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Virtual Pilgrimage to Iraq-the city of splendid shrines and mosques!

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By: SARTAJ AHMAD SOFI

Iraq is a country in western Asia, bordered by Turkey to the North, Iran to the east, Kuwait to the south-east, Saudi Arabia to the south, Jordan to the south-west and Syria to the west.  Baghdad is the capital and the largest city of Iraq. It is the homeland to the diverse ethnic groups including Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmen, Shabakis, Yazidis, Armenians, Mandeans, Circassians and Kawliya. Being Predominantly Muslim, around 95% of the country’s 37 million citizens are Muslim. The official languages of Iraq are Arabic and Kurdish.

Throughout the length and breadth of Muslim world, historically Iraq exhibits immense significance in terms of it having served as the highest seat of learning and its rich cultural heritage. The archaic remains still depict the dazzling glory of Iraq. It is the place where Abbasids had once established a consolidated Muslim empire that ruled for nearly a century. Besides, it exhibits the highest seat of learning—Jamia Nizamiya.

Muslims, all over the world, and even non-Muslims, visit Iraq and pay visit to the destinations of religious significance, natural beauty and the splendid architectural heritage mostly in the shape of mosques and shrines. But security and visa issues have always created hindrances for masses.

Shia and Sunni muslims live in absolute harmony in Iraq. The country has a rich heritage in the shape of mosques and shrines related to both sects of Islam. For a Shia, Masjid Ali, Shrine of Imam Hussain and Al-Kadhimiya Mosque hold great significance and at the same time, the Mosque of Imam Abu Hanifah and the shrine of Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani is equally respectable for Sunni Muslims. Besides, there are other places that too are reverential for the people other than Muslims. The amalgamation of Shai-Sunni and destinations related to other religions of the world, Iraq has more prospects to promote global peace and the sense of unity in diversity, if it is promoted in such a way.

Here, my intention is to take you to make a virtual pilgrimage to Iraq and visit the destinations of touristic nature especially spiritual/religious ones. These places include Mosques and Shrines attributed to pious personalities and imams of their time.

In the vicinity of Najaf in Iraq is located the splendid ‘Imam ‘Ali Holy Shrine’, also known as ‘Masjid ‘Ali’. It is the third holiest site for some of the estimated 200 million followers of the Islam. This is the burial place of Hadrat ‘Ali bin Abi Talib, the cousin of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ who was the fourth caliph of Islam, ruled over the Islamic caliphate from 656-661 A.H. In Shia doctrine, Hadrat ‘Ali is regarded as the first in the line of Imams and the first among the Ahl al-Bayt (Descendant of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ).

The shrines of Hadrat Hussain bin ‘Ali is one of the oldest mosques in the world and a holy site of Islam in the city of Karbala, Iraq. It stands on the site of the grave of Hussain bin ‘Ali, the second grandson of Muhammad ﷺ, near the place where he was martyred during the battle of Karbala in 680 C.E. The tomb of Hussain is one of the holiest places outside of Makkah and Medina, and many make pilgrimages to the site. Every year hundreds of millions of pilgrims visit the city to observe Ashura, which marks the anniversary of Hussain ibn Ali’s death. A visitor can reach there either from the capital Baghdad through al-Musails or from the Najaf. At the city’s entrance there is a row of houses decorated with wooden columns. The boundary wall of the shrine surrounds wooden gates covered with a cage-like structure, found directly beneath the garden dome. The famous al-Abbas mosque is also located nearby.

The Abu Hanifa Mosque is one of the most prominent Sunni mosques in Baghdad, Iraq. It is built around the tomb of Imam Abu Hanifah an-Nu’man often called “the great Imam” the founder of the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence. It is located in the dominated al-a’zamiyyah quarter of Baghdad to the north east of the city. Imam Abu Hanifah passed away and was buried in 767 C.E. The mosque there was restored in 459 A.H/ 1066 C.E. by Sharaf al-Muluk Aby Sa’id al-Khwarizmi, who added a large dome and constructed the adjacent Hanafi School. This holds a great veneration and is visited whole year by tourists throughout the length and breadth of the globe.

Another important destination located in Bagdad, Iraq is the mausoleum of Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani—the founder of Qadriyya Sufi order. (470-561 A.H.). He was a religious figure, teacher, preacher and writer to whom Sunni scholars frequently refer to. Indeed, he is a patron saint of kurds and is venerated by Muslims of the Indian Sub-continent where followers call him with the attributes including ‘Shah-i-Jilan’ and ‘Ghaus al A’zam’. Its surrounding Square is known as Kilani Square. The shrine was destroyed once during Safavid ruler Shah Ismail-I. Later on, it was none but the ottoman sultan Suleiman- ‘The Magnificent’- who built a dome over the shrine in 1535 which exists still today.

Iraq, thus, remains to be one of the most important and significant places vis-à-vis religious tourism and houses some of the great shrines and mosques.

The Author is a Research Scholar works on the theme of “Religious Tourism” at Shah-i-Hamadan Institute of Islamic Studies, University of Kashmir. He can be reached at: sartaja01@gmail.com.

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