Imam Husayn Shrine

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Imam Husayn Shrine
Kerbela Hussein Moschee.jpg
Shrine of Imam Husayn ibn Ali before extensive Renovations
Basic information
Location Iraq Karbala, Iraq
Geographic coordinates 32°36′59″N 44°01′56″E / 32.616365°N 44.032313°E / 32.616365; 44.032313Coordinates: 32°36′59″N 44°01′56″E / 32.616365°N 44.032313°E / 32.616365; 44.032313
Affiliation Shia Islam
Architectural description
Architectural type Mosque

The Shrine of Hussain ibn Ali (Arabic: مقام الامام الحسينUrdu: آستان عالیہ حصرت امام حسین) is one of the oldest and renowned sites of pilgrimage which comprises the mosque and burial site of Husayn Ibn Ali the third Imam of Shia Islam in the city of Karbala, Iraq. It stands on the site of the Mausoleum of Husayn ibn Ali, the second grandson of Muhammad, near the place where he was martyred during the Battle of Karbala in 680 C.E..[1][2] The tomb of Husayn ibn Ali is one of the holiest places for Shias outside of Mecca and Medina, and many make pilgrimages to the site. Every year, millions of pilgrims visit the city to observe Ashura, which marks the anniversary of Husayn ibn Ali's death.[3]

The Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs prevented construction of the shrines and discouraged pilgrimage to the sites.[4] The tomb and its annexes were destroyed by Abbasid caliph Al-Mutawakkil in 850-851 and Shi'a pilgrimage was prohibited, but shrines in Karbala and Najaf were built by the Buwayhid emir 'Adud al-Daula in 979-80.[5]

The boundary wall of the shrine surrounds wooden gates covered with glass decorations. The gates open into a courtyard separated into smaller rooms or precincts with many "Iwans" along the walls. The grave of Husayn ibn Ali is enclosed within a cage-like structure, found directly beneath the golden dome. On March 5, 2013 the process of replacing the zarih (cage like structure) over the tomb of Husayn Ibn Ali (a.s.) was completed and the new zarih inaugurated.[6] Al Abbas Mosque is located nearby.

History of Karbala[edit]

The old zarih of the shrine
Old picture of Hussain Mosque

Karbala, a city in Iraq is located about 100 km southwest of Baghdad at 32.61°N, 44.08°E. It was at first a desolate place and did not witness any noteworthy activity, although it was rich in water and its soil was fertile. When Imam Husayn arrived at Karbala and was surrounded by the forces of Ubaidullah bin Ziyad, he inquired about the name of the place. Someone replied it is Aqr - meaning ‘harsh’. Imam Husain then said: we seek refuge with Allah from Al Aqr. He once again asked the name of the village. Then one of the attendants replied, its name is Karbala. Imam Husain spontaneously declared: land of Karb and Bal’a meaning (land of) “torture and trial”. In the time of Imam Husain, the place was also known as al Ghadiriyah, Nainawa, and Shat ul Furat. Imam Husain bought a piece of land, after his arrival at Karbala from Bani Asad. He and his Ahl al Bait are buried in that portion, known by as Hair, where the Shrines are presently located. The history of destruction and reconstruction of the Shrines of Karbala is long. Both the Shrines were greatly extended by successive Muslim rulers, but suffered repeated destruction from attacking armies. Karbala's development was strongly influenced by the Persians.

History has recorded the names of several rulers who shared the honor of extending, decorating and keeping the Shrines and its precincts in good condition. Among them is Fateh Ali Qajar, who in 1250 (A.H) ordered the construction of two Shrines, one over Imam Husain’s grave and the other over the grave of his brother, Abul Fazlil Abbas ibn Ali. The first dome is 27 meters high and completely covered with gold. At the bottom, it is surrounded with 12 windows, each of which is about 1.25 m away from the other, from the inside, and 1.30 m from the outside. The Shrine has an area of 59 m / 75 m with ten gates, and about 65 rooms, well decorated from the inside and outside, and used as class rooms for studying. As for the grave itself, which is in the middle of the precinct, it is called the Rawzah or garden and it has several doors. The most famous one is called al Qiblah or Bab al Zah’ab.

Karbala consists of some places like Ganj E Shaheedah where all the Followers of Imam Hussain were buried and Qatl Gaah where Imam Hussain and his followers fought with the Syrian Army


Some Shias consider this verse to refer to Shia sacred sites of Najaf and Karbala since the Islamic view of Lot claims Lot lived in Ur which lies in present day Iraq.[7]

But we delivered him and his nephew Lut and directed them to the land which we have blessed.


The mosque stands on the site of the grave of Husayn ibn Ali, where he was martyred during the Battle of Karbalā in 680.[1][2] Up to 8 million pilgrims visit the city to observe ‘Āshūrā, which marks the anniversary of Husayn ibn ‘Alī's death. But the main event is 40th Arba'een of Husayn ibn Ali where up to 22 million visit the holy graves and most of the pilgrims travel barefooted from all around Iraq and more than 56 countries.[8] There are many Shī‘ah traditions which narrate the status of Karbalā:

“Karbalā, where your grandson and his family will be killed, is the most blessed and the most sacred land on Earth and it is one of the valleys of Paradise.”[9]

—The archangel Gabriel

“God chose the land of Karbala as a safe and blessed sanctuary twenty-four thousand years before He created the land of the Kaaba and chose it as a sanctuary. Verily it [Karbalā] will shine among the gardens of Paradise, like a shining star shines among the stars for the people of Earth.”[10]

“Not one night passes in which Gabriel and Michael do not go to visit him [Husayn].”[11]

Also there are many Sunni traditions which narrate the status of Husayn ibn Ali and Karbalā:

Abu Huraira narrated: The Prophet looked toward Ali, Hasan, Husain, and Fatimah, and then said: "I am in war with those who will fight you, and in peace with those who are peaceful to you."[12][13]

Also it is narrated that: "The Messenger of Allah said: "Husain is from me and I am from Husain."[14][15]

Also: The Messenger of Allah said: "He who loves al-Hasan and al-Husain, has loved me, and he who makes them angry has made me angry."[16][17][18][19]

Thus the tomb of the martyred Imam has acquired this great significance in all Muslim tradition because the Imam and his fellow martyrs are seen as models of jihad in the way of God.

Karbala: origin and meaning[edit]

Imam Husayn Mosque (before the renovations in 2008)
Entry gate to the grave of Husayn within the mosque.
Shia pilgrims make their way to the Imam Husayn Shrine in 2008.
Inside the mosque

There are many opinions among different investigators, as to the origin of the word "Karbala". Some have pointed out that "Karbala" has a connection to the "Karbalato" language, while others attempt to derive the meaning of word "Karbala" by analysing its spelling and language. They conclude that it originates from the Arabic word "Kar Babel" which was a group of ancient Babylonian villages that included Nainawa, Al-Ghadiriyya, Karbella (Karb Illu. as in Arba Illu [Arbil]), Al-Nawaweess, and Al-Heer. This last name is today known as Al-Hair and is where Hussain ibn Ali’s grave is located.

The investigator Yaqut al-Hamawy had pointed out that the meaning of "Karbala" could have several explanations, one of which is that the place where Hussain ibn Ali was martyred is made of soft earth - "Al-Karbalat".

According to Shia belief, the true meaning of the name Karbalā was narrated to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel as being, "the land which will cause many agonies (karb) and afflictions (balā)."[20]

Buried within the Mosque[edit]

The grave of Imam Husayn is found in the middle of the precinct, and is called the "Rawda" or "Garden" and it has several entry gates. The most famous one is called "Al-Qibla" or "Bāb al-Dhahab". When it is entered, one can see the tomb of Habīb ibn Madhahir al-Asadī, to the right hand side. Habīb was a friend and companion of Imam Husayn since their childhood and was honored with martyrdom at the Battle of Karbala.

Within the shrine of Imam Husayn can also be found a grave of all the 72 martyrs of Karbalā. They were buried in a mass grave which was then covered with soil to the ground level. This mass grave is at the foot of Imam Husayn's grave. As well, beside Imam Husayn's grave are the graves of his two sons: ‘Alī al-Akbar and the 6-month old, ‘Alī al-Asghar. Also buried within the mosque is Ibrāhīm (son of the seventh Twelver Shī‘ah Imām, Mūsā al-Kādhim), who spent his life preaching about Karbalā.

Martyrdom and popularity[edit]

Karbalā was at first an uninhabited place and did not witness any constructional activity, although it was rich in water and its soil fertile.

From the time of Husayn ibn ‘Alī's death in 680, pilgrimages to commemorate the massacre have often been repressed.[4]

Despite many attempts by successive rulers, such as Al-Rashīd and Al-Mutawakkil, to put a restriction on the development of this area, it has nonetheless spread with time to become a city.

Early development and specifications[edit]

The historian Ibn Kuluwayh mentioned that those who buried Husayn ibn ‘Alī, made a special and rigid construction with signs above the grave.

Higher and bigger constructions above the grave started during the ruling of al-Saffah, but heavy restrictions were put in place to prevent people from visiting the grave during the rule of Hārūn al-Rashīd.

At the time of al-Mā'mūn, construction around the grave resumed until the year 850, when al-Mutawakkil ordered the destruction and digging of the grave, and then filling the pit with water. His son who succeeded him al-Muntasir, allowed people to visit the grave site, and since then building the precinct to the grave increased and developed step by step.

On the other hand, the historian Ibn al-Athir, stated that in the year 371 AH, ‘Adhud ad-Dawlah became the first to largely lay the foundations for large scale construction, and generously decorated the place. He also built houses and markets around the precinct, and surrounded Karbalā with a high boundary wall turning it into a strong castle.

In the year 407 AH, the precinct caught fire due to the dropping of two large candles on the wooden decorations. The state minister at the time, Hasan ibn Fadl, rebuilt the damaged sections.

History has recorded the names of several rulers who shared the honor of widening, decorating or keeping the precinct in good condition. Amongst them is Fat'h ‘Alī Shāh Qājār, who in 1250 AH ordered the construction of two domes, one over Husayn ibn ‘Alī's grave and the other over his brother ‘Abbās ibn ‘Alī.

The first dome is 27 meters high and completely covered with gold. At the bottom, it is surrounded with 12 windows, each of which is about 1.25 m away from the ookoutside.

The mausoleum has an area of 59 m / 75 m with ten gates, and about 65 rooms, well decorated from the inside and outside, used as classrooms for studying.


The following events are in chronological order, stating instances that widely involved the shrine, impressing its construction, renovation and series of extremist activities that reduced its structure and killed pilgrims from time to time.

Year Event
61 680 October 10: Husayn is said to have been buried on this day. It was Bani Asad who, after the departure of Ahl al Bait, assembled at the grave of Imam Husayn. Historical accounts provide little light on the first builder of the Shrine. It is assumed that Bani Asad also the first, who erected a tent upon the grave of Imam Husayn. A Shaikh of Bani Asad lighted a candle at the grave of the Imam and planted a berry tree a few feet away from the side of the head of the grave, to indicate the grave of Husayn.
65 684 A mosque was built by Mukhtar ibn Abu `Ubayd ath-Thaqafi on the spot and a dome was created over the grave. Over the dome he fixed a green flag. Two entrance gates were made for the mosque. He also settled several families around the enclosure.
132 749 Another dome was erected over the mosque and additional two gates for entrance were made at the mausoleum during the reign of Abbasid Caliph as-Saffah.
140 763 During the reign of Caliph al-Mansur, the roof along with the domes were destroyed.
158 774 The demolished roof was rebuilt during the reign of Caliph al-Mahdi.
171 787 During the reign of Caliph Harun ar-Rashid, the mausoleum was destroyed and the Berry tree that stood besides the grave of Husayn was cut down. Even then people kept visiting the grave of Imam Husayn, guided by the traces of the ‘Tree of the Berry’, which covered the grave. Harun al-Rashid could not tolerate this, and ordered the tree to be totally cut off from the roots, with the intention to wipe out the sign of the grave of Husayn and stop the practice of visiting the grave.
193 808 The mausoleum was reconstructed during the reign of Caliph al-Mamun.For political advantage against Al - Amin
236 850 Caliph al-Mutawakkil destroyed the mausoleum and ordered the nearby land, including the grave, to be ploughed. Shrine of Imam was destroyed four time From 232 hijri until 246 hijri
247 861 Caliph al-Muntasir reconstructed the shrine with an iron pillar build a roof over the grave. Under instruction of Al Muntasir, new houses were built around the Shrines.
273 886 Once again the mausoleum was destroyed.In order of Talah ibn Jafar Mutwakil al-maruf al-muktafi bi-lah
280 893 The shrine was rebuilt by the Alid council and two minarets were constructed on either side of the grave. Two entrance gates for the shrine were also constructed.
307 977 A sepulcher was constructed within the shrine using teak wood, by the Buwayhid emir ‘Adhud ad-Dawlah. Surrounding galleries were also constructed. He also constructed the city of Karbala by making houses and the city boundary. ‘Imrān ibn Shahin at that time also constructed a mosque adjacent to the shrine.
407 1016 Fire destroyed the shrine. The vizier Hasan ibn Fadl rebuilt the structure.
620 1223 The sepulcher was renovated by an-Nasir li-Din Allah.
757 1365 The dome and walls of the shrine were reconstructed by Sultan `Uways ibn Hasan Jalayiri. He also raised the walls of the enclosure.
780 1384 The two minarets were reconstructed of gold by Sultan Ahmad ibn `Uways. The courtyard was also extended.
920 1514 The Safavid shah of Iran Ismail I, constructed a sarcophagus of inlaid glass work over the real grave.
1032 1622 Abbas Shah Safavi renovated the sarcophagus with brass and bronze and also the dome with Kashi tiles.
1048 1638 Sultan Murad IV whitewashed the dome.
1155 1742 Nadir Shah Afshar decorated the shrine and offered expensive gems to the treasury of the shrine.
1211 1796 Aghā Muhammad Shāh Qājār plastered the dome with pure gold. He also decorated the Min’ar and gold plated it.
1216 1801 Wahhabis attacked Karbala, damaged the shrine, and looted the sepulchre.
1232 1817 Fat'h ‘Alī Shāh Qājār reconstructed the screens by plating with silver. He also replated the dome with gold and therefore repaired the damage caused by the Wahhabis.
1283 1866 Nāsir ad-Dīn Shāh Qājār broadened the courtyard of the mausoleum.
1358 1939 Dr. Syedna Taher Saifuddin, of the Dawoodi Bohra community presented a set of solid silver screens with gold which were attached to the shrine. This set is made of 500 gold coins (each coin consisted 12 grams weight) and 200 thousand coins of silver, beautified with precious gems.
1360 1941 The western minaret was rebuilt by Dr. Syedna Taher Saifuddin. He spent a huge amount generously for the purpose of gold plating all the Min’ar. From top to bottom, pure gold was installed.
1367 1948 A road was built around the shrine by the then administrator of Karbala City, Sayyid Abd al-Rasul al-Khalsi. He also broadened the courtyard of the shrine.
1411 1991 Major damage to the shrine occurs as the city experiences violent reprisals by the army of Saddam Hussain after an uprising against his regime following the Persian Gulf War.
1415 1994 Repairs to the shrine from the damage done in 1991 are finally completed.[21]
1425 2004 March 2: At least 6 explosions[22] occurred during the ‘Āshūrā' commemorations, killing 178 people and wounding 500.[23][24]
1425 2004 December 15: A bomb detonated near the gate of the shrine, killing at least 7 people and injuring 31 others.[25][26]
1426 2006 January 5: Suicide bombers among the crowd between the two shrines, killed at least 60 people and injured more than 100.[27][28]
1428 2007 April 14: A suicide attack 200m from the shrine killed at least 36 people and injured more than 160 others.[29][30]
1428 2007 From India a renowned spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar visited the shrine after Guru Nanak's visits centuries ago. S.S. Ravi Shanker visited the shrine from May 21–27 as an ambassador from Art of Living. He accepted the invitation from Iraqi Government, and visited the Holy Shrine and stressed upon the sacredness of holy city and urged people not to use arms and ammunitions around shrine.[31]
1428 2007 December: Construction work began on building a roof over the courtyard of the mosque, with hopes of creating a second floor and expanding the mosque.[32]
1429 2008 March 17: A female suicide bomber detonated herself in the market near the shrine, killing at least 42 people and injured 58 others.[33][34]
1429 2008 September 11: A bomb was detonated 800m from the shrine, killing one woman and injuring 12 others.[35]
1430 2009 February 12: A bomb blast killed 8 people and wounded more than 50 others during the commemoration of Arba‘een.[36][37]
1431 2010 Attacks aimed at pilgrims attending the commemoration of Arba‘een:
February 1: A female suicide bomber detonated herself, killing 54 people and injuring more than 100 others.[38]
February 3: A bomb blast killed at least 23 people and injured more than 147.[39]
February 5: A double bomb-blast,[38] or a combination of a bomb-blast and mortar attack[38][39] killed at least 42 people and left 150 injured.[39]
1433 2012 Construction of a roof covering the courtyard around the mosque was completed, as pilgrims are increasing every year measures to enhance their experience are being taken.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Shimoni & Levine, 1974, p. 160.
  2. ^ a b Aghaie, 2004, pp. 10-11.
  3. ^ Interactive Maps: Sunni & Shia: The Worlds of Islam, PBS, accessed 9 June 2007.
  4. ^ a b al Musawi, 2006, p. 51.
  5. ^ Litvak, 1998, p. 16.
  6. ^
  7. ^ History of Islam by Professor Masudul Hasan
  8. ^ "Interactive Maps: Sunni & Shia: The Worlds of Islam". PBS. Retrieved June 9, 2007. 
  9. ^ al-Qummi, Ja'far ibn Qūlawayh (2008). "Addendum before chapter 89". Kāmil al-Ziyārāt. trans. Sayyid Mohsen al-Husaini al-Mīlāni. Press. p. 545. 
  10. ^ al-Qummi, Ja'far ibn Qūlawayh (2008). "88". Kāmil al-Ziyārāt. trans. Sayyid Mohsen al-Husaini al-Mīlāni. Press. p. 534. 
  11. ^ al-Qummi, Ja'far ibn Qūlawayh (2008). "88". Kāmil al-Ziyārāt. trans. Sayyid Mohsen al-Husaini al-Milani. Press. p. 536. 
  12. ^ Sahih al-Tirmidhi, v5, p699
  13. ^ Sunan Ibn Majah, v1, p52
  14. ^ Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v4, p172
  15. ^ Fadha'il al-Sahaba, by Ahmad Hanbal, v2, p772, Tradition #1361
  16. ^ Sunan Ibn Majah,
  17. ^ al-Mustadrak, by al-Hakim, from Abu Hurairah
  18. ^ Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, as quoted in:
  19. ^ al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar Haythami, Ch. 11, section 3, p292
  20. ^ al-Qummi, Ja'far ibn Qūlawayh (2008). Kāmil al-Ziyārāt. trans. Sayyid Mohsen al-Husaini al-Mīlāni. Press. p. 545. 
  21. ^ Paul Lewis (August 13, 1994). "Karbala Journal; Who Hit the Mosques? Not Us, Baghdad Says". New York Times. Retrieved 15 November 2008. 
  22. ^ "In pictures: Karbala blasts". BBC News. 2 March 2004. Retrieved 15 November 2008. 
  23. ^ "Iraq Shias massacred on holy day". BBC News. 2 March 2004. Retrieved 15 November 2008. 
  24. ^ "Deadly attacks rock Baghdad, Karbala". Tuesday, March 2, 2004 Posted: 2:41 PM EST (1941 GMT). Retrieved 15 November 2008.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  25. ^ "Bomb at Shiite shrine kills seven on first day of Iraq's election campaign". USA Today. 2004-12-15. Retrieved 27 April 2009. 
  26. ^ "Bomb at Shiite shrine kills seven in violence, wounds 31 on first day of Iraq's election campaign". Retrieved 27 April 2009. 
  27. ^ "Iraq suicide bomb blasts kill 120". BBC News. 5 January 2006. Retrieved 15 November 2008. 
  28. ^ OPPEL Jr, RICHARD A. (January 6, 2006). "Up to 130 Killed in Iraq, Drawing a Shiite Warning". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 November 2008. 
  29. ^ "Iraq suicide bomb blasts kill 120". BBC News. Saturday, 14 April 2007, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK. Retrieved 16 November 2008.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  30. ^ "Dozens slain as car bomb hits Iraqi bus station". msnbc. 8:53 p.m. ET, Sat., April. 14, 2007. Retrieved 16 November 2008.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  31. ^ "Sri Sri Spreads the Message of Peace in Iraq". Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  32. ^ تطورات مشروعي توسيع الحرم الحسيني المقدس وبناء المنشآت للطابق الثاني. العتبة الحسينية المقدسة (in Arabic). December 18, 2007. Retrieved 6 February 2010. 
  33. ^ "Dozens killed near Iraqi shrine". BBC News. 17 March 2008. Retrieved 16 November 2008. 
  34. ^ "Death toll from Karbala suicide bombing rises to 35". xinhuanet. 2008-03-18. Retrieved 16 November 2008. 
  35. ^ Jomana Karadsheh (September 11, 2008). "3 killed in Iraq shrine bombings". Retrieved 15 November 2008. 
  36. ^ "Iraq Violence". Associated Press. February 13, 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2010. 
  37. ^ "Iraq - International Religious Freedom Report 2009". U.S. Department of State. October 26, 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2010. 
  38. ^ a b c "Deadly blasts hit Iraq Karbala city". February 6, 2010. Retrieved 6 February 2010. 
  39. ^ a b c "Karbala blast leaves 42 killed, hundreds wounded". PressTV. 5 Feb 2010. Retrieved 6 February 2010. 
  40. ^ "Shrine of Husain ibn Ali". Retrieved 27 March 2015. 


  • Aghaie, Kamran Scot (2004). The Martyrs of Karbala: Shi'i Symbols and Rituals in Modern Iran. University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-98448-1
  • Litvak, Meir (1998). Shi'i Scholars of Nineteenth-Century Iraq: The Ulama of Najaf and Karbala. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-89296-1
  • al Musawi, Muhsin (2006). Reading Iraq: Culture and Power and Conflict. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 1-84511-070-6
  • Shimoni, Yaacov & Levine, Evyatar (1974). Political Dictionary of the Middle East in the 20th Century. Quadrangle/New York Times Book Co.

External links[edit]