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Outside View of Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, Iraq

Outside View of Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, Iraq



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Iraqi Shiites pray outside Shiite Imam A

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Mosque Architecture

Najaf is a Shi'a Muslim holy city in southern Iraq, about 160km south of Baghdad. For Shi'a Muslims, the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf is the third holiest shrine in the world after Mecca and Medina.
History

After the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD, a conflict broke out over who should succeed him as leader of Islam. Some (later called the Shi'ites) said it should be the Prophet's descendents, while others (the Sunnis) argued that the community should choose a leader. As in all conflicts the matter was complex, but this was the essential difference that led to the separation between Shi'a and Sunni Islam that has endured to this day.

The gold-plated mosque shelters the tomb of Imam Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad who is revered as a martyr and a saint by Shi'ites. Najaf has been an important place of pilgrimage for Shi'ites since Ali's death in 661 AD.

In the course of the conflict, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, Imam Ali, was killed at Najaf in 661. Ali was the Prophet's closest relative and the one whom the Shi'ites saw as the Prophet's true successor, and he is regarded as a great saint and martyr.

The tomb of Ali has been honored at Najaf since as early as 750 AD, although it is possible he is actually buried in Afghanistan. Najaf became an important place of pilgrimage and a center of Shi'a religious learning. In the 20th century, the latter role has shifted more to Qom in Iran.

The tomb of Imam Ali is said to have been discovered at Najaf around 750 AD by Dawood Bin Ali Al-Abbas. A shrine was built over the tomb by Azod Eddowleh in 977, but later burned down. It was rebuilt by the Seljuk Malek Shah in 1086, and rebuilt yet again by Ismail Shah, the Safawid, in about 1500.

Throughout its most of its history Najaf tended to avoid politics, but in the 1970s it took up the cause of the Iranian ayatollahs in their religious and political revolutionary movement. Ayatollah Khomeini lived in exile in Najaf from 1965 to 1978, where he led the opposition to the Shah in Iran.

Most of the Najaf shrines have been damaged and pillaged by the Iraqi government, which was predominantly Sunni until the recent Iraq War. Many suspect that gold and jewels stolen from the shrine of Ali personally enriched the family of Saddam Hussein. However, after his army brutally recaptured Najaf after a rebellion in 1991, Hussein made a great show of repairing damage to the shrines.

In February 1999, Najaf's senior cleric, Muhammad Sadiq as-Sadr, was murdered along with his two sons in Baghdad. The Iraqi government claimed to have caught and executed the killers (all Shia), but one of these was reportedly in prison at the time and many blamed the killings on Saddam's regime.

Najaf has played a significant role in the current Iraq conflict. It was captured by United States forces on April 3, 2003. On August 29, 2003, a car bomb exploded during prayers outside the Imam Ali Mosque just as weekly prayers were ending, killing more than 80 people. Nobody claimed responsibility, and Hussein denied any involvement in a taped message from his hiding place.

Najaf again became a battleground during the Mahdi Army uprising of summer 2004, with some damage to shrines as a result. On August 10, 2006, a suicide bomber blew himself up near the shrine, killing 40 people.
What to See

The central focus of Najaf is the Imam Ali Mosque (also known as Meshed Ali or the Tomb of Ali), located in the city center. The mosque was built over the tomb (whether actual or symbolic) and shrine of Imam Ali, Muhammad's martyred son-in-law.

The shrine of Ali is the third holiest in the world for Shi'a Muslims and a major place of pilgrimage. Many Shi'a bring their dead to the tomb of Ali, carrying the coffin around the sarcophagus before burial.

The mosque is resplendent in gold, with 7,777 tiles of pure gold covering the dome and two 35-meter high golden minarets each made of 40,000 gold tiles. Inside, the mosque is decorated with the opulence typical of Shi'a mosques, with neon lights reflecting off mirrored tiles and hammered silver walls. Sheltered in the mosque is an often-looted treasury of precious objects donated by sultans and other devotees over the years.

Najaf includes several other shrines, including a mosque marking the spot where Ali was martyred. There are also cells for Sufi mystics that have formed monastic communities there.

North of the Imam Ali Mosque is the Wadi as-Salam ("Wadi of Peace"), the largest cemetery in the Muslim world - and perhaps the entire world. It contains the tombs of several prophets, along with millions of Shi'a Muslims who have buried here so they might be raised from the dead with Imam Ali on Judgment Day.
Quick Facts
Site Information
Names: Najaf Imam Ali Mosque Meshed Ali Tomb of Ali
Location: Najaf, Iraq
Faith: Islam
Denomination: Shi'ite
Dedication: Imam Ali
Categories: Shrines Mosques
Date: Death of Ali: 661 AD current building: c.1500
Size: featured,
Status: active
Visitor Information
Coordinates: 31.995953° N, 44.314256° E (view on Google Maps)
Lodging: View hotels near this location


Burial Ground

The population of Wadi Al-Salaam has grown into one of the oldest undisturbed graves of Muslims in the world. Over the centuries millions of Shi’a have been buried near the holy shrine to Imam Ali, and the rate has only accelerated in the last ten years. Today it is estimated 500,000 people are interred each year.

The cemetery covers 1,485.5 acres, spanning nearly 20% of the city of Najaf. The tombs vary in condition and size based on the era and class of the individual buried.

The majority of graves are built with baked brick and plaster, rising to different levels. Older plots exhibit more deterioration ornate metal crypts with angled roofs indicate individuals of a different class. Room-sized crypts with large domes scatter the grounds. Ornate towers paid homage and announced a more privileged life for its occupants.

As space reached a premium, burials moved downward. The subterranean vaults can usually be accessed via a ladder, but those buried underneath others don’t always have above-ground markers.


Twelve years on, remembering the bomb that started the Middle East’s sectarian war

After the bomb blast, the sky rained dried fruit, nuts, and candy.

It was shortly after noon on August 29, 2003, outside the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, Iraq. I had just entered a long, narrow street leading to the shrine when the massive explosion shook its walls. I ran toward the smoke in what seemed like dead silence: I had been temporarily deafened by the blast. The alley had turned dark, as if in a sudden solar eclipse. And showering down on me from the swirling black plume were dried apricots, almonds, and brightly-colored lozenges. I would learn later that they were from the street vendors’ carts lining the walls of the shrine, blown into the air by the explosion.

It would be many years before I understood that the Najaf bomb was to the Middle East’s sectarian conflict what Gavrilo Princip’s bullets were to the First World War—the single act of violence that would shatter an uneasy balance of ethnic forces, unleashing years of conflict, costing countless lives, and gradually trawling in some of the world’s major powers.

The Imam Ali shrine is the burial place of the man who gave rise to Shia Islam, and is one of the sect’s holiest sites. The bomb had been hidden in the trunk of a car, close to one of the entrances to the shrine. It was timed to go off just after the Friday midday prayers, when Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim, the charismatic cleric groomed by Iran to become Iraq’s first Shia leader, would emerge from the shrine. Nearly 100 people were killed, most of them from the direct impact of the blast, and others from the collapsing concrete roofs and walls of the shops along the arcade outside the shrine. More than 500 people were injured.

When I made it through the acrid fog, I joined in the jostle of pilgrims scrambling to find and extract bodies from the rubble around the bomb site. There was no organization to our efforts, and even if someone had taken command of the scene, many of us would not have been able to hear any instructions. I had only a high metallic whine sounding inside my head.

As my hearing gradually returned, I became aware that most of the men around me were shouting and sobbing as we hauled chunks of fallen concrete from what had been a shop selling cheap, polyester fabric from long bolts. One of the men was reciting verses from the Koran, his voice rising and falling with the physical strain of moving a piece of the ceiling. Then he looked straight at me, and I suddenly realized that I was myself screaming, continuously and incoherently.

A few moments later, one of the men signaled for silence as he put his ear to a gap in the rubble. He thought he had heard a sound, possibly a survivor. We began to pull away the broken concrete, urgently and for a time, in complete silence. Then the man who had been chanting Koranic verses began to murmur, “Allahu Akbar…. Allahu Akbar… Allahu Akbar.” His voice grew louder and more deliberate as he sensed we were close to finding something, someone. The others took up the chant, and I found myself, an atheist, joining in. “Allahu Akbar… Allahu Akbar… Allahu…”

We were shouting at the tops of our voices when a small hand came into view, sticking out from the ground. First the hand, then an entire arm, then a torso, covered in a child’s checked shirt. But even before we had removed the debris from his face, for it was a boy, I knew—we all knew—it was useless. We fell silent. The boy’s neck was broken, and a jagged gash in his nape revealed broken bones and torn muscle.

Someone put the little body into my arms, and I stepped away from the ruins of the shop, heading toward a fire engine that had, improbably, wedged itself into the narrow alley. I handed the body over to a fireman, neither of us speaking.

I wandered into the shrine, and realized that its thick walls had, remarkably, remained intact. But there were signs of a stampede. Thousands of men’s sandals, which were usually lined up neatly in rows by worshippers before they entered the main building, were now scattered about. An elderly man was being taken away in a stretcher, and some women were huddled together in one corner, their black abayas yellow-gray with dust.

Back outside, I looked for Kate Brooks, the photographer on assignment with me. She had been in another car, and I had forgotten all about her. I now found her, perched precariously on a mound of rubble, her eyes in the viewfinder of her camera as she captured the carnage. She didn’t hear me call out, but I was reassured that Salah, our translator, was close at hand, making sure nobody bumped into her and sent her flying into the jagged concrete.

One man, noting her camera, made it his business to rummage through the rubble for body parts, and then hold them up for Kate’s benefit. Speaking through Salah, she pleaded with him to stop. But he kept rooting around for an arm, or a leg, until a shout went up from another section of the crowd.

“The Sayyid is dead. They killed the Sayyid.”

The blast had claimed its main target, the Ayatollah. (“Sayyid”is a honorific denoting direct descent from the Prophet Muhammed, as the Hakim family claims to be.) In the following days, there would be rumors that he had been so close to the blast that most of his body had been vaporized, and that only one hand, bearing his ring, had been recovered.

Later that afternoon, Salah and I made our way to a nearby hospital where many of the dead and injured had been taken. The wards were filled with the families of the victims and onlookers. The staff were trying to create spaces around the beds to allow the doctors to work, but the crush of people was overwhelming.

Salah and I had just about inched our way into one ward when a group of Kalashnikov-wielding militiamen arrived, and set about bringing order to the chaos. They quickly drove most of the crowds out, allowing only the closest family members to remain with the injured. They let me stay, possibly because I was so covered with dust and grime from digging in the rubble that I looked like a patient.

I initially assumed they were members of the Mahdi Army, the militia founded by the firebrand anti-American Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But they displayed more discipline than the notoriously rowdy Sadrists. These men had newer, or at least shinier, Kalashnikov AK-47 rifles than I’d seen in the hands of the Mahdi Army. One even had a bayonet installed, something I’d never seen before in Iraq. Some had walkie-talkie radios, suggesting a level of organizational sophistication. There were likely members of the Badr Brigade, the militia created by the newly assassinated Ayatollah Hakim, and trained and armed by Iran.

The men were young, some of them teenagers. But their leader stood out, a short, stocky, lightly bearded man in his late 50s, in grey trousers and an incongruously white, button-down shirt. He alternated between talking to the staff of the hospital and issuing instructions to his men, all in a soft but firm voice. He asked a nurse if she needed supplies, then ordered one of his men to note down her requirements and make sure she got everything. As soon as he’d finished writing, the young man relayed the contents over his walkie-talkie, presumably to a colleague in a car outside.

The man’s air of authority and solicitousness toward the staff gave the impression of a senior government official, possibly from the health ministry. But there was an accent to his Arabic that, even to my untrained ear, seemed out of place. Perhaps he’s Kurdish, I said to Salah.

No, Salah replied. “He’s Iranian.”

He turned to a nurse who was standing next to us, and she concurred. She had treated many Iranians who came to Najaf on pilgrimage, she said, and there was no mistaking the accent. “They’re Badris,” she added, pointing her chin at the men with the AK-47s.

In a little while, the Iranian grabbed a Thuraya satellite phone from one of his men, and walked out of the ward. It reminded me that I needed to call my editors in New York. Salah and I followed the man into the courtyard with my own Thuraya satellite phones only work outdoors, with their antennae fully extended. He was already on his phone, now speaking in Farsi. When he heard me speak in English, he stopped mid-sentence, and hurried back in, looking back once in my direction.

Moments later, a few of his men ran out. They pointed their AK-47s at me, forced me to get off the phone, and demanded to know who I was. I showed a Jordanian press badge I had not yet acquired an Iraqi one from the coalition military office, and even if I had, it might not have been politic to display it to Iranian-backed militants. Salah began to explain, but the men were skeptical that I was a journalist. I was speaking in English and I had a Thuraya to their mind, I could only be a spy. “CIA?” asked the one closest to me, with a knowing smile, prodding the barrel of his gun into my shoulder. Glad it was not the one with the bayonet, I shook my head and gave him my goofiest, most unthreatening smile.

The men eventually agreed to bring Salah to their leader, while two of them kept me at gunpoint in the yard. In a few minutes, they came back out, and indicated that he had accepted Salah’s explanation. I went back inside, but one of the armed men remained close to me for the rest of the time I was indoors clearly, he has been instructed to keep an eye on me. Every time I spoke with Salah, he immediately demanded to know what I had said.

The Iranian himself would not speak with me—he waved me away when I approached—but didn’t seem to mind my presence in the emergency ward. Indeed, his interactions with the hospital staff took on an exaggerated air, clearly for my benefit. He spoke louder, sometimes repeating himself, the easier for Salah to translate.

Then a plaintive wail rose from a group of women gathered around a bed in the middle of the ward. One of the injured had just died, a young man in military fatigues. It occurred to me that he might have been one of Hakim’s guards. He has lost most of one leg and had deep wounds in his chest and neck that were full of gauze pads that the surgeon, a heavyset man with an expression of pure exhaustion, had used to try and stop the bleeding. Two of the armed men began to sob, as well. The dead man, I surmised, had been their colleague. As the founder of the Badr Brigade, it made sense that the Ayatollah would have Badris as his personal bodyguard.

The Iranian put a comforting arm on the shoulders of his weeping men, and whispered some words in consolation. They nodded, wiped away their tears, and resumed their stony-faced countenance.

As the dead man’s relatives tried to pull an older woman, perhaps his mother, away from the corpse, the doctor staggered out of the ward. Later, I found him in the courtyard, smoking a cigarette and being consoled by the Iranian. They were about the same age, but the doctor seemed to recognize the Iranian’s authority, and spoke to him as he might to a senior administrator. It can’t have been the first time a patient had died in the doctor’s hands, but between drags of the cigarette, he switched from heaving sobs to expressions of anguished rage.

“Why did they do this?” he demanded of the Iranian. “Why? Why?”

“Don’t you see?” the Iranian said, quietly. “They have declared war on us.”

That exchange remained unprocessed in my mind for several days. Who were the “they” to whom the Iraqi doctor and the Iranian had referred? And who were the “us?”

The most obvious “they”—loyalists of Saddam Hussein who were already leading an insurgency against the US-led coalition—didn’t make sense. At that point, these loyalists were still painting themselves in nationalist, rather than sectarian, colors. Bombing the holiest Shia shrine in the country would not suit their purpose at all. And although there were obvious similarities to the bombing of the United Nations offices at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, just 10 days before, that attack had targeted a foreign organization, and was plainly designed to kill foreigners. Why would the same group want to kill Iraqis?

The most obvious “us” didn’t make sense either, at the time. I didn’t see how the Iranian militia leader and the Iraqi surgeon could be on the same side. Yes, they were probably both Shia, but that didn’t automatically make them allies. If they were united by sectarian denomination, they were divided by much more: ethnicity, language, history. Given their age, they had probably also been in opposing armies in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88. There was a pretty good chance the doctor had treated soldiers and civilians injured by the Iranian’s compatriots.

In fact, the “us” were indeed Shia Muslims—who are the majority in Iran and in southeastern Iraq—and the “they” were Sunnis, who dominate Iraq’s northern and western provinces. But it would be many months before that would become clear to journalists and Western officials and military commanders in Iraq. And it would be several years before I realized, looking back, that the bomb blast at the shrine had announced the opening of hostilities in a Shia-Sunni conflict across the region.

Most commentators on the Middle East either overlook, or reduce to a footnote, the Najaf bombing in their examination of the sectarian conflict. I’ve been guilty of this myself. I had been present at the shrine when the explosion occurred, and wrote about it for Time magazine, for which I then worked. Over the next five years, I documented the escalation of Shia-Sunni hostilities in Iraq, and noted the growing role of Iran. As the conflict worsened, and atrocity followed atrocity, the Najaf bombing became, in my mind as well as to most Iraqis, just another hideous episode.

It was not until a decade later, standing at the spot in Sarajevo where the Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie in 1914, setting off the chain of events that erupted into the First World War, that I was jolted by the realization that the Najaf bombing had achieved something quite similar. By killing Hakim and over 100 other Shia pilgrims, it had set Islam’s two sects on a course to war, one that would first draw in Iran, then the wider Middle East, and eventually the Western powers.

There are straight lines to be drawn from the Najaf bombing to the bloodletting in Syria, where the sectarian conflict is, at of this writing, in its fifth year, and has killed over 250,000 people to the rise and astonishing success of ISIL to the 2012 and 2014 Gaza wars between Israel and Hamas, Iran’s proxy and to the rise of the Shia rebel Houthi movement in Yemen, another Iranian surrogate, which is currently fighting a war with a Sunni coalition led by Saudi Arabia. It is sobering to recall that the conflict started by Princip’s bullets would rage for three decades, and drag mankind through two world wars. And I fear the furies unleashed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist mastermind who, it would emerge, was responsible for the Najaf bombing, will rampage through the Middle East for years to come.

All this, I can see now. But the anguished doctor and the cool-headed Iranian militia leader already knew, on that blood-stained August afternoon, that the war had begun.


In pictures: the Islamic architecture of Karbala’s holiest shrines

The day of Ashura, which translates to “the tenth”, is the 10th day of the Islamic month of Muharram, and marks a special religious occasion for Iraqis and Muslims. On this day in 680 CE – 48 years after the passing of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) – the prophet’s grandson and the third imam of Islam, Hussain Bin Ali, was massacred along with 72 of his companions on the plains of Karbala, a city in Iraq about 100 kilometres southwest of Baghdad . Erected here is a mosque and burial site, which remain one of the holiest places in Shia Islam, outside of Mecca and Medina. Yearly, millions of pilgrims visit the city of Karbala during Ashura to honour the anniversary of Imam Hussain’s death.

The Shrine of Al-Hussain Ibn Ali mirrors the shrine of his half-brother, Al-Abbas Ibn Ali, which sits on the same city axis. The space that separates them is known as Al-Sahn. Al-Abbas was massacred along with Imam Hussain in the battle of Karbala, and their bodies were buried in the same spot they were martyred. Like the Mausoleum of Imam Hussain, the Shrine of Al-Abbas Ibn Ali attracts millions of pilgrims each year, and together, these structures serve as one of Iraq’s most popular tourist hotspots.

Generally speaking, art (and artistic styling) possesses a wide area in Islamic decoration, especially in places of worship, such as mosques and shrines. Imam Hussain’s shrine is considered an ideal symbol of Islamic art and is one of the largest shrines in Iraq with a variety of decorations. The attractive golden domes that top the buildings as well as their minarets can be spotted by pilgrims from far away.

For Islamic architecture , the two components of form and function are synonymous, and these shrines serve both the purpose of a mausoleum while also remaining aesthetically pleasing. Artists elaborated extensive details in every way imaginable, from tile-work painted with vegetal decorations and geometrically shaped patterns to entrance ceilings enriched with unique muqarnas clusters. There is also a wealth of mosaic mirror walls and ceilings, as well as famous calligraphy adorning the walls.

Within a damaged Iraq plagued by decades of war, the devotion of people to these shrines and their love for those buried within points to another dimension of the Iraqi people not often seen by the rest of the world. The status of the shrines and tombs is not a form of worship but a point of physical connection to the sacred and an epicentre for devotion towards their saintly leaders and teachers.

Here, Iraqi architect and photographer Deema Al-Yahya, founder of @studeeio , provides a photo series detailing the ornate mausoleums.

This article and images are by Deema Al-Yahya, an Iraqi architect and photographer based in Amman, Jordan. A Tamayouz Award and JEA Competition winner, she is currently practicing architecture and interior design in Jordan, along with her own photography art work on @studeeio .


Najaf: The city of Wisdom

Najaf also known as the city of wisdom remained one of the most attractive and favorite plac e for tourists. Some wants to see the ancient land of the prophets and others seek to offer salutations to the great Imam, the caliph, warrior king, and also known as the Commander of faithful, Ali, the son of Abu Talib. Najaf attracts people of many beliefs and nations, as it remained part of the ancient civilizations and empires. It has historical and archaic value. Let’s explore Najaf and I will also share my personal experiences. I promise each click in this blog will open the gates of wisdom for you as you will be able to learn a lot about the history and ancient tales.

Ancient scriptures reveal great importance of Najaf. It is being narrated that after the great flood, Noah’s ark stopped here in the land of Najaf and this is the place where Prophet Adam and Noah are now buried. Noah started the settlement here in Najaf. The famous well from where the great flood started is also located in the suburbs of Najaf in the ancient city known as Kufa. It can be said that the extinction and the revival of human settlement occurred in the city of Najaf.

Both Prophet Adam and Prophet Noah both are buried next to the grave of Imam Ali along with thousands of prophet buried in the ancient graveyard stretched near the great shrine.

The shrine in which Prophet Adam, Noah and Imam Ali are buried

The city was residential before the emergence of Islam, but after the construction of Imam ‘Ali’s mausoleum and shrine in the 2nd/8th century, it turned into a thriving city to which many Shi’as immigrated. Some kings, including ‘Adud al-Dawla al-Daylami, Shah Isma’il, and Shah Tahmasp, as well as certain Qajar kings, contributed to the construction of Najaf.

Aerial view of the shrine

Najaf is located 165 km southwest of Baghdad, 77 km southeast of Karbala, and 10 km south of Kufa. Before the establishment of the Najaf Province in 1976, the city of Najaf was part of the Karbala Province. Imam ‘Ali was buried in an area called “al-Thawiyya”. Later, al-Thawiyya was called Najaf. The account has been confirmed by certain historical sources, such as al-Buldan, Tarikh al-umam wa l-muluk, and al-Kamil fi l-tarikh.

Painting depicting the mighty Imam Ali’s historical moment of lifting the 70 ton gate of Khyber during the ancient battle of Khyber

You will be bedazzled by the glittering dome of Imam Ali shrine. An amazing 7,777 pure gold tiles cover the dome and the two 35 m high minarets are each made of 40,000 gold tiles. Words cannot describe the feelings of a believer who finds himself lucky enough to be at this holy shrine. You see visitors from all over the world. Those who serve at the shrine are civil and helpful with no rudeness you encounter in any other country. You are left to your own to contemplate and pray with no one pushing or abusing you. The minute you step in there, you feel the spirituality, the connection people have with that spirituality and even with each other i.e. large groups of families all together. Take time to look around as numerous other personalities are also buried here.The mosque is also home to treasures donated by various sultans.

There are several other attractions like the ancient graveyard known as Wādī l-Salām that is of immense importance for shi’as due to many traditions regarding its significance. Based on some traditions, the cemetery is where some of the prophets and great virtuous men return after their death, and any pious man’s spirit who passes away in any spot of the world will come to this cemetery.

Aerial view of wadi us salam graveyard

Many pilgrims of the holy shrine of Imams visit this area besides visiting other sacred places. Furthermore, a lot of religious, political, and social figures of Shi’a have been buried there.

There is Al-Ḥannāna Mosque which is located in the north of Najaf, on the way to Kufa. It is narrated that the site of this mosque wept/mourned for the Ahl al-Bayt two times during the funeral procession of Imam ‘Ali (a) and after the Battle of Karbala. There are two famous incidents related to the mosque. One incident, narrated to have taken place at the site of al-Hannana Mosque, is the sorrowful leaning of a pillar (or wall) when the coffin of Imam ‘Ali (a) passed by it at his funeral. Imam al-Sadiq (a) has reportedly said, “When the coffin of Imam ‘Ali (a) was being carried through this place, this pillar leaned out of sorrow for his demise, like the leaning of Abraha’s throne at the entry of ‘Abd al-Muttalib.

The second incident is narrated to have happened after the Battle of Karbala. On the road from Karbala to Kufa, the head of Imam al-Hussain was put on the ground of the mosque. It is said that at this time, a sound was heard like the sound of a baby camel that had lost its mother. According to a hadith, Imam al-Sadiq, when traveling between Kufa and Najaf, would stop at that spot and pray. When asked about the reason, he would say, “They put the head of my grandfather Imam al-Hussain here.

I have visited and explored the city during many visits. Besides having good friends’ native and immigrant stationed there, I have some joyful memories which strengthens my attachment to the city. I remember every time I land, I run towards the holy shrine and pay salutations to the great Imam Ali.

Shrine of Hazrat Imam Ali (a.s) in Najaf

I remember my long walks in the crowded bazaars filled with sweets and perfumes. One thing you will notice is that there is a unique sense of peace and tranquility in the air. You will see friendly and hospitable people. The never-ending wars failed to lessen the passion and hospitality of the people. They are still energetic and hopeful for a better future. I found the people very sensitive and enlightened, they are aware of their basic rights and their sense of freedom is very clear.

View of a famous bazaar in Najaf

Another thing you must do is to attend the ancient annual walk which is held in the Islamic month of Safr during the procession Arbaeen i.e. the culmination of 40 days of mourning period regarding the martyrdom of Imam Hussain who was killed during the epic battle of Karbala. The 110km walk starts from the shrine of Imam Ali and culminated at the shrine of imam Hussain in the city of Karbala.

The sea of pilgrims present at the shrine of Imam Hussain in Karbala after completing the annual walk on Arbaeen

During the pilgrimage, copious supplies of food, small clinics, and even dentists are available for pilgrims and they all work for free. The care of pilgrims is regarded as a religious duty. Along the roads to Karbala, many mawakibs (tents) are devised to provide “accommodation, food and beverage and medical services and practically anything else the pilgrims need for free.

Pilgrims walking towards Karbal from Najaf

The pilgrims carry flags of different color but the black flag of mourning for Imam Hussein is by far the most common. They also decorate “permanent brick buildings and temporary tents which are used for praying, eating and sleeping along the three main routes leading to Karbala”. Seven thousand such mawakeb were set up in the city of Karbala in 2014. Besides Iraqi mawakibs, which are unofficially organized, some Iranians are less “specifically targeted” but pilgrims are from various regions.

Shia cities, towns, and villages all over Iraq empty during the 20 days of the pilgrimage as their people take to the roads in an elaborately organized and well-protected mass movement not seen anywhere else in the world. By 2014, over 19 million people from 40 countries of the world participated in this occasion making it the second-largest gathering in the world.

Najaf is also famous for its unique gemstones known as Dur e Najaf (the pearl of Najaf). Those obtained from the river are more illustrious than those obtained from land. It is good for ailments of the eye and it creates happiness in the heart. It is a gemstone full of spiritual, religious values and benefits. Dur-e-Najaf brings self-knowledge and wisdom.

In a nutshell, if you are planning to visit a city that can satisfy your desire to explore an ancient land, Najaf is your destination. The city offers visual and textual delights as you can also follow the links I have placed in the blog to read more about the Lion of God Imam Ali and his son Imam Hussain and about the Tragedy of Karbala. The sermons of Imam Ali based on philosophy, sociology, history, language, logic and theology will unlock the mysteries and will certainly enlighten your soul. I invite all the learned fellows and explorers to visit and read about this city and explore the depth of knowledge and history hidden inside this ancient land. Just make a wish and the gate of wisdom will be opened for you to take you to the heaven on earth.


History of the Construction

With the deposal of the Umayyads, and the public discovery of the grave of Imam Ali (a), Dawud b. Ali al-Abbasi (d. 133/751) witnessed that many people were visiting the gravesite. As such, he installed a tombstone on top of the grave. However, after the establishment of the Abbasid caliphate, their relationship with the Alawis changed and the grave became abandoned once again and the tombstone was destroyed. Γ]

  • Apparently, in approximately the 170/786 Δ] , it was Harun al-Rashid who built the first shrine for Imam Ali (a) made from white bricks. He also gave orders for a building to be built on top of the grave from red clay, and for the green fabric to be laid across the shrine. Ε]
  • In the same way that the Abbasid caliph, Mutawakkil (d. 247/861), destroyed the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a), he also destroyed the shrine of Imam 'Ali (a) in Najaf. Ζ] After this, Muhammad b. Zayd al-Da'i (d. 287/900) rebuilt the grave, and furthermore, built a dome, walls, and fort for the shrine. Η]
  • Umar b. Yahya, renovated the shrine of Imam Ali (a) in 330/942 and he paid for the expenses to install a dome from his personal funds. ⎖]
  • 'Adud al-Dawla al-Daylami (d. 372/982) renovated and constructed the building in such a way that it was completely unique in style for its era and he also set up endowments for it. This building remained until 753/1352. It was in this year that the building was burned down and destroyed. It has been said that in this fire, a manuscript of the Qur'an in three volumes written by Imam Ali (a) himself were also burned. ⎗] In addition to 'Adud al-Dawla, other Buyid rulers and their viziers, the Hamdanids, and some of the Abbasids (Mustansir al-Abbasi) also participated in the shrine's renovation and reconstruction. ⎘]
  • In the year 760/1359, a new building was constructed that has not been attributed to any particular individual. However, apparently, it was the work of Ilkhanates and many rules had a share in its building. Shah Abbas I restored the hall, dome, and courtyard of this building. ⎙]
  • Shah Safi expanded the courtyard of the shrine. ⎚]
  • In the travel diaries of Sultan Muhammad Mirza (who traveled in the year 1279/1862), it has been written that a fort was built by a person named Muhammad Husayn Sadr Isfahani. Furthermore, in his travel diaries, it is stated that a dome was first built during the Buyids and that it was dismantled during the Safavid era. He further notes that the dome that was into place that year (i.e. 1279/1862) was known to have been built by Shah Abbas I with Shaykh Bahai's designs. ⎛]
  • The golden detail of the dome, entrance, and both minarets was carried out by Nadir Shah Afshar. ⎜]

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In the period of Saddam's government, the library was shut down for eight years and a half from 1983 to 1992 because of the work by Imam Khomeini, Ayatollah al-Hakim, and Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and after the imprisonment of the Hakim family. During the Iran-Iraq war and the Kuwait war, the library was not very active. During the Kuwait War, the library turned into headquarters of the Iraqi army, but the manuscripts were not damaged.

The Library of Ayatollah al-Hakim has over hundred branches in different cities of Iraq and some branches outside Iraq. The branches inside Iraq were founded in order to be centers for the gathering the youth, so that they could be indirectly taught the proper Islamic culture. Today the central library is located near the Shrine of Imam 'Ali (a) at one end of al-Rasul Street, adjacent to Masjid al-Hindi.


Watch the video: Visiting Najaf - The Shrine of Imam Ali as - The Full Documentary (August 2022).