Najaf Dispatch: Inside the Imam Ali Shrine

BY Larisa Epatko  September 1, 2010 at 2:00 PM EDT
The Imam Ali Mosque was first built in 977 over the tomb of Ali, the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. Photo by Larisa Epatko

The Imam Ali Mosque was first built in 977 over the tomb of Ali, the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad. Photo by Larisa Epatko

NAJAF, Iraq | The Imam Ali Mosque is considered the one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam. The NewsHour recently visited the shrine during Ramadan and watched as crowds grew throughout the evening.

People gathered to pray, eat picnics in the rug-covered outdoor patios and meet with their families and friends.

At night, the Imam Ali Mosque lights up and pilgrims flood the gates for prayer and community. Photo by Larisa Epatko

At night, the Imam Ali Mosque lights up and pilgrims flood the gates for prayer and community. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Built in 977 over the tomb of Imam Ali, the mosque was reconstructed twice. After the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the mosque was the site of several attacks and used as a base by militia members.

Each year, millions of pilgrims come to Najaf, Iraq, to visit the Imam Ali Mosque. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Each year, millions of pilgrims come to Najaf, Iraq, to visit the Imam Ali Mosque. Photo by Larisa Epatko

The gold-domed shrine underwent its latest renovations two years ago. The surrounding streets are lined with hotels for pilgrims, who travel from all over Iraq and beyond to pay their respects.

Buses Circulate Pilgrims arrive by the busload to pray at the gold-domed shrine. Najaf Gov. Adnan Al-Zurufi told us 1.5 million visitors come each year, more than double the population of the city. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Buses Circulate
Pilgrims arrive by the busload to pray at the gold-domed shrine. Najaf Gov. Adnan Al-Zurufi told us 1.5 million visitors come each year, more than double the population of the city. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Prayer Rugs A girl waits for her mother to stow their shoes before entering the mosque. Ten percent, or more than 100 million, of the world’s Muslims are Shiite. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Prayer Rugs
A girl waits for her mother to stow their shoes before entering the mosque. Ten percent, or more than 100 million, of the world’s Muslims are Shiite. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Shia Muslims About 70 percent of Muslims in Iraq are Shiite. Many Sunnis left Iraq after the ouster of Sunni leader Saddam Hussein. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Shia Muslims
About 70 percent of Muslims in Iraq are Shiite. Many Sunnis left Iraq after the ouster of Sunni leader Saddam Hussein. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Elaborate Design Mosaics in green, blue and gold cover the interior and exterior of the shrine. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Elaborate Design
Mosaics in green, blue and gold cover the interior and exterior of the shrine. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Prayer and Sleep A boy slumbers in a side prayer room during the hot summer day. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Prayer and Sleep
A boy slumbers in a side prayer room during the hot summer day. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Faithful Gather Men, women and children gather to pray inside the shrine. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Faithful Gather
Men, women and children gather to pray inside the shrine. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Annual Visit Janan Jezma and her niece Sara are two of many who make an annual pilgrimage to the shrine. “Because I am Muslim, I am Shia, I must come here,” Jezma says. They came to Najaf from Baghdad, about a four-hour drive. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Annual Visit
Janan Jezma and her niece Sara are two of many who make an annual pilgrimage to the shrine. “Because I am Muslim, I am Shia, I must come here,” Jezma says. They came to Najaf from Baghdad, about a four-hour drive. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Breaking Fast Neat rows of empty plates are all that are left, following the breaking of the day’s fast. During the month-long Ramadan, observant Muslims do not eat or drink anything, including water, during the day. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Breaking Fast
Neat rows of empty plates are all that are left, following the breaking of the day’s fast. During the month-long Ramadan, observant Muslims do not eat or drink anything, including water, during the day. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Night Falls At night, the mosque is illuminated with strands of multi-colored lights. Photo by Shaun Howell

Night Falls
At night, the mosque is illuminated with strands of multi-colored lights. Photo by Shaun Howell

A Holy Place The sounds of prayer emanate from the hall. Photo by Shaun Howell

A Holy Place
The sounds of prayer emanate from the hall. Photo by Shaun Howell

See all of the NewsHour’s 2010 reports from Iraq.