1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nejef

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NEJEF, or Meshed ʽAli, a town of Asiatic Turkey, in the pashalik of Bagdad, 50 m. S. of Kerbela and 5 or 6 m. W. of the ruins of ancient Kufa, out of the bricks of which it is chiefly built. It stands on the eastern edge of the Syrian desert, on the north-eastern shore of a deep depression, formerly a sea, the Assyrium Stagnum of the old geographers, but in latter years drained and turned into gardens for the town. It is a fairly prosperous city, supplied with admirable water by an underground aqueduct from the Hindieh canal, a few miles to the north, which also serves to water the gardens in the deep dry bed of the former lake. The town is enclosed by nearly square brick walls, flanked by massive round towers, dating from the time of the caliphs, but now falling into decay. Outside the walls, over the sterile sand plateau, stretch great fields of tombs and graves, for Nejef is so holy that he who is buried here will surely enter paradise. In the centre of the town stands Meshed (strictly Meshhed) ʽAli, the shrine of ʽAli, containing the reputed tomb of that caliph, which is regarded by the Shiʽite Moslems as being no less holy than the Kaʽba itself, although it should be said that it is at least very doubtful whether ʽAli was actually buried there. The dome of the shrine is plated with gold, and within the walls and roof are covered with polished silver, glass and coloured tiles. The resting-place of ʽAli is represented by a silver tomb with windows grated with silver bars and a door with a great silver lock. Inside this is a smaller tomb of damascened ironwork. In the court before the dome rise two minarets, plated, like the dome, with finely beaten gold from the height of a man and upward. While the population of Nejef is estimated at from 20,000 to 30,000, there is in addition a very large floating population of pilgrims, who are constantly arriving, bringing corpses in all stages of decomposition and accompanied at times by sick and aged persons, who have come to Nejef to die. At special seasons the number of pilgrims exceeds many times the population of the town. Nejef is also the point of departure from which Persian pilgrims start on the journey to Mecca. No Jews or Christians are allowed to reside there. The accumulated treasures of Meshed ʽAli were carried off by the Wāhhābites early in the 19th century, and in 1843 the town was deprived of many of its former liberties and compelled to submit to Turkish law; but it is again enormously wealthy, for what is given to the shrine may never be sold or used for any outside purpose, but constantly accumulates. Moreover, the hierarchy derives a vast revenue from the fees for burials in the sacred limits.

See W. K. Loftus, Chaldaea and Susiana (1857); J. P. Peters, Nippur (1897); B. Meissner, Hirau Huarnaq (1901).  (J. P. Pe.)