Most of modern day Iraq was historically known as Mesopotamia – the land between the two rivers. Indeed, the mighty Tigris and the Euphrates have served as the lifeblood of this region for thousands of years, and with Babylon at its core this is a land that houses one of the world’s oldest civilisations. After decades of conflict and instability Iraq is gradually becoming more accessible to visitors who wish to experience its unique blend of ancient history, golden age Islamic heritage, outstanding natural beauty and a very diverse and intriguing populace.
Imam Ali, Imam Husayn, Salman Al-Farisi, Abu Hanifah, Ahmad bin Hanbal and Abdul Qadir Jilani are just a few of the many illustrious personalities who have graced this land with leadership, knowledge, enlightenment and martyrdom.
During the Abbasid period Baghdad became one of the foremost centres of learning and intellectual advancement across a variety of subjects spanning philosophy, medicine, astronomy and the Islamic sciences. At the time Baghdad accompanied Cordoba and Cairo as the three major intellectual centres of the Muslim world.
Iraq has been faced by tragedy throughout the ages, none more so than the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258. This was an event of seismic proportions that had a lasting impact not only on Iraq but the entire Muslim world. While many learned people, books and records perished during this horrific episode, Islamic learning and development had to evolve and so continued to flourish albeit in different forms.
Our tour begins in the capital Baghdad, home to over 7.5 million people and the location of the famous Bayt Al-Hikmah, a major centre for learning, documentation and intellectual advancement. Notably we visit the Iraq Museum which features an impressive collection of artefacts, some of which date back over 10,000 years. We also stop at the resting places of some Islam’s greatest scholars and revivers, namely Abu Hanifah, Ahmad bin Hanbal and Abdul Qadir Jilani. Later we continue to Samarra which was once the capital of the Abbasid dynasty and is famed for its unique spiral shaped minaret. This city is also of importance because it houses the resting place of Imam Hasan Al-‘Askari.
Moving south of Baghdad we visit Taq Kasra, the only remaining structure of the ancient city of Ctesiphon. The Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) companion Salman Al-Farisi was appointed governor of Ctesiphon after it came under the fold of Islam. Thereafter we proceed to Karbala, best known as the location of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, followed by Najaf where Imam ‘Ali is understood to have been buried. One of the highlights of this trip is seeing the last remnants of the legendary city of Babylon, considered one of the original wonders of the world.
The last phase of our epic journey takes us north to Kurdistan where we visit Erbil, one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited urban areas, and the stunning Rawandiz Canyon at the foothills of the Zagros mountain range.