Karbala has the unique feature of having its name engraved in the memory of generations and all along the history of the Muslim world. Believers recall this name with sorrow and distress, for they remember the grand sacrifice of Imam Hussain, peace be upon him (a.s.), and his family members and friends.
Up to this day, a huge number of devotees visit this holy place all year around to pay homage to the master of martyrs Imam Hussain (a.s.). Two main roads lead the visitor to Karbala. One is from the Iraqi capital Baghdad, through Al-Musails, and the other is from the holy city of Najaf. Upon reaching Karbala, the holy place would draw the visitor's attention to its glorious minarets and domes shining due to the light of its lord.
Two grand holy shrines in Karbala are those of Imam Hussain (a.s.) and his brother Abul-Fazl al-Abbas (a.s.). Also present inside the shrine of Imam Hussain (a.s.) are the holy tombs of his two sons Hazrat Ali Akbar (a.s.) and 6-month old Hazrat Ali Asghar (a.s.) and his trusted friend Hazrat Habib ibn-e-Mazahir (a.s.). In one of the corners of the inside area of the shrine, is the Ganj-e-Shuhada where bodies of all the 72 martyrs of Karbala are buried. Next to one of the entrances "Bab-ul-Dhahab" , is the Qatl-gah, where the actual martyrdom of Imam Hussain (a.s.) took place. All the tombs and shrines are beautifully decorated with golden windows and beautiful illumination.
"Karbala" Origin & Meaning
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 analyzing 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, Al-Nawaweess, and Al-Heer. This last name is today known as Al-Hair and is where Imam Hussain's (a.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 Imam Hussain (a.s.) was martyred is made of soft earth - "Al-Karbalat".
Other writers made the connection between the name and the disastrous event which painted the desert with blood, and so the word "Karbala" was said to compose of two Arabic words: "Karb" meaning grief and sorrow, and "Balaa" meaning affliction. Such a connection, in fact, has no scientific evidence, since Karbala was known as such even before the arrival of Imam Hussain (a.s.).
Martyrdom and popularity
Karbala was at first an uninhabited place and did not witness any construction activity, although it was rich in water and its soil fertile. Following the tenth of Muharram 61 AH (680 AD), after the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (a.s.), people from far as well as tribes living nearby started visiting the holy grave. A lot of those who came, stayed behind and/or asked their relatives to bury them there after their demise.
Despite many attempts by successive rulers, such as Al-Rashid and Al-Mutawakkil, to put a restriction on the development of this area, it has nonetheless spread with time to become a city.
Bounty of visiting Imam Hussain(a.s.) shrine
There is a lot of benefit and great spiritual reward in visiting the grave of Imam Hussain (a.s.). The Prophet Mohammad (saws) has said of his grandson Imam Hussain (a.s.): "Hussain is of me and I am of him". Several narrations mention that visiting the grave of Imam Hussain (a.s.) relieves one of worldly afflictions as well as those after death. Believers, therefore, come from all parts of the world all year round to receive the honor, particularly during the first ten days of Muharram (Ashura) and the twentieth of Safar (the fourtieth).
One common Iraqi custom during that season is to go walking from Najaf to Karbala, reflecting their strong adhesion to and adoption of the morals and principles for which Imam Hussain (a.s.) struggled and attained martyrdom.
Mausoleum of Imam Hussain(a.s.)
The historian Ibn Kuluwayh mentioned that those who buried Imam Hussain (a.s.) 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 Harun al-Rashid later on, put heavy restrictions to prevent people from visiting the grave.
At the time of Al-Mamun, construction around the grave resumed until the year 236 AH when Al-Mutawakkil ordered the destruction and digging of the grave, and then filling the pit with water. His son, who succeeded him, 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, Aadod Al-Dawla Al-Boowayhi 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 Karbala 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, but Hasan ibn Fadl (the state minister) rebuilt the damaged sections.
History has recorded the names of several rulers who shared the honour of widening, decorating or keeping the precinct in good condition. Amongst them is Fateh Ali al-Qajari, who in 1250 AH ordered the construction of two domes. One over Imam Hussain's(a.s.) grave and the other over his brother Abul-Fazl al-Abbas(a.s.).
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 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.
As for the grave itself, in the middle of the precinct, it is called the "Rawda" or garden and it has several doors. The most famous one is called "Al-Qibla" or "Bab al-Dhahab". When it is entered, one can see the tomb of Habib ibn Madhahir al-Asadi (a.r.). Habib was a friend and companion of Imam Hussain (a.s.) since their childhood. He was one of those who was honoured with martyrdom at the battle of Karbala.
The resting place of Abul-Fazl al-Abbas(a.s.)
Abul-Fazl al-Abbas (a.s.) was the brother of Imam Hassan (a.s.) and Imam Hussain (a.s.) and the standard-bearer of Imam Hussain (a.s.) in the battle of Karbala. He is well known in history for his valour, loyalty and similarity to his father, the Lion of God, Imam Ali (a.s.).
The grave of Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) received similar attention as that of Imam Hussain (a.s.). In the year 1032 AH, the King Tahmaseb ordered the decoration of the grave's dome. He built a window on the 'darih' around the grave and organized the precinct. Other similar activities were done by other rulers.
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