An Najaf

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Related to An Najaf: Karbala, Yangtze River, Al Najaf, Tenochtitlan

An Najaf

(än nä`jäf), city (1987 pop. 309,010), S central Iraq, on a lake near the Euphrates River. The city, one of Shi'a Islam's holiest, is also called Mashad Ali, after the tomb (in a mosque) of AliAli
(Ali ibn Abu Talib), 598?–661, 4th caliph (656–61). The debate over his right to the caliphate caused a major split in Islam into Sunni and Shiite branches, and he is regarded by the Shiites as the first Imam, or leader: Shiite derives from the phrase
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, son-in-law of Muhammad the Prophet. The tomb is an object of pilgrimage by Shiite Muslims and a starting point for the pilgrimage to Mecca. An Najaf also is an important Shiite theological and educational center; Iraq's senior Shiite clergy reside there. The city was the center of fighting between U.S. forces and Shiite insurgents in 2004.
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An Najaf (Iraq)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The town of An Najaf in central Iraq is the site of one of the holiest shrines for Shi’a Muslims, who constitute the largest segment of the country’s population. The town is closely associated with Ali ibn Abi Talib (c. 602–661), the son-in-law of Muhammad and the fourth Caliph to lead the emerging Muslim Empire after the death of Muhammad. Ali came to his position of power following the assassination of Uthman in 656. Ali was himself assassinated in 661.

Ali’s brief rule brought to the fore a strong disagreement within the Muslim leadership. Some championed the family of Muhammad as the most legitimate rulers in Islam, while the majority supported the historic evolution of the caliphate under the most capable leadership available. Following Ali’s assassination, those who continued to support the leadership of his family, primarilythrough his son Husayn, would emerge as a minority community within Islam, known as the Shi’a.

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, mentioned in the biblical book of Genesis 2:14 relative to the Garden of Eden, flow through Iraq. Many believed Iraq to be the cradle of humanity and An Najaf the burial place of both Adam and Noah. Ali’s actual burial site was unknown, but a century after his death, Shi’a leaders announced An Najaf as the burial place and erected a shrine over the designated spot. As the Shi’a community matured, An Najaf became one of its most enduring pilgrimage sites. It attained new status in the twentieth century when the Iranian Shi’a leader Ayatollah Khomeini took up residence and directed his efforts against the Shah from there (1965–1978). During the first Gulf War, An Najaf became a center of resistance to Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq from 1979 to 2003, and the Shi’a sites suffered when government forces crushed resistance leaders in the town after the war.

Celebrations and pilgrimages have picked up considerably in the years following Hussein’s capture by U.S. forces.


Jafri, S. Husain M. The Origins and Early Development of Shi’a Islam. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, Hamid Dabashi, and Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, eds. Shi’ism: Doctrines, Thought and Spirituality. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1988.
Tripp, Charles. History of Iraq. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
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