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"Kerbela" redirects here. For the moth genus, see Kerbela (moth).
For places named Karbala in Iran, see Karbala, Iran, Karbala, Fars, and Karbala, Zanjan.
Karbalā’ al-Muqaddasah
Karbalā’ 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
Population (2011)
 • Total 1,066,600[1]

Karbala (Arabic: كربلاء‎; Karbalā’; also referred to as Karbalā' al-Muqaddasah) is a city in Iraq, located about 100 km (62 mi) southwest of Baghdad. Karbala is the capital of Karbala Governorate, and has an estimated population of 572,300 people (2003).

The city, best known as the location of the Battle of Karbala (680), is the holiest city for Shia Muslims after Mecca and Medina and the noble sanctuary in Jerusalem. It is home to the Imam Hussein Shrine. Karbala is famous as the site of the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali (Imam Husayn), and commemorations are held by millions of Shias annually to remember it. Karbala is considered sacred by Shias[2] and is believed to have great reward in migrating there.[3][4][5][6]


Several theories address the origin of the name Karbala. The geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi expressed the traditional hypothesis: that the name is an alternate Arabic feminine version of karbalah "soft earth".[7] Alternatively, it has been said to be derived from the Aramaic word Kora, meaning place for making bricks, for the nearby ancient city of Babil, hence Karbabil, which became Karbala by contraction.[citation needed] According to Shia belief, the archangel Gabriel narrated the true meaning of the name Karbalā to Muhammad: the land which will cause many agonies (karb) and afflictions (balā)."[8]

About the city[edit]

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 Imam Hussein Shrine, the tomb of Al-Hussein ibn Ali, grandson of Muhammad by his daughter Fatimah and `Ali(His son-in-law, cousin and successor). Hussein's tomb is a place of pilgrimage for many Shia Muslims, especially on the anniversary of the battle, the Day of Ashura, and the Day of Arba'een, which is 40 days later. Each year on Arba'een, some 30 million pilgrims visit Karbala, which is one of the largest religious gathering in the world. Many of these millions of visitors walk to Karbala from Najaf, which is 80 kilometres away. About a week before Arba'een the road to Karbala from Najaf is closed up to prepare for the vast amount of pilgrims that will walk to Karbala. Many camps serving food and places to sleep are set up on this road to serve the pilgrims. Some pilgrims vow to walk this path every year and come from all over the world to show their allegiance to Imam Hussein.

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 Shia pilgrimage to Karbala is al-Makhayam, traditionally believed to be the location of Hussein's camp, where the death of Hussein and his followers is publicly commemorated. Many pious Shia ask to be buried in and around Karbala' and a good portion of Karbala's economy is wrapped up in the funeral business.

Imam Hussein Shrine

The city's association with Shia Islam 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.

The city sprang up around the two shrines of Hussein ibn Ali and his brother Al-Abbas, and as such the layout of the city is centered around the shrines. In 1994, Saddam Hussein destroyed the houses between the shrines in order to create a large concrete path between the two. This pathway is now known as "Bayn-al-Haramayn" which means, "between the two shrines". This path is about 500 metres in length, and is now covered in precious ceramics and decorated with palm trees. On days like the Day of Ashura or Day of Arba'een, the "Bayn-al-Haramayn" is packed with people, mourning and commemorating Imam Hussein and the martyrs of Karbala.

The only way of entry into the city is by bus. Most international pilgrims enter Iraq though Al Najaf International Airport or Baghdad International Airport. There are plans for an airport for Karbala, and it is said to be in construction (citation needed). Some Iranian pilgrims, especially those living close to the Iran-Iraq border enter Iraq by bus, either through the "Mehran" border crossing (located in the Ilam province of Iran), or the "Shalamche" border crossing (located in the Khuzestan province of Iran).


Karbala experiences a hot desert climate (Köppen climate classification: BWh) with extremely hot, dry summers and cool winters. Almost all of the yearly precipitation is received between November and April, though no month is truly wet.

Climate data for Karbala
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 15.7
Average low °C (°F) 5.4
Precipitation mm (inches) 17.6
Avg. precipitation days 7 5 6 5 3 0 0 0 0 4 5 7 42
Source: World Meteorological Organisation (UN) [9]


To the west of Karbala is the Lake Milh (lake of salt), also known as Lake Razazah. A one hour car drive south takes you to Najaf.


Battle of Karbala[edit]

Main article: Battle of Karbala
Destruction of the Tomb of Husain at Kerbela on the orders of Caliph al-Mutawakkil.

Karbala's prominence in Shia traditions is the result of the Battle of Karbala, fought on the site of the modern city on May 31, 680 AD (10 Muharram 61 AH). Both Imam Hussein ibn Ali and his brother Abbas ibn Ali were buried by the local Banī Asad tribe at what later became known as the Mashhad Al-Hussein. The battle itself occurred as a result of Hussein's refusal to accept the Umayyad Yazid ibn Mu'awiya as caliph. The Kufan governor, Ubaydallah ibn Ziyad, sent thousands of horsemen against Imam Hussein as he traveled to Kufa. The horsemen, under 'Umar ibn Sa'd, were ordered to deny Imam Hussein and his followers water in order to force Imam Hussein to agree to give an oath of allegiance. On 9 Muharram, Imam Hussein refused and asked to be given the night to pray. On 10 Muharram, Imam Hussein ibn Ali prayed the morning prayer and led his troops into battle along with his brother Al-Abbas. All of Hussein's followers, including all of his present sons Ali al-Akbar, Ali al-Asghar (a few months old) and his nephews Qassim, Aun and Muhammad were martyred in an inhuman way.[10]

In 63 AH (682 AD), Yazid ibn Mu'awiya released the surviving members of Imam Hussein's family from prison. On their way to the Mecca, they stopped at the site of the battle. There is record of Sulayman ibn Surad going on pilgrimage to the site as early as 65 AH (685 AD). The city began as a tomb and shrine to Hussein and grew as a city in order to meet the needs of pilgrims.

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.

Early modern[edit]

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 Husseiniyya Canal. In 1737, the city replaced Isfahan in Iran as the main centre of Shia 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 Shia thought, until his death in 1772,[11] after which the more state-centric Usuli school became more influential. In 1801 (1216 Hijri), the First Saudi State under the rule of Abdul-Aziz bin Muhammad massacred parts of the Muslim population and destroyed the tombs of Husayn ibn Ali (grandson of Muhammad) and Ali bin Abu Talib (the son-in-law of Muhammad).

After the First Saudi State invasion, the city enjoyed semi-autonomy during Ottoman rule, governed by a group of gangs and mafia variously allied with members of the 'ulama. In order to reassert their authority, the Ottoman army laid siege to the city. On January 13, 1843 Ottoman troops entered the city. Many of the city leaders fled leaving defense of the city largely to tradespeople. About 3,000 Arabs were killed in the city, and another 2,000 outside the walls (this represented about 15% of the city's normal population). The Turks lost 400 men.[12] This prompted many students and scholars to move to Najaf, which became the main Shia religious centre.[13] Between 1850 and 1903, Karbala enjoyed a generous influx of money through the Awadh Bequest. The Shia ruled Indian Province of Awadh, known by the British as Oudh, had always sent money and pilgrims to the holy city. The Oudh money, 10 million rupees, originated in 1825 from the Awadh Nawab Ghazi-ud-Din Haider. One third was to go to his wives, and the other two thirds went to holy cities of Karbala and Najaf. When his wives died in 1850, the money piled up with interest in the hands of the British East India Company. The EIC sent the money to Karbala and Najaf per the wives' wishes, in the hopes of influencing the Ulama in Britain's favor. This effort to curry favor is generally considered to have been a failure.[14]

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

In March 1991, the city was badly damaged and many killed when a rebellion by local Shia was put down with great brutality by Saddam's regime. The shrines and surrounding Shia houses, cemeteries, and hospitals became riddled with machine gun fire and military shelling. By April 1991, Saddam Hussein began an intense demolition project around the shrines in order to create a concrete perimeter. This "sanitary zone" created a wide open space in between and around the shrines. The shrines were rebuilt by 1994.[15] After the United States Military Forces invaded Iraq in 2003, the administration allowed for foreign Shia pilgrims to an unrestricted Ashura pilgrimage in decades. Tens of thousands of Shia Muslims from other countries rushed to US embassies to get visit visas to attend Ashura in Karbala. The 2004 pilgrimage was the largest for decades, with over a million people attending from all over the world but mainly Iraqis. 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 suicide bombers who have disrupted previous rituals.

On April 14, 2007, a car bomb exploded about 600 ft (180 m) from the shrine, killing 47[16] 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).[17]

Main sights[edit]

Imam Hussein Camp

Shia beliefs[edit]

Shias believe that Karbala is one of the holiest places on Earth according to the following traditions (among others):

Karbalā, where your grandson and his family will be martyred, is one of the most blessed and the most sacred lands 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.

  • In this regard, Imam Jafar Sadiq 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.' [19]
  • It is narrated from Imam Jafar Sadiq that: "The earth of the pure and holy grave of Hussein ibn Ali (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" [20]
  • The famous quote: "Every day is Ashura, every land is Karbala."


Karbalaa FC is a football club based in Karbala.


There are many references in books in films to "Karbala", generally referring to Hussein(a.s) ibn Ali's(a.s) death at the Battle of Karbala. Hussein(a.s) is often depicted on a white horse impaled by arrows. There are films and documentaries about the events of Karbala in both animated and realistic form (see external links "Karbala: When the Skies Wept Blood"; "Safar-e-Karbala").

Video footage of the actual city exists in a British documentary entitled "Saddam's Killing Fields."[21] The documentary shows the March 1991 destruction of the city by Saddam's army through the video camera of two brothers who lived in the city.


There is a university called Ahlulbait University College in the city, teaching a variety of subjects.

Indian subcontinent[edit]

In the Indian subcontinent Karbala apart from meaning the city of Karbala (which is usually referred to as Karbala-e-Mualla meaning Karbala the exalted), also means local grounds where commemorative processions end and/or ta'zīya are buried during Ashura or Arba'een, usually such grounds will have shabeeh (copy) of Rauza or some other structures.[22][23]

In South Asia where ta'zīya refer to specifically to the miniature mausoleums used in processions held in Muharram. It all started from the fact that the great distance of India from Karbala prevented Indian Shi'is being buried near the tomb of Imam Husayn or making frequent pilgrimages(ziyarat) to the tomb. This is the reason why Indian Shi'is established local karbalas on the subcontinent by bringing soil from Karbala and sprinkling it on lots designated as future cemeteries. Once the karbalas were established on the subcontinent, the next step was to bring Husayn's tomb-shrine to India. This was established by building replicas of Husayn's mausoleum called ta'zīya to be carried in Muharram processions. Thousands of ta'zīyas in various shapes and sizes are fashioned every year for the months of mourning of Muharram and Safar; and are carried in processions and may be buried at the end of Ashura or Arbain.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.citypopulation.de/Iraq.html
  2. ^ "Karbala and Najaf: Shia holy cities". BBC News. April 20, 2003. 
  3. ^ Malise Ruthven (2006). Islam in the World. Oxford University Press. p. 180. ISBN 9780195305036. 
  4. ^ David Seddon (11 Jan 2013). Political and Economic Dictionary of the Middle East. Karbala (Kerbala): Routledge. ISBN 9781135355616. 
  5. ^ John Azumah; Dr. Kwame Bediako (Contributor) (26 May 2009). My Neighbour's Faith: Islam Explained for African Christians. Main Divisions and Movements Within Islam: Zondervan. ISBN 9780310574620. 
  6. ^ Paul Grieve (2006). A Brief Guide to Islam: History, Faith and Politics : the Complete Introduction. Carroll and Graf Publishers. p. 212. ISBN 9780786718047. 
  7. ^ Muslims, Islam, and Iraq
  8. ^ a b al-Qummi, Ja'far ibn Qūlawayh (2008). Kāmil al-Ziyārāt. trans. Sayyid Mohsen al-Husaini al-Mīlāni. Shiabooks.ca Press. p. 545. 
  9. ^ "World Weather Information Service – Karbala". United Nations. Retrieved 1 January 2011. 
  10. ^ al-Tabari, Muhammad ibn Jarir – History of the Prophets and Kings; Volume XIX The Caliphate of Yazid ibn Muawiyah, translated by I.K.A Howard, SUNY Press, 1991
  11. ^ Juan Cole, Sacred Space and Holy War, IB Tauris, 2007 p71-2
  12. ^ Cole, Juan R.I. and Moojan Momen. 1986. "Mafia, Mob and Shiism in Iraq: The Rebellion of Ottoman Karbala 1824-1843." Past & Present. No 112: 112-143.
  13. ^ Cole, Juan R. I. Sacred Space and Holy War: the Politics, Culture and History of Shi'ite Islam. London: I.B. Tauris, 2002.
  14. ^ A Failed Manipulation: The British, the Oudh Bequest and the Shī'ī 'Ulamā' of Najaf and Karbalā'. Meir Litvak, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.fsu.edu/stable/826171?seq=2
  15. ^ http://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/1992/Iraq926.htm
  16. ^ Hamourtziadou, Lily (2007-04-15). "'A Week in Iraq'". iraqbodycount.org. Archived from the original on 2007-04-29. Retrieved 2007-04-15. 
  17. ^ BBC NEWS, Iraqi Shia pilgrims mark holy day
  18. ^ al-Qummi, Ja'far ibn Qūlawayh (2008). Kāmil al-Ziyārāt. trans. Sayyid Mohsen al-Husaini al-Mīlāni. Shiabooks.ca Press. p. 534. 
  19. ^ Amali by Shaykh Tusi, vol. 1 pg. 326
  20. ^ Mustadrakul Wasail, vol. 10, pg 339-40 tradition 2; Jadid Makarimul Akhlaq pg.189; Beharul Anwaar vol. 101, tradition 60
  21. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyxhK9XfDKk
  22. ^ (Re-)defining Some Genre-Specific Words: Evidence from some English Texts about Ashura, Muhammad-Reza Fakhr-Rohani, University of Qom, Iran
  23. ^ A citation from Fruzzetti, "Muslim Rituals," for this use of Karbala is as follows: "The Muslims then proceed to 'Karbala' to bury the flowers which were used to decorate the tazziyas, the tazziyas themselves being kept for the next year's celebration." (pp. 108-109).
  24. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=A4q58Af5zAoC&pg=PA413&lpg=PA413&dq=taziya+in+India&source=web&ots=257T8R-z6A&sig=J4SYzj-ECvzG-gZ1-y3ifbZqxDo&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPA413,M1 Islamic Art in the 19th Century By Doris Behrens-Abouseif, Stephen Vernoit

Further reading[edit]

Published in the 19th century
  • Louis de Sivry, ed. (1859). "Karbala". Dictionnaire geographique, historique, descriptif, acheologique des pèlerinages anciens et modernes (in French). Paris. 
Published in the 20th century
  • "Kerbela", The Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th ed.), New York: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910, OCLC 14782424 
Published in the 21st century
  • C. Edmund Bosworth, ed. (2007). "Karbala". Historic Cities of the Islamic World. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill. 
  • Michael R.T. Dumper; Bruce E. Stanley, eds. (2008), "Karbala", Cities of the Middle East and North Africa, Santa Barbara, USA: ABC-CLIO 

External links[edit]

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

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karbala — Please support Wikipedia.
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