This article is featured on October 17, 2016. For other featured articles click here.
Good article since September 13, 2016
Priority: a, Quality: b


From WikiShia
Jump to: navigation, search
The two shrines of Imam al-Husayn (a) and Abu l-Fadl al-'Abbas are two main features of Karbala

Karbalā (Arabic: كربلاء) is a city in Iraq and among holy and important lands to Shi'a. The importance of this city is mostly due to the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) and his companions in the Battle of 'Ashura 61/680 and also existence of the two holy shrines of Imam al-Husayn (a) and Abu l-Fadl al-'Abbas (a) there. Shi'as come to this city form around the world on different occasions. The peak of such attendance is the mourning days of Muharram and Safar, especially in the ceremony of Arba'in when many groups come to Karbala on foot. Moreover, in the middle of Sha'ban, many Shi'as go to Karbala on foot. There is a seminary in Karbala which has long been the education and teaching center for many scholars. Karbala has always been important to friends and enemies of the Ahl al-Bayt (a). This city has been both developed and plundered during the past centuries.

Geographical Location

City of Karbala is the capital of the province of Karbala. This province is neighbor with the province of al-Anbar in the north, the province of Najaf in the south, the province of Babel in the east and neighbor with the deserts of Syria and Saudi Arabia in the west. City of Karbala is located on south west of Euphrates river on an alluvial flat which is known as Sawad. This city is 105 km south west of Baghdad.



There are different opinions about the meaning of this word:

  • Some believe that the word Karbala is derived from "کربلة" meaning "weakness of steps".[1]
  • Karbala is derived from the word "کربل" and "کربال" means to sieve and clean. Thus, Karbala is called so since it was a land without grits, gravels, trees or brushes as if a farmer has shoveled and prepared it for planting.[2]
  • Karbala is made of the two Assyrian words of Karb and Iyla meaning the sanctity of God and the house of gods.[3]
  • That its origin has been Persian and derived from the two words "Kar" and "Bala", meaning "divine work" and "valuable", or "place of prayer" and "prayer".[4]
  • It has been originally "Kawar Babil" meaning "villages of Babylon".[5]
  • Imam al-Husayn (a), his father Ali (a), and his grandfather the Holy Prophet (s) interpreted the word "Karbala" as "Karb wa l-bala'" ["distress" and "hardship"] meaning "hardship", and "trials".[6]
Oldest poem in which the word Karbala is mentioned is composed by Mu'an b. Aws who has lived his early life in the Age of Ignorance.[7]


Main article: al-Ha'ir al-Husayni

Ha'ir is literally a subject noun, refers to a place where water is gathered and does not go out. In most fiqh[8] and hadith[9] references, Karbala is defined as such and fiqh scholars discuss certain issues related to Ha'ir, its rulings and its limits according to this definition.


This name has a Christian Syriac origin and refers to the cemetery of Christians located at the north west of Karbala. Today, this cemetery is called Husayniyyah and it is located near Sulaymaniyah lake, in a neighborhood called Baraz 'Ali.[10] Imam al-Husayn (a) has mentioned this name.[11]


Main article: Al-Taff

Literally means seashore and because Imam al-Husayn (a) was martyred at Euphrates river bank, it was called Taff.[12]


Main article: Al-Ghadiriyya

The area was also called Ghadiriyya (Arabic: غاضريّة, Ghaḍirīyya) since a clan called Banu Ghadir from Banu Asad tribe were living there.[13]


Main article: Naynawa


Literally refers to the split and distance between two places. Upon entering this area, Imam al-Husayn (a) asked about the name of this land and one of the names mentioned was 'Aqar and Imam al-Husayn (a) said, "I seek refuge before God from 'Aqar."[14]

Historical Background

Although after the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) on the day of 'Ashura', Karbala became a ziyarah destination for Shi'a, but it became an urban area many years later.

About Karbala before Islam, there is not much information, however according to derivation of the word Karbala from Kawar Babil (meaning "villages of Babylon") it can be concluded that habitation of this place dates back to the time of Babylon; moreover, since this land is also called Nawawis and it has been a cemetery for Christians, it can be concluded that this land has been a resident of Christians.

After the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) in the Battle of Karbala, it bacame a ziyarah destination for the the people affectionate to Ahl al-Bayt (a), and some inhabited there; however in 236/850, al-Mutawakkil al-'Abbasi ordered to destroy the grave of Imam (a) and its surrounding houses.[15]

In 247/861, after death of his father, al-Muntasir al-'Abbasi rebuilt the shrines of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) and afterwards many people resided in Karbala.

Apparently, the first Alawi who resided in Karbala together with his family was al-Sayyid Ibrahim al-Mujab, the son of Muhammad 'Abid, son of Imam al-Kazim (a).

During the years after caliphate of al-Mutawakkil, Karbala was sometimes developed and sometimes plundered by enemies.

  • In 280/893, by the order of Muhammad b. Zayd, the ruler of Gorgan, a dome and a bulwark were built for the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a). Also, some houses were built for pilgrims and visitors,
  • In 366/977, immigration of Shi'a was increased after the journey of the Buyid Amir 'Izz al-Dawla to Karbala,
  • In 369/979, Dabat b. Muhammad al-Asadi, ruler of 'Ayn al-Tamr attacked Karbala and plundered the property of the shrine and killed people,
  • In 372/982, the Buyid Amir 'Adud al-Dawla ordered to build the first bulwark of the city, houses and shops, the building of 'Adudiyya and the mosque Ra's al-Husayn (a),[16]
  • In 407/1016-7 until 412/1021-2, the second bulwark of the city was built and Iron gates were installed at four corners of the city by the order of al-Hasan b. al-Fadl al-Ramhurmuzi,[17]
  • In 489/1096, the people of Khafaja attacked Karbala[18] and they were suppressed by the army sent by Sayf al-Dawla, ruler of Aleppo,
  • In 795/1393, Tamerlane attacked Karbala and ceased the city,
  • In 858/1454, 'Ali al-Musha'sha'i, the self-called ruler of Basra attacked Karbala, plundered Imam al-Husayn's (a) shrine, killed some people and captured some others,
  • In 914/1508-9, the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a) was rebuilt by the order of Shah Isma'il Safawi,[19]
  • In 953/1546-7, Iraq was conquered by Ottoman Turks, the shrines of Imam al-Husayn (a) and Abu l-Fadl al-'Abbas (a) were rebuilt, The Sulaymani canal was built by the order of the Ottoman Sultan Sulayman Qanuni,
  • In 1013/1604-5, the tribe Al Mahna attacked Karbala by the leadership of the Shaykh of the tribe, Nasir b. Mahna,
  • In 1041/1631-2, Karbala was conquered by Shah Abbas Safawi and it was adjoined to Iran,
  • In 1047/1637-8, Karbala was reconquered by Ottoman Turks,
  • In 1216/1802, Wahhabis attacked Karbala by the leadership of Sa'ud b. 'Abd al-'Aziz. They killed many people, destructed the dome of the holy shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a) and plundered all the property, gold, silver, and weapons in the shrine, and also they attacked the shrine of al-'Abbas b. 'Ali (a).
  • In 1216/1802, some parts of the ruins were reconstructed by the order of one of the kings of India,
  • In 1217/1802-3, A third bulwark was built for Karbala by the efforts of al-Sayyid 'Ali al-Tabataba'i (the author of Riyad al-salikin) and six gates were installed for the city,
  • In 1241/1825-6, Ottoman forces attacked Karbala and plundered the city,
  • In 1258/1842-3, Muhammad Najib Pasha attacked Karbala,
  • In 1285/1868-9, the bulwark of the city was reconstructed and the Abbasiyyah neighborhood was built,
  • In 1332/1913-4, new buildings were built in the city.
  • In 1338/1919-20, the revolution of Iraq began by the fatwa of al-Shaykh Muhammad Taqi al-Ha'iri al-Shirazi about prohibition of appointment of a non-Muslim for ruling Iraq,
  • In 1397/1976-7, pilgrims of the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a) were massacred during Arba'in ceremony by Ba'ath government forces,
  • In 1411/1990-1, Ba'ath forces attacked Karbala and the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a) and massacred people during Intifada al-Sha'baniyya


In addition to the shrines of Imam al-Husayn (a) and Abu l-Fadl al-'Abbas, the graves of many famous and noble people are in Karbala such as:

Companions of Imam al-Husayn (a)

Most companions of Imam al-Husayn (a) who were martyred in the Battle of 'Ashura were buried in the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a); however, some of them were buried in some other places due to different reasons:

  • Al-Hurr b. Yazid al-Riyahi: his tribe took his body out of the battle field and buried him in a village 9 km west of Karbala. This village is now called "al-Hurr district" because of his grave.[20]
  • Two Sons of Muslim b. 'Aqil: Their graves are in Karbala–Baghdad highway, 30 km away from Karbala, in the suburb of a town called Musayyib.

Scholars and Sayyids

Shrine of Ibn Fahd al-Hilli

Since a long time ago, due to the holiness of Karbala, tens of scholars and Sayyids have been buried inside and outside Karbala.

Among the Sayyids, Muhammad b. Nabi b. al-Kazim, al-Akhras b. al-Kazim, al-Sayyid Ahmad Abu Hashim, Ibn Hamza, al-Sayyid al-Radi, and al-Sayyid al-Murtada are notable.

Ibn Fahd al-Hilli, Yusuf al-Bahrani, al-Wahid al-Bihbahani, al-Sayyid Kazim al-Rashti, Sharif al-'Ulama', al-Sayyid 'Ali al-Tabataba'i, Muhammad Taqi al-Shirazi are some of the scholars buried in Karbala.

Kings and Politicians

Some Buyid kings are buried in the courtyard of Imam al-Husayn's (a) shrine. Muzaffar al-Din Shah, Muhammad 'Ali Shah, Amir Kabir are kings and political figures of Qajar dynasty buried in the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a). Princes from India are also buried in the shrine, most famous of whom are Zahid al-Din Shah and Sultan Burhan Nizam Shah, son of Sultan Ahmad Hindi.

Historical Sites

It was mentioned that Karbala is a city with rich historical background where many old historical sites are located. Today, although many of them are lost but their ruins are good signs of the mentioned historical background.

Palaces and Forts

  • Ukhydir Fort: This castle is located in a place with the same name 20 km west of Karbala. There are different opinions about its founder. There is a small mosque in the castle and its walls are built like a tower.
  • Indian Fort: Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar built a strong fort around Karbala to make it secure. This fort which is 4 km out of the city was left unfinished after Agha Muhammad Khan died and later al-Sayyid 'Ali al-Tabataba'i requested the rest of money it needed to be finished from India. Asif al-Dawla Hindi built some rooms and places upon it in the beginning of 13th/19th century so that pilgrims could stay the night there. Therefore, it became famous as Indian Fort. It is 3000 square meters. It has many times sheltered pilgrims of Karbala who were attacked by thieves.
  • 'Atshan Castle: It dates back to the time of Abbasids. It is located 30 km south west of Karbala. Today, parts of its walls and roofs are remained which were built by strong bricks. They were built to serve as armory or a shelter for pilgrims.

It is noteworthy that castles such as Ibn Maqatil and the walls of Karbala remained until 14th/20th century but now they are gone.

Maqams [Stations]

  • Maqam of Imam al-Sadiq (a): There is a holy place near Imam al-Husayn's (a) shrine, in lands known as Ja'fariyyat which is said that when Imam al-Sadiq (a) wanted to go visit Imam al-Husayn's (a) grave, he (a) used to make Ghusl of Ziyara by the water of Euphrates. It is located in the west side of 'Alqama and its dome is tiled.
  • Maqam of Imam al-Mahdi (a): There is a Maqam with a big dome in the left side of Husayniyya river, the entrance to Karbala and the way to Maqam of Imam al-Sadiq (a). It is built in the name and memory of Imam al-Mahdi (a).
  • Maqam of Zayn al-'Abidin (a): In the beginning of 13th/19th century, Abu Talib Khan, the famous tourist mentioned a tent place or Maqam of Zayn al-'Abidin (a) which Asif al-Dawla's wife had built a building over it. This place seems to have been located beside Imam al-Husayn (a) Hospital and some believe that it had been the original location of al-Mukhayyam al-Husayni [tents site] of Imam al-Husayn (a).


Al-Mukhayyam al-Husayni (Imam al-Husayn's camp)

Karbala has more than 100 mosques, most famous of which are Ra's al-Husayn (a) mosque, 'Imran b. Shahin mosque, al-Shahid al-Thani mosque, Sardar Hasan Khan mosque, Nasiri mosque, Shahristani mosque, Hamidiyya mosque, Sayyid 'Ali Naqi Tabataba'i mosque, al-Shaykh Yusuf al-Bahrani mosque, Shaykh Khalaf mosque, Ardabilis mosque, Haj Nasr Allah mosque, al-Mukhayyam al-Husayni mosque.


Main article: Husayniyya

Since Karbala is a pilgrimage city and every year millions of Muslims from different countries come to visit this city, many people from different cities have built Husayniyyas there. The number of Husayniyyas in this city reach more than 100.

Seminary Schools

Islamic Seminary of Karbala is among the old Shi'a seminaries and ranks after Najaf Shi'a Seminary regarding importance. Important seminary schools of Karbala during history are:

  • School of Sardar Hasan Khan (1180/1766): Sharif al-'Ulama Mazandarani and Sayyid Jamal al-Din Asadabadi studied in this school and had rooms. It was destroyed in 1991 by Ba'ath government.
  • School of Sayyid Mujahid (1270/1854): This school was destroyed in 1980 with the excuse of expansion of the Two Shrines by Ba'ath government.
  • School of Sadr A'zam Nuri (1268/1852): Shaykh Abd al-Husayn Tihrani built this school by third of the properties of Amir Kabir. It was destroyed in 1368/1949.
  • Zaynabiyya School (1276/1859): This school was built by Shaykh Abd al-Husayn Tihrani by the order of Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar. It was destroyed in 1368/1949.
  • Hindiyya Kubra School
  • Badkuba (Turk) School (1270/1854): This school was built by Haj Badkubi and had a valuable library. It was destroyed in 1980.
  • Buq'a School: This school was destroyed in 1980.
  • Salimiyya School (1250/1834): This school was operational for years but in 1991, Ba'ath government confiscated it.
  • Mahdiyya School (1284/1867): Most students of this school were non-Iraqi until in 1991 when Ba'ath government confiscated this school.
  • School of Mirza Karim Shirazi (1287/1870): After arresting Shaykh 'Abd al-Zahra Ka'bi, the tutor of this school, Ba'ath government confiscated this school in 1974.
  • Hindiyya Sughra School (1300/1883): Students from India and Afghanistan have rooms and study in this school.
  • School of Ibn Fahd al-Hilli: This school is built beside the grave of ibn Fahd al-Hilli and has been reconstructed two times.
  • Burujirdi School (1380/1960): This school was built by the order of Grand Ayatullah Burujirdi. Ba'ath government confiscated this school in 1975.
  • School of Sharif al-'Ulama: Ba'ath government confiscated this school in 1983.
  • Imam al-Baqir (a) School (1381/1961): Ba'ath government confiscated this school in 1975.
  • Hasaniyya School (1388/1968): This school was destroyed by Ba'ath government in 1411/1990.
  • Mazandarani School: Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi Mazandarani (d. 1384/1964) founded this school. Ba'ath government confiscated it in 1380/1960.
  • Khoei School (1395/1975): Grand Ayatullah Khuoei established this school and Ba'ath government confiscated it in 1413/1992.
  • Khatib School (1375/1956)

Except above-mentioned schools, there are other schools such as Ahmadiyyah, al-Kitab wa l-'itra school, school of Pakistanis, Ja'fariyya school, Faysaliyya school and Radawiyya school.[21]


Public Libraries

Public libraries of Karbala are: Ja'fariyya library, al-Sayyid al-Shuhada library, Central Public Library, Abu l-Fadl al-Abbas (a) library, al-Rawdat al-Husayniyya library, library of Sayyid 'Ali Akbar Ha'iri, library of Mawla Abd al-Hamid Farahani, Rasul A'zam (s) library, Nihdat Islami library, Hadrat Zaynab Kubra (s) library, Qur'an Karim library.

Private Libraries

Private libraries of Karbala: Imam al-Husayn (a) holy shrine library, Sayyid Nasr Allah Ha'iri library, Shaykh 'Abd al-Husayn Tihrani library, Sayyid 'Abd al-Husayn Kalidar Al Ta'ma library, Sayyid Husayn Qazwini library, Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Hujja Tabataba'i library, Shaykh Ahmad b. Zayn al-Din Ha'iri library, Shaykh Muhammad b. Dawud Khatib library, Sayyid Mahdi Hakim Shahristani library, Sayyid Muhsin Jalali Kashmiri library.

Higher Education Centers

  1. University of Karbala
  2. Ahl al-Bayt (a) University
  3. Al-Husayn (a) Engineering University

Notable Political Figures

  • Nuri al-Maliki, ex-prime minister of Iraq
  • Ibrahim Ja'fari, foreign minister of Iraq


  1. Al-Farahidi, al-Khalil b. Ahmad. Kitab al-'ayn, vol. 5, p. 431
  2. Khalili, Ja'far. Mawsu'at al-'atabat al-muqaddasa, vol. 8, p. 9
  3. Al Kliddar, Madinat al-Husayn, p. 11
  4. Al Kliddar, Madinat al-Husayn, p. 1
  5. Al-Shahristani, Nahdat al-Husayn, p. 66
  6. Al-Shahristani, Nahdat al-Husayn, p. 66
  7. Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahani, al-Aghani, vol. 12, p. 309
  8. Al-Tusi, Muhammad b. al-Hasan, al-Istibsar, vol. 2, p. 334
  9. Ibn Qulawayh, Kamil al-ziyarat, p. 271
  10. Al Tu'ma, Tarikh marqad al-Husayn wa al-'Abbas, p. 25
  11. Al-Sayyid b. Tawus, Al-Luhuf 'ala qatla l-Tufuf, p. 53
  12. Ibn Manzur, Lisan al-'Arab, vol. 9, p. 221
  13. Al-Hamawi, Mu'jam al-buldan, vol. 4, p. 183
  14. Al-Hamawi, Mu'jam al-buldan, vol. 4, p. 136
  15. Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wa al-nihaya, vol. 10, p. 315
  16. Da'irat al-ma'arif Tashayyu', vol. 1, p. 283
  17. Ibn al-Jawzi, al-Muntazam, vol. 7, p. 283
  18. Ibn Athir, al-Kamil fi l-tarikh, vol. 10, p. 177
  19. Ja'farian, Safawiyya dar 'arsa-yi din farhang wa siyasat, vol. 2, p. 758
  20. Da'irat al-ma'arif Tashayyu', vol. 1, p. 73
  21. Al-Ansari, Ra'uf Muhammad. 'Imarat Karbala; dirasa 'umraniyya wa takhtitiyya, p. 191-199


  • The material for this article is mainly taken from کربلا in Farsi Wikishia.
  • Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahani, 'Ali b. Husayn. Al-Aghani. Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-'Arabi, 1415 AH.
  • Adib al-Mulk Maragha'i, 'Abd al-'Ali. Safarnama-yi Adib al-Mulk bi 'Atabat. Tehran: Dadju, 1364 Sh.
  • Al Kliddar, Muhammad Hasan Mustafa. Madinat al-Husayn. Matba'at al-Najah, 1367/1947.
  • Al Tu'ma, Salman Hadi. Tarikh marqad al-Husayn wa al-'Abbas. Beirut: 1416 AH.
  • Al Tu'ma, Salman Hadi. Turath Karbala. Beirut: Mu'asissat al-A'lami li-l-Matbu'at, 1403 AH.
  • Ansari, Ra'uf Muhammad al-. 'Imarat Karbala; dirasa 'umraniyya wa takhtitiyya. Damascus: Mu'asissat al-salihani, 2005.
  • Farahidi, al-Khalil b. Ahmad. Kitab al-'ayn. Qom: Nashr Hijrat, 1410 AH.
  • Hamawi, Yaqut al-. Mu'jam al-buldan. Beirut: Dar Sadir, 1995.
  • Ibn al-Jawzi. Al-Muntazam.
  • Ibn Athir. Al-Kamil fi l-tarikh. Beirut: Dar Sadir, 1385 AH.
  • Ibn Kathir. Al-Bidaya wa l-nihaya. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1407 AH.
  • Ibn Manzur. Lisan al-'Arab. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr li-l-Tiba'at wa l-Nashr wa l-Tawzi'-Dar Sadir, 1414 AH.
  • Ibn Qulawayh, Ja'far b. Muhammad. Kamil al-ziyarat. Najaf: Dar al-Murtadawiyya, 1398 AH.
  • Ja'farian, Rasul. Safawiyya dar 'arsa-yi din farhang wa siyasat. Tehran: Pazhuhishkada-yi hawza wa danishgah, 1379 Sh.
  • Khalili, Ja'far. Mawsu'at al-'atabat al-muqaddasa. Beirut: Mu'asissat al-a'lami li-l-Matbu'at.
  • Sadr Haj Shaykh Jawadi, Ahmad. Da'irat al-ma'arif Tashayyu'. Tehran: Mu'assis-yi Tahqiqat wa Nashr-i Ma'arif-i Ahl-i Bayt (a), 1375 Sh.
  • Sayyid b. Tawus, 'Ali b. Musa al-. Al-Luhuf 'ala qatla l-Tufuf. Mashhad: Sazman-i Kitabkhanaha Muzaha wa Markaz-i Asnad-i Astan-i Quds-i Radawi, 1390 Sh.
  • Shahristani, Hibat al-Din al-. Nahdat al-Husayn.
  • Tusi, Muhammad b. Hasan al-. Al-Istibsar. Tehran: dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyya, 1390AH.