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The Hawza: Najaf's Shia theological school

In this report we head to the Iraqi city of Najaf. 160km south of Baghdad, it’s Shia Islam’s third holy city after Mecca and Medina. France 24 toured the Hawza, the city’s theological school, where scholars spend up to 25 years immersed in Shia theology. They witnessed an institution that is shining once more, following the fall of Saddam Hussein.Report by Karim Hakiki, Amar Al Hameedawi

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The sky darkens as we arrive in Najaf, the result of a giant sandstorm. As day turns to night, the famous mausoleum of Imam Ali is hidden from view. Pilgrims, who’ve come from all over the world, take refuge inside the great mosque.

It’s a city within a city, tightly protected by the Iraqi army. To enter, you have to pass through three security control points. Attacks against Shia Muslims are frequent ,and the sandstorm has made the soldiers nervous. Once inside the mausoleum, we come across thousands of pilgrims who live, sleep and eat on site. It’s well-organized, men on one side women on the other.

Najaf, one of the most important Shia pilgrimage sites, is also the centre of Shia political power in Iraq. The influence of Iran is evident everywhere -- from the millions of visitors who cross the border each year, to the imported merchandise on sale at the market. Trade too is dominated by Iranians, in a city which looks increasingly towards Tehran, rather than Baghdad.

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