Karbala’ and Its Great Dome

I remember the emotion with which I approached Karbala’ from the East. The rays of the morning sun gilt the Gumbaz-i-Faiz, the great dome that crowns the building containing the tomb of Imam Husayn. Karbala’ actually stands on one of the great caravan routes of the desert. Today the river city of Kufa, once a Khilafat capital, is a mere village, and the city of Najaf is famous for the tomb of Hazrat ‘Ali, but of little commercial importance.

Karbala’, this outpost of the desert, is a mart and a meeting ground as well as a sacred place. It is the port of the desert, just as Basra, lower down, is a port for the Persian Gulf. Beautifully kept is the road to the mausoleum, to which all through the year come pilgrims from all parts of the world. Beautiful coloured enamelled tiles decorate the building. Inside, in the ceiling and upper walls, there is a great deal of glass mosaic.

The glass seems to catch and reflect the light. The effect is that of rich coruscations of light combined with the solemnity of a closed building. The tomb itself is in a sort of inner grill, and below the ground is a sort of cave, where is shown the actual place where the Martyr fell.

The city of Najaf is just about 40 miles to the South, with the tomb of Hazrat ‘Ali on the high ground. You can see the golden dome for miles around. Just four miles from Najaf and connected with it by a tramway, is the deserted city of Kufa. The mosque is large, but bare and practically unused. The blue dome and the Mihrab of enamelled tiles bear witness to the ancient glory of the place.