A Short History of Karbala and the Grave of Imam Hussain

Today, the shrine of Hussain attracts millions of pilgrims from all over the world, all over the year, who visit to pay their respects and worship Allah (swt) by his side. Architecturally it is a stunning sight, with beautiful minarets and a glorious dome housing his grave.


The origins of the name Karbala are contested. Some narrations mention that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself during his lifetime mentioned the definition, implying that the word was a combination of Karb (land that causes agonies) and Balaa’ . In its etymology, Karbala most likely originates from Kar Bel, or Kur Babel, meaning a group of Babylonian villages, that included Nainawa, Al-Nawawees, Al-Ha’ir (also known as Al-Hira), among others. Other opinions mention that the name originated from qarballatu, an Akkadian word, referring to a sharp headgear and thereafter changing to Karbala in Aramaic, or from the word karbalaa’, meaning the imprint of a foot on soft ground. It is said by some (in what may perhaps be folklore) that the land once included an ancient temple (or graveyard) for Christians and was famous in pre-Islamic times, as part of the cities of the historic Tusuh An-Nahrain, situated on the shore of the old Euphrates river. Some also suggest the word comes from Karb/Ail (sacred precinct of Allah), or Kaar/Bolo (the higher work). Karbala may also be derived from Al-Kirbah, meaning softness, referring to the softness of the land. At the time of the battle of Karbala, the land was uninhabited, though it was rich with water and had fertile soil.