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Karbala also referred to as Karbalā’ al-Muqaddasah) is a city in Iraq, located about 100 km (62 mi) southwest of Baghdad. Karbala is the capital of Karbala Governorate, and has an estimated population of 572,300 people (2003).
The city, best known as the location of the Battle of Karbala (680), is the holiest city for Shia Muslims after Mecca, Medina and the noble sanctuary in Jerusalem. It is home to the Imam Hussein Shrine. Karbala is famous as the site of the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali (Imam Husayn), and commemorations are held by millions of Shias annually to remember it. Karbala is considered sacred by Shias and rivals Mecca as a place of pilgrimage.
Several theories address the origin of the name Karbala. The geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi expressed the traditional hypothesis: that the name is an alternate Arabic feminine version of karbalah “soft earth”.Alternatively, it has been said to be derived from the Aramaic word Kora, meaning place for making bricks, for the nearby ancient city of Babil, hence Karbabil, which became Karbala by contraction. According to Shia belief, the archangel Gabriel narrated the true meaning of the name Karbalā to Muhammad: the land which will cause many agonies (karb) and afflictions (balā).”
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