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Karbala al-Muqaddasah
Shi'a Muslims make their way to the Imam Husayn Mosque in Karbala, Iraq in 2008.
Karbala is located in Iraq
Location in Iraq
Coordinates: 32°37′N 44°02′E / 32.617°N 44.033°E / 32.617; 44.033
Country  Iraq
Governorate Karbala Governorate
 - Mayor
Population (2003)
 - Total 572,300
Time zone Arabia Standard Time
Note: When the word "Karbala" is used in the context of Muslim history or culture, it almost invariably refers to the events around the Battle of Karbala in which Husayn ibn ‘Alī was slain, not the city that stands there today.

Karbala (Arabic: كربلاء‎; BGN: Al-Karbalā’; also spelled Karbalā' al-Muqaddasah) is a city in Iraq, located about 100 km (60 mi) southwest of Baghdad at 32.61°N, 44.08°E. Karbala is the capital of Karbala Governorate, with an estimated population of 572,300 people (2003). The city is best known as the location of the Battle of Karbala, and is amongst the holiest cities for Shī‘ah Muslims after Makkah, Madinah, and Najaf. During the life of Husayn ibn ‘Alī, the city was also known as al-Ghādiriyyah, Naynawā, and Shāt al-Furāt.



There are several theories as to the origin of the name Karbala. One traditional hypothesis is geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi's belief that the name is an alternate Arabic feminine version of karbalah "soft earth".[1]. Another theory is that the name came from the Aramaic root Karb or Qarb; meaning "Near", and Alah; meaning God. Hence, the word 'Karbala' signifies 'Near God'.[2]

According to Shī‘ah 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)."[3]

About the city

The city is one of Iraq's wealthiest, profiting both from religious visitors and agricultural produce, especially dates. It is made up of two districts, "Old Karbala," the religious centre, and "New Karbala," the residential district containing Islamic schools and government buildings.

At the centre of the old city is the Masjid al-Husayn, the tomb of Husayn ibn ‘Ali, grandson of Muhammad by his daughter Fatima tuz-Zahra and ‘Alī ibn Abu Tālib. Hussein's tomb is a place of pilgrimage for many Shī‘ī Muslims, especially on the anniversary of the battle, the Day of ‘Āshūrā. Many elderly pilgrims travel there to await death, as they believe the tomb to be one of the gates to paradise. Another focal point of the Shī‘ī pilgrimage to Karbala is al-Makhayam, traditionally believed to be the location of Husayn's camp, where the martyrdom of Husayn and his followers is publicly commemorated.

The city's association with Shī‘a Islām have made it a centre of religious place as well as worship; it has more than 100 mosques and 23 religious schools, of which possibly the most famous is that of Ibn Fahid, constructed some 440 years ago.


Karbala's prominence in Shīa traditions is the result of the Battle of Karbala, fought on the site of the modern city on October 10, 680 AD. Both Husayn and his brother ˤAbbās ibn ˤAlī were buried by the local Banī Asad tribe at what later became known as the Mashhad Al-Hussein.The main battle was actually because Yazid ibne Muawiya who wanted to rule the entire place and also wanted Imam Hussain(a.s) to accept and bow in front of him. But Imam Hussain was a disciple of Allah and he bowed his head only in front of Allah and not anybody else. One day Yazid sent a letter to Imam Hussain that said that if he did not accept his commands , his friend would be killed. His name was Muslim ibne Aqeel. While Imam Hussain was on his way, Yazid and his followers stopped Imam Hussain's tribe at Karbala. They stopped the water supply from the river Furat or Eufrates for their tents 3 days. Yazid killed Imam Hussain and his friends and family without serving them water. Not only Imam hussain and Hazrat Abbass, but his 18 year old son Ali Akbar,and his 6 month old son Ali Asghar were killed... 72 of them were killed without even having a drop of water. Today when we slaughter an animal, we serve it water when the slaughter it. The city grew up around the tombs, though the date of construction of the first sanctuary is not known.

The city and tombs were greatly expanded by successive Muslim rulers, but suffered repeated destruction from attacking armies. The original shrine was destroyed by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mutawakkil in 850 but was rebuilt in its present form around 979, only to be partly destroyed by fire in 1086 and rebuilt yet again.

Like Najaf, the city suffered from severe water shortages that were only resolved in the early 18th century by building a dam at the head of the Hussayniyya Canal. In 1737, the city replaced Isfahan in Iran as the main centre of Shī'a scholarship. In the mid-eighteenth century it was dominated by the dean of scholarship, Yusuf Al Bahrani, a key proponent of the Akhbari tradition of Shī'a thought, until his death in 1772[4], after which the more state-centric Usuli school became more influential. It suffered severe damage in 1802 when an invading Wahhabi army sacked the city. Following the Wahhabi invasion, the city's sheikhs established a self-governing republic which was ended by a reimposition of Ottoman rule in 1843. This prompted many students and scholars to move to Najaf, which became the main Shī'a religious centre.

Mosque in Karbala (1932)

Karbala's development was strongly influenced by the Persians, who were the dominant community for many years (making up 75%[citation needed]of the city's population by the early 20th century). The Kammouna family (Arab) were custodians of the shrines for many years and effectively ran the city until it fell under the control of the British Empire in 1915. The Persian influence was deliberately reduced under British rule, with a series of nationality laws (such as a prohibition on foreigners occupying government posts) being introduced to squeeze out the Persian community. By 1957, they accounted for only 12% of the city's population. They were subsequently assimilated into the Iraqi population, accepting Iraqi nationality.

The association of the city with Shīˤa religious traditions led to it being treated with suspicion by Iraq's Sunni rulers. Under Saddam Hussein's rule, Shīˤa religious observances in the city were greatly restricted and many non-Iraqi Shīˤa were not permitted to travel there at all.

In 1991, the city was badly damaged and many killed when a rebellion by local Shīˤa was put down with great brutality by Saddam's regime. The 2004 pilgrimage was the largest for decades, with over a million people attending. It was marred by bomb attacks on March 2, 2004, now known as the Ashoura massacre, which killed and wounded hundreds despite tight security in the city.

A big Shia festival passed off peacefully amid fears of possible violence that brought thousands of troops and police into the city. Hundreds of thousands of Shia pilgrims who had come together to celebrate the Shaabaniya ritual began leaving the southern city after September 9, 2006 climax ended days of chanting, praying and feasting. Heavy presence by police and Iraqi troops seemed to have kept out Wahhabi/Takfiri Al-Qaeda suicide bombers who have disrupted previous rituals. Three million people attended. Worshippers heard SCIRI leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim repeat demands for legislation to let mainly Shia regions of the oil-rich south merge into an autonomous federal region that would neighbour Iran.[5]

On April 14, 2007, a car bomb exploded about 600 ft (200 m) from the shrine, killing 47[6] and wounding over 150.

On January 19, 2008, 2 million Iraqi Shia pilgrims marched through Karbala city, Iraq to commemorate Ashura. 20,000 Iraqi troops and police guarded the event amid tensions due to clashes between Iraqi troops and Shia Muslims which left 263 people dead (in Basra and Nasiriya).[7]

Shī'ite Beliefs

Only the Shia believe that Karbalā is one of the holiest places on Earth according to the following traditions (among others):

“Karbalā, where your grandson and his family will be killed, is the one of the most blessed and the most sacred land on Earth and it is one of the valleys of Paradise.”
“God chose the land of Karbalā as a safe and blessed sanctuary twenty-four thousand years before He created the land of the Ka‘bah 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.”
  • "When an angel descends on the earth, the Hur request him to get beads (of tasbih) from the dust of Imam Husain's (a.s.) grave." [9]
  • In this regard, Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) narrates, 'Allah, the Almighty, has made the dust of my ancestor's grave - Imam Husain (a.s.) as a cure for every sickness and safety from every fear.' [10]
  • It is narrated from Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) that, 'The earth of the pure and holy grave of Imam Husain (a.s.) is a pure and blessed musk. For those who consume it from among our Shias, it is a cure for every ailment, and if our enemy uses it then he will melt the way fat melts, when you intend to consume that pure earth recite the following supplication:…’ [11]

See also


  1. ^ Muslims, Islam, and Iraq
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b al-Qummi, Ja'far ibn Qūlawayh (2008). Kāmil al-Ziyārāt. trans. Sayyid Mohsen al-Husaini al-Mīlāni. Press. p. 545. 
  4. ^ Juan Cole, Sacred Space and Holy War, IB Tauris, 2007 p71-2
  5. ^ "Iraq prime minister to visit Iran". Al Jazeera. September 9, 2006. 
  6. ^ Hamourtziadou, Lily (2007-04-15). "'A Week in Iraq'". Retrieved 2007-04-15. 
  7. ^ BBC NEWS, Iraqi Shia pilgrims mark holy day
  8. ^ al-Qummi, Ja'far ibn Qūlawayh (2008). Kāmil al-Ziyārāt. trans. Sayyid Mohsen al-Husaini al-Mīlāni. Press. p. 534. 
  9. ^ Bihar al-Anwar by Muhammad Baqir Majlisi vol. 101, pg. 136
  10. ^ Amali by Shaykh Tusi (r.a.), vol. 1 pg. 326
  11. ^ Mustadrakul Wasail, vol. 10, pg 339-40 tradition 2; Jadid Makarimul Akhlaq pg.189; Beharul Anwaar vol. 101, tradition 60

External links

Coordinates: 32°37′N 44°02′E / 32.617°N 44.033°E / 32.617; 44.033


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

KERBELA, or Meshed-Iiosain, a town of Asiatic Turkey, the capital of a sanjak of the Bagdad vilayet, situated on the extreme western edge of the alluvial river plain, about 60 m. S.S.W. of Bagdad and 20 m. W. of the Euphrates, from which a canal extends almost to the town. The surrounding territory is fertile and well cultivated, especially in fruit gardens and palmgroves. The newer parts of the city are built with broad streets and sidewalks, presenting an almost European appearance. The inner town, surrounded by a dilapidated brick wall, at the gates of which octroi duties are still levied, is a dirty Oriental city, with the usual narrow streets. Kerbela owes its existence to the fact that IJosain, a son of `Ali, the fourth caliph, was slain here by the soldiers of Yazid, the rival aspirant to the caliphate, on the 10th of October A.D. 680 (see Caliphate, sec. B, § 2). The most important feature of the town is the great shrine of Hosain, containing the tomb of the martyr, with its golden dome and triple minarets, two of which are gilded. Kerbela is a place of pilgrimage of the Shiite Moslems, and is only less sacred to them than Meshed `Ali and Mecca. Some 200,000 pilgrims from the Shiite portions of Islam are said to journey annually to Kerbela, many of them carrying the bones of their relatives to be buried in its sacred soil, or bringing their sick and aged to die there in the odour of sanctity. The mullahs, who fix the burial fees, derive an enormous revenue from the faithful. Formerly Kerbela was a self-governing hierarchy and constituted an inviolable sanctuary for criminals; but in 1843 the Turkish government undertook to deprive the city of some of these liberties and to enforce conscription. The Kerbelese resisted, and Kerbela was bombarded (hence the ruined condition of the old walls) and reduced with great slaughter. Since then it has formed an integral part of the Turkish administration of Irak. The enormous influx of pilgrims naturally creates a brisk trade in Kerbela and the towns along the route from Persia to that place and beyond to Nejef. The population of Kerbela, necessarily fluctuating, is estimated at something over 60,000, of whom the principal part are Shiites, chiefly Persians, with a goodly mixture of British Indians. No Jews or Christians are allowed to reside there.

See Chodzko, Thedtre persan (Paris, 1878); J. P. Peters, Nippur (1897). (J. P. PE.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010
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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Arabic sorrow + disaster

Proper noun

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  1. a city in central Iraq where Husayn was killed; a site of pilgrimage for Shiite Muslims

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