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, 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 and rivals Mecca as a place of pilgrimage.
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". 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. 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)." The word derived from the Aramaic word כַרְבָלָא / ܟܪܒܠܐ [ krblh | karbālā ], ultimately derived from Akkadian karballatu. It means a type of head covering and also cock's comb.
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.
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, 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) during the Wahhabi sack of Karbala. 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. This prompted many students and scholars to move to Najaf, which became the main Shia religious centre. 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.
Karbala's development was strongly influenced by the Persians, who were the dominant community for many years (making up 75%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. While the Kammouna family surrendered rule over to the British and sought to work for and with the British, many notable Karbala clans continues to oppose the foreign invasion. One such clan is the historically well-known Karbala clan of Awad who has been inhabitants of the city for some 500 years. They, alongside others, fought directly against the British. According to the writings of Gertrude Bell, some of the Awad clan's sheiks were banished after the control of the city for many years before returning to re-establish their land and community prestige. The Awad Clan has historically been noted as one of the only clans in Karbala to actively oppose the British control and remain an influential family in the city to this day.
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. 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 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).
- Al Abbas Mosque
- Hadrat Abbas Shrine
- Imam Husayn Shrine
Shias believe that Karbala is one of the holiest places on Earth according to the following traditions (among others): The angel Gabriel narrated to Muhammad that:
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. The fourth Shia Imam, Zayn al-Abidin narrated:
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.'
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 , 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" 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."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.
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.
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.