Karbalā (Arabic: كربلاء) is one of the pilgrimage cities in Iraq that is frequently visited by the Shi'a. It became such because of the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) and his faithful companions in this location in the year 61/680. In addition, this city also holds the mausoleums of Imam al-Husayn (a) and al-'Abbas (a).
The history of Karbala goes back to Ancient Babylonia; after the Islamic conquests, different tribes resided around the city of Karbala and close to the Euphrates River. After the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) and his companions on the 10th of Muharram/October 13, in the Battle of Karbala, and the burial of their bodies in this vicinity i.e. Karbala, the Shi'a, in order to perform the pilgrimage and visitation rites of the grave of Imam al-Husayn (s), frequented this city. This importance that was given to the visitation of Imam al-Husayn (a) and the other martyrs by the Shi'a laid the foundations for this city in becoming a residential area for the Shi'a.
From the 2nd/8th and 3rd/9th centuries onwards, the first signs of development and structure were seen in Karbala. During the Buyid era, a lot of efforts were made to further develop Karbala; however, the greatest development and expansion of the city took place during the Safavid and Qajar dynasties.
While the city has been expanded during the 3rd/9th century, the Islamic Seminary of Karbala was also founded. The popularity of the Karbala Seminary was always accompanied by ups and downs throughout history. With the rise in the popularity of the Karbala Seminary, various Shi'a families, in order to acquire religious knowledge, made Karbala their home. The Al Tu'ma, Al Naqib, al-Bihbahani, al-Shahristani, and al-Shirazi are some of these families.
During the last two centuries, the city of Karbala has seen many events and incidents. The attack of Wahhabis to Karbala, its invasion by Najib Pasha, the Ottoman governor, the 1920 uprising and the Sha'ban Intifada are just some of the important incidents that occurred over this time period. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the 20th century and the colonization of the British, the city of Karbala has witnessed the formation of political, social and cultural groups and parties and this has only increased after the gaining of independence by Iraq.
The Committee of Union and Progress, the National Islamic Society, Islamic Da'wa Party in Karbala and the branch of Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq are the most important Shi'a political bodies that are recognized in Karbala.
Shi'a from all across the globe come to this city on various occasions to perform the visitation of Imam al-Husayn (a). The peak number of visitors is during the mourning months of Muharram and Safar, especially during the Arba'in procession. It has been recorded that the amount of pilgrims during the days of Arba'in has been approximately 20 million people during the years of 2015 and 2016.
- 1 Current Day
- 2 History
- 3 Ziyarah Sites
- 4 Political and Social Events of the Last Two Centuries
- 5 Political and Social Parties
- 6 Customs
- 7 Poets
- 8 Seminaries and Academic Centers
- 9 Personalities and Families
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
Karbala is one of the ziyarah sites and blessed cities of the Shi'a that is in Iraq. This city is located about 100 kilometers from the capital Baghdad and is situated in the southern half of Iraq in the center of the province also called Karbala.
The martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) and his companions, the existence of the mausoleums of the Imam (a) and 'Abbas (a), as well as other important historical and religious sites, has made this city one of the most visited cities amongst the Shi'a especially during the mourning periods of Muharram and the Arba'in of Imam al-Husayn (a).
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1914 and also after the fall of Saddam and Baathist Regime in 2003, Karbala found itself in a very special position in terms of Iraqi politics. The edict of jihad by the Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Shirazi, against the British and his leadership in the 1920 popular uprisings in Iraq protesting the continued presence of the British in their country is a clear indicator of the political role that Karbala has played in contemporary Iraqi history. After the fall of Saddam, the positions of the Shi'a Iraqi marja'iyya were at the forefront of the political and social changes that were happening in Iraq and in the Muslim world in general and these stances were announced during the Friday prayers of this city. Announcing the edict of jihad of Ayatollah al-Sayyid 'Ali al-Sistani against ISIS in the sermons of the Friday prayers of Karbala is another example of this.
According to the 2015 census, the population of Karbala is approximately 700,000 people. Over history, the city has been called by other names such as al-Ghazariyya, Naynawa, al-Taff, al-'Aqar, al-Ha'ir, and al-Nawawis.
Some old historical sources state that city of Karbala was known during the pre-Islamic Babylonian era. It has also been mentioned in some records that before the Islamic conquests, Karbala was a Christian graveyard, while other reports mention it to be a central Zoroastrian fire temple. Since ancient times, around Karbala and especially close to the Euphrates River, many small villages existed. In addition to this, reports exist in traditional literature that state that certain prophets such as Noah (a) and Abraham (a) were present in a land known as Karbala.
After the conquest of Iraq and Mesopotamia by the Muslims, very few historical reports about this area exist before the tragedy of Karbala. In one report, it is narrated that Khalid b. al-Walid in the year 12/633-34 after the battle and capture of al-Hirah (a city close to current day Najaf), set up camp in Karbala. Other reports mention that Imam Ali (a) passed through this land after the Battle of Siffin. According to these narrations, the Imam stopped in Karbala to pray and to rest; the Imam also then foretold what will happen to his son Imam al-Husayn (a), his family, and companions on that land.
The most important event that led to Karbala becoming prominent and so significant to the Shi'a is the Battle of Karbala that place there. After Imam al-Husayn (a) did not give his oath of allegiance to Yazid and the numerous letters that arrived from the Kufans inviting the Imam to be their leader, the Imam (a) set out for Kufa. The caravan of Imam al-Husayn (a) was halted on the way to Kufa by al-Hurr b. Yazid al-Riyahi, and by the orders of 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad the Imam was forced to set up camp in Karbala. On the 10th of Muharram 61/October 13, 680, after the caravan of the Imam has been halted there for a few days, a battle between the armies of Imam al-Husayn (a) and 'Umar b. Sad commenced. The Imam (a), together with the majority of his companions, were martyred on that day and the remaining members of the Imam's (a) caravan, which was mainly women and children, were taken as prisoners and firstly sent to Kufa and then to Damascus, which was the capital of Yazid's government in Syria.
The emphasis of the Infallible Imams (a) and the attention of the Shi'a to it, laid the groundwork for the building of a structure over the grave of Imam al-Husayn (a) and the creating of a resting place for the pilgrims and visitors of the Imam (a) during the Umayyad and Abbasid eras. The appearance of Shi'a uprisings after the event of Karbala only served in increasing the attention of the Shi'a towards the grave of Imam al-Husayn (a). For example, the Tawwabun after passing by Nukhayla while on their way to Syria, they visited the grave of Imam al-Husayn (a) and affirmed their allegiance to the way of the Imam (a); also during the uprising of al-Mukhtar great attention was paid to the grave of Imam al-Husayn (a). Al-Mukhtar al-Thaqafi was the first person, in addition to placing a structure upon the grave of the Imam (a), to build a masjid and develop a small village that was formed of a few houses that were built using clay and the trunk and leaves of palm trees.
With the increase in the visitors to Imam al-Husayn (a) and the number of inhabitants around his shrine, together with the weakening of the Umayyads and the coming into power by the al-'Abbasids, the development and expansion of Karbala increased drastically. Houses that were built using dependable building material began to spring up around the shrine.
However, some of the al-'Abbasid caliphs saw these activities of the Shi'a as a threat. Because of this, during the reigns of some of the caliphs such as Harun and al-Mutawakkil al-Abbasi, orders were given to destroy the shrine of the Imam and the structures that surrounded it. However, even under these circumstances, it can be assumed that these steps taken by the al-'Abbasid caliphs were not successful in dissuading the Shi'a from making Karbala their place of residence. After Harun, during the reign of his son, al-Ma'mun al-'Abbasi, the mausoleum of Imam al-Husayn (a) and the other structures that were destroyed were partially re-built.
After the destruction done during the era of al-Mutawakkil, Karbala was again restored and in addition to the mausoleum and surrounding areas, new structures were also founded such as the Karbala Bazaar. Also during the al-'Abbasid era, academic institutions, founded by the companions of the Imams (a), also began to take shape in Karbala; this phase has been mentioned as being the beginning phase of the seminary of Karbala .
During the Buyid era, the architectural trend of Karbala began a new phase. This era is known as the era of architectural prominence in Karbala. The Buyid rulers, on their visitations to the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a), took steps to restructure the mausoleum and expand the city of Karbala. The first city perimeter, creation of residential areas, new bazaars and Islamic institutions such as the 'Adudiya Seminary and Ra's al-Husayn Masjid were all built on the orders of 'Adad al-Dawla al-Daylami in 372/982-83 and gives a picture of the expansion of the city during this period.
With the advent of the Safavid and Qajar dynasties and their religious zeal towards the city of Karbala and other important sites within Iraq between the 10th/16th and 13th/19th centuries, in addition to the increased number of Iranians residing in Iraq, the expansion and development of Karbala entered a new and more profound phase. In this phase, not only was the mausoleum of Imam al-Husayn (a) renovated and expanded, but also the mausoleum of al-'Abbas (a) and other important religious sites were also refurbished. The Iranians who were now living in Karbala played an important role in raising the commercial standard in Karbala and were also responsible for establishing husayniyyas, Islamic seminaries, libraries, and masjids during this period.
Explorers such as Carsten Niebuhr and John Asher, on their visits to the city, wrote about the expansion of Karbala during the Ottoman era in their travel logs. John Peters, an American explorer and archeologist, also wrote in 1890 while visiting Karbala that the new expansion of the city that was outside of the ancient perimeter possessed an extensive road system like those present in the cities of Europe.
The existence of the shrines of Imam al-Husayn (a) and Abbas (a) in this city has placed it amongst the priority ziyarah cities for the Shi'a. The mausoleum of Imam al-Husayn (a) is where the Imam, his family members and a number of his loyal companions were buried after they gained martyrdom at the Battle of Karbala.
The visitation of Imam al-Husayn (a) has always been an action that was given particular attention by the Shi'a. The recommendation of visiting the Imam (a) on specific occasions such as 'Ashura, Arba'in and the 15th of Sha'ban results in the greatest number of visitors being on these days. In Shi'a jurisprudence, the mausoleum and soil of Imam al-Husayn's (a) grave has specific rulings.
The mausoleum of Imam al-Husayn (a) has on numerous occasions been destroyed and damaged by the opponents of the Shi'a such as the 'Abbasid caliphs and Wahhabies. One of the first destructions of the mausoleum took place during the time of al-Mutawakkil and the last of these attacks occurred during the al-Intifada al-Sha'baniyya of 1411/1991, during the reign of the Baathists.
The shrine of al-'Abbas (a) is located 378 meters North-East from the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a). The visitors to Karbala not only visit Imam al-Husayn (a) but also visit the shrine of al-'Abbas (a). On the day of Tasu'a (9th of Muharram) the Shi'a performing mourning rites in the mausoleum of al-'Abbas (a), as this day, according to the mourning calendar of the Shi'a is specific to Abu l-Fadl al-Abbas (a).
Besides the shrines of Imam al-Husayn (a) and al-'Abbas (a), the city of Karbala also contains other places of visitation and religious significance that are mostly attached to the Event of Karbala, e.g. the al-Mukhayyam, the al-Tall al-Zaynabi and the burial site of al-Hurr b. Yazid al-Riyahi. Close to the mausoleum of Imam al-Husayn (a) two stations are located i.e. the Station of Imam al-Sadiq (a) and the Station of Imam al-Mahdi (a); both these stations are respected by the Shi'a and are places of visitation for them.
Political and Social Events of the Last Two Centuries
Over the last two centuries, Karbala has witnessed numerous events and political and socio-cultural transformations.
Attack by the Wahhabis
On the 18th Dhi l-Hijja 1216/1802 the Wahhabis, led by Abd al-Aziz b. Saud entered Iraq and attacked the city of Karbala. They entered the city via the area of the campsite of Imam al-Husayn (a) and began killing, stealing the wealth of the people and valuable items from the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a). As it was customary amongst the people to visit the mausoleum of Imam Ali (a) in Najaf during those days for Eid al-Ghadir, the city of Karbala was void of men to resist. Historical reports record the number of people slain by this heinous attack as being between a thousand and four thousand people; in addition, this attack severely damaged the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a).
Attack of Najib Pasha
After the inhabitants of Karbala rejected the Ottoman governorship in 1285/1868-69, Najib Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of Iraq issued an ultimatum of a few days for them to accept the rule of the Ottomans and to surrender to them. After the unsuccessful arbitration of al-Sayyid Kazim al-Rashti, a scholar who resided in Karbala and was the second leader of the Shaykhiyya. Najib Pasha gave the orders for Karbala to be attacked. The armed Ottoman soldiers were free to attacked all places of the city except the mausoleums of Imam al-Husayn (a) and al-'Abbas (a) and the house of al-Sayyid Kazim al-Rashti. In order to escape the attacks, some of the inhabitants sort refuge in the shrine of al-'Abbas (a), yet this place was also attacked. According to some reports it is recorded that nearly ten thousand people were killed in this attack.
During the British presence in Iraq in 1917 after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Karbala was one of the main centers of resistance against this occupation. The 1920 Revolt, known as the "Thawra al-'Ishrin", was coordinated under the leadership of Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi al-Shirazi. This uprising came into existence after the British did not fulfill their promise and obligation of leaving Iraq after it gained its independence.
During the popular revolts of the people in the year 1411/1991 against the Baathist regime led by Saddam Hussain, Karbala was one of the main resistance centers. This city, together with 13 other Iraqi cities came under the control of resistance forces, however, the revolts were crushed by Saddam's military forces. In quashing the resistance movements, the mausoleum of Imam al-Husayn (a) was severely damaged by the Baathist forces. Reports have put the death toll of this incident between three hundred thousand and five hundred thousand people all across Iraq in addition to approximately two million people being displaced.
Conflict with the US Army
When the US army entered Iraq in 2003, Karbala witnessed armed skirmishes between the residents of the city and the US military within the streets leading up to the mausoleums of Imam al-Husayn (a) and al-'Abbas (a). Also in 2004, following the armed clashes between the group associated with Sadrists known as the Mahdi Army and the US army in the cities of Najaf, Basra and the Baghdad suburb of Sadr City, the US army entered Karbala with heavily armored personal to prevent any possible attack in the city on them by the Sadrists. They also blocked the roads around the mausoleums and attacked the offices of the Sadrists in the city. The main reason given for these conflicts was their opposition to the occupation of the American forces of Iraq. In 2007, the Shi'a loyal to the Mahdi Army again fought with the US army but the difference of this occasion was that the main opposition to them was the Iraqi Police Force, whilst the US army entered the arena as a supporting unit to the police.
After the fall of the Baathist regime in Iraq, extremist and terrorist factions belonging to Al-Qaeda together with former Baathist officials of the previous fallen regime conducted a string of terrorist activities in the city of Karbala. These activities, which were also done in other cities of Iraq, wasted a large amount of life and wealth of the Iraqi Nation. The majority of terrorist activities in the city of Karbala occurred during the commemoration days of Imam al-Husayn (a) i.e. Muharram, 'Ashura, and the Arba'in procession.
Political and Social Parties
In the last two decades the Shi'a Marja'iyya, because of their actions and the prosperity of the seminary of Karbala, has had a great influence in the political and social landscape of Iraq. The activities of the socio-political organizations in Karbala coincided with the political changes in Iraq and at times Iran. The reaction of the scholars in Najaf and Karbala following the Constitutional Revolution in Iran is an example of this. The constitutional movement caused shockwaves within the Najaf seminary and also affected the seminary of Karbala with the difference between the two that the position of the seminary of Karbala towards this movement was negative.
In the 20th century and especially during the British occupation of Iraq, Karbala witnessed the formation of many different parties and movements, in addition to the establishment of branches of active Iraqi parties within it. The Marja'iyya of Karbala, as well as its seminary, had political, ideological and cultural relationships with some of the active movements in Karbala. The seeking of independence and the exit of the British from this country were the main goals of this movement during the first half of the 20th century. The Committee of Union and Progress and the National Islamic Society were from amongst this group. The National Islamic Society was founded in 1917 by the son of the late Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi al-Shirazi, Muhammad Rida al-Shirazi and a group of scholars in Karbala with the main aim of fighting against the British presence in Iraq. This organization, after the edict of jihad by Ayatollah al-Shirazi, was very influential in the 1920 Iraqi Uprisings.
With the forming of various communist blocs in the wake of Iraqi independence, branches such as the Iraqi Communist Party were established and active in Najaf and Karbala and attracted a large amount of youth towards their ideals. The seminaries and Marja'iyya of Najaf and Karbala in order to counter this extensive threat of communist and defend Islam decided to form an organization of their own; this organization, which was founded in 1956, was called the Islamic Dawa Party. One of their first conferences was held in Karbala. Some of the leaders of this organization, such as Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Nouri al-Maliki, are from Karbala. After the formation of the Islamic Dawa Party, another organization known as the Islamic Action Organization was founded in Karbala in 1962 by individuals who were related to the al-Shirazi family.
During the era of Baathist rule under Saddam Hussain, a party known as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq was founded by a group of Shi'a scholars. However, after the fall of this regime, numerous Shi'a movements began to take shape, of which a vast amount of them had branches in Karbala and were active in social and political issues, The Badr Brigade and Sadrist Movement are examples of these initiatives.
The uprising of Imam al-Husayn (a) and the event of Karbala left a lasting cultural effect on the Shi'a population. The city of Karbala was the source of many of the cultural activities of the Shi'a that stemmed from 'Ashura. Some of those practices include the Tuwairij mourning ceremony, the Ziyarah al-Arba'in and its procession, the building of husayniyyas and religious centers, the making turbah and misbaha from the soil of Karbala and ta'ziya depicting the events of Karbala.
One of the mourning rituals of the Shi'a during the days of Muharram is the occurrence of the Tuwairij mourning ritual. Tuwairij is a name of a village that is located approximately ten kilometers from Karbala and has become mainly associated with this ritual of the Shi'a on the day of 'Ashura. The Shi'a of Karbala walk towards the mausoleums of Imam al-Husayn (a) and al-'Abbas (a) from this village on the afternoon of the Ashura, when they arrive in the vicinity of the mausoleums, they run between "Bayn al-Haramayn" (the place between the two mausoleums) while beating heads and cheats in grief. This ritual is done in remembrance of the late arrival of the inhabitants of this city to Karbala on the day of Ashura.
- Main article: Arba'in visitation
One of the religious rituals of the Shi'a is the Arba'in visitation of Karbala. The Shi'a from the very first centuries, because of the importance given to it by the Infallible Imams, had a great religious zeal towards the Arba'in visitation. Shi'a from Iraq and all over the World partake in this event by walking from Najaf to Karbala; this event is more commonly known as the Arba'in procession. On the day of Arba'in, a huge gathering of mourners from all over Iraq and the World are present in Karbala and form one of the largest gatherings on Earth.
Soil of Karbala
- Main article: Soil of Imam al-Husayn's (a) grave
The soil of Karbala or the soil of Imam al-Husayn (a) that is usually sand or dust gathered from around the grave of Imam al-Husayn (a) is shown a great deal of respect by the Shi'a because of the qualities that have been narrated about it. The soil is also used to make clay prayer tablets and misbahas. In jurisprudence, doing prostration on the soil of Karbala is a highly recommended action.
Establishment of Husayniyyas
The building of husayniyyas to house and shelter the visitors of Imam al-Husayn (a) is one of the steps that have been done over the last century. It is reported that the first husayniyya that was built in Karbala dates back to the 11th/17th century. While the Qajars were rebuilding the religious sites of Iraq, the governor of the Ottomans in Iraq built a husayniyya to assist the visitors of Karbala in the year 1127/1715. Afterward, in the year 1368/1948-49, a group of Iranian businessmen bought this property from the Awqaf Organization of Iraq and together with a group of Iraqi and Kuwaiti entrepreneurs refurbished and renovated this husayniyya. After its renovations, this husayniyya became known as the Tihrani husayniyya, which was later changed to the Haydariyah husayniyya. Before this, there are no records of any husayniyyas existing in the city.
After the above dates, most of the well-known husayniyyas of Karbala were built in the second and third decades of the 14th/20th century. Some of these historical husayniyyas were built by Iranian scholars and businessmen whilst some others were built by Indian Shi'a. After the fall of the Baathist regime, the building of husayniyyas increased drastically and even the construction of hotels was not able to decrease the emergence of new husayniyyas.
- Main article: ta'ziya
Ta'ziyas are like religious depictions which can be seen in many Iraqi cities including Karbala. Ta'ziyas as it is known today, was first extremely popular during the Qajar era in Iran; it then entered Iraq around the 20th century. These ta'ziyas are also known in Najaf and Karbala as "tashabih" or "masrah al-Husayni". The performance of these plays, like many other Shi'a rituals, were restricted and eventually forbidden by the Baathist Party when they came into power during the 1970s. After their fall in 2003, these plays were revived in many areas across Iraq.
The poets of Karbala, according to Iraqi literary and historical reports, have played a great role in the scholarly and political movements of Iraq. Some of their academic, political, and social activities can be seen by their presence in the literature and poetry societies of Karbala and other cities. Jam'iyyat al-Nadwa al-Shabab al-'Arabi, Nadwa al-Khamis al-'Arabi, al-Muntada al-Thiqafi, and Jam'iyyat al-Shu'ara' al-Sha'biyyin are some of the literary societies that existed in Karbala. Some of these societies are still active today. Currently, religious poetry together with other forms of poetry is popular in Karbala. This form of poetry i.e. religious has been supported by the al-'Atabat al-Husayni al-Muqaddasa and the al-'Atabat al-'Abbasiyya al-Muqaddasa and is extremely popular amongst the Iraqi youth.
Seminaries and Academic Centers
The history of the formation of the first Islamic seminary of Karbala goes back to the first/sixth century, with the presence of the companions of some of the Infallible Imams and Shi'a narrators. In this era, they were occupied by training students in the city of Karbala. 'Abd Allah b. ja'far al-Himyari was a close associate to both Imam al-Hadi (a) and Imam al-'Askari (a); he was also one of the first teachers during the beginning periods of the seminary of Karbala . After the era of occultation, jurists such as al-Najashi, al-Sayyid b. Tawus, al-Shahid al-Awwal and Ibn Fahd al-Hilli sought knowledge from the seminary of Karbala. The popularity and prestige of the seminary of Karbala reached such a level that in a certain period during its history it was one of the main schools in comparison to other schools of Shi'a jurisprudential thought.
The seminary of Karbala had two main schools of thought, the Usuli and Akhbari, however, the Akhbari school did not have many adherents. With the rise of the Safavids, the Akhbari School was revived by Muhammad Amin al-Istarabadi. After the fall of the Safavids, the Iranian scholars, because of the persecution and harassment by the Afghan Sunnis, on the one hand, the pressure of Nadir Shah on the other, were forced to migrate to Iraq and Karbala, in particular, was their chosen destination. It was during this period that the Akhbari School was at its peak as a large number of the Iranian scholars had an ideology that was Akhbari inclined. Even with this, because of reasons, the Akhbari School fell by the wayside.
In the 13th/19th century, the seminary of Karbala lost its previous prestige as many of the Iranian scholars migrated to Najaf or returned to Iran. This was the case until Muhammad Taqi al-Shirazi migrated from Samarra to Kadhimiya and then eventually to Karbala. His leadership in the fight against British colonialism in Iraq and the joining of some of the scholars and students of the seminary anti-British movements and uprisings brought a new lease of life to the seminary of Karbala .
Many Islamic institutes were built over the centuries in Karbala. A good amount of these institutes were erected by Iranian scholars were leaving in Karbala. Al-Sayyid al-Mujahid Seminary, Sadr-i A'zam Nuri Seminary and al-Khoei Seminary are just some of these schools. In addition to schools and institutes, many libraries were also established in Karbala of which some had a very high status in the eyes of Shi'a researchers because of the manuscripts that were stored in them. Some historians count the number of libraries in Karbala to be 78, of which a large number were founded by scholars who were staying in Karbala. Besides the Islamic seminaries, the University of Karbala, the Ahl al-Bayt University and research institutes that are affiliated with the mausoleums of Imam al-Husayn (a) and al-'Abbas (a) also have numerous academic and research activities in the field of Shi'a Studies, especially after the fall of Saddam and the Baathist regime.
Personalities and Families
From the very onset of its formation till now, the city of Karbala has been home to many important families. Some of these families have resided in Karbala from the very first centuries. Families such as the Al Tu'ma and Al Naqib are from this group. The Al Tu'ma, whose lineage reaches Ibrahim al-Mujab, who was the first Alawi resident of Karbala, was one of the earliest Alawi families to settle in Karbala during the third/ninth century. The Al Naqib, who are descendants of Imam al-Kazim (a), settled in Karbala during the fifth/eleventh century. However, the greatest stature is reserved for those scholarly families who migrated from other areas of Iraq, Iran, the Sub-continent and the 'Arab states to Karbala in order to acquire Islamic knowledge. However, some of these scholarly families, after acquiring the status of ijtihad or by just merely completing the introductory stages of Islamic sciences, returned to their countries. Some of these families that are well recognized in Karbala are Bihbahani family, al-Sadr family, al-Shirazi family, al-Shahristani family, al-Kashmiri family, al-Rashti family, and al-Mar'ashi family.
In the contemporary age, some of the Shi'a political personalities in Iraq and Iran are or were citizens of Karbala. Iraqi politicians Ibrahim al-Jafari and Nouri al-Maliki, as well as Iranian politician Ali Akbar Salihi were all born in Karbala.
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