Holy Sanctuaries Part III

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 Qadir Gaylani

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


Historical perspectives

Dharih (Imam al-Ridha’s Tomb)

Museum of Astaane Quds

Museum of the Quran

Installation of the Splendid New Dharih

The “Sandouq”

The magnificent structures of the sanctuary of Imam al-Ridha (a.s.), comprise one of the oldest and most beautiful religious monuments in the world. The grand complex of the shrine is round in structure. It includes 6 courtyards (Sahan), 21 porches (Rawaaq), the Gowhar Shad Mosque, Radhawi University of Islamic Sciences, Islamic Research Foundation, Museums, the Central Library Complex, Offices, Hospital, Inn and the buildings for performing ablutions. The present surface area of the shrine is 267,079 sq. meters (26,709,000 sq ft).

Historical perspectives

Ibn Quh’tubah, إبـن قحـــطـبـه the Abbasi army commander, was appointed by the Abbasi Khalifa as the Governor of Khurasan of Iran. He erected a palace with beautiful gardens which stood for 200 years, up to the beginning of the 4th century AH.

Khalifa Haroon Al-Rasheed, هـارون ألرشــــيـد who had come to the area to suppress the Khurasan rebellion, became ill and resided in the garden during his ailment, then he died in 193AH. He was buried inside Ibn Quh’tubah’s palace. Upon his tomb a shrine was built.

Ten years later, in 203AH, Imam al‑Ridha (a.s.) died and was buried alongside al-Rasheed. A few years before that, Al‑Ridha was made Khalifa Deputy (like Vice President nowadays) of the Islamic Ummah by the Khalifa Ma’Moon ألـمأمـون (the son of al-Rasheed).

The sanctuary was ravaged by Saboktakin, a Ghaznawi king. But his son, Sultan Mahmoud, ordered the shrine to be repaired and expanded in 428 AH.

During the invasion of the wild Genghis Khan the shrine was ruined again. Sultan Mohamed Khuda‑Banda, a convert king to Shi’ism and of the Mongol dynasty, who reigned from 703 to 716AH, had the holy sanctuary rebuilt. Since the time of Safawi, Afshars and Qajars up to the present time many of the various buildings have been expanded.

Dharih (Imam al-Ridha’s Tomb) ألـضــــريـح : 

The tomb is located beneath the Golden Dome. The Golden Dome ألـقـــبه ألـذهبـيه is the most prominent symbol of the city of Mash’had مـشـهد with an altitude of 31.20 meters (about 97 ft). It is surrounded by different porches (Rawaaq) each bearing a separate name. The skilled artists have done their best in the creation of this place. It is square in shape and some 135 sq. meters (405) have been added to its area after extension works. The walls are covered by marble up to 8 inches and the next three feet are covered by exquisite tiles known as Sultan Sanjari tiles. Quranic verses and Hadiths have been carved on these tiles.

The magnificent dome is one of the biggest and most magnificent specimens of Islamic architecture in the world.

The golden dome consists of two coverings, which includes a ceiling under the dome. The ceiling above the Dharih is made of stalactite stucco work decorated with a variety of colored glasses and is considered the finest mirror works in the world. Its height is 18.80 meters (58 ft). The outside surface of the dome is completely covered with gold sheets and its height from the ground to the top is 31.20 meters (97 ft), the circumference being 42.10 meters (130 ft).

In 932AH/1525AD, Shah Tahmasb I, removed the glazed tiles from the dome and replaced them with gold plated bricks. During the Uzbek occupation of Mash’had, Abdul Mu’min Khan attacked the hallowed shrine and stole all the gold from the dome, however, in the period 1010‑1016AH/1601‑1617AD, Shah Abbas I, once again covered the dome with gold plated bricks.

Arthur Pope (book editor of Timurid Architecture) considers the domed chamber of Allahvardi Khan as probably “the most perfect component of the shrine”. Lying to the east of the tomb, he writes, this octagonal chamber is articulated in two stories with bays, arches and galleries, effecting a modeled interior in deep relief. All surfaces are covered in the finest of Safawi tile mosaic, including the muqarnas‑filled dome. The assemblage of courts and buildings encircling the inner chambers includes the Mosque of Gowhar Shad, the Madresa, the Sahan Inqelab among others.

Museum of Astaane Quds

The Astaane Quds Museum is one of the richest and most exquisite museums of Iran. Some of its objects date back to the 6th century AH. It boasts collections of carpets, rugs and golden covers for the Tomb, all unique and date back to the 11-13th centuries. Some inscriptions written by Ali Ridha Abbasi are among the valuable objects. Among the unique works of art in the museum is the Imam’s first tombstone with inscription carved in Kufi relief script belonging to 516AH.

Besides, there are samples of relief tile work known as Sanjari glazed tile belonging to the 6th century AH. and a big stone water pool made of a single piece of Blackstone decorated with the most beautiful arabesques.

Museum of the Quran

The museum of the Quran is located in the vicinity of the Astaane Quds museum. It contains precious manuscripts of the Glorious Quran attributed to the Imams and some gilded manuscripts. It was opened in 1364 AH. The oldest manuscript attributed to the Imams is in Kufi script on deer skin belonging to the First Century AH.

Installation of the Splendid New Dharih

On March 6, 2001 coinciding with 10th Dhul Hijjah, 1421AH, and the auspicious occasion of Eid al‑Adha, the new and magnificent Dharih on the grave-site of Imam al-Ridha was opened for the Ziyarat (Visitations). The grave of Imam Ridha (a.s.) is covered by an eye catching epitaph, around which the Dharih or silver‑grill is placed. According to the historians the first Dharih on the grave was built around 500AH.

The construction of this artistic marvel was started in 1993 and after eight years of unrelenting effort the new Dharih was made ready by the end of the year 2000.

The structure of the present Dharih (silver grill) is made up of iron and wood and is covered with thick plates of silver and gold and its total weight is 12 tons. The Dharih has a total of fourteen arched structures. Above the arched structures the Quranic chapters of Surah Yassin and Surah al‑Dahr are inscribed in Thulth script.

The exterior of the Dharih is also studded with the beautiful names of Allah Almighty and these were inlaid in gold and silver by the famous craftsman Khudadad Zadeh Isfahani. The vaulted arches and the floral patterns engraved on the Dharih are in close conformity with the rest of the symbols and structures present in the various buildings of the sanctuary.

The grave of Imam al-Ridha is located under the dazzling dome. The mirror works in the burial chamber under the dome is one of the finest in the world.

From the beginning of the Safawi dynasty in the early sixteenth century AD till now, four Dhareehs (silver grill) have been placed around the hallowed grave of Imam al-Ridha (a.s.). On the walls around the Dharih 104 valuable antique pieces (which were gifted to the sanctuary) are preserved and exhibited in eight cases.

The “Sandouq”

After Imam al-Ridha was laid to rest in 203AH, a wooden Sandouq (case) was placed over his grave. About 300 years later, during the rule of Sultan Sanjar, a Sandouq made of silver replaced the old one. The famous north African traveler Ibn Batuta, who passed through the city of Mash’had in 734AH/1333AD, has written in his travel account about a wooden case plated with silver and covering the revered grave. With the coming to power of the Safawis the second king of the dynasty, Shah Tahmasb I, coated the Sandouq (the case) with gold; and during the reign of Shah Abbas I, it received another gold coating and inscriptions by the famous calligraphy expert Ali Ridha Abbasi.

In 1143AH, Nadir Shah applied another coat of gold which, however was later removed by his grandsons Nadir Mirza and Nusratullah Mirza, who melted it to make the “Naderi Coins”.

In 1932AD the wooden Sandouq was removed and transferred to the museum and in its place a new Sandouq, made of 11 slabs of exquisite marble, was installed over the grave. The marble, which is from the Shandiz quarry near Mash’had is green in color with a yellowish hue.



The Turkic Mercenaries The Modern Samur’raa’

The Magnificent Shrine as it stood for a long time, before February 22, 2006

After the infamous bombing of the terrorist in Iraq on February 22, 2006

Being under construction, circa 2009

The modern city of Samur’raa is situated on the bank of the River Tigris some sixty miles north of Baghdad. The city is of outstanding importance because of its two shrines. The golden dome on one shrine was presented by Nasr al‑Din Shah and completed under Mudhaffar al‑Din Shah in the year 1905AD. Beneath the golden dome are four graves, those of Imam Ali al-Haadi (10th Imam) and his son, Imam Hasan al‑Askari (11th Imam). The other two are of Hakimah Khatoon, the sister of Imam Ali al-Haadi who has related at length the circumstances of the birth of Imam al‑Mahdi, and the fourth grave is of Nargis Khatoon, the mother of Imam al‑Mahdi.

The second shrine marks the place where Imam al‑Mahdi ألمـــهـدي went into occultation ألغـــــيـبـه . It has a dome that is distinguished for the soft delicate design that is worked in blue tiles, and beneath it is the Sirdaab ألـســـردآب (cellar) where the Imam was last seen before the Occultation. Visitors may enter this Sirdaab by a flight of stairs.

In the year 836AD, after two years of marked factional strife in Baghdad, the Khalifa Mu’tasim ألمـعـــــتـصـم departed with his Turkic army to Samur’raa ســـآمـرآء , the town he founded and made it his residence and military camp.”[1] Over there, eight Khalifas lived in the short period of fifty‑six years that followed.[2]

The distance of Samur’raa from Baghdad is sixty miles. This name, Surra man ra’a (He who sees it, rejoices), is said to have been given by Mu’tasim himself, when, for a large sum of money, he purchased (for his new city’s site) a garden that had been developed by a Christian monastery. The Khalifa’s happy Arabic pun was based on the Aramaic name, Samur’raa, which was a town in the immediate vicinity from the times before the Arab conquest. The general district, however, was known as Tirhan.[3] Thus the site chosen was an attractive garden spot in a fertile valley of the Tigris, and there the Khalifa built his new capital, which became known as “the second capital of the Khalifas of Benu Abbas.” A main avenue, with many residences, ran along the river bank. In the garden of the monastery the Khalifa built his royal palace, known as the Darul Amma, and the monastery itself became his treasury department.

A Friday Mosque of an immense size, was built by Mu’tasim very close to the quarter of the city that was set aside for the army.

Mustawfi informs us further that “he built a Minaret for the Mosque, imposing in its height, uniquely engineered, with a gangway to ascend it, that went up on the outside, and no Minaret after this fashion was ever built by anyone before his time.”[4] The Minaret was so large that a man on horseback is said to be able to ascend its so‑called gangway. The same thing is claimed for the similar minaret in the Mosque of Tulun, which may have been modeled after it.[5]

The Turkic Mercenaries: 

The Turkic mercenaries, on whom Khalifa Mu’tasim and his sons and grandsons relied, soon became the true masters of the Muslim Empire. While they cherished their position as guardians of the Khalifas, whom they permitted to live in luxury and security, nevertheless they so ruthlessly exploited their own opportunities —for self serving gains— through intrigue, cruelty and oppression, that in matters of internal administration the authority of the Muslim Empire sank to very low ebb. This was at a time, however, according to Dinawari, when there were more victories, for the troops than during any preceding Khilaafah.[6]

In Samur’raa the Khalifas busied themselves building palace after palace, on both sides of the river, and at a cost that Yakut estimated as 204 million Dinars, a huge sum of money.[7] According to Kazvini, the Khalifa Mutawak’kil ألمـــتـوكـل in 247AH (861AD) caused a great cypress tree to be felled, and then transported across Persia, in places carried on camels, to be used for beams in his new palace at Samur’raa. But when the cypress arrived on the banks of the Tigris, Mutawak’kil was dead, having been murdered by his own son.[8] Mustawfi who wrote in the fourteenth century, takes pain to mention with sympathy how the Khalifa Mutawak’kil enlarged Samur’raa, and in particular, how “he built a magnificent Kiosk ألمـقـصوره , greater than anything known, and gave it the title of the Ja’fariyyah (since his first name was Ja’far). But evil fortune afflicted him when he, a) laid to ruins the tomb of Imam Husain, at Karbala, and b) furthermore he prevented people from making their visitation to the shrine he destroyed.” For shortly after these horrendous events Al-Mutawak’kil (while being drunk) was killed by his own son. The Kiosk was then demolished, and no trace of it now exists.. Indeed, of Samur’raa itself at the present time only a restricted portion is inhabited.”[9]

The restricted portion that was still occupied in the fourteenth century was approximately the same as the modern Samur’raa, and was part of the “Camp of Mu’tasim.” In this camp, the Imams, Ali al-Haadi and his son, al-Hasan al‑Askari were detained and eventually poisoned; hence they were called the Askariyan, or the “Dwellers in the Camp.” It was here also that both of them were buried.

The Modern Samur’raa 

The modern Samur’raa is only a short distance from the walls of the mammoth Friday Mosque, which agrees with Mustawfi’s observation that “in front of the mosque stands the tomb of the Imam Ali al-Haadi, grandson of the Imam Ali al‑Ridha; and also of his son, the Imam Hasan al‑Askari.” That the city of the Khalifas was much more extensive is indicated by the modern observation that “the ground plan of the many barracks, palaces and gardens can be very plainly seen by anyone flying over the site in an airplane.”[10] The historical topography of the ephemeral capital of the Khalifas as outlined by the Arab geographers, Ya’qubi and Yaqut, has been investigated recently by archaeologists, so that the location of the principal streets and of the many of the palaces has been determined. Also the findings have proved to be of special value to students of Muslim art, for they are representatives of the period when the civilization of the Abbasi Khilaafah was “shedding its luster over the world.”[11]

It was in this part of Samur’raa that Imam Muhammad ibn Hasan al‑Askari disappeared from human sight. Mustawfi says this happened in 264AH (878AD) at Samur’raa.[12] The fact that the Shi’a community was permitted to have its headquarters after the fall of the Buwayhi rule in the city of Hilla, from which place they conducted their negotiations at the time of the invasion of Hulagu Khan, gave rise to the tradition that the Imam in Occultation would reappear in that town. This accounts for the confusion of the traveler, Ibn Batuta (1355AD), who found shrines dedicated to the last Imam, both in Hilla and Samur’raa. The mosque of the last Imam in Hilla marks the place of his expected reappearance, but the place of his disappearance is at Samur’raa. At Hilla, Ibn Batuta found that the mosque had an extended veil of silk stretched across its entrance, and it was a practice for the people “to come daily, armed to the number of a hundred, to the door of this mosque, bringing with them a beast saddled and bridled. `Come forth, Master of the Age, for tyranny and debasedness now abound; this then is the time for thy egress, that, by thy means, God may divide between truth and falsehood.’ They wait till night and then return to their homes.” Samur’raa itself was at that time in ruins, though Ibn Batuta mentions that “there had been a Mash’had in it, dedicated to the last Imam by the Shi’a.” It may have been owing to the fact that the place was in ruins that pains were not taken to ascertain that the Mash’had was the “place of witness” in memory of the Imams, Ali al-Haadi and Hasan al‑Askari, and that a different spot nearby was highly regarded as the place where the last Imam disappeared.[13]



Two years after Imam Al-Saadiq had died in Medina, his student Abu Hanifa ألنـعـــمان بن ثـابـت died in Baghdad at the age of 70. That was in 150H. Abu Hanifa was buried in al-Khaizaran Cemetery, the place where the mother of Khalifa Mahdi son of Al-Mansoor was buried. This place was well known during the Abbasi era. The district around the cemetery became known al-A’dhamiya.

There is no record of structural developments of the burial site in the early period. For several centuries it may have had simple structure. Gradually over a period of time houses were built in the neighborhood, businesses were established and a town came to be. The town is called A’dhamiya. It has continued and prospered till today.

It wasn’t until during the crusade times and by way of the Sultan Alb Arsalan (Seljuk) ألـب أرســــلان , that great renovations were undertaken to the building of Abu Hanifa’s tomb. This was undertaken by Sharaf al-Mulk al-Khawarizmi ألخـوارزمـي in 1067AD/459AH whereby a dome and an edifice were built. This was followed by several renovations over time. About 6 centuries later, however the present dome was built in 1638AD/1048AH. Two centuries after that a Mosque was built (in 1871AD/1288AH). The mosque was then renovated again in 1903/1321AH. However the mosque’s exterior cloister was not added until 1948AD/1367AH.

The mosque was doubled in surface area and much improved architecture added by order of Hasan Al-Bakr (then the President of the Republic of Iraq). Later, in 1986 and by order of the infamous Saddam Hussein, the Mosque’s outer brick fence was renewed, with elaborate calligraphy of the 99 Distinguished Names of Allah added to it. Added to that, the main entrance door underwent additional geometrical ornamentation, and the floor of the mosque was renewed with white marble. The works was finished in 1987.[14]

One of the landmarks of Imam al-A’dham Mosque is the big clock which was built by the Abdul Razzaq Mahsoub.

Today after great expansions which the Mosque and the tomb have seen, they have become one of the prestigious places of worship in Iraq and it is visited annually by thousands of visitors from all over the Islamic world.



History shows that al-Gaylani shrine was originally a religious school expanded from its original by Sheikh Abdul Qadir al-Gaylani عـبـدالقـــادر الكـــيلاني Al-Gaylani lineage goes back to Imam Al-Hasan, son of Imam Ali, and his lineage goes back by 10 generations both from his father’s side and his mother’s side.[15]

Al-Gaylani was born in Gaylan district south of the Caspian Sea in 1077 AD (470 AH), therefore his mother tongue was Persian. During his youthful years Al-Gaylani studied at the hands of well-known scholars in his area. As a young man (age 18 years) he left Gaylaan area for Baghdad which was the very center of learning in those days. In Baghdad Al-Gaylani was received warmly by the city’s poor and wealthy alike. He studied in the religious school at the hands of Al-Makhrami المــخـرمـي , and became a renowned person in several religious sciences. He wrote many books, well-known among them is (Al-Fat’h Al-Rabbani) الفـــتح الـربـاني . Later he became the chief teacher of this school where he taught and gave sermons. He was warmly supported by the Khalifa and the government authorities of the time mainly because he tolerated their legitimacy in power. This attitude was new to any member of Ahlul Bayt for they always opposed the rule of injustice. Because of his tolerance and support to the Khalifa and his rule, (for this was a critical point) Al- Gaylani was intensely promoted by the reigning powers, and his school became popular.

Al- Gaylani was a pious man who practiced self-denial, and he was admired for his dedication to his works and the mystical version of his thought. Disciples and students gathered around him and he established al-Qadiriya way of thinking, which is one of the Sufi methods that gradually spread and became popular.

Al-Gaylani died in 1166AD/561AH at the ripe age of 91; and was buried during the night at the school’s cloister. The school’s doors were not opened until daylight when people rushed to pray on him. The school then developed into a mosque over a period of time, and the mosque became well-known in Baghdad, visited by a multitude of devotees till the present day

The mosque of Al-Gaylani is not far from the Khillani mosque. In Khillani mosque is buried Muhammad ibn Uthman Al-Amri, who was the second in sequence of the four deputies of Imam Al-Mahdi, the 12th Imam of the Shi’a. Muhammad ibn Uthman Al-Amri was the deputy (ambassador) to Imam Al-Mahdi for 40 years (265H-305H), and his piety was such that he dug his own grave, and used to stay in it at night reading the Quran and doing Du’aas!!

The tomb and the Mosque of Sheik al-Gaylani witnessed various construction phases. The most important of which took place in 1534AD/941AH when a large dome was constructed over the indoor praying section of the mosque. It was built of bricks and gypsum, and up to this date it exists. The clock of the Qadiriya Shrine was built in 1898AD/1316AH and its tower is similar to that of al-Qushla Clock in Baghdad.[16]


[1] Dinawari, Akhbar at‑Tiwal, et. Guirgass, p. 396.

[2] Ya’qubi (A.D. 891), Kitab al‑Buldan, cd. de Goeje, p. 255, & Mustawfi, Nuzhatu’l‑Qulab, Eng. trans. Le Strange, p. 40.

[3] Ya’qubi, op. cit., p. 255; and Le Strange, Lands of the Eastern Khalifaate, pp. 53‑54.

[4] Mustawfi, op. cit., p. 49.

[5] Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edit., Vol. II, p. 424.

[6] Dinawari, op., cit, 396.

[7] Le Strange, op., cit., p. 55.

[8] Ibid., p. 355.

[9] Mustawfi, op. Cit., p. 49.

[10]Historical Mesopotamia, A Guide Book published by Baghdad Times, Baghdad, 1922, p. 51.

[11] Ency. Islam, art. “Samur’raa”, with references to the investigations of E. Herzfeld.

[12] Mustawfi, op. cit., p. 47

[13] Ibn Batuta, cd. Paris, ii, p. 98; ibid., ‑ trans. Lee, ch. VIII, p. 48; De Herbelot, Ann. Mosl., tom. iii, p. 716 and the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, art. “Mahdi”, vol. III, p. 338.

[14] Mara’qid Baghdad, by Yunus Samarra’i, page 6-7

[15] Mara’qid Baghdad, by Yunus Samarra’i, page 24-25.

[16] Mara’qid Baghdad, by Yunus Samarra’i, page 24-25.