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Baghdād (Arabic: بغداد) is one of the most important cities of Iraq and its current capital. Al-Mansur al-'Abbasi founded this city and it was the capital of Abbasid Caliphate for five centuries. Support of Buyid dynasty, presence of Shi'a Imams (a), Shi'a scholars, the Four Deputies of Imam al-Mahdi (a) and their gravesites, Shi'a dynasties and the Guardianship of Shi'a in Baghdad caused the spread of Shi'a in the city.

In the era of Buyid dynasty, great scholars such as Ibn Qulawayh, al-Shaykh al-Mufid, al-Sharif al-Radi, al-Sharif al-Murtada, and al-Shaykh al-Tusi taught and trained students in Seminary of Baghdad. Previously, the Shi'a community in Baghdad lived in "Karkh" district; but now they mostly live in Sadr City.


This is the oldest minaret in Baghdad. It belonged to the Caliph Mosque built by Caliph al-Muktafi (901-907 C.E.). Photo is taken in 1911.

Baghdad was the capital of Abbasid caliphate, and is the most important city of contemporary Iraq. Because of Tigris River, it has a very fertile land. The river divides the city into two geographical parts: the eastern and the western, formerly known as "Karkh" and "Rasafa". It is one of al-Mansur al-'Abbasi's foundations, which was chosen as the capital in the year 142/760, when it turned into one of the biggest and most prosperous cities of Iraq. It took six years to found Baghdad. Then in 146/764, al-Mansur moved from Hashimiyya to Baghdad and settled in his palace. It was completed and expanded further in the time of al-Hadi al-'Abbasi and al-Mahdi al-'Abbasi. Baghdad remained as the capital of Abbasids for five centuries.

At the time of al-Mahdi's Caliphate, the eastern district of Baghdad turned into Caliph's army base, and was therefore developed further. The famous Nizamiyya school of Baghdad, and also Mustansiriyya School were located in this district. It also included three congregational mosques, named "Jami' al-Khalifa", "Jami' al-Sultan", and "Jami' al-Rasafa" which still exist today. A wall was built around the city. The gates of the city were named "'Ajam", "Mu'azzam", "Sultani", and "Salman". Baghdad was greatly prosperous until the end of Abbasid reign. Then with Hulagu's invasion, it lost its fame and prosperity.

Shi'a in Baghdad

When Baghdad turned into a city, some of its districts such as "Karkh" were exclusively occupied by Shi'a. In 4th/10th century when Buyid dynasty came to power in Iran and dominated Baghdad, the capital of Abbasids, they started to promote and spread Shi'a. Just then the study of fiqh, theology, Ahl al-Bayt's teachings and Islamic studies were centralized in Baghdad, and great scholars started to emerge. In Baghdad, Buyid dynasty held celebration on Eid al-Ghadir and mourning ceremonies in Muharram.

In 448/1056, due to the clashes between Shi'a and Sunni in Baghdad, al-Shaykh al-Tusi moved the Shi'a Seminary from Baghdad to Najaf.

The attitude of Abbasid rulers, who came to power after Buyid dynasty, varied toward Shi'a. However, it was mostly oppressive and brutal, rather than the exceptional relative peaceful period during the caliphate of "al-Nasir li-Din Allah".

After the collapse of Abbasid government, Shi'a population and power started to grow in Baghdad, because after the Abbasid downfall and before the rule of Ottomans, Shi'a experienced a freedom from Shi'a-opposing governments. The government of Ilkhanate, who rose to power after the Mongols, was a Shi'a one and served Shi'a in the best way.

After Iraq experienced a time of swinging between the Safavid and the Ottoman governments, it finally ended up under the Ottoman reign, who pursued the old policy of harshness against Shi'a. They eradicated Shi'a from Northern regions of Iraq.

Although Ottoman's regional kings were hostile towards Shi'a, they respected the shrines of Ahl al-Bayt (a) as they constructed these shrines in Iraq and paid visits there.

After that Ottoman Empire was overthrown and the power was transferred to the Shurafa' of Mecca, some Shi'a figures got involved in governing Iraq, and gradually the religious pressure on Shi'a was lifted.

After the occupation of Iraq by British invaders, the British rulers removed Shi'a from their governmental positions; so they were no more involved in the political structure of Iraq. It was because of the anti-colonization opinions which Shi'a scholars and, as a result, Shi'a people held. As a result of the political independence of Shi'a scholars and their influence on Shi'a community, the British rulers supported Sunnis who were much easier to control.

During the time of Kingdom in Iraq, Shi'a did not trust the government and refused to take any positions, regarding it as "supporting the illegal government". Consequently, they were left out with no key positions and no power in the country. In the 1940s and 1950s during the short rule of 'Abd al-Karim Qasim, Shi'a started to gain some political power due to his being open to Shi'a activities. But after 1969, the Ba'th party put Shi'a under severe pressure.

As soon as Saddam was overthrown and the country's constitution was ratified, Shi'a became the main player in Iraq's political sphere. In 2005 census for the parliamentary election, it became clear that the majority of Baghdad's population is Shi'a.

Causes of the Spread of Shi'a in Baghdad

Presence of Shi'a Imams and Scholars

The history of Shi'a in Baghdad goes back to the time before its foundation. Muslims' conquest in Iraq and Imam 'Ali's decision to switch Caliphate's capital to Kufa attracted Shi'a to this region. Kufa's proximity to Baghdad attracted the people of the region to Shi'a, and Iraq gradually became a Shi'a center. The presence of Shi'a Imams (a) increased this attraction. Although this presence was not voluntary, it caused their followers to move to this region. Especially when the 7th (Imam al-Kazim (a)) and the 9th (Imam al-Jawad (a)) Imams were entombed there, the city became a serious Shi'a center.

Gradually Baghdad became the center for great Islamic scholars, such as al-Shaykh al-Saduq, al-Shaykh al-Mufid, al-Sayyid al-Radi, al-Sayyid al-Murtada, and al-Shaykh al-Tusi. By teaching students, these scholars had a great role in promoting Shi'a and attraction of Shi'a Muslims toward Baghdad.

Four Deputies

In the time of the Minor Occultation, the Four Deputies were mediators between Shi'a and the 12th Imam (a). They were entombed in Baghdad. 'Uthman b. Sa'id, the first Deputy of Imam al-Mahdi (a), chose Karkh district as his residence. The presence of the deputies in Baghdad meant that the city would become the center of Shi'a, as Shi'a scholars emigrated to Baghdad from different areas in order to keep in touch with their Imam (a) through his deputies.

Shi'a Families

The other reason that Shi'a was so widely spread in Baghdad was the families who loved and had good relations with Shi'a and big Shi'a families. For example, the Nawbakhtis or even Barmakis, who were not Shi'a themselves, never tried to fail the Shi'a community, and even sometimes supported them. Some believe that the reason behind the repression of the Barmakis was their inclination towards Shi'a.

Some members of al-Nawbakhtai family, who were descendants of Abu Sahl al-Nawbakhti, embraced Shi'a and made efforts to spread it. Even some of them became great leaders of Shi'a.

Yaqtin family was also a cause of Shi'a spread in Baghdad. The head of the family, Yaqtin b. Musa, whom Marwan tried to capture so he fled form Kufa, was a supporter of Abbasid dynasty. 'Ali b. Yaqtin and his offspring were promoters of Shi'a and transmitters of their narrations, and also devotees of Ahl al-Bayt (a).


Main article: Niqaba

In the time of Buyid dynasty, the naqibs (guardians) of the Shi'a gained an official position. The naqibs had an important role in social and cultural issues. Naqibs like al-Sayyid al-Radi and al-Sayyid al-Murtada played an important role in the cultural and social history of Shi'a. They produced great scholarly works, which helped a lot in promoting Shi'a teachings. They used the power and influence of Buyid dynasty to establish cultural and scholarly centers, and provided numerous benefits to Shi'a in Baghdad and other areas.

Buyid Dynasty

Main article: Buyids

Before that Buyid dynasty come to power, the Abbasids did not tolerate any activities from the Shi'a community and repressed them. When Buyids rose to power, although it led to more tensions between Shi'a and Sunni and to some arson attacks in Karkh district that severely damaged Shi'a properties, the Shi'a nature of Buyids helped the improvements in the Shi'a community.

In 383/993-994, Shapur the son of Ardeshir, the vizier of Baha' al-Dawlah, founded the first Dar al-'Ilm, which was similar to Nizamiyya schools of Baghdad. He endowed the school along with its rich great library to the seekers of knowledge. Great works of Shi'a such as Man la yahzuruh al-faqih by al-Shaykh al-Saduq, Tahdhib al-ahkam and al-Istibsar by al-Shaykh al-Tusi, three of the four most important books of Shi'a were compiled in the time of Buyid dynasty. Avicenna, also, wrote his books: al-Shifa', al-Qanun and al-Isharat in the same period.

Shi'a Districts


Karkh district was the center of Shi'a. Shi'a also resided in other areas such as Buratha neighborhood in west of Baghdad, and Suq al-Salah, Bab al-Taq, Suq Yahya, Suq Qalayin, Suq al-Thulatha, Suq al-Asakifa, and Ahl Darb Sulayman in east of Baghdad. However, east of Baghdad was mainly a Sunni residential area.

Sadr City

Sadr City, formerly known as Madinat al-Thawra, was founded in the time of 'Abd al-Karim Qasim, whose mother was Shi'a, to provide housing for around 250,000 poor emigrants from southern Iraq to Baghdad. This town, which has a Shi'a majority, had a population of one million people by the end of 1970s. Sitting on the east of Baghdad, Madinat al-Thawra lacked drinking water, sewage system, and paved road. After 1980 the Ba'thi government provided some city services to this town. After the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the residents of the town celebrated this event publicly. When al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr was arrested in 1979, many residents protested publicly for several times.

In the 1990s, the population of the city was around 2 million, which formed 10 percent of Iraq's population. After the demise of Ayatullah al-Khoei in 1992, some Shi'a referred to Ayatullah Sistani as their marja', while the young generation mostly preferred al-Sayyid Muhammad al-Sadr. Before the fall of Saddam, the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, Sayyid Muhammad Sadr's son, fought Ba'thi soldiers out of the town and renamed the area to Sadr City. They also gained control over Kufa, some of Najaf's neighborhoods, Karbala, and Basra.

Shi'a Seminary of Baghdad

From the 3rd/9th to the 4th/10th centuries, Shi'a seminary of Baghdad was an important center of Shi'a in fiqh (jurisprudence), hadith (narration), and kalam (theology). Buyid dynasty's rise to power strengthened Shi'a seminary of Baghdad. During this time, the study of Ja'fari fiqh, theology, and Ahl al-Bayt (a)'s teachings was concentrated in Baghdad. Another reason of the scholarly movement during the occultation era was the existence of the four Deputies in Baghdad, who were referred to in religious issues.

Some of the scholars of Baghdad are among People of Consensus, such as Muhammad b. Abi 'Umayr and Yunus b. 'Abd al-Rahman. Scholars such as Hisham b. al-Hakam and Muhammad b. Ya'qub al-Kulayni resided in Baghdad, and the authors of the Four Books, the most important books of Shi'a, were connected with Shi'a seminary of Baghdad. Al-Shaykh al-Saduq came to Baghdad in 355/966 and learned hadith from its scholars, and the scholars learned his hadiths. Similarly, al-Shaykh al-Tusi was in Baghdad from 408/1017-18 to 448/1056-57.

Ibn Qulawayh, al-Shaykh al-Mufid, al-Sharif al-Radi, al-Sharif al-Murtada, and al-Shaykh al-Tusi were successively in charge of Shi'a seminary of Baghdad.

Various places of the city were used as educational facilities. Buratha Mosque and 'Aqiqa Mosque were among the educational centers where Shi'a professors and students went to exchange knowledge.

When the Tughril invaded Baghdad in 447/1055, al-Shaykh al-Tusi emigrated to Najaf and founded the first Islamic school in the city of the Holy Shrine of Imam 'Ali (a).

Sunni-Shi'a Clashes

Among the four branches of Sunnis, Hanbali sect was the most powerful sect in Baghdad. The main confrontation of Shi'a was the one with the Hanbalis. The other three branches had almost no problems with Shi'a.

From the mid 4th/10th century to the mid 5th/11th century, clashes constituted the major part of Shi'a-Hanbali relationship. These clashes were massive and at times led to horrible consequences. Every year, religious prejudices would lead to numerous conflicts, ending in hundreds or sometimes thousands of casualties from both sides.

Tombs and Shrines

Inside Baghdad, close to Kadhimiya and around it, some of the Tabi'un (the Followers) are buried, including Bishr al-Hafi in A'damiyya neighborhood, and Buhlul in Karkh. Some of the Islamic scholars are also buried in the area:

Buratha Mosque

Buratha mosque is a center for shi'a activities. It was targeted by terrorists in 2006 leaving 85 killed and 160 injured.
Main article: Buratha Mosque

Buratha mosque is an old and famous mosque in Kadhimiya. It is located between Karkh district of Baghdad and Kadhimiya. Buratha is the name of an area in west of Baghdad and south of Karkh. The name of Buratha comes from a priest who lived there and converted to Islam by Imam 'Ali (a), while spending a night there in the middle of the Battle of Nahrawan. Buratha mosque, which was a place of worship and gathering for Shi'a in the time of Buyid dynasty, was renovated by Mu'iz al-Dawlah al-Daylami. Because of a well dug by Imam 'Ali (a), the place was also called by the names of "Bi'r 'Ali" (Ali's well) or "Sang-i 'Ali" (Ali's stone).

Throughout the history, Buratha mosque has been a center for Shi'a activity, and a place where Friday Prayer was held. At times, the Abbasid caliphs attacked to or closed this place. Nowadays, Buratha is a prosperous mosque on the west bank of Tigris.



  • The material for writing this article has been mainly taken from بغداد in Farsi wikishia.