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Imam Ali Shrine

Coordinates: 31°59′45″N 44°18′53″E / 31.9959°N 44.3146°E / 31.9959; 44.3146
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Shrine of Imam Ali
  • حَرَم ٱلْإِمَام عَلِيّ
  • Ḥaram al-Imām ‘Alī
Imām 'Alī Shrine, where 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib is buried
ProvinceNajaf Governorate
Ecclesiastical or organizational statusMosque and Shrine
Imam Ali Shrine is located in Iraq
Imam Ali Shrine
Location in Iraq
Geographic coordinates31°59′45″N 44°18′53″E / 31.9959°N 44.3146°E / 31.9959; 44.3146
Architect(s)Baha' al-din al-'Amili
StyleSafavid Persian style
Groundbreaking1621 CE
Completed1630 CE
Dome height (inner)42 metres (138 ft)
Minaret height38 metres (125 ft)

The Sanctuary of Imām 'Alī (Arabic: حَرَم ٱلْإِمَام عَلِيّ, romanizedḤaram al-ʾImām ʿAlī), also known as the Mosque of 'Alī (Arabic: مَسْجِد عَلِيّ, romanizedMasjid ʿAlī), located in Najaf, Iraq, is a mausoleum which Shia and Sunni Muslims believe contains the tomb of 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib, a cousin, son-in-law and companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The Shī'as consider 'Alī as their first Imām and the first of the twelve caliphs of Muhammad, and the Sunnis regard him as the fourth Sunni Rashid Caliph.[1] According to Shī'ite belief,[2] buried next to 'Alī within this mosque are the remains of Adam and Nuh (Noah).[2][3] Each year, millions of pilgrims visit the Shrine and pay tribute to Imām 'Alī.

The shrine monument has been built and rebuilt numerous times throughout history[4] the current shrine dates back to the mid Safavid period. Its construction began in 1621 under the orders of Shah Abbas the Great and was completed in 1631 after his death. Baha' al-din al-'Amili was appointed as the architect and the structure was designed in the classical Safavid Persian style. Over time the shrine has undergone various notable renovations aimed to enhance its beauty and grandeur, most notably the gilding of the dome and minarets of the shrine in 1743 by Nader Shah Afshar.


The shrine of Imām 'Alī as with its mosque, dome, and minarets in 1932

The Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid built the first structure over the tomb of Imām 'Alī in 786, which included a green dome.

The Abbasid caliph al-Mutawakkil flooded the site in 850, but in the 10th century Abu'l-Hayja, the Hamdanid ruler of Mosul and Aleppo, rebuilt the shrine in 923, which included a large dome.

In 979–980, the Shi'ite Buyid emir 'Adud al-Dawla expanded the shrine, which included a cenotaph over the burial site and a new dome. This included hanging textiles and carpets. He also protected Najaf with a wall and citadel, while providing water from the Euphrates via a qanat.

The Seljuq sultan Malik-Shah I contributed large gifts to the shrine in 1086, as did Caliph Al-Nasir.

The vizier Shams al-Din Juvayni added facilities to serve the pilgrims in 1267, and the sultan Ghazan Khan added the Dar al-Siyada wing for the sayyids in 1303.

Ibn Battuta visited the shrine in 1326, noting that it was "carpeted with various sorts of carpets of silk and other materials, and contains candelabra of gold and silver, large and small." Between the three tombs, "are dishes of gold and silver, containing rose-water, musk and various kinds of perfumes. The visitor dips his hand in this and anoints his face with it for a blessing."[5] A fire destroyed the shrine in 1354, but it was rebuilt around 1358 by the Jalairid sultan Shaikh Awais Jalayir. He also interred his father's remains, Hasan Buzurg in the courtyard. Timur ordered the restoration of the shrine after a visit to Najaf. Suleiman the Magnificent also offered gifts, which probably helped restore the shrine, after a visit in 1534. The Safavid Shah Ismail I visited in 1508, but it was Abbas I who visited Najaf twice and commissioned 500 men to rebuild the shrine in 1623. The restoration was completed by his grandson Shah Safi al-Din in 1632. This restoration included a new dome, expanded courtyard, a hospital, kitchen, and hospice, so as to accommodate the numerous pilgrims. The cenotaph was restored in 1713 and the dome stabilized in 1716.

In 1742, Nader Shah gilded the dome and minaret,[6] and this was chronicled by Nasrallah al-Haeri in his famous poem, iḏhā ḍhāmak al-dahra yawman wa jārā (Arabic: إذا ضامك الدهر يوماً وجارا).[7][8] Nader Shah's wife paid for the walls and courtyard to be rebuilt and the retiling of the iwan faience. In 1745, the iwan was rebuilt as a gilt muqarnas of nine tiers. In 1791, a raised stone floor covered the tombs in the courtyard, creating a cellar space for them.

The first European visitors included Carsten Niebuhr in 1765, William Loftus in 1853, and Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1864.[9]: 79  The Ottoman emperor Abdülaziz rebuilt the Clock Portal (Bab al-Sa'a) and the Portal of Muslim Ibn 'Aqil in 1863 and the former gilded in 1888 by the Qajar sultan Naser al-Din Shah Qajar.[9] In 1886, Sultan Naser al-Din, also repaired the dome because there were breaks in it due to the weather.

Independent Iraq


During the uprising of March 1991, following the Persian Gulf War, Saddam Hussein's Republican Guards damaged the shrine, where members of the Shia opposition were cornered, in storming the shrine and massacring virtually all its occupants. Afterwards, the shrine was closed for two years, officially for repairs. Saddam Hussein also deported to Iran a large number of the residents of the area who were of Iranian descent.

In the three years after the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S. military, a number of violent incidents occurred at the mosque:

Architecture and decoration


Numerous structures have existed over the tomb of Imam Ali since its discovery during the rule of Harun al Rashid in the 8th century. [10] The current structure though dates back to the Safavid period in the 17th century and was designed by the famous Safavid polymath Baha' al-din al-'Amili. The shrine consists of the central tomb chamber topped by a large double shell onion-shaped dome 42 m (138 ft) in height, and flanked by twin 38 m (125 ft) tall minarets.[9]: 88–91  The inner shell of the dome is visible from the inside of the tomb chamber while the monumental outer shell is visible from the courtyard of the shrine and throughout the city. [11] The inside of the tomb chamber and its surrounding halls are ornamented with an array of mirror mosaics, most of which has been replaced over the years and are not original. The ceramic mosaics that adorn the inner shell of the dome however are original and date back to the original construction of the shrine during the Safavid period. At the front of the shrine stands a large golden iwan flanked by two minarets. The monumental dome, iwan, and minarets are adorned with gold coated copper plates, though they were originally adorned with green and blue ceramic tiles in the typical Safavid fashion. The gilding of the shrines dome and façade elements occurred in 1743 under the orders of the Iranian king Nader Shah Afshar and his wife Razia Begum. The golden iwan, dome, and minarets contains numerous inscriptions in Persian, Arabic, and Azeri Turkish with peoms in praise of Ali ibn Abi Talib inscriptions chronicling the gilding of the shrine by Nader Shah.[12] The left and right side walls of the shrine are ornamented with cuerda seca tile panels most of which date from either the 18th or 19th centuries. Imam Ali's shrine is among the last of the Shi'ite shrines in Iraq to retains its nearly full set of original antique tiles.[13]

Around the shrine on its North, East, and Southern sides is a large courtyard surrounded by pointed arch arcades, while the shrine is linked on the West to the Al-Ra's Mosque. The courtyard arcades are two floors in height and contain various small chambers historically used as dormitory rooms for seminary students, today most are used as administrative offices. The Al-Ras mosque (literally "The Head Mosque") is oriented in the direction of the head of Ali Ibn Abi Talib's grave. The original Al-Ras mosque is said to have dated from the Ilhanate period in 14th century however it was demolished in 2005 by the shrine's administration and rebuilt in a modern style using contemporary construction materials and methods. Local architectural historians and preservationists have argued the destruction of the original Al-Ras mosque destroyed an important part of the shrine's architectural heritage and the introduction of modern construction methods and materials has damaged the architectural integrity of the shrine.[11] The original Ilkhanate era mihrab of the Al-Ras mosque underwent restoration in 2023 after having been kept in storage for 18 years and will be put on display in the shrine's museum.[14]

Entrance to the shrine is through three main monumental portals on the eastern, northern and southern sides, called the Main or Clock Portal, al-Tusi Portal and the Qibla Portal respectively. There are two additional monumental portals, the Portal of Muslim Ibn 'Aqil, north of the Clock Gate, and the al-'Amara, or al-Faraj Portal, at the southwestern corner. The most notable of these entry portals is the Clock Portal (Iwan-i-Sa'at) and is topped by a tall clock tower ornamented with mosaic tiles. The clock mechanism and its bells were produced in Manchester, England and brought to the shrine in 1887, this is visible on iron engravings on the bells.

Religious status and precincts

The shrine of Imām 'Alī in 2005

As the burial site of Shī'a Islam's most important figure,[15] the shrine of Imām 'Alī is considered by all Shī'a Muslims as the fourth holiest Islamic site.[15][16][17][18][19][20] The Boston Globe reports "for the Muslim Shias, Najaf is the fourth holiest city, behind Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Palestine."[21][22][23] It is estimated that only Karbala, Mecca, and Medina receive more Muslim pilgrims.[21] A hadith attributed to Ja'far as-Sādiq, the Sixth Imami Shī'ite Imām, mentions the site as one of "five definitive holy places that we respect very much".[16]

The site is visited annually by at least 8 million pilgrims on average, which is estimated to increase to 20 million in years to come.[24] Many Shī'ites believe that 'Alī did not want his grave to be desecrated by his enemies and consequently asked his friends and family to bury him secretly. This secret gravesite is supposed to have been revealed later during the Abbasid Caliphate by as-Sādiq.[25] Most Shī'ites accept that 'Alī is buried in Imām 'Alī Mosque, in what is now the city of Najaf, which grew around the shrine.[26]

As-Sādiq said that Imām 'Alī Mosque is the third of five holiest Islamic sites: Mecca, Medina, Imām 'Alī Mosque in Najaf, Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbalā, and the Shrine of his daughter Fāṭimah in Qom.[27]

"God chose that land [Najaf] as the abode of the Prophets. I swear to God that no one more honourable than the Commander of the Believers [Ali] has ever lived there after (the time of) his purified fathers, Ādam and Nuh."[28]


See also



  1. ^ "Ali", Wikipedia, 2021-04-25, retrieved 2021-04-28
  2. ^ a b al-Qummi, Ja'far ibn Qūlawayh (2008). Kāmil al-Ziyārāt. Shiabooks.ca Press. pp. 66–67.
  3. ^ Al-Islam.org
  4. ^ "عمارات المرقد العلوي المطهر". العتبة العلوية المقدسة. Retrieved 2023-11-16.
  5. ^ Battutah, Ibn (2002). The Travels of Ibn Battutah. London: Picador. p. 56. ISBN 9780330418799.
  6. ^ Tucker, Ernest (1994). "Nadir Shah and the Ja 'fari Madhhab Reconsidered". Iranian Studies. 27 (1/4): 163–179. doi:10.1080/00210869408701825. ISSN 0021-0862. JSTOR 4310891.
  7. ^ Kirmani, Abbas (1954). Diwan al-Sayyid Nasrallah al-Haeri (in Arabic). Najaf, Iraq: Matba'at al-Ghari al-Haditha. p. 19.
  8. ^ "Tarikh Tathhib al-Marqad al-Alawi al-Muttahar" [The History of the Gilding of the Holy Alid Shrine]. Imam Ali Holy Shrine (in Arabic). Retrieved 2020-02-29.
  9. ^ a b c Tabbaa, Yasser; Mervin, Sabrina; Bonnier, Erick (2014). Najaf, The Gate of Wisdom. UNESCO. pp. 32, 73–81. ISBN 9789231000287.
  10. ^ "Al Islam | History of the shrine of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib". Al-Islam.org. Archived from the original on 2022-07-26.
  11. ^ a b Abid, Sadiq (July 2015). "Imam Ali Shrine, Institution and Cultural Monument: The implications of cultural significance and its impact on local conservation management". WIT Transactions on the Built Environment. 153: 87–97 – via WIT Press.
  12. ^ Bahrami, AliReza (June 26, 2016). "ارادت "طلایی" نادرشاه به حضرت علی". ISNA. Retrieved November 17, 2023.
  13. ^ "The Shrine of Imam Ali – Between Two Different Areas". Persian Architecture Archives. March 8, 2022. Retrieved November 17, 2023.
  14. ^ "محراب ایرانی حرم امام علی (ع) مرمت شد". Atabat.org. April 20, 2023.
  15. ^ a b Never Again! Archived 2007-08-05 at the Wayback Machine ShiaNews.com
  16. ^ a b Iran Diary, Part 2: Knocking on heaven's door Asia Times Online
  17. ^ Muslim Shia's Saint Imam Ali Holy Shrine - 16 Images Archived 2010-09-05 at the Wayback Machine Cultural Heritage Photo Agency
  18. ^ The tragic martyrdom of Ayatollah Al Hakim calls for a stance Archived 2010-09-18 at the Wayback Machine Modarresi News, September 4, 2003
  19. ^ Zaman Online, August 13, 2004 Archived October 28, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ Why 2003 is not 1991 The Guardian, April 1, 2003
  21. ^ a b Iraqi forces in Najaf take cover in important Shia shrine The Boston Globe, April 2, 2003
  22. ^ Religious rivalries and political overtones in Iraq Archived 2009-06-11 at the Wayback Machine CNN.com, April 23, 2003]
  23. ^ "Miscellaneous Relevant Links" Archived 2011-10-06 at the Wayback Machine Muslims, Islam, and Iraq]
  24. ^ "Red tape curbs profits from Iraq religious tourism". Reuters. 2009-02-16. Retrieved May 9, 2009.
  25. ^ Majlesi, V.97, p. 246–251
  26. ^ Redha, Mohammad; Mohammad Agha (1999). Imam Ali Ibn Abi Taleb (Imam Ali the Fourth Caliph, 1/1 Volume). Dar Al Kotob Al ilmiyah. ISBN 2-7451-2532-X.
  27. ^ Escobar, Pepe (May 24, 2002). "Knocking on heaven's door". Central Asia/Russia. Asia Times Online. Archived from the original on June 3, 2002. Retrieved 2006-11-12. According to a famous hadith (saying)...'our sixth Imam, Imam Sadeg, says that we have five definitive holy places that we respect very much. The first is Mecca... second is Medina... third belongs to our first Imam of the Shia, Ali, which is in Najaf. The fourth belongs to our third Imam, Hussein, in Kerbala. The last one belongs to the daughter of our seventh imam and sister of our eighth Imam, who is called Fatemah and will be buried in Qom.'
  28. ^ al-Qummi, Ja'far ibn Qūlawayh (2008). "10". Kāmil al-Ziyārāt. trans. Sayyid Mohsen al-Husaini al-Mīlāni. Shiabooks.ca Press. p. 67.