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Najaf is certainly one of the most important and representative cities for the Shiite world, so much so that Ali ibn Abi Talib, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, would be buried here, a figure of absolute and total value for this creed.
The words of Ibn Battuta
“The city, located in a large rocky district, is one of the most beautiful, most populous and best built in all of Iraq and has magnificent, well-cleaned markets. […] Finally, after crossing the internal Bab al Hadra, we saw the tomb that is said to be of Ali, in front of which there are madrasas, zawiya and convents built very well, with walls covered with qashani tiles, similar to our zillij but with brighter colors and more beautiful decorations. “
Najaf, where Ali is buried
Even if its immense cemetery, the Wadi as-Salam, is even older than Islam, so much so that it has the largest Christian burial site in all of Iraq, the origins of this city are absolutely and completely traceable to Ali ibn Abi Talib, an absolute figure for the Shiite world and of great importance for the Sunni one. According to tradition, in fact, once murdered in Kufa , the body of the 4th caliph was loaded onto a camel, whose resting place would have represented the burial place for the Prophet’s son-in-law; this solution was found to prevent his body from being desecrated, also given the difficult period that the Shiite world was going through at that time. Over time, this place became a pilgrimage destination, so much so that it attracted an increasing number of faithful and allowed the construction of what would later become the Imam Ali Mosque. Also according to tradition, the first dome was erected by Harun al Rashid, but the future mosque will be expanded over and over again over the centuries, with many generous Sunnis and Shiites who will take care to make it more and more beautiful, large and rich.
The city will then pass to the Buyide domain, the first to carry out a real enlargement and restoration work, then to the Seljuk one, the Timurid one and finally to the Ottomans, who arrived here in the 16th century.
Ottomans and the Contemporary Era
Under the Sublime, Porta Najaf and Kufa will probably experience their worst moment, second only to the events unleashed by the First Fitna, with Najaf specifically going from having 3000 inhabitants to 30 in just a few decades. This happened because the new rulers altered the course of the Euphrates to strengthen the city of al Hilla, which however weakened the other two cities more than ever and this both from a water and defensive point of view, so much so that it often became prey to Arab nomads. It will only be in 1803 that this problem will be solved, providing the Shiites of the region with the strength and pride to be able to spread their faith in a widespread manner; it is no coincidence that in 2021 59% of Iraqis declared themselves Shiites. In 1915, following an anti-Ottoman revolt, the city briefly passed under the control of 4 local sheikhs, falling into British hands in 1917; after just a year, however, the locals realized that the goal of the “perfidious Albion” was not so much to “liberate Iraq”, but to occupy it. This will lead to new riots and riots, only resolved with the Siege of Najaf in 1918, at the end of which all those who had opposed London will be killed.
It will be precisely following this clash that many famous figures of the Shiite world will leave Iraq to go to Qom, giving the latter even more fame and authority in this religious universe. Relations between the Iraqi Ba’ath and the Shiite clergy were hellish, so much so that Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, Iraqi Grand Ayatollah and founder of the Islamic Da’wa party, was captured in 1985 together with his sister and, after 4 days of torture, it seems was killed by Saddam Hussein himself. On March 6, 2021, Pope Francis went here to visit Ali al Sistani, the current Grand Ayatollah of Iraq.
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