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Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
Published on 8th March, 2003

The Holy Shrine of Imam Ali ('a) in Najaf

By Siddiqua Shahnawaz

Shrine of Imam Ali a.s. in Najaf, Iraq.

Najaf

One of the prominent sacred cities of Iraq, Najaf is the burial ground of Son of the Ka'aba, the Martyr of the Mihrab, Commander of the Faithful, the Door of the Greatest Prophet's Knowledge (may the blessing and peace of Allah be upon him and his pure progeny), the beloved and highly venerated leader, Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him).

Najaf has historically been a source of marjaiyyah and taqlid, a cradle of scientific and literary movements, birthplace of sciences and scientific discoveries, a beacon of piety, poetry and spirituality. Many precious documents of history have existed in the innumerable libraries of Najaf.

Wadi-us-Salaam (the valley of peace)

Those who have visited Najaf will remember vividly that to the North and East of the town there are acres of graves and myriads of domes of various colours and at various stages of disrepair. Whoever goes to Najaf, follows a road that approaches the town by a winding course through this vast cemetery. This is the world's second largest cemetery and several prophets have been buried here. Muslims from all over the world consider it a great privilege to be buried in this holy place.
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Historical Perspective

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Prophet Ibrahim ('a) had come to this place along with Prophet Ishaq ('a). The people were most eager for them to make Najaf their permanent dwelling-place. Ibrahim ('a) agreed to do so on condition that they would sell him the valley behind the village for cultivation. Prophet Ishaq ('a) protested and said that this land was neither fit for farming nor grazing, but Ibrahim ('a) insisted and assured him that a time would come when there would be a tomb there with a shrine, at which seventy thousand people would gain absolutely undisputed entrance to Paradise, and would also be able to intercede for many others. And so as per the prediction of Ibraham ('a), Imam Ali ('a) was buried here. 

Wadi us-Salam - The Valley of Peace This is the valley that Ibrahim ('a) wanted to buy - the Valley of Peace (Wadi-us-Salaam), and it is related on the authority of the fourth Imam, Imam Sajjad ('a) that Imam Ali ('a) once said that: 

"This Valley of Peace is part of Heaven and that there is not a single one of the believers in the world, whether he dies in the East or West, but his soul will come to this Paradise to rest. As there is nothing hidden in this world from my eyes," Maula Ali ('a) went on to say, "I see all the believers seated here in groups and talking with one another."
How Najaf Got its Name

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According to a tradition, there existed a mountain at that place. One of the sons of Prophet Noah ('a) refusing to enter the Ark, said that he would sit on this mountain until he could see till where the water could come. A revelation came therefore to the mountain, "Do you undertake to protect this son of mine from punishment?" And all at once the mountain fell to pieces and the son of Noah drowned. In place of the mountain a large river appeared, but after a few years the river dried up, and the place was called "Nay-Jaff", meaning, "the dried river."

Located around 160 kilometres South of Baghdad, there exist many important historical sites in and around this city. Besides the Shrine of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib ('a), which is the focus of the city, there exist graves of other prophets of Allah - the grave of Prophet Adam ('a) and the grave of Prophet Noah ('a). 

The Mausoleum of Imam Ali ('a)

The Mausoleum itself of Imam Ali ('a) at Najaf, is breathtaking. There is one large central dome which stands out of a square-shaped ornate structure at the two sides of which are two minarets. The predominant colour of' the exterior is gold, bright shining gold and the entire exterior of the mausoleum is inlaid with a mosaic pattern of light powder blue, white marble, gold again with an occasional splash of Middle East rust. So says D. F. Karaka after his visit to Najaf, and adds, "I have sat and wondered at the marbled splendour of our Taj Mahal, the tomb which Shah Jahan built for his Empress Mumtaz Mahal, but despite its beauty, the Taj appears insipid in comparison with this splash of colour at Najaf. The tomb surpassed anything I have seen in gorgeous splendour. All the great kings of the world put together could not have a tomb as magnificent as this, for this is the tribute which kings and peasants have built together to enshrine the mortal remains of the great Ali." 

Imam ('a)'s shrine is located in the centre of the city. The big market of Najaf starting from the eastern boundary, ends at the courtyard of Imam Ali ('a)'s holy shrine. From a far distance once can sight the glorious shrine and its dome appears splendidly luminous when the sun shines on its golden tiles. The splendid golden domed structure used to house great quantities of priceless objects, gifts of potentates and sultans.

Countless numbers of people from all over the world flock to his tomb day after day to pay their respects, to offer salutations and to pray to Allah (swt) seeking the Imam's intercession. 
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A Brief History

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  • After the martyrdom of Imam Ali ('a) in the year 40 A.H./661 A.D., water flowed for the first time in Najaf in the year 250 A.H.

  • In the fourth century of Hijri, the event of Al-Fasiq (the Sinner) Marrat bun Qais, who was one of the Khawarij, occurred when he intended to exhume Imam Ali's tomb. This followed a destruction of Najaf's boundaries and many people fled the city.

  • In year 448 A.H./1056 A.D., Najaf became a centre for religious studies during the period of Al-Buwaihi. This centre was strengthened when Shaikh Abu Jafar At-Tusi migrated to the city after he was oppressed in Baghdad and his books were burnt.

  • Najaf gradually became a centre for seminary students coming from all parts of the word. It has been home to many prominent shi'a Aalims (scholars).

  • The Al-Musha'asha'ee incident occurred in year 508 A.H. He was a ruler of Al-Jazaer (in the southern part of Iraq) and Al-Basrah. He killed many inhabitants of Najaf and captured others. He also destroyed two holy shrines of Najaf and Karbala. The shrines were rebuilt later.

  • In year 1109 A.H. the Al-Furat river overflowed and resulted in sinking of Najaf and its suburbs. Some of the leaders of that time dominated and plundered whatever was left in the city.

  • In years 1216, 1221 and 1225 A.H. Najaf faced different attacks by Wahhabis which culminated in the killings of its residents, and the demolition and plundering of the holy shrine of Imam Ali ('a).

  • The Ottomans and the British have also ruled over Najaf, but their dominance eventually ended and they were overthrown and ousted by the people.

  • Al-Najaf, not unlike other cities in the region, has suffered throughout the ages at the hands of rival armies. The latest pillage came after the 1991 Intifadha (uprising), when Saddam Hussien's troops burned, destroyed and systematically looted Al-Najaf's treasures.

The Immortality of Imam Ali

Although throughout its history, Imam ('a)'s shrine has been time and again looted by despots, its "NADEY ALI" (Call Ali) treasures stolen, shi'as been banned from visiting it and been slaughtered for doing so, little does the world realise that the word 'Ali'  is engraved in the heart of every shi'a. Ali ('a) is absent today from our midst only physically. His soul even to this day is the greatest spiritual resort of everyone who seeks the help of God through his medium. Thousands and thousands of people call out to him in their difficulties, and the word "Ya Ali Madad", naturally comes to them. A famous prayer known as "Nadey Ali" (Call Ali) is recited wherever abound the lovers of Ali. 

Dictators have stolen the material treasures of Imam's mausoleum, but they could not steal the biggest treasures that Imam ('a) has left behind - his knowledge, his wisdom, his devotion, his compassion, his bravery, his piety, and above all, his love that lives on in every shi'a - these immortal treasures always remain.

To this day, shi'as all over the world gather on Thursday nights and recite the Dua-e-Kumail (a supplication), that Imam ('a) had taught one of his ardent followers known as Kumail. Imam ('a)'s words live on in our books and our lives - the Nahjul Balagha - a compilation of his lectures, letters and sayings - still mesmerizes its readers to this day whether the reader is a Muslim or not. Imam ('a)'s life has inspired a great number of non Muslim scholars as well. For example, several of Imam ('a)'s invaluable sayings from the Nahjul Balagha have been beautifully translated and compiled in a book called 'Living and Dying with Grace - the counsels of Hadhrat Ali' by Thomas Cleary. There exist innumerable books written on the life and teachings of Imam Ali.
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Conclusion

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Many gifted poets have also rendered beautifully captivating and compassionate poems on Imam Ali. Some of them  include the renowned Jalaladdin Rumi, Shams Tabrezi, Mir Anees, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Allama Iqbal, Mir Taqi Mir and many more known and unknown stars that still embellish their impression of Imam's love in the hearts of his followers. 

In the words of Mirza Ghalib, a prominent Urdu poet, "Hamaare dard ki Ya Rab kahin dawa na miley, agar na dard ki apne dawa kahein usko" (O Lord, may our grief never find a cure, if we do not call him (Imam Ali 'a) the cure for our grief")

Whether faced with difficulties or death, the shi'as of Ali have always flocked to his shrine from all parts of the world. Those who have not been there personally, request other pilgrims to offer salutations on their behalf, to pray to God for His favours, and to seek Imam Ali's ('a) intercession on the Day of Judgement. The feeling of closeness with Imam ('a) and an irrepressible thirst to visit his mausoleum has always been deeply rooted in his followers' hearts throughout the ages, throughout the world.

END

Author: Siddiqua Shahnawaz
Photographer/Illustrator: Photo and illustration provided by Siddiqua Shahnawaz
Chief Editor: Hj Nurzaynab El-Fatah
Production: Hj S. Abidin
Published Date:
 8th March, 2003
Award Nomination: 2003/04

Modification Date: 11th December, 2008
Publication ID: 03shrineNajaf. Holy Shrine of Imam Ali ('a) in Najaf
Copyright: Victory News Magazine, 2008

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Last Updated Thursday, 11 December 2008