By Mark Ellis
He was swallowed by a gigantic sea creature after he tried to run from God. Chastened in the belly of the behemoth, he later preached to the people of Ninevah and turned an entire city to God.
Tradition places Jonah’s grave close to the city of Mosul, near the ancient site of Nineveh. The Christians there still trace their lineage back to Jonah’s preaching, while Jews and Muslims also celebrate the man as a prophet.
Amidst the remains of Ninevah stands the Mosque of the Prophet Yunus (or Jonah), which was once the location of a Nestorian-Assyrian Church. Jonah is believed to be buried there, the same place King Esarhaddon built a palace.
It is one of the most important mosques in Mosul and one of the few historic mosques that are found on the eastern side of the city.
In early July, members of the radical group ISIS smashed the tomb of the celebrated prophet, as documented in a YouTube video. Some reports also say they unearthed his remains.
A Nineveh official Zuhair al-Chalabi told IraqiNews.com he had information “certainly confirming” that members of ISIS dug up and disturbed the grave of the prophet in Mosul.
This destructive act heightens the concerns of Christian leaders in Iraq that the rising violence could diminish any further presence of Christians in the country, according to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA).
Al-Chalabi said ISIS fighters gained control of the mosque after they invaded the city, located about 240 miles northwest of Baghdad.
“It is still held by them…elements of ISIL (ISIS) engaged in the process of tampering with the contents of the mosque,” he said.
ISIS has also destroyed 11 churches and monasteries out of the 35 in Mosul, according to AINA.
Christian leaders say that war and sectarian conflict have diminished Iraq’s Christian population from 1.5 million before 2003 to 400,000.