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In Iraq, pilgrims return from Najaf rings to fingers

Ⓒ AFP – Haidar HAMDANI – | A woman tries rings at a stall in the Najaf souk on 13
September 2017 in Iraq

Every year, Mohammed al-Ghoraïfi leaves his house in Bahrain
to go to Najaf. Every year he returns with a new ring. For in
this holy Shiite Iraqi city, the market of precious stones is
an almost obliged stage of the pilgrimage.

Today it has two imposing rings, one in the right hand and
the other in the left. And this is only a small part of his
collection, he told AFP. His jewelery cost him a small fortune,
recognizes this man of 60 years dressed in white and head
covered with a Bedouin scarf. But “no matter the price, these
stones have tremendous value.”

Mr. Ghoraïfi is far from the only lover of the agate, ruby
​​and turquoise rings of Najaf, 150 km south of Baghdad, where
thousands of pilgrims, mainly Iranian, come to the mausoleum of
the ” imam Ali, the site of Shiite Islam.

“Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan,
Lebanon …”, Fayez Abu Ghoneim, 45 years old, sees in his shop
pilgrims of all these nationalities, barely out of the
mausoleum of the son-in-law of the prophet and first Shiite

“Many buy a ring or a rosary as a souvenir of the pilgrimage
for their loved ones or friends,” he said, in a town where some
families are known for their art of cutting and engraving gems
for generations.

– Competition –

Ⓒ AFP – Haidar HAMDANI – | Women try rings on the stand of a jeweler at the market
of the holy city of Najaf, September 13, 2017

The affairs of Mr. Abu Ghoneim follow the religious
calendar, as for all those who work at the great market of
Najaf, strategically located in front of the golden door of the
mausoleum. It is during the Shiite ceremonies, which sometimes
bring together millions of pilgrims, that it realizes “the
biggest part of (its) turnover”. The price of a ring can
sometimes reach several thousand dollars.

But not all pilgrims are ready to go mad. Issa Moussa said
he saw the trade decline “because of Turkish, Chinese, Thai and
Iranian imports” that broke prices and invaded the market. “I
became a salesman of rings when I was a jeweler,” laments this

Ali Anouar prides himself on perpetuating craftsmanship, a
know-how that has a cost. “Turkish or Thai jewelery is sold by
the gram, that of Najaf by the piece” for 40,000 to 50,000
dinars (30 and 35 euros), he said. And that, not to mention the
price of stones.

On the stalls, the imported rings, offered at 15,000 dinars
(10 euros), flow by loads during the annual appointments of the
Shiite commemorations. The walkways of the market, a maze of
shops in yellow stones of the holy city of Kerbala, are then
stormed by buyers and curious.

The rest of the year, the souk merchants in Islamic style
architecture also have regular clients: religious scholars and
their students. In the Holy Shiite city, they are about 25,000,
Iraqis or foreigners, and many of them wear one or more

Some Shiites consider that a ring bought at the end of the
pilgrimage and then carried, especially to the right hand, is a
“seal” that closes the ritual.

– Against the evil –

Ⓒ AFP – Haidar HAMDANI – | A faithful Shiite tries a ring at the market of the
Iraqi holy city of Najaf, September 13, 2017

For them, 42-year-old Shaykh Jassem al-Mandalaoui told AFP
that some stones “like the Yemeni onyx can bring forgiveness,
while the emerald brings success.” He knows several people who,
like him, do not hesitate to offer themselves “a ring
surmounted by a red agate or a sapphire for 100,000 dinars
(about 70 euros) and more”.

The “must” is the quartz of Najaf, a stone similar to a
glass but solid as rock, “which can only be found in the Najaf
desert,” Mohammed al-Chamarati told AFP. years, a precious
stones dealer.

His colleague Fadel Abou Abdallah, 50, ensures that the
stones he sells also have therapeutic virtues. “The yellow
sapphire,” he says, “is good for the heart rhythm and can also
cure the jaundice of the newborn.” Other stones, he assures,
would remove “bad spells and spirits”.

Mr. Chamarati has already sold rings to unmarried girls who
thought they could “allow them to find a husband.”

For others, like Abu Abbas, 40, wearing a ring engraved with
a verse from the Koran, one of the 99 names of Allah or the
name of the Prophet can be a protection.

“I travel a lot in desert places and
can be attacked at any time by armed persons,” explains this
inhabitant of a remote area of ​​the region.

Today, he said, he traveled to the Najaf market to find “a
bulletproof stone”.

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