Brief History of Karbala

4889 2013-09-22

Brief History of Karbala

Karbala is a very ancient city; it has been known of since Babylonian times and was  thought that before the Islamic conquests. Considered one of the cities of Tassuh al- Nahrayn which lie on the river of Balakubass (the Old Euphrates), the land of Karbala included an ancient temple for Christians. It is an Iraqi Islamic city, mostly famous in pre-Islamic times, and possesses a great and varied history; most notably it witnessed the unique event, which was noble martyrdom and sacrifice of Imam al-Hussain, on the 10th of Muharram 61 A.H. The actual history of Karbala begins with the arrival of Imam Hussain, peace be upon him, at the plain of Karbala in Muharram 61 A.H. when he was prevented from proceeding towards al-Kufa by the Umayyad troops. Imam Hussain, peace be upon him, was martyred in Ashura along with members of his family and his companions. In the centuries since the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, Karbala developed into one of the most famous Islamic cities, and through the grace of God, the city has become a city of faith and numberless Muslims long to come to this city to pray at the shrine of Imam al-Hussain, peace be upon him, indeed the city also known as the City of al-Hussain. It was because of this that Karbala began to grow, develop and flourish.

The Topographical History of Karbala

- 12 Muharram 61/680 CE, the history of new Karbala began after the martyrdom of  Imam Hussain when the tribe of Bani Asad arrived to bury the sacred bodies of Imam Hussain, al-Abbas and their companions who had been slain on the day of Ashura.

- 247 AH/861 CE, al-Muntasir al-Abbasi rebuilt the Holy Shrines and built houses around them; the city had suffered during his father, al-Mutawwakil’s reign who had the city destroyed.

- 372 AH/982 CE, the first enclosure was built around the Holy Shrine and it measured 2400 meters.

- 412 AH/1021 CE, the Minister, Hassan ibn al-Fadhil, built the second enclosure of the Holy Shrine which included four iron doors.

- 941 AH/1534 CE, the Persian Shah Isma’il al-Safawi visited Karbala; he ordered a canal to be dug in the city and renovations to the Shrine of Imam Hussain.

- 953 AH/1546 CE, Sulayman al-Qanuni had repairs made to the Shrines of Imam  Hussain and al-Abbas, peace be upon them.

- 19th century, the King of Awad in India, visited Karbala after the Wahhabi attack on the city in 1216 AH/1801 CE; he had a strong wall built around the city and markets and beautiful houses erected for those who had lost their homes in the attack.

- 1217 AH/1802 CE, Sayyid Ali al-Tabataba’i, the author of al-Riyad, built the third wall around the city after the Wahhabi attack; he built six portals for the Shrine and each portal was given a particular name.

- 1276 AH/1860 CE, Telegraph lines were installed in Karbala, giving it instant  connection to the wider world.

- 1285 AH/1868 CE, During the time of the Ottoman reformer Midhat Pasha modern government buildings were constructed along with new markets.

- 1332 AH/1914 CE, After the end of the First World War further modern buildings were constructed and avenues laid out.


Some researchers say the name ‘Karbala’ means ‘Closeness to God’ and that it is of  ancient Babylonian origin; others think that the meaning derives from the Babylonian ‘Kor Babil’ which means ‘ancient Babylonian towns’, including Nainawa, Ghadiryia, Karbala, Aker Babil, Nawawes and Herr which is now called ‘Ha’ir’ in Arabic, which means ‘the land which refused to allow water into it’ and this was said when al-Mutawwakil al-Abbasi ordered that water be directed to flood the plain of Karbala in order to destroy the grave of Imam al-Hussain, the water stopped short and did not harm the holy grave. In another view, the word ‘Karbala’ was thought to be a two syllable Assyrian word, the first syllable being ‘Karb’ meaning ‘Sanctuary’ and the second is ‘Ala’ meaning ‘God’, the two syllables thus forming the word ‘The Sanctuary of God.’ Other historians believe the origin may be Persian, formed from the word ‘Kar’ meaning ‘Deed’ and “Bala” meaning ‘High’. Karbala is often called al-Taf. It may also be that the name ‘Karbala’ is derived from the Arabic word ‘Kurba’ meaning ‘Soft Earth.’ Some scholars also maintain that it is a composite noun in the Arabic language, formed of  ‘Karb’ meaning ‘Grief’ and ‘Bala’ meaning ‘Misfortune.’

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