Tārīkh Masājid Karbalā wa Ḥusaynīyyātihā [History of the Karbala Mosques and Husayniyyahs]

Author: Salmān Hādī Āl Ṭuʽmah
Reviewed by: Muhammad-Reza Fakhr-Rohani

As a world-famous pilgrimage city, Karbala has got tens of places of worship. It has got over 120 mosques and around 40 Husayniyyahs, special places for holding religious gatherings commemorative of Imam al-Husayn as well as of other top-tier religious dignitaries. This book provides a survey of such sacred places of built and/or reconstructed both inside and in the vicinity of Karbala. Originally drafted several years ago, the book indicates that there have been over 200 mosques and Husayniyyahs in the city and province of Karbala; however, some of them are no longer in existence due to various reasons. Hence the book gives a survey and brief backgrounds of those currently in use.

Entirely based on several years of fieldwork and close observation in situ, the book never misses even a small mosque in its research field, Karbala. As its prolific author is an established and authoritative historian of Karbala, he traces back the history of every mosque or Husayniyyah mentioned in the book. The first mosque ever built therein was the one constructed by the very martyrdom site of Imam al-Ḥusayn who was martyred on Ashura 61/ 680. Although his holy shrine has several places for offering prayers, there are two distinct mosques therein valuable for their historical significance. While the first one has encompassed his martyrdom site, the second one was built several centuries later at almost the same place to extend the site for accommodating more pilgrims.

The book does not miss any detail of the mosques listed. In addition to mentioning the names of the founders of the mosques and Husaniyyahs and the dates of their original foundation and reconstruction, it never misses to record the Quranic verses inscribed on the entrances of the mosques and over the mihrabs, prayer niches. It also records whether a mosque or Husayniyyah was founded by Iraqi nationals or other multi-national sojourners and residents, mainly Iranians and Indians.

Having listed 123 mosques and 38 Husayniyyahs, the book shows that 30 mosques are named after praiseworthy members of the house as well as descendants of the Prophet Muḥammad. There are seven mosques named after Imam al-Ḥusayn, with 25 mosques bearing the names of other respectable dignitaries.

Noteworthy is that there are two types of mosques: those only for offering daily and occasion-based types of salat, Islamic ritual prayer, in contrast to others that make an integral part of a larger mosque-based religious institution, in Arabic called jāmiʽ (lit. collector, gatherer). Those situated within both of the two principal Karbala holy shrines, i.e., those of Imam al-Ḥusayn and his martyred, step-brother al-ʽAbbās, are mosques, not jāmiʽs, for the latter take in other facilities, e.g., library, dining room, or management office. Husayniyyahs have since been multi-purpose, religious institutions, often named after praiseworthy dignitaries or the local people who constructed them. They are sometimes named after the nationals who funded it, e.g., the inhabitants of Isfahan, Iran, who have built two Husayniyyahs in Karbala.


Muhammad-Reza Fakhr-Rohani

University of Qum ,