The world’s largest cemetery is near Baghdad

By Sameer Ibrahim
The Wadi Al-Salaam cemetery near Najaf in the southwest of the Iraqi capital Baghdad is one of the most important burial sites for Shiite Muslims and also the largest cemetery in the world. According to estimates, there are more than five million graves there, many times the population of the city of Najaf of one and a half million. Millions of Shiites make a pilgrimage to the cemetery every year, from all over the world and also from Iran. The cemetery is on Iraq’s proposed list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
People have been buried in the cemetery for over 1400 years. Historians say that the cemetery existed even in the pre-Islamic period. Many of the graves are deep underground in catacombs. Human skeletons are often found deep in the ground up to 20 meters below when digging for a new burial. The area of the cemetery had to be significantly increased between 2014 and 2017 for those killed in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).
The cemetery is located near the tomb of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib, the first imam of Shia Muslims and the fourth of the caliphs of Sunni Muslims. Many Shiites believe that those buried there will be saved from the torments and punishments on the way to the afterlife through the intercession of Ali ibn Abi Talib. Therefore, many Iraqi believers hope that they will rest in peace in Wadi Al-Salaam (literally “Valley of Peace”) until the end of time.


Der Friedhof Wadi Al-Salaam bei Nadschaf. Foto: tünews INTERNATIONAL / Abdul Rahman Hussein.


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