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Mullah Omar's Interrupted Legacy
Massive Namesake Mosque in Kandahar Remains Unfinished

Listen Listen to Steve Inskeep's report from Kandahar, Afghanistan.

photo gallery View a photo gallery of Mullah Omar's unfinished mosque.

Unfinished arches of Mullah Omar's mosque

An idled construction crane is framed by an arch at the site of Mullah Omar's unfinished mosque in Kandahar.
Photo: Steve Inskeep, NPR

photo gallery View the photo gallery.

Jan. 24, 2002 -- The Taliban leader is gone, but his largest monument still bears his name. Begun in 1997, the Mosque of Mullah Omar was to be a building covering the equivalent of several city blocks -- a two-level mosque, a madrassa or Islamic school, and a shopping center.

In several Afghan cities, the Taliban destroyed movie theaters and replaced them with mosques. In Kandahar, also, a large movie theater was torn down. But nowhere did the Taliban attempt a project so immense. Those who have seen a sports arena or convention center under construction might have a sense of the scale of this building.

Construction stopped after the Sept. 11 attacks, and the building remained less than half-finished when Taliban leaders fled their home city in December.

But the monstrous shell of a building remains.

Forest of pilings hold beams aloft

A forest of wooden pilings hold unfinished beams aloft.
Photo: Steve Inskeep, NPR

On a lower level you can see graffiti drawn by construction workers. Alongside pictures of helicopters are inscriptions proclaiming "Death to Zahir Shah" -- the exiled Afghan king. Afghanistan's new government has chosen the king's flag as its own, and that flag now flies from the idle construction crane that looms above the site.

Anti-Taliban soldiers now guard the mosque. The old Taliban mullah has fled, replaced by a new one. And some Kandaharis grumble that the mosque is a monstrosity, a monument to Mullah Omar's ego.

But Kandahar remains the city that provided the strongest support to the Taliban, and the new mullah of the mosque says its name will not change. The people are accustomed to the name, he says, and there is no reason to change it.

The mullah is still hoping that the private foundation in charge of the mosque will eventually raise the money to finish it. Even in its unfinished condition, hundreds of people walk there every day to pray.

Browse more NPR stories on Kandahar and Mullah Omar.

In Depth

photo gallery Steve Inskeep's report on Kandahar's "Cloak of the Prophet," Jan. 10, 2002.

photo gallery Steve Inskeep's photos of war-ravaged Afghanistan from Dec. 10, 2001.

photo gallery Pictures and audio from Afghanistan by NPR correspondent Eric Weiner, Dec. 28, 2001.

Other Resources

Lonely Planet Guide: Afghanistan