Holy Shrine of Imam 'Ali (a)
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Shrine of Imām ʿAlī (a) (Arabic: عَتَبَة إمام عَلي ع) is located in Najaf, Iraq and is the place where he has been buried. For many years after his death, the location of his grave was a secret. However, after it was discovered, it became a place of Ziyarah (visitation) for all. Throughout history, various personalities have dedicated resources to repairing, renovating, and expanding the shrine.
In more recent years, a large courtyard has been built in the western section of the shrine, and it has been named after the Lady Fatima (a). The shrine covers a total area of 140,000 square meters.
- 1 Secret Burial
- 2 Imams who Visited the Shrine of Imam 'Ali (a)
- 3 Discovering the Grave
- 4 History of the Construction
- 5 Architectural Features
- 6 References
The sons of Imam Ali (a), i.e. Imam al-Hasan (a), Imam al-Husayn (a), and Muhammad b. Hanafiyya, along with Imam Ali (a)'s cousin Abd Allah b. Ja'far, buried Imam Ali (a) secretly at night in a region known as Ghariyyayn (present-day Najaf) and hid his grave. Sayyid b. Tawus writes:
"The concealment [of the grave and its location] was due to fear of their enemies, like the Umayyads and the Kharijites. This is because it was possible that they would try to find his grave and exhume his body, which would inevitably lead to a conflict with the Hashimite tribe. Through this, several people would be killed and it would cause a large fitna (conflict) in the Muslim community. The Imam (a) was extremely concerned with the well-being of the Muslim nation during his lifetime, and made constant efforts to extinguish the fires of fitna. As such, it was to be expected that he would encourage the same line of thought and actions that he embodied throughout his life, to continue after his death, and that he would want his family and followers to abandon what could be a source of conflict."
Imams who Visited the Shrine of Imam 'Ali (a)
Of the twelve Shia Imams, for six of them there is reports of visitation of the grave of Imam Ali (a) in Najaf: Imam al-Husayn (a), Imam Ali b. al-Husayn al-Sajjad (a), Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a), Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (a), Imam Ali al-Hadi (a), and Imam Hasan al-Askari (a).
Discovering the Grave
In the era of Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (a) when the Umayyads were being ousted from the caliphate, there was no longer a reason for the grave of Imam Ali (a) to remain hidden. Due to this, gradually, the location of his grave became known and exposed to everyone. It has been narrated that Safwan sought permission from Imam al-Sadiq (a) to tell the Shias of Kufa where the burial place of Imam Ali (a) was. The Imam (a) responded in the affirmative and also gave some money for the reparations and reconstruction of the grave.
History of the Construction
With the deposal of the Umayyads, and the public discovery of the grave of Imam Ali (a), Dawud b. Ali al-Abbasi (d. 133/751) witnessed that many people were visiting the gravesite. As such, he installed a tombstone on top of the grave. However, after the establishment of the Abbasid caliphate, their relationship with the Alawis changed and the grave became abandoned once again and the tombstone was destroyed.
- Apparently, in approximately the 170/786, it was Harun al-Rashid who built the first shrine for Imam Ali (a) made from white bricks. He also gave orders for a building to be built on top of the grave from red clay, and for green fabric to be laid across the shrine.
- In the same way that the Abbasid caliph, Mutawakkil (d. 247/861), destroyed the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a), he also destroyed the shrine of Imam 'Ali (a) in Najaf. After this, Muhammad b. Zayd al-Da'i (d. 287/900) rebuilt the grave, and furthermore, built a dome, walls, and fort for shrine.
- Umar b. Yahya, renovated the shrine of Imam Ali (a) in 330/942 and he paid for the expenses to install a dome from his personal funds.
- 'Adud al-Dawla al-Daylami (d. 372/982) renovated and constructed the building in such a way that it was completely unique in style for its era and he also set up endowments for it. This building remained until 753/1352. It was in this year that the building was burned down and destroyed. It has been said that in this fire, a manuscript of Quran in three volumes written by Imam Ali (a) himself were also burned. In addition to 'Adud al-Dawla, other Buyid rulers and their viziers, the Hamdanids, and some of the Abbasids (Mustansir al-Abbasi) also participated in the shrine's renovation and reconstruction.
- In the year 760/1359, a new building was constructed that has not been attributed to any particular individual. However, apparently it was the work of Ilkhanates and many rules had a share in its building. Shah Abbas I restored the hall, dome, and courtyard of this building.
- Shah Safi expanded the courtyard of the shrine.
- In the travel diaries of Sultan Muhammad Mirza (who traveled in the year 1279/1862) it has been written that a fort was built by a person named Muhammad Husayn Sadr Isfahani. Furthermore, in his travel diaries it is stated that a dome was first built during the Buyids and that it was dismantled during the Safavid era. He further notes that the dome that was into place that year (i.e. 1279/1862) was known to have been built by Shah Abbas I with Shaykh Bahai's designs.
- The golden detail of the dome, entrance, and both minarets was carried out by Nadir Shah Afshar.
Masjid Imran b. Shahin
This mosque has been named after Imran b. Shahin. It is one of the oldest mosques in Najaf and is located in the northern of the courtyard of Imam Ali's (a) shrine. It is currently considered to be a part of the shrine.
When Imran rose up against the government of 'Adud al-Dawla, he was eventually defeated. After his defeat, he took an Nadhr that if 'Adud al-Dawla were to pardon him, he would build a portico (Rawaq) in the shrine of Imam 'Ali (a). When 'Adud al-Dawla pardoned him, he built this portico in the middle of the fourth/tenth century. Eventually, it became a mosque, and then became famously known as the Mosque of Imran b. Shahin. The mosque lay abandoned for some time until the dissolution of the Baathist government and the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. In more recent years, the mosque has been renovated in a grand fashion.
Masjid Al-Ra's (lit. the Mosque of the 'Head') is located in the west of the courtyard. With regards to how the name of the mosque became as such, there are two opinions:
- The mosque is located opposite to where the head of Imam Ali (a) lies in his grave.
- A hadith has been narrated from Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (a) that says that the head of Imam al-Husayn (a) was actually buried in this area.
Masjid al-Khadra' (lit. the Green Mosque) is located in the eastern side of the courtyard. This mosque was where Ayatollah al-Khoei taught his lessons. In fact, recently the wall between this mosque and the grave of Ayatollah al-Khoei, was removed and replaced with a window made from stained-glass.
Husayniyya Sahn Sharif
Husainiyya Sahnn Sharif is located in the northern section of the courtyard. It was built by Sayyid Muhsin Zayni. This building was constructed as a resting place for pilgrims visiting the shrine of Imam Ali (a) and also contains a place to perform Wudu. For many years, it lay abandoned and ruined. However, when Saddam Hussein was toppled, Ayatollah al-Sistani commissioned its renovation and reopening.
Iwan al-Ulama' (lit. veranda of scholars) is located in the central-northern section of the main hall. The reason that the place has been named as such is due to the fact that several scholars have been buried here.
School of religious Sciences
The School of Religious Sciences is another place within the complex of the shrine. It is in the upper floor of the courtyard, where there are 52 rooms, each of which has a veranda facing the courtyard. These 52 rooms make up the school. Behind each room, there is a hallway that leads to a stairway (to exit the school). These rooms were used for classes and as a place to rest by students of the Islamic seminary. After the uprising of the Iraqi people in the month of Safar 1377/1958, the Baathist regime evicted the students of the seminary from these rooms with the intent of weakening and destroying the Shia seminary. From then-on, these rooms have remained empty.
Maqam Imam al-Sadiq (a)
The Maqam (stance of) Imam al-Sadiq (a) is a spot located near the door of Masjid al-Ra's. It has been narrated that this is where Imam al-Sadiq (a) would pray when he came to perform the Ziyarah (visitation) of Amir al-Muminin (a). This spot, approximately fifty years ago was covered by a white dome, spanning the area of approximately 100 square meters. However, currently there are no remnants of this building and the spot is simply a part of the shrine.
Mawdi' al-Isba'ayn (lit. the place of two fingers) is across the place where the face of the Imam (a) lies. It has been said that there was a tyrant ruler whose name was Murra b. Qays who was once speaking about his tribe and forefathers. He asked the elders of the tribe about those who had passed away from his family, and in response, they said that many of them had been killed in a battle. He further asked about who had killed them, and they responded by saying that most of them had been killed at the hands of Ali b. Abi Talib (a). So, he asked where Imam Ali (a) had been buried, and was told that he was buried in Najaf. Murra then sent an army of 2,000 individuals to storm Najaf. After six days of defending their city, the people of Najaf were defeated and Marra entered the shrine and began to destroy it. As he was about to exhume the grave, two fingers came out of the Darih, and as though they were a sword, cut him in half. At that very moment, the two halves of his body became stone. These two stones were then kept near the road/pathway, after which the army took them and hid them.
The shrine of Imam Ali b. Abi Talib (a) has been expanded and renovated considerably in more recent years. The western section of the haram in its developmental plans, has been named after the Lady Fatima al-Zahra (a). This courtyard includes much of the western section of the shrine complex up until the Maqam Imam al-Sajjad (a). It is being designed and built by Iranian architects. Upon completion of these developmental plans, the total area for the shrine complex will span 140,000 square meters.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from حرم امام علی in Farsi Wikishia.