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Culture & Art

Defeating ISIS with music: The violinist bringing music back to Mosul

By Hannah Lynch 18/4/2017
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – When ISIS militants entered his home in Mosul and saw his collection of musical instruments, they told Ameen Mukdad that he had the devil in him and they would get it out. 

The militants confiscated his musical instruments, banned under their strict laws. Ameen had to go into hiding, waiting for the day he could again play in the streets, publicly sharing his music. 

On Wednesday, Ameen plans to do that. He will return to the left bank of Mosul and play his violin, dealing yet another blow to ISIS ideology, as he described it.

Even before ISIS arrived, there were restrictions on art and music. “The people have confusion between the beauty and the ugliness,” said Ameen. Yet, when they heard his music, they were surprised. 

“The people would hear the music and say that is beautiful. Why is it banned?”

Ameen grew up in a family of artists – his mother a painter and his father a sculpture and writer. From a young age he knew that art was beautiful and he fearlessly identified himself as a musician, even when people would insult him for it. 

His aunt gifted him with a violin when he was 20 years old.

Largely self-taught, Ameen estimates he has had only 18 lessons. He had his first lesson a year and a half after getting the violin, when he impressed judges and came second place in a music contest despite playing on just one string. He did not know how to play on all four strings. 

In 2014, Ameen was living and working in Erbil. He returned to Mosul because he and a friend were putting on a concert. Two days before the planned concert, he was shopping for equipment when the first rumours of ISIS began to scare the city.

That concert never happened. 

Even under ISIS, Ameen continued to play his music. His friends feared he would be killed and begged him to stop, or to play quietly, but he refused. “I can’t live with that fear.”

One day, he heard a knock of metal against glass – ISIS militants were knocking on his window with a pistol. This was the visit he had expected for a long time.

Walking into the room where Ameen kept musical instruments, art supplies, philosophy books, even poems he had written about ISIS, the militants were shocked.

They took all his instruments and said they would return with the Hisbah police to punish him and teach him his religion.

“We will take the devil away from you because there is a devil in your body. You are cursed.”

Ameen lived in hiding for six months, until the neighbourhood he was living in east Mosul was liberated by the Iraqi forces on January 5.

He joined his family in Baghdad a few days later. 

Wednesday is his first time going back to Mosul. He will play music he composed while living under ISIS, as well as the first piece he wrote after leaving, titled “I am free.”

“I think it will be amazing to perform in my most dearest way,” he said. “I love to perform in the street.”

Ameen has a message he wants to send to the world with his music. “My message is to be the hope maker.”

For him, this does not mean being a super hero, being undefeatable. It means being a normal person, embracing your fears and joys. “Maybe sometimes you will lose the battle, but the most important thing is to stand up and don’t give up.”

“I have had so many logical reasons to give up in my life, but I didn’t take them. And I will never do that.”



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