Coordinates: 32°01′02″N 44°17′51″E / 32.01722°N 44.29750°E / 32.01722; 44.29750
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Wadi-us-Salaam cemetery
وادي السلام (Valley of Peace)
Aerial photograph of most of the whole cemetery.
Wadi-us-Salaam cemetery is located in Iraq
Wadi-us-Salaam cemetery
Wadi-us-Salaam cemetery
2894+CR4, Najaf, Najaf Governorate, Iraq
Coordinates32°01′02″N 44°17′51″E / 32.01722°N 44.29750°E / 32.01722; 44.29750

Wadi-us-Salaam (Arabic: وادي السلام, romanizedWādī s-Salām, Arabic pronunciation: [ˈwaːdi‿s.saˈlaːm], lit.'Valley of Peace') is an Islamic cemetery, located in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq. It is the largest cemetery in the world.[1][2] The cemetery covers 1,485.5 acres (601.16 ha; 6.01 km2; 2.32 sq mi) and contains more than 6 million bodies.[3] It also attracts millions of pilgrims annually.[4]

The cemetery is located near the shrine of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the fourth Sunni Caliph, as well as the first Shia Imam.[5] Thus, many Shi'ites in Iraq request that they be buried in this cemetery.[5] As a result of improved transportation methods, Shi'ites from across the globe are (or seek to be) buried in the cemetery. However, to be buried at the cemetery, one has to be interred inside one of the shared crypts in the cemetery.[6]

Shi'ite traditions about the cemetery[edit]

The shrine built in remembrance of the 12th Imam, known as "Maqam al-Mahdi"

Shi'ites traditions hold that Abraham bought land in Wadi-us-Salaam, and that Ali had said the Wadi Al-Salaam was a part of heaven.[7] Shia also widely believe that Ali has the power to intercede for the deceased—lessening their suffering—during the passage of their soul from the worldly life[8] and if they are buried there, they will be raised from the dead on judgment day with their spiritual leader.[9] Additionally, it is believed that prophets Hud and Salih are buried here, according to some narrations.

Shi'ites are encouraged to bury their dead at the location through religious edicts[6] and the cemetery's expansion is also seen as being a result of Shi'isms "more permissive attitude than Sunnism with regard to the commemoration of the dead and the erection of mausoleums."[10]

Shi'ite funerary rituals[edit]

Religious rituals practiced at Wadi-us-Salaam before burial include:

  1. Washing the body and wrapping it at the cemetery.
  2. Conducting funeral prayers at the adjacent shrine of Ali.
  3. Carrying the freshly wrapped corpse around the shrine, in an act similar to that of Tawaf, before it is transported to the cemetery.
  4. Reciting some Qur'anic verses at the cemetery for the deceased.[11]


Daily burials have been on going for over 1,400 years and the site is on the Tentative List of UNESCO's World Heritage sites.[12] Burials in Najaf have been documented as early as the Parthian and Sassanid eras and ancient Mesopotamian cities often had similar cemeteries, where there was an accumulation of tombs.[13]

The cemetery saw heavy fighting during the 2004 Battle of Najaf. It is estimated that during the Iraq War, about 200 to 250 corpses were buried there daily; however, in 2010 this number had decreased to less than 100.[5] Approximately 50,000 new bodies are interred in the cemetery annually from across the globe.[14] This figure is an increase on the approximately 20,000 bodies, primarily from Iran, that used to be interred annually in the early 20th century.[15] Most Iraqi and many Iranian Shi'ites have a relative buried in the cemetery.[16]

As of 2014—coinciding with conflict against ISIL—it has been reported that burial plots are running out, resulting in many being stolen, illegally resold or improvised.[17] According to one gravedigger: "I've never had it so busy. Not even after 2003 or 2006 [the height of Iraq's civil war]."[18]

Important monuments[edit]

Tombs of the Grand Ayatollahs[edit]

The Grand Ayatollah, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, is buried in this cemetery. His successor, Muhammad-Sadiq al-Sadr is also buried there, and his grave is one of the most visited tombs in the cemetery.[19]

Shrine of Prophet Hud and Salih[edit]

Pilgrims gathered outside the shrine of the Prophets Hud and Salih

First built in the 18th century under request of Moḥammad Mahdī Baḥr al-ʿUlūm over the purported tombs of Hud and Salih based on Shi'ite narrations. It was restored in the years 1918 to 1919 after the British desecrated it in 1917.[20] A full new reconstruction was started in 2018.

Site of Imam al-Mahdi[edit]

Site dedicated to Imam al-Mahdi.

Site of Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq[edit]

Site dedicated to Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq.

Prominent burials[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Hala Mundhir Fattah; Frank Caso (2009). A brief history of Iraq. Infobase Publishing. p. 140. ISBN 978-0816057672. Archived from the original on 1 January 2014. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
  2. ^ "The world's biggest cemetery". BBC News. 2016-06-12. Archived from the original on 2021-04-16. Retrieved 2022-06-27.
  3. ^ How Big is Wadi-Us-Salaam Cemetery? Archived 2015-04-25 at the Wayback Machine, washingtonmonthly.com.
  4. ^ Anthony Ham (2010). Middle East. Lonely Planet. p. 224. ISBN 978-1742203591.
  5. ^ a b c "Najaf cemetery witness to Iraq's tragic history". usatoday30.usatoday.com. Archived from the original on 2014-11-30. Retrieved 2022-06-27.
  6. ^ a b Qassem Fayyad (19 September 2012). "Wadi al-Salam: A Cemetery to Cleanse Sins". Al-Akhbar English. Archived from the original on 26 January 2018. Retrieved 29 March 2015.
  7. ^ Dumper, Michael; Stanley, Bruce E., eds. (2007). Cities of the Middle East and North Africa: A Historical Encyclopedia (illustrated ed.). ABC-CLIO. p. 269. ISBN 978-1576079195. There is also the tradition that Abraham bought land in the Wadi as-Salaam (Valley of Peace) that runs through the present city, predicting that it would be from here that 70,000 of those buried in the valley would be guaranteed entrance into paradise and would then be able to intercede with Allah for others. Imam Ali is reported to have said that Wadi as-Salaam was a part of heaven.
  8. ^ Yasser Tabbaa; Sabrina Mervin (2014). Najaf, the Gate of wisdom. UNESCO. pp. 162–163. ISBN 978-9231000287.
  9. ^ Maria Abi-Habib (8 July 2014). "In Iraq, War Strains World's Largest Cemetery". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
  10. ^ Yasser Tabbaa; Sabrina Mervin (2014). Najaf, the Gate of wisdom. UNESCO. p. 162. ISBN 978-9231000287. In addition to historical precedence, there are at least two main factors that have contributed to the expansion of cemeteries around Najaf, and specifically in Wadi al-Salam. First, Shi'ism has developed a somewhat more permissive attitude than Sunnism with regard to the commemoration of the dead and the erection of mausoleums...
  11. ^ George Farag (2007). Diaspora and Transitional Administration: Shiite Iraqi Diaspora and the Administration of Post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. pp. 131–132. ISBN 978-0549410034.
  12. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Wadi Al-Salam Cemetery in Najaf". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Archived from the original on 2018-02-10. Retrieved 2022-06-27.
  13. ^ Yasser Tabbaa; Sabrina Mervin (2014). Najaf, the Gate of wisdom. UNESCO. p. 162. ISBN 978-9231000287. Such burial sites are quite common in ancient Mesopotamian cities, where the accumulation of tombs has created mounds on the outskirts of these early settlements
  14. ^ "Wadi al-Salam: The world's largest cemetery". Al Jazeera. 7 May 2019. Archived from the original on 10 July 2020. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  15. ^ Yasser Tabbaa; Sabrina Mervin (2014). Najaf, the Gate of wisdom. UNESCO. p. 163. ISBN 978-9231000287.
  16. ^ Fair, C. Christine; Ganguly, Sumit, eds. (2008). Treading on Hallowed Ground:Counterinsurgency Operations in Sacred Spaces. Oxford University Press. p. 145. ISBN 978-0199711895.
  17. ^ UNESCOPRESS (19 November 2014). "A new UNESCO publication pays tribute to Iraqi cultural heritage". Archived from the original on 24 April 2015. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
  18. ^ "Islamic State: The pushback". The Economist. 21 Mar 2015. Archived from the original on 16 April 2015. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  19. ^ Yasser Tabbaa; Sabrina Mervin (2014). Najaf, the Gate of wisdom. UNESCO. p. 180. ISBN 978-9231000287.
  20. ^ Qa'idan, 'Atabat-i 'Aliyat-i 'Iraq, page 50
  21. ^ Yaghobi, Ebrahim; Yari, Sivash (2012). "Political Structure and Administrative System of Poshtkooh (Ilam) In the period of Valian". Life Science Journal. 9 (4): 3015, 3017. ISSN 1097-8135. Archived from the original on 2022-06-23. Retrieved 2022-06-27.

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