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Imam Husayn Shrine

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Imām Husayn Shrine
Kerbela Hussein Moschee.jpg

Shrine of Husayn ibn ‘Alī, grandson of Muhammad

Basic information
Location Iraq Karbalā, Iraq
Geographic coordinates 32°36′59″N 44°01′56″E / 32.6163654°N 44.0323126°E / 32.6163654; 44.0323126Coordinates: 32°36′59″N 44°01′56″E / 32.6163654°N 44.0323126°E / 32.6163654; 44.0323126
Affiliation Shia Islam
Architectural description
Architectural type Mosque

The Shrine of Husayn ibn ‘Alī (Arabic: مقام الامام الحسين‎) is a holy site of Shī‘ah Islām in the city of Karbalā, Iraq. It stands on the site of the grave of Husayn ibn ‘Alī, the second grandson of Muhammad, near the place where he was killed during the Battle of Karbalā in 680 C.E.[1][2]. The tomb of Husayn ibn ‘Alī is one of the holiest places for Shī‘as outside of Makkah and Madīnah, and many make pilgrimages to the site. Every year, millions of pilgrims visit the city to observe ‘Āshūrā, which marks the anniversary of Husayn ibn ‘Alī's death.[3]

The Sunni Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs prevented construction of the shrines and discouraged pilgrimage to the sites.[4] The tomb and its annexes were destroyed by Abbasid caliph Al-Mutawakkil in 850-851 and Shi'a pilgrimage was prohibited, but shrines in Karbala and Najaf were built by the Buwayhid emir 'Adud al-Daula in in 979-80.[5]

Two main roads lead the visitor to Karbala. One is from the Iraqi capital Baghdad, through Al-Musails, and the other is from Najaf. At the city's entrance there is a row of houses decorated with wooden columns.

The boundary wall of the shrine surrounds wooden gates covered with glass decorations. The gates open into a courtyard separated into smaller rooms or precincts with many "Iwans" along the walls. The grave of Husayn is enclosed within a cage-like structure, found directly beneath the golden dome.

Short History of Karbala

Karbala, a city in Iraq is located about 100 km southwest of Baghdad at 32.61°N, 44.08°E. It was at first a desolate place and did not witness any noteworthy activity, although it was rich in water and its soil was fertile. When Imam Husain arrived at Karbala and was surrounded by the forces of Ubaidullah bin Ziyad, he inquired about the name of the place. Someone replied it is Aqr - meaning ‘harsh’. Imam Husain then said: we seek refuge with Allah from Al Aqr. He once again asked the name of the village. Then one of the attendants replied, its name is Karbala. Imam Husain spontaneously declared: land of Karb and Bal’a meaning (land of) “torture and trial”. In the time of Imam Husain, the place was also known as al Ghadiriyah, Nainawa, and Shat ul Furat. Imam Husain bought a piece of land, after his arrival at Karbala from Bani Asad. He and his Ahl al Bait are buried in that portion, known by as Hair, where the Shrines are presently located. The history of destruction and reconstruction of the Shrines of Karbala is long. Both the Shrines were greatly extended by successive Muslim rulers, but suffered repeated destruction from attacking armies. Karbala's development was strongly influenced by the Persians.

History has recorded the names of several rulers who shared the honor of extending, decorating and keeping the Shrines and its precincts in good condition. Among them is Fateh Ali Qajar, who in 1250 (A.H) ordered the construction of two Shrines, one over Imam Husain’s grave and the other over the grave of his brother, Syedi Abul Fazal al Abbas. The first dome is 27 meters high and completely covered with gold. At the bottom, it is surrounded with 12 windows, each of which is about 1.25 m away from the other, from the inside, and 1.30 m from the outside. The Shrine has an area of 59 m / 75 m with ten gates, and about 65 rooms, well decorated from the inside and outside, and used as class rooms for studying. As for the grave itself, which is in the middle of the precinct, it is called the Rawzah or garden and it has several doors. The most famous one is called al Qiblah or Bab al Zah’ab.

Karbala: origin and meaning


Inside Imām Husayn Mosque (before the renovations in 2008)


Imām Husayn Mosque (before the renovations in 2008)


Entry gate to the grave of Husayn within the mosque.

Karbala, Iraq

Shi'a and Sunni Muslims make their way to the Imam Husayn Shrine in 2008.

A series of articles on

Husayn callig
Imam of Islam

Family tree · Battle of Karbala

Maqtal Al-Husayn · Mourning of Muharram · Day of Ashura · Arba'een · Imam Husayn Shrine · Hussainia · Majlis-e-Aza · Marsia · Noha · Soaz · Ta'zieh · Tabuik · Hosay

The Twelve Imams · The Fourteen Infallibles

There are many opinions among different investigators, as to the origin of the word "Karbala". Some have pointed out that "Karbala" has a connection to the "Karbalato" language, while others attempt to derive the meaning of word "Karbala" by analysing its spelling and language. They conclude that it originates from the Arabic word "Kar Babel" which was a group of ancient Babylonian villages that included Nainawa, Al-Ghadiriyya, Karbella (Karb Illu. as in Arba Illu [Arbil]), Al-Nawaweess, and Al-Heer. This last name is today known as Al-Hair and is where Hussain ibn Ali’s grave is located.

The investigator Yaqut al-Hamawy had pointed out that the meaning of "Karbala" could have several explanations, one of which is that the place where Hussain ibn Ali was martyred is made of soft earth - "Al-Karbalat".

According to Shī‘ah belief, the true meaning of the name Karbalā was narrated to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel as being, "the land which will cause many agonies (karb) and afflictions (balā)."[6]

Buried within the Mosque

The grave of Husayn is found in the middle of the precinct, and is called the "Rawda" or "Garden" and it has several entry gates. The most famous one is called "Al-Qibla" or "Bāb al-Dhahab". When it is entered, one can see the tomb of Habīb ibn Madhāhir al-Asadī, to the right hand side. Habīb was a friend and companion of Husayn since their childhood and was honored with martyrdom at the Battle of Karbalā.

Within the shrine of Husayn can also be found a grave of all the 72 martyrs of Karbalā. They were buried in a mass grave which was then covered with soil to the ground level. This mass grave is at the foot of Husayn's grave. As well, beside Husayn's grave are the graves of his two sons: ‘Alī al-Akbar and the 6-month old, ‘Alī al-Asghar. Also buried within the mosque is Ibrāhīm (son of the seventh Twelver Shī‘ah Imām, Mūsā al-Kādhim), who spent his life preaching about Karbalā.

Martyrdom and popularity

Karbalā was at first an uninhabited place and did not witness any constructional activity, although it was rich in water and its soil fertile.

From the time of Husayn ibn ‘Alī's death in 680, pilgrimages to commemorate the massacre have often been repressed.[4]

Despite many attempts by successive rulers, such as Al-Rashīd and Al-Mutawakkil, to put a restriction on the development of this area, it has nonetheless spread with time to become a city.

Early development & specifications

The historian Ibn Kuluwayh mentioned that those who buried Husayn ibn ‘Alī, made a special and rigid construction with signs above the grave.

Higher and bigger constructions above the grave started during the ruling of al-Saffah, but heavy restrictions were put in place to prevent people from visiting the grave during the rule of Hārūn al-Rashīd.

At the time of al-Mā'mūn, construction around the grave resumed until the year 850, when al-Mutawakkil ordered the destruction and digging of the grave, and then filling the pit with water. His son who succeeded him al-Muntasir, allowed people to visit the grave site, and since then building the precinct to the grave increased and developed step by step.

On the other hand, the historian Ibn al-Athir, stated that in the year 371 AH, ‘Adhud ad-Dawlah became the first to largely lay the foundations for large scale construction, and generously decorated the place. He also built houses and markets around the precinct, and surrounded Karbalā with a high boundary wall turning it into a strong castle.

In the year 407 AH, the precinct caught fire due to the dropping of two large candles on the wooden decorations. The state minister at the time, Hasan ibn Fadl, rebuilt the damaged sections.

History has recorded the names of several rulers who shared the honor of widening, decorating or keeping the precinct in good condition. Amongst them is Fat'h ‘Alī Shāh Qājār, who in 1250 AH ordered the construction of two domes, one over Husayn ibn ‘Alī's grave and the other over his brother ‘Abbās ibn ‘Alī.

The first dome is 27 meters high and completely covered with gold. At the bottom, it is surrounded with 12 windows, each of which is about 1.25 m away from the other, from the inside, and 1.30 m from the outside.

The mausoleum has an area of 59 m / 75 m with ten gates, and about 65 rooms, well decorated from the inside and outside, used as classrooms for studying.


Year Event
61 680 October 10: Husayn is said to have been buried on this day. It was Bani Asad who, after the departure of Ahl al Bait, assembled at the grave of Imam Husayn. Historical accounts provide little light on the first builder of the Shrine. It is assumed that Bani Asad also the first, who erected a tent upon the grave of Imam Husayn. A Shaikh of Bani Asad lighted a candle at the grave of the Imam and planted a berry tree a few feet away from the side of the head of the grave, to indicate the grave of Husayn.
65 684 A mosque was built by Mukhtar ibn Abu `Ubayd ath-Thaqafi on the spot and a dome was created over the grave. Over the dome he fixed a green flag. Two entrance gates were made for the mosque. He also settled several families around the enclosure.
132 749 Another dome was erected over the mosque and additional two gates for entrance were made at the mausoleum during the reign of Abbasid Caliph as-Saffah.
140 763 During the reign of Caliph al-Mansur, the roof along with the domes were destroyed.
158 774 The demolished roof was rebuilt during the reign of Caliph al-Mahdi.
171 787 During the reign of Caliph Harun ar-Rashid, the mausoleum was destroyed and the Berry tree that stood besides the grave of Husayn was cut down. Even then people kept visiting the grave of Imam Husayn, guided by the traces of the ‘Tree of the Berry’, which covered the grave. Harun al-Rashid could not tolerate this, and ordered the tree to be totally cut off from the roots, with the intention to wipe out the sign of the grave of Husayn and stop the practice of visiting the grave.
193 808 The mausoleum was reconstructed during the reign of Caliph al-Amin.
236 850 Caliph al-Mutawakkil destroyed the mausoleum and ordered the nearby land, including the grave, to be ploughed.
247 861 Caliph al-Muntasir reconstructed the shrine with an iron pillar build a roof over the grave. Under instruction of Al Muntasir, new houses were built around the Shrines.
273 886 Once again the mausoleum was destroyed.
280 893 The shrine was rebuilt by the Alid council and two minarets were constructed on either side of the grave. Two entrance gates for the shrine were also constructed.
307 977 A sepulcher was constructed within the shrine using teak wood, by the Buwayhid emir ‘Adhud ad-Dawlah. Surrounding galleries were also constructed. He also constructed the city of Karbala by making houses and the city boundary. ‘Imrān ibn Shahin at that time also constructed a mosque adjacent to the shrine.
407 1016 Fire destroyed the shrine. The vizier Hasan ibn Fadl rebuilt the structure.
620 1223 The sepulcher was renovated by an-Nasir li-Din Allah.
757 1365 The dome and walls of the shrine were reconstructed by Sultan `Uways ibn Hasan Jalayiri. He also raised the walls of the enclosure.
780 1384 The two minarets were reconstructed of gold by Sultan Ahmad ibn `Uways. The courtyard was also extended.
920 1514 The Safavid shah of Iran Ismail I, constructed a sarcophagus of inlaid glass work over the real grave.
1032 1622 Abbas Shah Safavi renovated the sarcophagus with brass and bronze and also the dome with Kashi tiles.
1048 1638 Sultan Murad IV whitewashed the dome.
1155 1742 Nadir Shah Afshar decorated the shrine and offered expensive gems to the treasury of the shrine.
1211 1796 Aghā Muhammad Shāh Qājār plastered the dome with pure gold. He also decorated the Min’ar and gold plated it.
1216 1801 Wahhabis attacked Karbala, damaged the shrine, and looted the sepulchre.
1232 1817 Fat'h ‘Alī Shāh Qājār reconstructed the screens by plating with silver. He also replated the dome with gold and therefore repaired the damage caused by the Wahhabis.
1283 1866 Nāsir ad-Dīn Shāh Qājār broadened the courtyard of the mausoleum.
1358 1939 Dr. Syedna Taher Saifuddin, of the Dawoodi Bohra community presented a set of solid silver screens with gold which were attached to the shrine. This set is made of 500 gold coins (each coin consisted 12 grams weight) and 200 thousand coins of silver, beautified with precious gems.
1360 1941 The western minaret was rebuilt by Dr. Syedna Taher Saifuddin. He spent a huge amount generously for the purpose of gold plating all the Min’ar. From top to bottom, pure gold was installed.
1367 1948 A road was built around the shrine by the then administrator of Karbala City, Sayyid Abd al-Rasul al-Khalsi. He also broadened the courtyard of the shrine.
1411 1991 Damage to the shrine occurs as the city experiences a violent uprising against the regime of Saddam Hussein following the Persian Gulf War.
1415 1994 Repairs to the shrine from the damage done in 1991 are finally completed.[7]
1425 2004 March 2: At least 6 explosions[8] occurred during the ‘Āshūrā' commemorations, killing 85 people and wounding 230.[9][10]
1425 2004 December 15: A bomb detonated near the gate of the shrine, killing at least 7 people and injuring 31 others.[11][12]
1426 2006 January 5: Suicide bombers among the crowd between the two shrines, killed at least 60 people and injured more than 100.[13][14]
1428 2007 April 14: A suicide attack 200m from the shrine killed at least 36 people and injured more than 160 others.[15][16]
1429 2008 March 17: A female suicide bomber detonated herself in the market near the shrine, killing at least 42 people and injured 58 others.[17][18]
1429 2008 September 11: A bomb was detonated 800m from the shrine, killing one woman and injuring 12 others.[19]

See also


  1. Shimoni & Levine, 1974, p. 160.
  2. Aghaie, 2004, pp. 10-11.
  3. Interactive Maps: Sunni & Shia: The Worlds of Islam, PBS, accessed 9 June, 2007.
  4. 4.0 4.1 al Musawi, 2006, p. 51.
  5. Litvak, 1998, p. 16.
  6. al-Qummi, Ja'far ibn Qūlawayh (2008). Kāmil al-Ziyārāt. trans. Sayyid Mohsen al-Husaini al-Mīlāni. Press. p. 545. 
  7. Paul Lewis (August 13, 1994). "Karbala Journal; Who Hit the Mosques? Not Us, Baghdad Says". New York Times. Retrieved 15 November 2008. 
  8. "In pictures: Karbala blasts". BBC News. Tuesday, 2 March, 2004, 11:08 GMT. Retrieved 15 November 2008. 
  9. "Iraq Shias massacred on holy day". BBC News. Tuesday, 2 March, 2004, 16:39 GMT. Retrieved 15 November 2008. 
  10. "Deadly attacks rock Baghdad, Karbala". Tuesday, March 2, 2004 Posted: 2:41 PM EST (1941 GMT). Retrieved 15 November 2008. 
  11. "Bomb at Shiite shrine kills seven on first day of Iraq's election campaign". USA Today. Retrieved 27 April 2009. 
  12. "Bomb at Shiite shrine kills seven in violence, wounds 31 on first day of Iraq's election campaign". Retrieved 27 April 2009. 
  13. "Iraq suicide bomb blasts kill 120". BBC News. Thursday, 5 January 2006, 20:51 GMT. Retrieved 15 November 2008. 
  14. "Up to 130 Killed in Iraq, Drawing a Shiite Warning". The New York Times. January 6, 2006. Retrieved 15 November 2008. 
  15. "Iraq suicide bomb blasts kill 120". BBC News. Saturday, 14 April 2007, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK. Retrieved 16 November 2008. 
  16. "Dozens slain as car bomb hits Iraqi bus station". msnbc. 8:53 p.m. ET, Sat., April. 14, 2007. Retrieved 16 November 2008. 
  17. "Dozens killed near Iraqi shrine". BBC News. Monday, 17 March 2008, 18:16 GMT. Retrieved 16 November 2008. 
  18. "Death toll from Karbala suicide bombing rises to 35". xinhuanet. 2008-03-18. Retrieved 16 November 2008. 
  19. Jomana Karadsheh (Thu September 11, 2008). "3 killed in Iraq shrine bombings". Retrieved 15 November 2008. 


  • Aghaie, Kamran Scot (2004). The Martyrs of Karbala: Shi'i Symbols and Rituals in Modern Iran. University of Washington Press. ISBN 0295984481
  • Litvak, Meir (1998). Shi'i Scholars of Nineteenth-Century Iraq: The Ulama of Najaf and Karbala. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521892961
  • al Musawi, Muhsin (2006). Reading Iraq: Culture and Power and Conflict. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 1845110706
  • Shimoni, Yaacov & Levine, Evyatar (1974). Political Dictionary of the Middle East in the 20th Century. Quadrangle/New York Times Book Co.

External links

ar:الروضة الحسينيةmk:Светилиште Имам Хусеинsv:Husayn ibn Alis helgedom

ur:روضۂ امام حسين

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