Despite the passing of 14 centuries since the first building of the Grand Mosque, located 30 kilometers east of Basra and despite the renovations that it underwent about five years ago, if you look at this place and mosque from up close, you will find yourself surrounded by the past and enclosed in history. And if you stare at the marble base that supported the Mosque’s pillars, many meters away from the new building, you will feel that you are entering a courtyard from the first century A.H.
The Director of the Shia Endowment in Basra, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Matouri, said: “This is Basra’s first mosque, and the third mosque in Islam. It was built by ‘Utba bin Ghazwan, following the founding of Basra in the 14th century A.H., out of reed and papyrus. It was rebuilt during the rule of Abi Moussa Al-Shaari, in the 16th year A.H., out of adobe, like the houses in Basra, after being burned down by a major fire.”
“The mosque was destroyed in the year 45 A.H., and was rebuilt with plaster and baked bricks. Its ceiling was made out of sheet metal in the year 160 A.H, in the era of Harun Al-Rashid,” he added. “After this it could no longer fit all those praying, as more than 20,000 believers prayed there, so the government building was destroyed and annexed to the mosque.”
“The government building was located near the mosque,” Al-Matraoui continued, “as were all the offices related to the government back then, and the markets and the city’s most prominent landmarks.”
The Director of the Shia Endowment went on to say: “At its height, the mosque had 18 doors and 14,000 spaces for the many believers. More than 900 study sessions were held there, in which many of the prophet’s companions and followers studied.”
“Most Islamic schools and doctrines were born next to this mosque, such as the Al-Mutazila, Al-‘Ash’ariya and Sufism. Great scholars in interpretation, jurisprudence, philology, grammar, rhetoric, history, conduct, language and literature graduated from here,” Al-Matraoui explained. “The first lesson that took place in the mosque was the one of Jaafar bin Abi Al-Hassan. The most famous include those of Abi Al-Aswad Al-Duuli, Anas Ibn Malek Al-Ansari, Omran ibn Al-Hosyan, Omar ibn Abid, Wassel ibn Atta Al-Mo’atazili, Al-Hassan Al-Basri, Ibn Siirin, Abu Abido Maamar ibn Al-Muthana, Al-Khalil ibn Ahmed Al-Farahidi, Saybuba, Al-Mazani, Al-Mabred Al-Jaheth and others.”
The Director of Basra’s Shia Endowment continued: “The mosque’s enclosure was rebuilt in 1997 A.D. with donations from the people of Basra. After the fall of the former regime, it was completely rebuilt by the Shia Endowment, resulting in a beautiful and modern building. All that remains of its ancient ruins are four granite bases from some of the mosque’s pillars.”
For his part, Researcher Al-Zubairi Thamir Al-‘Asaf said: “This mosque, which is Basra’s first mosque and the third mosque in Islam, maintained the name of ‘Grand Mosque’ until the 7th century A.H., when Ibn Battuta mentions it in his travels and calls it the Imam Ali Mosque.”
Al-‘Asaf added: “Today it is called Imam Ali, since Imam Ali is the most prominent Islamic personality to have passed by this mosque. He and his children, Imams Hassan and Hussein and his son Mohammed ibn Al-Hanifa stayed for the battle of Al-Jamal, which took place near this mosque, in the year 36 A.H.”
“All that remains of the ancient mosque are granite bases and the leaning ancient minaret, which is currently undergoing maintenance,” the researcher explained. “Whoever looks at it is reminded of the sermon by the Imam to the people of Basra: ‘As if I in this city of yours saw nothing but the battlements of its mosques as if they were bows of ships in the depths of the sea.’ This is one of the famous sermons among the people of Basra, and it appears in Ibn Abi Al-Hadid’s book “Nahj Al-Balagha.”
“Many people in Basra visit this place on different occasions, especially religious ones,” Al-‘Asaf noted. “This phenomenon grew enormously following the fall of the previous regime. It is especially true on the anniversary of the death of the prophet and the death of Imam Ali, as well as the Arbain festival for Imam Hussein.”
Al-‘Asaf added: “This mosque witnessed important political, intellectual and military periods of Islamic history, and due to its presence and the study session held there, as well as the intellectual, rhetorical, philological and literary schools there, Basra was known as the Islamic treasury.”
Al-Zubairi noted that the mosque also witnessed bloody events, the most prominent of which may have been when Al-Hajaj took over power in Basra, in the Ummayad era, and of which he said in his famous sermon: “I see heads that have ripened so it is time to pick them,” which was followed by bloodbaths.
The area near the mosque was called Wadi Al-Sabaa. It is located around 200 meters from the mosque of the tomb of the prophet’s companion Ibn Abidullah, which was destroyed by unknown assailants in the year 2007 A.D.