While Baghdad offers thousands of years of history, a powerful force emanates from the city of Karbala.
After all, what else will I be able to travel with Iraq is torn apart by war (where is the Islamic State just recently defeated) and gain access to the highly sanctioned country of Iran? Mesopotamia – the cradle of the empire and the home of many Imams of the Islamic world – has been limited to many tourists since the days of Saddam Hussein.
We left Lahore and a few hours later we arrived in Baghdad, the famous city of Of the Arabian night. The airport is small and dirty, and we have to wait for at least two to three hours for the visa clearance of our group. We waited patiently and entered Baghdad in the evening; there were many palm trees and the roads were good enough.
Our excitement grew as we headed straight for the Ghous Pak (Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani) light temple. We worshiped the beautifully illuminated white temple, ate the sweets langar (traditional food) of rice and chicken (prepared by a Pakistani family from Faisalabad) then proceed to our hotel. We felt more than welcome in a city founded on the west bank of the Tigris in 762AD by the Abbasid dynasty.
We stayed at the Palestine Hotel, which is located near the ancient Tigris River, with its colorful history; It was a favorite of foreign correspondents during the Gulf War and it was a wake-up call!
There are roadblocks throughout Iraq and military forces with armored vehicles can be seen at every major roundabout. The receptionist at our hotel smiled and cheered when she found out we were Pakistanis and gave us comfortable rooms (our recent ones. military intervention it seems that they were happy).
Baghdad looks like it’s stuck in an 80’s time warp – every building looks like it’s from that era. However, most of the debris from the bombed building has been removed. We knew it was a busy city with crowded restaurants and bad traffic.
We crossed the Tigris River several times, the last of which was to visit the temple of the Persian mystery Mansur al Hallaj. He is known for his story, “I am the Truth”, which many saw as a confession to God that led to his murder, while others saw it as an example of money laundering. .
We also visited the burial place of Abu Hanifa, the founder of the Hanafi school of Sunni jurisprudence. However, the highlight of our stay in Baghdad was the visit to the northern part of the city in Kazmain, where Imam Musa al Kazim (AS) and Muhammad al Jawad (AS) are buried. all direct descendants of the Prophet (PBUH).
It is a famous mosque in the world and one of the most important mosques in the Islamic world, with a large building and four minarets above its courtyard, all covered in gold, Kufic writing. There are vaulted ceilings, mirror mosaics, polished floors, and endless marble floors. The final resting places of all the Imams buried in Iraq, we had to discover, were equally amazing.
The temple was very crowded during our visit and it was a long walk to it because it had been bombed in the past, which is why the nearby roads were closed.
Another highlight of our visit to Baghdad is the 2,000-year-old Persian monument Taq Kasra, or Arch of Ctesiphon, the largest brick arch in the world. Somehow it has survived all the recent wars and is a real thing to see, because of its large size and beauty. Taq Kasra is located near the shrine of Salman al Farsi (RA), a companion of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the first Persian convert to Islam.
On our last day in Baghdad, we headed to the ancient city of Samarra to visit the 10th and 11th Imams, Ali al Hadi (AS) and his son Hasan al Askari (AS). Both are buried in a heavily guarded palace, which has been bombed twice in recent years and had to be rebuilt. Next to the mosque there is another building built over a well containing 12th Imam, Muhammad al Mahdi (AS), disappeared; hence the name Mahdi, the Hidden Imam.
We were sad to leave Baghdad – there was so much to see and so little time – but we had to go to Karbala, where we were greeted by rain. The strong power comes from this city, the tomb of Imam Hussain (RA), the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), near the place where he was killed during the war. Battle of Karbala in 680 AD. In the shrine of Imam Hussain (RA), we found the mass grave of all 72 martyrs of Karbala who fought and died with him, despite the hardships they faced.
Soon we joined thousands of people running to enter the Ziyarat. Opposite the shrine is his brother, Hazrat Abbas (AS), who was also killed during the Battle of Karbala by Yazid’s army while fetching water from the Euphrates River for the family of Prophet (PBUH). There is a beautiful walkway lined with coconut trees between the two temples, and we often go there to sit and pray because our hotel is nearby.
The next stop was Najaf, and luckily our hotel was right next to my favorite Ziyarat: the majesty of Imam Ali (RA). He is called the father of Sufismas almost all Sufi orders claim their descent from him.
After visiting his peaceful palace, we went to Kufa to see the great mosque, one of the oldest mosques in the world, where Hazrat Ali (RA) was struck by a poisoned sword and died. after two days. We visited his simple but beautiful house next to the mosque (thankfully saved by the Iraqi government) where his body was washed before being secretly buried. Imam Ali (RA) first dug a well in his house and even today one can drink its healing water.
Our final destination is the city of Mashad in Iran, the home of the eighth Imam, Hazrat Ali Reza (AS), whose shrine is the true heart of the city – all roads lead to his Ziyarat! We had a short trip Najaf in Mashad, the second most populous city in Iran. Mashad means the place of the martyr; Imam Reza (AS) was poisoned by Caliph al Ma’mun. It is a fact that I learned in my journey that none of the Imams lived to a ripe old age – they died or were killed.
The decorated shrine of Imam Reza (AS) is huge, with its many courtyards and mosques, and is known as the Vatican of Iran, running in a good and orderly manner. It is also beautiful, with its Persian carpets and many crystal chandeliers. We were lucky enough to eat the famous food of the temple langar and enjoy the Imam’s hospitality!
Mashad is a clean, modern city, and looks like it could be anywhere in Europe, except for all the women wearing long dresses black.
Before we knew it, our visit was over, and we were tired but refreshed on the plane. Lahore. There were so many memories to cherish and so many events to recount. Iraq is gradually recovering from the war and standing up again, and I recommend everyone to visit this beautiful country along with Iran, regardless of your religious beliefs. As we are told everywhere we are,
(May your journey be accepted)
(All photos by author)