Sacred Sites: Places of Peace and Power

Mazari Sharif

The Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif
The Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif

Mazari Sharīf (Mazar-e Sharīf, Mazar-i-Sharif), is the fourth largest city of Afghanistan, with population of 300,000. It is the capital of the Balkh province and is home to multi-ethnic groups such as Uzbeks, Turkmen, Tajiks and Hazaras. It is linked by roads to Kabul in the southeast, Herat to the west and Uzbekistan to the north.

Mazari Sharif means "Noble Shrine" or "Tomb of the Exalted", a reference to the large, blue-tiled sanctuary and mosque in the center of the city known as the Shrine of Hazrat Ali or the Blue Mosque.

Mazari Sharif
The Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif

It is believed by some Muslims (the Sunni) that the site of the tomb of Ali ibn Abi Talib - the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad - is in Mazari Sharif. However, other Muslims (the Shi’a) believe that the real grave of Ali is found within the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq, as was disclosed by the Sixth Shi'a Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq.

(An Imam is an Islamic leadership position, often the leader of a mosque and the community. Similar to spiritual leaders, the Imam is the one who leads the prayer during Islamic gatherings.)

The Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif
The Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif

According to Shi'a Muslim belief, Ali was originally buried by his two sons, Hasan and Husain in an undisclosed location, which was later made known by Ja'far as-Sadiq (the Sixth Shi'a Imam and great, grandson of Husain) as the grave that is found within the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq.

According to tradition, in 661, shortly after the murder of Ali and the burial of his body at Najaf, near Baghdad (in present day Iraq), some of Ali's followers worried that his enemies would desecrate his body. Therefore, they decided to remove his body and hide it in a secret location. Ali’s remains were placed on a white female camel, which wandered eastward for several weeks until it ultimately fell to the ground exhausted. The body was then reburied where the camel fell, and its location forgotten.

Mazari Sharīf
The Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif

The founding of the actual shrine of Mazari Sharif owes its existence to a dream. At the beginning of the 1100s, a local mullah in the village of Khwaja Khayran had a dream in which Ali bin Abi Talib, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law and one of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs, appeared to reveal that he had been secretly buried near the city of Balkh (near present day Marzari Sharif). In 1136, after locating the site, the Seljuk sultan Ahmed Sanjar ordered a city and shrine to be built on the spot, where it stood until its destruction by the Mongol warlord Genghis Khan around 1220. Two centuries later, in 1480, the shrine was rebuilt by the Timurid sultan Husain Baiqara, furthering the town’s development into a large urban center.

The Timurid core of the shrine contains the tomb chamber of Ali, whose blue-tiled domes rise above the shrine's roofline. Tombs of various shape and size belonging to different Afghan rulers and religious leaders were added to the Timurid shrine through the centuries, creating its current irregular profile. The shrine is roughly rectangular in plan, and measures about fifty-three meters by thirty-eight meters at the largest. It is aligned northwest southeast and is enclosed within a fenced precinct built in mid-twentieth century. The shrine's exterior is covered entirely with polychrome tile mosaic and painted tile panels dominated by shades of blue. Many of these tiles were renewed or replaced during twentieth century renovations. One of the few remaining artifacts from the earlier shrine is a marble slab inscribed with the words, "Ali, Lion of God." The holy tomb of Ali draws Shi'a pilgrims throughout the year, and especially during the celebration of New Year (Neuroz).

The Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif
The Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif 

Other sacred sites in Afghanistan

Kabul

Ziyarat-i-Sakhi (Shrine of the Generous One; sacred to Hazrat Ali)

Balkh Province

Chishmah-i-Ayyub (Shrine built over hot spring where Ayyub – Job – is believed to have rested while journeying through Afghanistan)

Faryab Province

Ashab al Kahf, near Maymanah

Samangan Province

Chishma-i-Hayat (sacred to Khwaja Khizr)

Herat

Gazur Gah, Mausoleum of mystic Abd Allah Ansari

 

Mazari Sharīf
The Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif

Additional information on sacred sites in Afghanistan

Dupree, Louis; Saint Cults in Afghanistan; American Universities Field Staff Reports, South Asia Series (Afghanistan) 20:1, Hanover, New Hampshire; 1976

Safa, A. Ghafoor; The Tomb of Hazrat-e Ali, Historical Background and Recent Events; Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage; Peshawar; 1999

Mazari Sharīf
Tiles on the walls of the Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif.

Mazari Sharīf
Tiles on the walls of the Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif.

Mazari Sharīf
Tiles on the walls of the Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif.

Mazari Sharīf 
Tiles on the walls of the Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif.

Mazari Sharīf
Tiles on the walls of the Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif.

Mazari Sharīf
Tiles on the walls of the Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif.

Tiles on the walls of the Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif
Tiles on the walls of the Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif.

Tiles on the walls of the Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif
Tiles on the walls of the Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif     

Mazari Sharīf
The Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif

The Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif
The Blue Mosque of Mazari Sharif
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Mazari Sharif