The gold-plated shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf

Najaf also known as the city of wisdom remained one of the most attractive and favorite place 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-DaylamiShah 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 Hananah Mosque

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.

The annual Arbaeen Walk

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.

The pearl of Najaf

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. DureNajaf 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.

7 thoughts on “Najaf: The city of Wisdom

  1. It is very hard for someone to express the travel experiences. The content is more indulging as you have visited the places, you have felt the essence, you have conceted the creed. Bless ya lad bless ya.

    Liked by 2 people

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