‘Springtime’ in Mosul: A 'pink' bicycle race and the al-Nuri mosque

In recent days, about 35 women between the ages of 15 and 30 have participated in a bike ride through the streets of the old city. In the past, bicycles were a taboo; according to a superstition they were the cause of loss of virginity. The restoration project of the mosque destroyed by Isis has been assigned. Don Paolo: significant changes on a social level, economic and administrative difficulties remain.

Mosul (AsiaNews) - The women's bike race is an event that testifies to "notable change" on a social level, with increasing attempts at integration after the dark years of the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis).

However, there are still many unresolved knots and open questions, first of all “corruption” on the economic level and “difficulties” from an administrative point of view “also due to external forces” that fuel the tension.

This is what Fr Paolo Thabit Mekko, head of the Christian community in Karamles, in the Nineveh plain, tells AsiaNews, when he recounts the situation in Mosul, the former stronghold of the "caliphate" where "the memory of Pope Francis' visit is still alive. With the hope - he adds - that his passage will not remain just a memory, but can bear fruit in a perspective of reconstruction "of the economic, social and cultural fabric.

On April 12, an all-female cycling race was held in Mosul (in the photos), an event unthinkable until just a few years ago when ISIS militiamen, who beheaded young people for the mere fact of listening " western music” reigned in the northern metropolis. The event was attended by about 35 young people between 15 and 30 years of age, of different religions and dressed in the most varied ways, with and without a veil, parading through the streets of the old city.

Among the objectives, that of encouraging women - of all ages - to use the bike, as well as the attempt to show the face of a still wounded metropolis with devastated streets and buildings. The race started from the great mosque of al-Nuri, and then unfolded along streets and squares.

Many young people had to take lessons to participate, because the use of bicycles - especially among women - is not a widespread practice in Iraq: among other things, an ancient superstition says that using the bike would cause you to lose your virginity.

“When you see a woman - says Don Paolo – on a bicycle in a city that has long been controlled and subjugated by a fundamentalist mentality, this represents a positive change. And it is also the sign that women are conquering more and more space, creating and nurturing change itself. One of the fundamentalists' first thoughts is precisely to control, cover up and repress women. Even a simple bicycle race in which Muslims, Christians and Yazidis took part - he observes - is a sign and an indication that society is waking up”.

“In a certain sense - continues the priest - we can speak of springtime in Mosul, even if the reconstruction work is proceeding slowly and there is a lot of work to be done. We have recently inaugurated a bridge that favours city traffic, but roads and streets are still largely damaged and the infrastructural problem remains big ”.

Another positive signs of these days also the news of the assignment of the reconstruction works of the great mosque, used in 2014 by the leader of the self-styled Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to proclaim the "caliphate". In June 2017, the jihadist militiamen - later defeated on the military level by the Iraqi army - had explosively destroyed the historic 12th century building, leaving behind ruins and rubble in much of the city.

The reconstruction of the mosque, as well as of some historic churches (of the Dominican church and the monastery of St. George), is part of a project aimed at "reviving" the "spirit" of Mosul. A group of Egyptian architects, whose project won the competition out of 123 other proposals, hope to start reconstruction of the mosque within the year. The prayer room of the new Nur al-Din Mahmoud Zangi mosque will be similar to the original, but several changes are under consideration, including greater use of natural light and more spaces for women.

"Mosul is on the move, people are looking for work even though the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed down activism a bit. Opportunities are expected to restart”, Don Paolo affirms, “and the social sphere is one of the richest areas of initiatives despite the many problems that remain unsolved.

“The local government - concludes the priest - is not strong, while the militias that control entire areas of the city and operate according to their own interests remain active. And then the issue of corruption and administrative problems weighs heavily. The desire to start again is there, in the face of problems mainly related to external forces that still exist