Holy Sanctuaries Part II

Sanctuaries I Sanctuaries II Sanctuaries III
The Ka’ba (Al-Haram Al-Shareef).

The Prophet’s Mosque (Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi).

Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem.

Imam Ali’s shrine in Najaf.

Imam Al-Husain’s shrine in Karbala.

Imam Al-Kadhim’s and Al-Jawaad’s shrine in Kadhimain.

Imam Al-Ridha’s shrine in Mash’had.

Imam Al-Haadi’s and Al-Askari’s shrine in Samur’raa.

Abu Hanifa

Abdul Qaadir Gaylaani

Sources: Based on information from several sites on the internet in particular Al-Islam.org. May Allah bless the writers.


D.F. Karaka says

Young, Gavin writes

Ibrahim Al-Zinjani writesThe Howza

At the Kufa’s Grand Mosque, Imam Ali, (while in a state of Sujood of morning Salat), on the 19th of Ramadhan, was attacked and hit with a poisoned sword. He was hit on the head by an assassin. Imam Ali died of the wound after 3 days on Leilatul Qadr, and he was buried at a spot that remained unknown except by his family. For such was the precaution to care for his grave from any would be adversaries, be it the despicable ruling clan Benu Umayya or the Kharijis. It was about ¾ century later, when Imam Al-Saadiq was in the vicinity and in company of a companion that he stopped at the venerated spot, took a full bath, prayed with tears in his eyes, and read a Du’aa. Then he gave money to his companion, Al-Jammal, and asked him to build a structure around the grave. It was only then that the site of burial of Imam Ali was revealed to the public. Al-Jammal built a modest dome over the grave site. The site was at a few miles from Kufa.

Soon the people started to visit the grave site, and soon many structures and houses were built in the vicinity, thus a town was established. When somebody goes on a visitation to the grave site, they request to offer salutations, and to pray to God —for some particular favor— and to seek Imam Ali’s intercession الشـــفـاعه .

The large town which would soon arise is called Al-Najafالنـــجـف . It is visited nowadays by the hundreds of thousands if not a million or so every year. Here is an account of two Christian visitors:

Young, Gavin writes in his book: IRAQ, Land of Two Rivers published by Collins St. James Place, London, 1980:

“On the road to Najaf, at a distance, a dark line accompanies the almost straight road to the great city where Ali, the Prophet’s son‑in‑law and cousin, lies buried. The line of palms signals a great swath of rich agricultural land astride the Euphrates on the left. To the right, desert: a few black tents, two or three high‑walled khans or caravanserais with no historical importance that I know of.

I made a bee‑line for the office of the Ministry of Religious Endowments (Mudeer al Aw’qaaf مـدير ألأوقـــاف ), a friendly former teacher called Mahmoud Sha’ban. He provided some facts and figures. A million visitors come each year, he reckons, although no official register is kept. The monies and gifts they bring to the mausoleum are divided into fifths: one fifth of the annual income is handed out to the corps of guides of the shrine, two fifths go for repairs and improvements, one fifth to the city’s poor (hand‑outs according to need), and one fifth to the expense of taking care of many visitors throughout the year.

Historians say the tomb of Ali at Najaf was built by [the Buwayhi] Adh’d al Dowlah عـــضـد الدولهin 977AD; and that it burned later and was rebuilt by [the Seljuk] Malik Shah in 1086AD; and rebuilt yet again by [the Safawi] Ismail Shah, in about 1500AD. No doubt numerous other hands have tinkered with it since. The tomb has the same style as those of Karbala, Samur’raa and Kadhimain. It is a rectangular enclosure الصـحن surrounding a two‑storied sanctuary, containing the tomb, with a huge dome over it. Infidels are not admitted.

The facade of Ali’s tomb, seen from the main or northern gateway, is richly beautiful with shimmering gold tiles that have darkened handsomely with age. And through the doorway to the tomb itself you can see the glistening stalactite effect of numerous mirrors and the bright neon lights that are features of all the major shrines of Iraq. Pink, blue and yellow patterns of birds and flowers bedeck the archways into the courtyard which is floored with marble. Heavy wooden and gold doors lead in from the street opposite the covered suq, where you can buy `worry‑beads’ (sib’has), finely worked gold ornaments, or ankle‑length cloaks for winter or summer, some hemmed with gold braid.

At the back of the suq, there are religious schools worth visiting‑ the Madresa, for instance, of Sayyid Mohamed Kadhim Yazdi, a leader, I am told, of the rising against the British occupation forces in 1920. In 1918, a handful of men of Najaf walked into the office of the British Political Officer there, Captain Marshall, and killed him at his desk. Before the British came in 1916, the Turkish administration had to put up with regular outbreaks of revolt from Najaf and Karbala, both hot‑houses of nationalist fervor, and faced a particularly nasty outburst, not surprisingly, when it tried to impose conscription on the male population of Najaf during the First World War.

The Yazdi Madresa has sixty or seventy rooms, immensely deep cellars and brick‑lined wells that plummet down some one hundred feet. Young divines with beards, cropped hair, skullcaps or turbans, sit about, read, or wash their faces, feet and arms before praying. They are pale from studying away from the sun; many of them come from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Arab states, or Iran. They look curiously at visitors.

Deep cellars like those of the Madresa are a special feature of many Najaf houses. These sirdabs are three‑, four‑ or even five‑storied affairs, approached through courtyards of old houses in which you find small doors that open onto narrow stairways plunging into the bowels of the earth. Romantically sinister, you may think, and you are right. They were, indeed, used throughout the somewhat alarming history of Najaf, as places of concealment and as means of flight from political opponents.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing in Najaf is the graveyard. How many Muslims over 14 centuries have been brought here for burial from all parts of the world of Islam? Surely millions. So Najaf is embraced by a vast semi‑circle of graves —by an immense City of the Dead— and still, day after day, people bring their loved ones to be interred here. The cemetery is called al Wadi al Salaam وادي الســــلام , the Vale of Peace (as in Karbala), and you can drive a car through its `streets’, winding through the countless brick and cement tombs, some modest, some the size of small mosque‑shrines. Some are gaily painted pink or green; some display photographs of the dead: turbaned graybeards or bright‑eyed youngsters with proud moustaches and hair in fashionable modes.”

D.F. Karaka says:

“The Mausoleum of Ali at Najaf, is breathtaking. There is one very large central dome which stands out of a square‑shaped ornate sanctuary at the two sides of which are two minarets. The predominant exterior is covered with 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 further adds, “I have sat and wondered at the marbled splendor of our Taj Mahal (the tomb which Shah Jehan built for his Empress Mumtaz Mahal) but despite its beauty, the Taj appears insipid in comparison with this splash of color at Najaf. The tomb surpassed anything I have seen in gorgeous splendor. 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.”

Countless number of people from all over the world flock to his tomb day after day to pay their respects and to offer salutations and to pray to Allah seeking his intercession. And those who cannot afford to go there personally, are constantly praying to Allah to help them to visit the shrine of their Maula Ali, and when somebody goes on a visitation to Najaf, they request to offer salutations on their behalf, and to pray to God —for some particular favor— and to seek Imam Ali’s intercession.

Ibrahim Al-Zinjani writes in his book: “Journey of the Holy Sanctuaries”:

Al-Rasheed built a tomb probably square shaped with 4 doors on the sides and a dome of red brick. This continued until the governor of Dailam (Muhammad Al-Alawi Al-Husaini) built a high dome on top in the year 270H, (883AD). This continued until 365H, (976AD) when the head of state, Udh’d Al-Dowlah, built a large mausoleum lined with ornate carved walnut wood, costing a huge amount of money. Udh’d Al-Dowlah even lived in the area for one year to supervise the extensive building.

In 753H (1352AD) the structure burned. A new structure was built in its place which stands till today. It was built by Jalaa’iri in 767H (1366AD). It was not gilded then. It was later that the massive dome, the 2 minarets, and facade were all gilded with gold through the intensive works by King Nadir Shah in 1155H (1742AD). King Nadir Shah undertook the works at the treasury’s expense. This stands until today.

The Howza:

An outstanding scholar of the Shi’a persuasion was Al-Toosi. In the closing years of al‑Toosi’s life the political situation in Baghdad and the domains of the Abbasi caliphate was in political turbulence and turmoil. The Turkic Saljuqs (who were fiercely anti‑Shi’a), were gaining commanding power in the center of the Islamic Empire at the expense of the Buwayhis. In 447H Tughril‑Beg the leader of the Saljuqs الســـلاجـقه invaded Baghdad. At this time many of the Islamic scholars (U’lamaa العـلمـاء) in Baghdad both Sunni and Shi’a were mercilessly killed due to grave and ominous strife which was perpetrated by other factions of the society.. The house of al‑Toosi was burned down, as were his books and the voluminous works he had written while in Baghdad. In addition, in a fitful vindictiveness important libraries of Shi’a books, (as precious and priceless as they were) were burned, thus lost forever. This was done along with plundering most of the Shi’a houses and burning many of them. The Shi’a houses so burned belonged to the elite society, the cream of the existing culture. The houses belonged to the Shi’a bankers, financiers, administrators of the government body, the engineers, writers, philosophers, religious leaders and thinkers among other professionals. All in all, 30,000 Shi’a were put to the sword!

Seeing the grave danger of remaining in Baghdad any longer, al‑Toosi left it with a heavy heart. He went to al‑Najaf. Al‑Najaf, the city where Imam Ali had been buried, was already a very important city in the hearts of Muslims. However, it was al‑Sheikh al‑Toosi’s arrival which was to give that city the impetus to become the leading center of Shi’a scholarship. In there he established the Howza الحــــوزه , a university-like institute to study Tafseer, Fiqh, Ah’kaam, theological logic, I’lm al-Rijaal, besides many other branches of science. The Howza has boasted as many as 15,000 students at various times, the scholars graduating served all over the Ummah. This role has been maintained down to the present day, Howza now is 950 yrs old.



Martyrdom and PopularityMerits of visiting Imam Al-Husain

Mausoleum of Imam Al-Husain (a.s.)

Further ExpansionChronology of Imam Al-Husain’s Shrine at Karbala

Unlike any other city, Karbalaكـربـــلا (in Iraq) has its name engraved in the memory of numerous generations through the expanse of the Muslim world.

Believers remember Karbala with grief and anguish, for they remember the history of the supreme leader of all martyrs, Imam Husain and his unique sacrifice for and on behalf of Islam.

The wave of visitors never stopped coming to Karbala despite impossible hardships and difficulties imposed on them, from the time of Benu Umayya to the Abbasi Khalifas, who periodically prevented the construction of the shrines.

Upon reaching Karbala, the holy place would draw the visitor’s attention to its glorious gold plated minarets and domes, the gold so glittering and shining reflects the magnificent illumination.

Upon reaching the sanctuary, one finds himself in front of a boundary wall that surrounds massive wooden gates covered with glass decorations, and when one passes through one of those gates, he enters an immense precinct surrounded on the periphery by rows of rooms each called “Eewan” إيـوان

The structure of the grave complex is located in the middle of the precinct, surrounded by large square shaped structures called “Rawaaq” رواق . From there you pass through another massive decorated door to enter the structure with the high dome on top. Inside the dome is lined with brilliant mirrors reflecting a dazzling reflections of light in a cleverly designed and befitting engineering.

The enclosure of the grave is located in the middle of this grave-site. It has golden windows around, with sparkling illumination. It really is something to behold.

Martyrdom and Popularity

Karbala was at first an uninhabited place and did not witness any construction activity, despite the fact it was rich in water and its soil was fertile. In Karbala the family of the Prophet (pbuh) with a handful of supporters who were under the leadership of Imam Husain, were brutally butchered in a most gruesome way (72 total, including a baby). It was done in the most heinous manner imaginable. This was done by a force of 5,000 (Some say 30,000) mean Muslims to fight the 72 outstanding of Husain’s camp. Forces of Yazid denied access of water to Husain’s camp for 3 days, thus Husain’s camp was thirsty, with parched tongues, and they were dehydrated when they met the cruel enemy, for so heartless was the enemy. Even the tents of Husain’s camp were set on fire during the battle.

On the surface, therefore, Karbala was a frightful tragedy, but its substance and consequences were that of glory. Karbala was the cruelest tragedy humanity had ever seen, but for those with superficial minds will consider the tragedy mainly as a tragedy in its physical sense. But when one looks deep into it, Karbala is a glorious event, a very glorious one, and it was the greatest Islamic triumph the world had ever had! To understand it well, a person has to look deeply in the books of history. The tragedy took place on the 10th of Muharram 61H, and after being slain, the bodies of Imam Husain, his 5 brothers, nephews, 8 Sahaaba, and 20 of Ali’s companions were decapitated, and their bodies were trampled upon by the horses on purpose! The rest (mainly women) of the Prophet’s family were taken captives!

Following the tenth of Muharram 61H (680AD), i.e. after the massacre of the group, people from far away as well as tribes living nearby started visiting the holy grave regularly, for Allah and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) loved Al-Husain and highly appreciated his sacrifice for the sake of keeping the integrity of Islam.

A lot of those who came to visit stayed behind and/or asked their relatives to bury them there after their demise. And despite many attempts by successive rulers, such as Khalifa Al‑Rasheed and Al‑Mutawak’kil, to put restrictions and painful hurdles on the development of this area, the area has nonetheless spread with time to become a city. These rulers were frightened; they were afraid and very insecure about the potential of uprisings of their suppressed people. After all, the rulers (Khalifas) knew they were ruling by manner of repressing and subduing the devotees of Ahlul Bayt (the family of the Prophet (pbuh).

Merits of visiting Imam Al-Husain

It is quite meritorious to visit the grave of Imam Al-Husain.  His grandfather, Prophet Muhammad, had said about him: “Al‑Husain is of me and I am of him“, and “Al-Husain is the overlord of the youth in Heavens”, and “The one who loves Al‑Hasan and Al-Husain will also have loved me, and he who is against them, is against me.”(Sunan Ibn Maajeh, Hadith 143)

Several narrations mention that visiting the grave of Imam Al-Husain  is highly meritorious in the sight of the Almighty.  Believers, therefore, come from all parts of the world all year round to earn the honor of visiting Imam Al-Husain  and praying by it, particularly during the first ten days of Muharram (Ashuraa) and the twentieth of Safar (the fortieth day of the martyrdom).

Mausoleum of Imam Al-Husain (a.s.)   

The historian Ibn Kuluwayh mentioned that those who buried Imam Al-Husain  made a special and rigid construction with signs above the grave.

Higher and bigger constructions above the grave started during the ruling of Khalifa Al‑Saffahالســـفاح  , but Khalifa Haroon al‑Rasheed  الرشـــيد  later on put heavy restrictions to prevent people from visiting the grave.

At the time of Al‑Ma’Moon المأمـــون  construction around the grave resumed. In the year of 236 AH, however, Khalifa Al‑Mutawak’kil   المــــتـوكل(scared of the Shi’a) ordered the destruction of the structure and digging of the grave, and then filling the pit with water. Al‑Mutawak’kil was killed by his own son within a year, and the son succeeded him as Khalifa and decreed to allow people to visit the grave site once again.  Since then building the precinct to the grave increased steadily, developing step by step.

However, the historian Ibn Al‑Atheer, stated that in the year 371 AH, Udh’d Al‑Dowlah Al‑Buwayhi  عـضـد الـدوله  (Head of State) 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 Karbala with a high boundary wall turning it into a fortified city.

In the year 407 AH, the precinct caught fire due to the dropping of two large candles on the wooden teak decorations, but Hasan ibn Fadhl (the state minister) rebuilt the damaged sections.

Further Expansion:   

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 Fateh Ali al‑Qajari, who in 1250H ordered the construction of two domes; one dome over Imam Al‑Husain’s grave and the other over Al-Abbas (a.s.), who was the standard‑bearer of Al-Husain’s group during the frightful events of Karbala.

The first dome is 90 feet high and completely covered with gold. At the bottom, it is surrounded with 12 windows, each of which is about 5 feet away from the other from the inside, and 5½ feet from the outside.

The mausoleum has a surface area of 175 feet by 225 feet, with ten gates.  There are 65 rooms (Eewans), well decorated from the inside and outside, used as classrooms for studying Islam, Shari’ah and Fiqh.

As for the sanctuary itself which is in the middle of the precinct, it is called the “Rowdha”   ألروضــــه or revered garden and it has several doors. The most famous is called “Al‑Qibla” or “Bab al‑Dhahab” meaning the Golden Door. When it is entered, one can see the tomb of Habib ibn Mudhaahir to the right side.  Habib was a close friend and companion of Imam Al‑Husain since their childhood, and was honored with martyrdom at the Battle of Karbala among others.

Karbala contains, besides the grave of Imam Al-Husain and his brother, the grave of all the 72 martyrs of the battle of Karbala. 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 Imam Al-Husain’s grave. In particular, besides Imam Al-Husain’s grave, are the graves of his two sons Ali Akbar and the 6‑month old Ali Asghar who was killed by an arrow because Al-Husain was pleading to the enemy on his behalf to give him water.

Chronology of Imam Al-Husain’s Shrine at Karbala   

Date Hijri & AD The Events
61H, 10-1-680: Imam Al-Husain (a.s.) was buried at this sacred spot.
65H, 8-18-684: Al-Mukhtar built a simple enclosure around the grave with a small dome. There were two entrances to the structure.
132H, 8-12-749: A roof was built over a part of this mosque and two entrances were added by al‑Saffah.
140H, 3-31-763: The roof was demolished during the reign of Khalifa al‑Mansoor.
158H, 11-11-774: The roof was reconstructed during the reign of Khalifa al-Mahdi.
171H, 6-22-787: During the reign of al‑Rasheed the dome and the roof were demolished and the tree which stood near the grave was cut down.
193H, 10-25-808: During the reign of Khalifa al-Amin the building was reconstructed.
236H, 7-15-850: The malicious al-Mutawak’kil demolished the buildings and ordered the land to be ploughed.
247H, 3-17-861: al-Mun’tasir built a roof over the grave and set up an iron pillar near it, to serve as a landmark for the visitors.
280H, 3-3-893: The Alawi representative built a dome at the center, with two roofs, on either side and an enclosure with two entrances.
371H, 8-19-977: Udh’d al-Dawla rebuilt the dome with surrounding galleries and constructed an enclosure of teak wood around the sepulcher. He also constructed houses all round the shrine and erected the boundary wall of the city. At the same time Imran ibn Shahin built a mosque adjacent to the tomb.
407H, 6-10-1016: The buildings were damaged by fire and the Wazir, al-Fadi rebuilt them.
620H, 2-4-1223: Nasir Deen-ul-Llaah reconstructed the enclosure of the sepulcher.
757H, 9-18-1365: Sultan Owais Jalaa’iri remodeled the dome and raised the walls of the enclosure.
780H, 2-24-1384: Ahmad ibn Owais erected two minarets covered with gold and extended the courtyard.
920H,2-26-1514: When Shah Ismail Safawi visited the shrine he built a sarcophagus of the inlaid work over the grave.
1032H, 5-11-1622: Shah Abbas Safawi constructed the dharih (structure) of brass and bronze and decorated the dome with Kashi tiles.
1048H, 5-15-1638: Sultan Murad IV, when he visited the holy shrine, whitewashed the dome.
1155H, 3-8-1742: Nadir Shah visited the shrine and decorated the building and offered valuable presents to its treasury.
1211H, 7-7-1796: Shah Muhammad Qajar covered the dome of the shrine with gold.
1216H, 5-14-1801: Hordes of Wahhabis from Arabia attacked Karbala, spoiled the Dharih (structure) and portico and looted the shrine. In the meantime they slew 30,000 frightened inhabitants of Karbala.
1232H, 11-21-1817: Fateh Ali Shah Qajar repaired the Dharih and plated them with silver. He also plated the center of the main portico with gold and repaired the damage done by the Wahhabi thieves.
1283H, 5-16-1866: Nasiruddin Shah Qajar extended the courtyard of the shrine.
1358H, 2-21-1939: Taher Saif-ul Deen, of Bohra community offered a set of enclosures of solid silver which are fixed in the shrine.
1360H, 1-29-1941: Taher Saif-ul Deen, of Bohra community rebuilt the western minaret.
1367H, 12-20-1948: Al-Khalsi, Administrator of Karbala acquired the houses in the neighborhood of the courtyard according to the price fixed by the government, to build a road around the mausoleum and to extend the courtyard.


History and Highlights

The Mongol Terror

After the Mongol: The horror of Timur Leng


History and Highlights

The Mongol Terror

After the Mongol: The horror of Timur Leng

Anyone approaching Baghdad (Iraq) from north or west will be stirred and excited by the sight of the four golden minarets at Kadhimain, the shrine of Imam al‑Kadhim and Imam al‑Jawaad. They are respectively the 7th and the 9th of the Twelve Imams, at whose tombs people implore their intercession with Allah on their behalf, for the forgiveness of our sins and the fulfillment of their needs.

Preceded by structures gutted by fire, the present shrine dates back 500 years ago and has been kept in excellent repair. The edifice represents the restoration of Shah Ismail I (1502‑1524), though when the Turkish sultan, Suleiman the Great, captured Baghdad and remained there for four months in 941H (1534AD), he visited this sacred place, and is said to have contributed to the further ornamentation of the Shrine. The tiles for the massive double Domes, however, were provided in 1211H (1796AD) by Shah Muhammad Khan, who was the first of the Persian Qajar dynasty. In 1287H (1870AD), Nasr al‑Deen Shah had these golden tiles repaired on one of the domes and on the minarets. It is interesting that the dates of all these alterations are clearly indicated by inscriptions.

Upon reaching the sanctuary, one finds himself in front of a boundary wall that surrounds massive wooden gates, then he enters an immense precinct (courtyard called Sahan صـحـن ) surrounded on the periphery by rows of rooms each called “Eewan” إيــوان In this courtyard there exists the burial place of Al-Shareef Al-Radhi, ألشــريف ألـرضي compiler of Nahjul Balaaghah, along with that of Sheikh Mufeedشـيخ مـفــــيد , their graves are surrounded by a silver plated ironwork.

Just as in Karbala shrine, the structure of the grave complex is located in the middle of the precinct, surrounded by large square shaped structures called “Rawaaq”. From there you pass through another massive decorated door to enter the structure with the two high domes on top. Inside, the domes are lined with geometrically arranged mirrors reflecting a dazzle of light in cleverly designed and befitting patterns. In addition it boasts 4 gold plated large minarets along with another four petite minarets. All are covered with gold.

The enclosure of the grave is located in the middle of this grave-site. It has golden windows around, with sparkling illumination. It really is something to behold.

History and Highlights:

The Imams lived in the early days of Baghdad. There were cemeteries to the north‑west that went by various names —that at the Syrian Gate, that of the Abbasi Gate, or that of the Straw Gate.[1] The two Imams were buried immediately to the west of this latter cemetery, but by the time Ya’qoobi wrote, the whole northern district was designated in a general way as the cemetery of the Quraish.

A building of some sort was recognized at an early date as marking the tomb of Imam Al‑Kadhim and that it was surrounded by a wall.

After the Abbasi Khilaafah had tumbled under the authority of the officers of their armies, )the Turkic mercenaries and soldiers of fortune(, there evolved a rising of the Buwayhis in Persia. In 335H (946AD) the Buwayhi ruler, Mu’izz al-Dawla, set up al‑Muq’tadir as the nominal Khalifa while he exercised the actual authority himself. Ibn Atheer has related that “the Buwayhis, though Zaidi in orientation, were devotees of Ahlul Bayt. They were firmly convinced that Benu Umayya and the Abbasi were usurpers of a throne that rightfully belonged to others.”[2] While retaining for themselves the authority and privilege of the government of the provinces, the Buwayhis saw to the following:

  • They proclaimed the first ten days of the month of Muharram as a period of public mourning for Imam Al-Husain,
  • They frequently enriched the sanctuary at Kadhimain with their gifts,
  • The Khalifa Tai’ is reported to have led the Friday Prayers in the Kadhimain mosque,[3] and it was during this period that the four Shi’a great works of the Tradition (Hadith, etc.) were compiled. For instance:

Kulaini, who died in Baghdad in 328H (939AD), compiled Al-Kaafi (the Compendium of the Science of Religion)

Al-Siddooq came to Baghdad in 355H (966AD), devoting himself to teaching and writing. He wrote `Every Man His Own Lawyer’ (Mun Laa Yah’dharhu Al-Faqeeh).

Al‑Toosi also came to teach in Baghdad, where he wrote the remaining two of the four great books of Traditions that lie at the basis of Shi’a theology and jurisprudence, `The Purifying of the Rules (Tah’dheeb al‑Ah’kaam) and the `Insight into Differences in Traditions’ (Al‑Istibsaar).

During these times friction between the Shi’as and the Sunnis (mainly Hanbali) were not infrequent in Baghdad. In one of these disturbances in 443H (1051AD) the Sunni leader was killed in a fight that had ensued when the Shi’as ventured to put an inscription complimentary of Ali above one of the city gates. The Sunnis were aroused so much after their leader’s funeral that they went as a mob attacking the hallowed Shrine of al-Kadhimain, plundering the tombs, and carrying off the gold and silver lamps and the precious curtains which adorned these sanctuaries. The rioters continued their ruthless works next day by setting fire to the buildings. Thus the great teak‑wood domes standing so majestically above the shrines of the Imams Al-Kadhim and Al-Jawaad were burned to the ground.[4] The fact that the domes were at first of teak‑wood has something to do doubtless with the number of times they were burned. Beside the burning of the structure, houses of the Shi’a doctors, bankers, administrators, engineers (which were in the wealthy Karkh side of Baghdad) were plundered by the mob then put to the torch. About 30,000 Shi’a were brutally slain in the process. These Shi’as were the brains and the cream of the society, the very educated. Schools were not spared either. The malicious attackers were bent on more destruction, now they went after the precious irreplaceable Shi’a Islamic libraries putting them to utter destruction, burning so many irreplaceable books (just imagine, no less than 80,000 volumes, written in Arabic, Persian, Greek, Hindi, and Chinese languages were lost!).

It was shortly after the burning of the Shrine in 443H (1051AD) that the Seljuk Sultans displaced the Buwayhis rule as military autocrats in Persia, and “Protectors” of the Khalifa in Baghdad. The Seljuks learned what they knew of Islam in the distinctively Sunni atmosphere of Bukhara. Nevertheless, when they came to Baghdad, no injury was done to the Shrine at Kadhimain. And when Sultan Malik Shah visited it in 479H (1086AD), the shrine had apparently been repaired from the damages of the fire of thirty‑five years earlier.[5]

About 100 years later the enormous domes of the shrine had again been destroyed by fire, we find that its repair was regarded as of such a great importance as to be the one and only enterprise that the short lived Khalifa Zahir had been able to undertake! And Ibn Tiktaka who mentions the domes’ repair in his Kitab al‑Fakhri,[6] is known to have succeeded his father as supervisor of the sacred towns of the Shi’as in the vicinity of Baghdad, so that it is possible that the minority community, while by no means at liberty, may have enjoyed certain prescribed and restricted rights. Their headquarters however, were no longer in Baghdad but in Hilla, and greater importance was given to Najaf and Karbala as places of visitation.

The Mongol Terror

When the Mongols came with their overwhelming force in 656H (1258AD), they wrought almost complete devastation in and around Baghdad. However, the holy cities of the Shi’as were spared except that of Kadhimain which suffered devastation. It may have been during the subsequent siege of the fortress on the eastern side of the Tigris that the deputation of Shi’as from Hilla arrived and arranged with Hulagu Khan هـولاكـو خان for the special protection of Najaf and Karbala. However that may be, we know that the city of Baghdad was utterly ruined by the Mongols, and that the tombs of Kadhimain were burned. “Nearly all the inhabitants, to the number, according to Rasheed ad‑Din, of 800,000 (Maqrizi says 2,000,000) perished; and thus passed away one of the noblest cities that had ever graced the East —the Cynosure of the Muslim world, where the luxury, wealth and culture of five centuries had been concentrated… The booty captured, we are told, was so great that Georgians and Tartars succumbed under the load of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, rich stuffs, gold and silver vessels, etc., while as to the precious vases and porcelain from China, and those made in the country of iron and copper, they were deemed of lesser value, and were broken and thrown away! The soldiers were so rich that the saddles of their horses and mules and their most ordinary utensils were inlaid with precious stones, pearls and gold. Some of them broke off their swords at the hilt and filled up the scabbards with gold, while others emptied the body of a Baghdadi, refilled it with gold, precious stones and pearls, and carried it off from the city.[7]

The death of the last of the Abbasi Caliphs, Musta’sim ألمـسـتــــعـصـم has been so celebrated in literature that what actually happened is obscure. There are numerous accounts of how Hulagu Khan was disgusted when he saw that in his avarice the Khalifa had gathered gold which he had been unwilling to spend either in defense of the city or to effect favorable terms of capitulation. Marco Polo relates the story that when Hulagu Khan entered Baghdad he found to his astonishment a town that was filled with gold and silver, and in his indignation he gave orders that the avaricious Khalifa should be “shut up in this same town, without sustenance; and there, in the midst of his wealth, he soon finished a miserable existence.” [8]

But the life of Caliph’s Wazir was spared and he retained his post as Wazir, the reward doubtless of his dubious loyalty. Various prominent Persians, as distinguished from Arabs or Turks were appointed to important positions in the new administration of affairs, and among the first buildings to be rebuilt was the Shrine of the two Imams, at Kadhimain[9].

After the fall of the last of the Abbasi Caliph, Baghdad was never rebuilt on its former scale of grandeur. The Il‑Khans, who were the descendants of Hulagu, held the city for 82 years, not as a capital, however, but merely as the chief town of the province of Iraq. It was near the close of their period of authority that the traveler Mustawfi visited Baghdad 740H (1339AD), and at that time he mentioned seeing the Shrines of al‑Kadhim and al-Jawaad. He observed that Kadhimain was a suburb by itself, about six thousand paces in circumference.[10]

After the Mongol: The horror of Timur Leng تـيـــــمـور

About that time the Mongol tribe of Jula’ir wrested the power from the Il‑Khans, and their chief, Sheikh Hasan Buzurg, made his residence in Baghdad in 741H (1340AD), as the town best suited for his tribal headquarters.

Fifty odd years later, in connection with his widespread conquests, Timur conquered Baghdad and spent three months in Baghdad. It happened to be in the summer that he besieged and captured the city.

The horrors of Timur Leng’s taking the city of Baghdad are described in graphic detail. So thoroughly had all avenue of escape been closed that when the wind accelerated the fire, flames filled the air, there were many people who threw themselves into the water, to escape the fire or sword. Individual soldiers in bands and of the troops had been each commissioned to each get a head, but some who were not content with one head, they got all they could and tied the heads to their belts! It is mentioned, however, that some of the men of learning and rank were granted Timur’s protection and shared his bounty, but the general carnage was hideous. When the inhabitants had been thus almost annihilated, their habitations were dealt with. Only the mosques, the schools, and the dormitories were spared. Accordingly, we read that Timur left Baghdad on account of “vile odor of the carcasses of the dead.” [11]

Nevertheless, when Timur took his departure, we are told that he ordered that the city should be rebuilt. The shrine at Kadhimain, however, was not restored. After the death of Timur, there was a brief reoccupation of Baghdad by savage tribes, the Jula’irs, who were displaced by the “Black Sheep” ألـخـروف ألأسـود Turkomans, who held the city from 814-874H (1411‑1469AD). They in turn were driven out by their rivals, the “White Sheep” ألـخـروف ألأبـيـض Turkomans. It was therefore after a long period of neglect, when the city had been held by successive generations of semi-savage tribes, that Shah Ismail I, of the Safawi dynasty captured Baghdad in 914H (1508AD), and it was in 925H (1519AD) that he completed the rebuilding of the Shrine at Kadhimain much as it stands today.

We are told that frequently several thousand visitors attend the Shrine in one day, sometimes up to 40,000. If viewed from a point of vantage, this Shrine with its twin domes of gleaming gold is one of the most beautiful sights in Baghdad; and if studied in its historical associations throughout the last eleven hundred years, it affords a thrilling resume of the changing fortunes of the far‑famed city of Arabian Nights.


[1] (See Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat, VII, ii, pp. 68, I. 18; 99, I. 21; & 80, I. II.)

[2] (See Ibn al‑Atheer, Kamil, viii, p. 177.)

[3] (See Le Strange, Baghdad during the Abbasi Caliphate, p. 162.)

[4] (See Le Strange, Op. cit., p. 164.)

[5] (See Le Strange, Op. cit., p. 163.)

[6] (See Ibn Tiktaka, Kitab al‑ Fakhri, p. 163.)

[7] (See Howarth, History of the Mongols, iii, pp. 126, 127.)

[8] (See Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian, ch. viii.)

[9] (See Howarth, Op. cit. pp. 127‑131.)

[10] (Mustawfi, Nuzhatu’l‑Quloob, English translation, Gibb Mem. series, vol. XXIII, ii, p. 42.)

[11] (Zafar Nameh, by Sharifu’ddin Ali Yazdi, edt. Calcutta 1887‑8, vol. II pp. 363‑369.)