Open main menu

WikiShia β

Aerial view of Najaf and the Holy Shrine of Imam 'Ali (a), the Wadi l-Salam Cemetery is visible at the top right.
کتیبه مسجد.png

Najaf (Arabic: النَّجَف) is a city in Iraq. It was inhabited before Islam. Najaf is very important because it is the place of the Holy Shrine of Imam Ali (a) and the Islamic Seminary of Najaf. Currently, the city has gained more importance due to the Marja's who live in this city and are influential in the power structure of Iraq.


Geographical Location

Najaf is located 165 km southwest of Baghdad, 77 km southeast of Karbala and 10 km south of Kufa. The existence of the ancient city of Hira, which held of the bright civilization in the history of Iraq, in that region indicates the historical background of it. Najaf is bordered by Wadi l-Salam Cemetery from north, dried sea of Najaf form west and a desert connected to Badiyat al-Sham, which stretches to Arabia, Jordan and Syria, from the west.


There are two opinions about the root of this name:

  • Najaf is an Arabic word means "Manjuf". Manjuf, in Arabic, is a rectangular raised land which is enclosed by water. Thus, the area was called Najaf because, geographically, it was shaped like a rectangular and was higher than its surrounding areas.
  • After the Noah's Flood a large lake, which was called "Nay", began to shape surrounding the raised land of Najaf. Over time the lake dried up; thus that area was called "Nay Jaff" (Nay dried) (Jaff means dried).

Other Names

Al-Ghari or al-Ghariyyan, Hadd al-'Adhra', al-Hiwar, al-Judi, Wadi l-Salam, al-Zahr, Zahr al-Kufa (behind Kufa), al-Rabwa, Baniqiya, and Mashhad are other names for this land.


Located between the city of Kufa and deserts, Najaf is a very windy and hot city. At times the temperature reaches 50 degrees centigrade. Although Najaf was always in lack of water, at some periods, such as 7th/13th century, 20 thousand date palms were irrigated by its water resources.


Before Islam

Being neighbor to the ancient city of al-Hira, which was the birthplace of Lakhmid (Al Mundhir) civilization in the first millennium before Christ, Najaf was considered as a cultivated, civilized and prosperous city. The Arab residents of the city were Christian at that time. They built many churches, including "Mary Mart Church", which continued to exist to the Islamic era.

After Islam

During early Islamic history, Najaf is only mentioned in history books in the conquest of Iraq and Iran by Muslims. There is no report about Najaf until the Abbasid time. During the rule of Harun al-Rashid, as the grave of Imam Ali (a) was found in this city, many people moved there.


Alawis from Tabaristan constructed a building over the tomb of Imam Ali (a) and built a wall around the city to provide security for the city. The Shi'a rulers of Dailamites worked a lot for maintenance and reconstruction of the shrine of Imam Ali (a) and also the city. Abu al-Hayja' 'Abd Allah b. Hamdan, the Shi'a governor of Mosul, reconstructed the wall around Najaf and put gates for that. In the 7th/13th and 8th/14th century, Jalairid and Ilkhanate allocated a great sum of money for development and reconstruction of the city and the holy shrine of Imam Ali (a). Amir Firuz and Amir Ahmad I, two rulers of India in the late 8th/14th century, allocated some endowments of Deccan for management of the holy shrine and reconstruction of the city.

During the Safavid era, Shah Isma'il and Shah Tahmasb, brought the water of Euphrates to the city by digging some streams. Nahr-i Shah (Shah's stream) which is dug by Shah Isma'il's order has remained from that time. Sultan Sulayman Qanuni, the Sunni Ottoman Sultan, devoted a lot of efforts for development of Najaf. He and Shi'a Safavid Shahs were rivals for constructing the city and making it more prosperous.

An old picture of Najaf, in the picture the walls of the city is visible, the picture is said to be taken in 1911.

During the Qajar era, for blocking the attacks of Wahhabis, Nizam al-Dawla Isfahani, the vizier of Fath Ali Shah (1217/1802-1803 - 1257/1841-1842), built a strong wall around Najaf. The government of Najaf removed this wall in 1350/1931-1932 and built schools and hospitals instead. Also, people built their houses around those areas.

Najaf had four major neighborhoods: al-Mishraq, a-Huwaysh, al-'Imara, and al-Buraq; each of which contained minor neighborhoods. Although Najaf has divided into old and new districts after developments; the old district is still formed of that four neighborhoods and the new neighborhoods have been added in the new district of the city.

Shi'a Seminary of Najaf

In the early 5th/11th century, al-Shaykh al-Tusi emigrated to Najaf. By holding teaching sessions in Najaf, he transformed the city into one of the most important cultural and scholarly Shi'a centers. The seminary of Najaf had its ups and downs in the course of history, the scholarly center of Shi'a has moved to other cities, yet it returned to Najaf after a while. As an example in 12th/18th century, as al-Wahid al-Bihbahani moved from Najaf to Karbala, the seminary of Najaf lost its prosperity. However, it gained its centrality in 13th/19th century due to the existence of great scholars such as Ja'far Kashif al-Ghita', Bahr al-'Ulum, and Shaykh Murtada al-Ansari.

The scholarly position of Najaf have always been important for governments. When in his negotiations with Ottoman, Shah 'Abbas wanted to conjoin Najaf to Iran; the Ottoman vizier told him "For us, stones of Najaf is equal to one thousand people."

Seminary of Najaf was influential over other countries. As during the Iranian constitutional revolution, mujtahids in Najaf, such as al-Akhud al-Khurasani and Muhammad Husayn Na'ini, led and supported the revolutionists intellectually and religiously.

During the Ba'ath regime, seminary of Najaf was under a lot of pressure; nonetheless, it managed to continue its path. Nowadays it is regarded as one of the scholarly Shi'a centers in the world.

Historical Sites

  • Khuwarnagh palace: Nu'man b. Imru' al-Qays, one of the Lakhmid rulers, built this palace for Yazdgird or Bahram at a distance of two kilometers from Najaf. Not so long ago there were some foundations of the palace; however nothing have remained these days.
  • Najaf Fortress: Ottoman empire built many strong fortresses. Muhammad Husayn Khan Sadr Isfahani reconstructed its walls and installed two gates for it. The gate of Najaf was next to the wall of the fortress and there were bazaars around it. There was also a gate in the fortress that opened to the courtyard of Imam Ali's holy shrine. However, due to the development of the holy shrine of Imam Ali (a) the fortress was demolished.
  • Suffat al-Safi Safa: In the far west of the city there is tomb and a Maqam (shrine) known as Suffat al-Safa. Presently, Safi Safa is located next to Maqam al-Imam al-Sajjad (a).
  • Takiyya Baktashiyya: Ottomans build a Takiyya for Baktashiyya Sufi sect, where their Shaykhs and disciples would stay, next to Imam Ali's holy shrine. This Takiyya was demolished for holy shrine developments.
  • Tomb of Dhu l-Kifl: At 40th kilometer of Najaf-Hilla road, next to the Euphrates, there is a village called Dhu l-Kifl, in which the Israelite prophet Dhu l-Kifl has been buried. As this prophet was surety (Kafil) of Jews he was called Dhu l-Kifl (owner of suretyship). His tomb is situated in a small brick fortress in the village. In the last century Jews have built some buildings in that region. The residents of that region were Arab Jews and immigrated to Palestine later. Every year, Jew pilgrims from all over the world would come to this place and stay for one month. There is a mosque on the other side of the tomb which is said that four Disciples and Dhu l-Kifl's daughter are buried there.
  • Nimrod Tower: Next to the Euphrates after the village of Dhu l-Kifl, there is a hill on which a brick tower has been built. It is said the prophet Ibrahim (a) was thrown to fire from this place. This tower and hill are remnants of the ancient city of Babylon.

Merits and Status

Many merits have been reported for Najaf such as:

  • It is narrated from Imam 'Ali (a): "The first land in which God was worshiped is the back of Kufa (Najaf) because at that land angels prostrated to Adam by the order of God."
  • It is said that the Prophet Ibrahim (a) stayed in this area and therefore the blessings and the grace of God was sent down to this land.
  • It is narrated from Imam al-Sadiq (a): "70 thousand martyrs will be resurrected from this land without reckoning."
  • It is narrated from Imam al-Sadiq (a): "Imam 'Ali announced Kufa (Najaf) as a sacred shrine as Ibrahim did for Ka'ba and prophet Muhammad did for Medina."
  • It is narrated from Imam al-Sadiq (a): "I advise you to [visit] the back of Kufa (Najaf). There is a tomb that whoever sick person goes to it God will cure him."
  • It is narrated from Imam al-Sadiq (a): "There is a garden of Heaven's gardens on the east of Kufa."
  • It is narrated from Imam 'Ali (a): "If the veil was removed from you[r eyes], you would see the spirits of believers in this land (Najaf) in groups visiting each other and talking to each other. The spirit of all believers is here and those of non-believers are in a deserted wasteland."


In addition to the holy shrine of Imam Ali (a) there are other pilgrimage sites in Najaf.


The tombs of prophets: Adam (a), Noah (a), Hud (a), and Salih (a) are located in this city.

Wadi l-Salam Cemetery

Main article: Wadi l-Salam Cemetery
The shrine attributed to the prophets Hud (a) and Salih (a) in Wadi l-Salam cemetery.

Wadi l-Salam cemetery is an ancient and historical cemetery in Najaf. It is located in the northeast of the city and is 20 square kilometers. Tombs of the prophets: Hud (a) and Salih (a) and graves of many scholars and great Sayyids and also Maqam al-Imam al-Mahdi (a), Maqam al-Imam al-Sadiq (a), and Maqam Imam al-Sajjad (a) are situated in this cemetery.

Many merits have been reported for the cemetery, such as what is quoted from Imam Ali (a): "In this land the spirits of believers talk to each other in groups, and whoever believer passes away wherever on the earth, he would be told: 'Go to Wadi l-Salam as it is a part of Heaven.'"

Sahaba and Tabi'un

Some Sahaba (the prophet Muhammad's companions), [Tabi'un]] (the Followers), companions of Imam Ali (a) and descendants of the infallible Imams are entombed in Najaf. Many of whom are buried in Thuwayya, a place located 3 kilometers away from Najaf on the route of Masjid al-Hannana to Masjid al-Kufa. They are:

In addition to these names, people such as Abu Musa al-Ash'ari, Ziyad b. Abih, Mughira b. Shu'ba, Dawud b. Hasan al-Muthanna and Hasan al-Makfuf are buried in this region.


Some great Shi'a scholars who are entombed in Najaf are:

Rulers and Statesmen

  • 'Adud al-Dawla al-Daylami, one of the greatest rulers of Buyids
  • Al Hamdan were Shi'a rulers in the 5th/11th and 6th/12th centuries in Syria. They played a significant rule in the movement of resistance and fighting against the invasion of Byzantine forces. Sayf al-Dawla al-Hamdani and Nasir al-Dawla are two famous rulers of this dynasty. According to Shaykh Ali Al Kashif al-Ghita', Al Hamdan transferred the dead form Damascus, Aleppo and Mosul to Najaf and buried them there.
  • Mongol Ilkhanate is one of the Shi'a governments in Iran who also ruled in Iraq in the 8th/14th and 9th/15th centuries. Some rulers and statesmen of Ilkhanate, Jalayirid and Timurid were buried in the holy shrine of Imam Ali (a); but the exact location of their grave is unknown. Hibat al-Din al-Shahristani reported that he had seen the grave of Timur the Lame, the founder of Timurid dynasty, next to the tomb of al-Shaykh al-Tusi in the Sardab (hypogeum).
  • Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar
  • Sultan Muhammad Hasan Khan Qajar
  • Aqa Khan Mahallati, the leader of Isma'ilis.


There are many mosques in Najaf, some of which are very important:

  • Masjid al-Hannana: It is narrated that the site of this mosque lamented for the Ahl al-Bayt (a) two times: when the coffin of Imam 'Ali (a) was being carried and after the incident of Karbala. That is why it has been given the name Hannana ("The Lamenting").
  • Masjid al-Shaykh al-Tusi: At beginning it was his house. He made this will to bury him in this place and turn it into a mosque. Nowadays this mosque is very well-known in Najaf. It is located in "al-Mishraq" neighborhood on the north of the holy shrine of Imam Ali (a).
  • Masjid al-Hindi: It is one of the biggest mosques in Najaf. It was reconstructed in 1323/1905-1906, and has a strong and solid construction. Mourning sessions of Muharram are held in this mosque every year. Al-'Allama al-Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim developed its building in the current century.
  • Masjid al-Shaykh al-Ansari: This mosque is located in "al-Huwaysh" neighborhood and was built by support and under supervision of al-Shaykh al-Ansari. Some elites and scholars of Hawzat al-'Ilmiyya of Najaf held their teaching sessions in this mosque. Al-Sayyid Muhammad Kazim al-Yazdi, the great scholar in Qajar era, and Imam Khomeini held their lectures in this mosque.
  • Masjid al-Shaykh al-Turayhi: This mosque is attributed to Al-Muhaqqiq al-Karaki, a great scholar of Safavid era. It was reconstructed in 1376/1956-1957.
  • Masjid 'Imran b. Shahin: This mosque is one of the oldest mosques in Najaf and is attributed to 'Imran b. Shahin, a ruler of Buyid dynasty in 4th/10th century. It is located at the entrance of the holy shrine of Imam Ali (a) at Bab al-Tusi.
  • Masjid al-Khadra': It is located on the east of the courtyard of the holy shrine of Imam Ali (a). It is the mosque where Ayatollah Khoei held his teaching sessions. This mosque is very old and attributed to Ali b. Muzaffar. It was reconstructed by Shaykh Ahmad Ansari Qummi in 1380/1960-1961.

Other famous mosques in Najaf are: Masjid Al Kashif al-Ghita', Masjid al-Jawahiri, Masjid al-Ra's, Masjid al-Haydari.


  • Madrasat Miqdad al-Suywuri: built in the second half of 9th/15th century, is one of the very old and famous schools in Najaf.
  • Madrasat Mulla 'Abd Allah: built in the second half of the 10th/16th century by Mulla 'Abd Allah al-Yazdi who was a great scholar and "Naqib" of Najaf.
  • Madrast al-Sahn al-Sharif: also known as Madrast al-Gharawiyya is built by Shah 'Abbas Safavi on the north of the courtyard of Imam Ali's holy shrine. It was used as a school until the 14th/20th century; but after that, as the cleric students left the school, it was used as a place for storing and keeping the properties of the holy shrine of Imam Ali (a). Therefore, its name was changed to "Dar al-Diyafa."
  • Madrasat al-Sadr: is one of the biggest and most extensive schools in Najaf. It is located in "al-Suq al-Kabir" (big bazaar) which leads to the holy shrine of Imam Ali (a).
  • Madrasat al-Mu'tamid: also known as Madrasat al-Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Kashif al-Ghita', the school is situated in al-'Imara neighborhood. It was built by a Qajar vizier named Mu'tamid al-Dawla with the support and help of Shaykh Musa Kashif al-Ghita' the son of 'Allama Shaykh Ja'far Kashif al-Ghita'.
  • Madrasat al-Mahdiyya: also known as Madrasat al-Shaykh Mahdi), the school is located in "al-Mishraq" neighborhood, across from the tombs of al-Sayyid Mahdi Bahr al-'Ulum and al-Shaykh al-Tusi, next to Madrasat al-Qawam.
  • Madrasat al-Qawam: built in 1300/1882-1883, is a big and famous school which is also known as Madrasat al-Fathiyya.
  • Madrasat al-Irawani: built in 1307/1889-1890, the school was destroyed during Sadam's rule.
  • Madrasat Mirza Hasan Shirazi: This small school is built next to Bab al-Tusi.
  • Madrasat Mirza Husayn Khalili: It was a big school located in al-'Imara neighborhood. It was destroyed by Ba'ath regime in 1367/1947-1948 and its properties and endowments were confiscated.
  • Madrasat al-Bukhari: It was built by al-Shaykh Kazim al-Bukhari. It is located in "al-Huwaysh" neighborhood next to Madrasat Akhund Khurasani.
  • Madrasat Sharabyani: It is one the famous schools in Najaf. It is located in "al-Huwaysh" neighborhood.
  • Madrasat Akhud Khurasani (the greater): It is a very extensive school located in "al-Huwaysh" neighborhood.
  • Madrasat Akhud Khurasani: built in 1328/1910, is located in al-Buraq neighborhood.
  • Madrasat al-Qazwini: This school is located in al-'Imara neighborhood near Masjid al-Hindi. It was built in 1324/1906-1907 and reconstructed in 1384/1964-1965. In 1441/1991 uprising in Iraq (al-Intifadat al-Sha'baniyya) Ba'ath forces exploded the school by dynamite and set its library on fire.
  • Madrasat Badkubi'i: This school is located in al-Mishraq neighborhood.
  • Madrasat al-Sayyid Kazim al-Yazdi: It is one of the best, most famous and extensive schools in Najaf. This school is located in "al-Huwaysh" neighborhood.
  • Madrasat al-Hindi: built in 1328/1910, is located in al-Mishraq neighborhood.
  • Madrasat Sayyid 'Abd Allah Shirazi: built in 1372/1952-1953.
  • Madrasat Burujirdi: This school was built by Ayatollah Burujirdi's order and superintendence of Shaykh Nasr Allah Khalkhali. This school is located in al-Buraq neighborhood.
  • Madrasat Dar al-Hikma: This school was built by Ayatollah al-Hakim's order. Ba'ath forces destroyed this school after the 1991 uprising in Iraq (al-Intifadat al-Sha'baniyya). However, it was rebuilt after Saddam and reopened in 1392 Sh/2013.
  • Madrasat Dar al-'Ilm: This school was built by Ayatollah Kho'i's order. Ba'ath forces destroyed this school after the 1991 uprising in Iraq (al-Intifadat al-Sha'baniyya).
  • Madrasat al-'Allama al-Balaghi: This school was built by Ayatollah Sistani's order.
  • Madrasat al-Jami'at al-Najaf al-Diniyya (religious university of Najaf): This school is located in "al-Sa'd" neighborhood on Kufa-Najaf route. Al-Sayyid Muhammad al-Kalantar founded this scholarly institute. Having a precisely scheduled curriculum is one of the most important features of this school. Currently, it is the biggest and the most important religious school in Najaf.

Some other schools in Najaf are: al-Tahiriyya, Rahbawi, Jawharji, 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Baghdadi, Kalbasi, 'Alawiyya, Murtadawiyya and Muntada al-Nashr.


  • Maktabat al-'Alawi ('Alawi library): It is also called "al-Haydariyya", "al-Khizanat al-Gharawiyya", and "Maktabat al-Sahn." It was founded in 4th/10th century or earlier. 'Adud al-Dawla al-Daylami played an important role in foundation and development of this library. In 755/1345-1355 the library caught fire; many books including a handwritten 3-volume Qur'an by Imam Ali (a) burned away. However, by the effort of the scholars, the library was revived again. But afterward, due to inattention, the library lost its importance and many of its books were lost or damaged. Nowadays, except for very few books, nothing has remained from that precious repository.
  • Maktabat al-Imam Imam 'Ali (a): was founded by the effort of 'Allama Amini and was opened on Eid al-Ghadir 1373/1954. It is one of the richest and most reliable libraries in Najaf.
  • Maktabat Ayatollah al-Hakim.
  • Maktabat Husayniyyat al-Shushtariyyn: This library is one of the oldest libraries in Najaf. It was founded by Hajj Mirza Ali Muhammad Najaf Abadi in the late 13th/20th century.
  • Maktabat al-Shaykh Aqa Buzurg al-Tihrani: During several years of research about Shi'a authors and their books, Aqa Buzurg Tihrani gathered many valuable books from all over the world, especially from Iran and Egypt, in his personal library. In 1375/1955-1956 he endowed (Waqf) all his books to public. There were about 5000 volumes including 100 rare manuscripts.
  • Maktabat Madrasat al-Sadr: This library was founded in the early 13th/19th century by Muhammad Husayn Khan Sadr. It was one of the most famous libraries in Najaf at that time; but due to inattentions many of its books disappeared. Nowadays, this library is not noteworthy.
  • Maktabat al-Imam al-Hasan (a): This library, which has a beautiful building, is located at the end of "Shari' al-Rasul". It was founded by al-Shaykh Baqir al-Sharif al-Qurashi.

Other important libraries in Najaf are: Maktabat al-'Allama Shyakh Muhammad Husayn Kashif al-Ghita', Maktabat Madrasat al-Qawam, Maktabat Madrasat Akhund Khurasani, Maktabat Madrasat al-Khalili, Maktabat Madrasat Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Yazdi and Maktabat Ayatollah Burujirdi.

See Also


  • The material for this article is mainly taken from نجف in Farsi Wikishia.