 2014 survey found 75 percent of women saw their own mothers as the most supportive of cutting.
“I tell these women: This is violence that you’re carrying out with your own hands — women against women,” said Rasul.
That proximity has also made FGM victims less likely to seek justice.
“The 2011 law isn’t being used because girls won’t file a complaint against their mothers or fathers,” said Parwin Hassan, who heads the Kurdish Regional Government’s anti-FGM unit.
Hassan has wanted to work on the issue since she narrowly escaped it: Her mother pulled her away from their midwife after a last-minute change of heart.
“I’ve been working on women’s issues since 1991, but this is the most painful for me. That’s why I promised to eradicate it completely,” she told AFP.