A visit to Samara and Sayed Arifs story

August 12, 2012


SO we departed for the city of Samara where the tenth and eleventh Imams are buried, the journey is roughly a four hour drive from the city of Karbala. Samara is a predominately Sunni city roughly 60 miles north of Baghdad, it is perhaps most known for the terrorist attacks that took place there back in 2006 where the shrines were the target of a sectarian backed  bombing.

Today the shrines are in the process of being restored to their former glory, it was said that it’s previous dome was one of the largest domes of its kind.. As I sit in the coach towards the holy city  a man by the name of Sayed Arif explains his first visit to Samara post bombings. Sayed Arif was one of the first people to visit the shrine after the attacks and one of the first to take a group of people with him. He explains the struggles that he went through an example being how he had  a letter from the PM Nouri Malaki presented to him advising that no one visits Samara. He goes on to explain how he had to eventually call a religious scholar to seek permission for his journey.

I currently write this paragraph having yet reached Samara I am outside the shrine of Sayed Mohammed who is the son of Imam Ali al Hadi (as). This is the area where Sayed Arif was advised again not to visit Samara by government officials, but no person could prevent him from his ziyara. Sayed Arifs journey was recorded by two tv stations and when arriving he tells of the mines that they saw on the way, he expresses his grieve and shock at the initial state they found the shrines.

When narrating the story he speaks of his group falling into tears not knowing what to do at the shock of the site in front of them. There was a youth with them that buried himself near the grave of the Imams and asked the group that they leave him there and let him die such was his disbelief.   As you can imagine one of the first actions of Sayed Arif was to enquire as to the restoration plans for the shrines and initially he came to the realisation that an external company had been contracted to restore the shrine. As part of the contract they had agreed a period of 30 years to fully complete the restoration using the same bricks of the original foundation,  this seemed highly ridiculous to Sayed Arif and so through his campaigning and discussions with the government he was able to renegotiate a new contract in which it was agreed that the shrines would be fully restored within two years.

Today Sayed Arif takes visitors every Friday to Samara, the current trip I am with is a private one however I am told next Friday will be the last of Ramadhan and it will be a public  visit thus potentially there could be 60 coaches traveling from Karbala to Samarra. Going back to Sayed Arifs original visit, he had  arrived to the area of Balad (just outside Samara)  where’s Sayed Mohammed (Imam Ali Al Hadis son) is buried he had Known that in order to reach Samara there would be a passage by which the police themselves would shoot any visitors heading towards the shrines. In order to successfully pass this passage he attempted to gather the people of Balad together and tell them of his plan to visit Samara (you have to remember Samara was off limits and no one had visited since the attacks) at first they were cautious and were not so willing. This is where Sayed Arif made the comparison between themselves and Imam Hussain (as) in terms of being noted in history. He questioned the people and asked that if they wanted to noted in history then they should help him carry out the visitation of the Imams in order to help pave the way for future visitors to the Imams.

At the shrine of Sayed Mohammed he narrated the following incident. They were close to Samara and were to sleep the night at the shrine of Sayed Mohammed, in the morning three people narrated that they had dreamt similar dreams and in each of their dreams they were encouraged to continue with their visit whereby a person had approached them and told them they had been chosen out of millions to carry out the visit. This encouraged the group further and despite the dangers Sayed Arif and the group managed to visit the shrines and has since paved the way for the Shia to visit the Imams. Therefore if you ever find yourself in Samara them be sure to thank the endeavours of Sayed Arif.

The stories of people like Sayed Arif are inspiring and highlight a clear sense of initiative and drive towards a goal. He was going to complete that initial visit no matter what and no one was going to stand on his way.  It begs the question as to where we really need to examine our own selves. Are we trying hard enough in our lives? Whether its those exams or preparing ourselfs for the best possible job, let us always seek to improve one step further. Sayed Arif began with the intention to visit Samara and from that blossomed the weekly visit of samara and the re-negotiation of the building contract seeings the time period slashed from 30 to 2 years.

There is that famous Hadith from Imam al Sadiq (as) I believe in which he expresses more admiration for the ant than a lazy person and he states that the ant works tirelessly throught it’s life whilst the lazy has all the blessings Of Allah yet refuses to work.

Arriving at Samara was a unique experience the passage way to the main shrines are heavily forified and only a single route into the area has been set up, I guess measures have been taken place to prevent any sort of attacks ever taking place again. The dome itself is still under construction however its shape can be seen and I am told that they are half way through the construction process. We arrived in time for Maghrib and Iftar and so prayed and were treated to iftar by the workers of the shrine. Each shrine in Iraq has a department whose purpose is to welcome its guests, they had known of our arrival and had prepared food for us.  The courtyard area is still in much need of restoration below is a photo I managed to take of iftar being served.

My main mission was to take my phone in and take photos, they are very sensitive about photos being taken and so I had to be very careful however you will see from the images below that my risk paid of in the end. We spent the entire night there and I somewhat felt very welcomed even though it was my very first time there.

When praying the morning prayers the local Imam gave a talk about how we were visitors of the Imams homes. He said that all other shrines in Iraq were not the homes of the Imams whereas Samara was the actual home of the Imams, he congratulated us for the visit and explained how the shrines deserve so much more visitors as  they are still very empty today.

I dont want to ramble on too much about my own experience and so will end this blog with a selection of photos and videos that I managed to take during my visit to Samara .

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About mohamedridha

Network Systems Engineer with focus on Wireless LAN Infrastructure and Security. Interests in Middle East

View all posts by mohamedridha


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