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NAJAF. A religious center of the Shi`is since the eighth century, Najaf is located in Iraq, south of Baghdad and 6 miles west of Kufa. It is the site of the mash-had of the first Shi’i imam, `Ali ibn Abli Talib, whose gravesite was revealed to the public in the early ‘Abbasid period by Ja’far al-Sadiq (d. 765) during one of his visits to Kufa. Under al-Sadiq and his disciples, Najaf also became heir to the Shi’i learning that had flourished in Kufa, where in the grand mosque, al-Sadiq’s hadiths (reports) were disseminated among some nine hundred teachers of traditions.

Holy shrine of Imam Ali (AS) in Najaf

Following the founding of Baghdad (754-775), a number of Shi’i scholars from Kufa migrated to this new capital. Some others chose the mashhad at Najaf as the base from which to teach and spread ShN traditions. Although Kufa retained its importance as the locus of Shi’i activities until fifteenth century, Najaf gradually replaced it. During this transition, Najafs mashhad and the madrasah (seminary) attached to it found much-needed patronage from Shi`i rulers. The ruler of Tabaristan, Muhammad ibn Zayd al-`Alawi (d. goo), ordered the construction of the dome and the Sufi zdwiyah (cells). The Buyid sultans added the arched halls and hospices that provided residence for the students who came to study in Najaf. During his visit to Najaf in 1336, Ibn Battutah noted the existence of a number of madrasahs, hospices, and Sufi convents attached to the shrine.

In the eleventh century, Shaykh al-Td’ifah al-Tusi (d. 1067), a great Shi`i scholar and leader of the community, migrated from Baghdad to Najaf and established his own school based on a text-oriented Shi’i curriculum. The present-day Shi`i mujtahids regard themselves as the intellectual descendants of al-Tusi’s madrasah, but in the twentieth century, Najaf lost its leadership of Shi`i learning. With the establishment of Shiism as the state religion of Iran under the Safavids in the early 1500s, there was a flow of Shi’i scholars from Iraq and Lebanon to Isfahan and other places in Iran. [See Safavid Dynasty.] Nineteenth-century Iraq and Iran witnessed the modernization of educational and political institutions along with the development of an intense nationalism that created a different challenge for the mujtahids in Iran. Under the leadership of Ayatollah `Abd al-Karim Ha’iri Yazdi (d. 1937), the religious hierarchy in Iran found it appropriate to establish a madrasah in Qom that would respond to the growing needs of the times and would equal and even surpass Najaf as the hub of Shi’i religious sciences. Moreover, the highly centralized religious leadership of the marja` al-taghd had passed on to prominent mujtahids of Qom, overshadowing the apolitical leadership of Najaf in the growing turmoil of the 1950s and 1960s. It was not until the rise of Ayatollahs Khomeini (d. 1989) and Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (executed 1980) that Najaf reversed its tradition of shunning politics and actively sought to combat the secular ideology of the Ba’thists in Iraq.

There are several historical sites in the vicinity of Najaf that form an important part of Shi’i piety. One of the most sacred places is the grand mosque of Kufa where `All was assassinated. In Shi’i estimation, the Kufa mosque is equal in status to the mosques of Mecca and Medina. The other important spot of pilgrimage is the Sahlah mosque, where the Shi’is believe that the twelfth imam appears every Tuesday evening to perform the sunset prayer. Accordingly, a large crowd of pious Sh-i’is assembles in Sahlah that evening in the hope of meeting the Hidden Imam.

[See also Mashhad; Shrine; Ziyarah; and the biography of ‘Ali.]


Algar, Hamid. Religion and State in Iran, 1785-1906: The Role of the Ulama in the Qajar Period. Berkeley, 1969. Covers Najaf and its religious establishment, and the politics of the `ulama’, and Muslim powers.

Ayoub, Mahmoud M. Redemptive Suffering in Islam: A Study of the Devotional Aspects of `Ashura’ in Twelver Shi ism. The Hague, 1978. Discusses mashhad rituals in Shi’i piety.

Mottahedeh, Roy P. The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran. New York, 1985. Covers the curriculum and methodology of the religious sciences at the madrasah in Shi’i centers of learning.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/najaf/

  • writerPosted On: April 4, 2017
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