The day Isis took Mosul, Ameen Mokdad stood on the roof of his house and played his violin, a solemn song that filled the neighbourhood with its intoxicating melody.

He could not have known then that it would be two-and-a-half years before he would play in public again.

That summer of 2014, Isis (Islamic State) stormed the northern Iraqi city and in the weeks that followed the jihadists closed down libraries, banned tobacco and issued an edict outlawing music.

What had once provided a much-needed escape from the violence and war wracking his country, overnight became a pastime punishable by death. "I will never forget June 10," Mokdad, 28, said. "It was the day music died."


Afraid that the militants would come for him, the musician packed his instruments - violins, guitars and a cello - into bags and hid them in the basement before fleeing with his family to Baghdad.

He imagined he would wait out Isis' short-lived reign of terror and simply get back to his life. But weeks turned into months. By January 2015, Mokdad decided he could not wait any longer and took the risk to return to recover his violins.

"I was worried Daesh [Isis] would find my music and all my instruments: I call them my sons because they are the most important things to me in the world," he says. "I thought I could just grab the things and leave. That seems crazy now."

By then, Isis had established checkpoints all over the city and his family name was marked.

"I was allowed to enter but then when I tried to leave they asked me why I wanted to go to the lands of the kuffar [non-believers], they called me ugly names and asked me what I did. I hid from them that I was a musician. But they didn't trust what I was telling them and wouldn't give me permission to go," he said. "I was trapped."

Mokdad moved back into his empty family home in the al-Salam neighbourhood of east Mosul. All his friends and most of his neighbours had left long ago.

He felt as if he was being watched at every moment, that one wrong step could cost him his life.

He found escape by playing his violin in the innermost room of the house, putting blankets over the windows to muffle the sound.

He spent his days composing concertos, imagining himself performing them with a world-class orchestra.

"I felt by doing this, I was, in my own way, fighting Daesh's ideology," he said.

"They could take away my freedom but not my self-expression."

Mokdad had come from a creative family; his father a sculptor, his mother a painter. They had moved from their hometown of Baghdad to Mosul in 2003 when the war broke out, hoping it would be safer for Ameen, his two brothers and sister.

He remembers his parents struggling for money when he was younger, so he was surprised when his father bought him a violin and classical music CDs for his 10th birthday.

He taught himself to play by listening to Beethoven for hours on end until he had perfected it.

Growing up, he spent his days composing songs with a friend, Omar, and the evenings at Mosul's cafes listening to music and drinking tea until the early hours. They dreamed of the success enjoyed by great Moslawi artists such as oud-player Omar Bashir and singer Athem al-Saher.

During Isis' "occupation", as he calls it, the only time he left the house was to go to the local market to buy fruit and vegetables - the colours and smells punctuated what was otherwise a "grey, joyless world".

But one day he found the centre of the market had been transformed into an open-air cinema. "They played films of their executions and torture and made young children watch," he says.

"When they weren't showing films they used the arena to publicly punish people. They accused one boy of being a thief and cut off his hand in front of a crowd.

"I wanted to cry, to scream out loud at the inhumanity of it. I had to close my ears so as not to hear the noises.

"I really believe it was music to these barbarians. They had turned my city into something ugly, there was no more beauty in it any more."

Then, in February last year, they arrested a 15-year-old boy after he was caught listening to Western music at his father's market stall.

A few weeks later his headless body was returned to his family as a warning to others.

Undeterred, Mokdad continued to defy the jihadists, playing music quietly in his house and publishing videos of himself performing his compositions on his Facebook page. His friends outside Mosul posted messages of support, his friends inside the city stayed quiet for fear of association.

Mokdad tried to convince himself he would be fine, that he would not be caught and the same punishment meted out. The alternative; a life without music, was unthinkable.

But before long, the hisba, Isis' morality police, came for him, too. "They questioned me for three hours the afternoon of July 16, 2016," he said. "They took all my instruments - three violins, two guitars and a cello, and all of my CDs, and told me that they would return to my home the next day to teach me about the evils of music."

He fled that evening to his cousin's house in the al-Wahda neighbourhood. "I was basically living as a fugitive," he says. "It was the only place left I had to go but it was surrounded 360 degrees by Isis fighters and their families."

With no music and no violin, Mokdad had to use his imagination. He made a harp-like instrument known as an Adad out of wood and some old guitar strings. He wrote novels and compositions, taking inspiration from the deprivation rather than let it swallow him.

It would be six months - or 193 days as he remembers it - before Iraqi troops arrived in his neighbourhood in mid-January.

"I cried the day they came. We had waited so long for anyone to save us," he said. "I thought the army would come to liberate the city after a few days, but then weeks turned into months and then years." He has since been reunited with his family in Baghdad, where he is saving up money to replace his violin.

"My experience living under Isis was profound. I learned many harsh lessons but I developed intellectually and came out stronger," he said.

"I never stopped playing music and writing, to give myself and others hope. My message to Daesh through my music is that hope can never be stolen."