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Iraqis cover shrines in gold for divine forgiveness.

Summary: Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites agree on one thing, which is, covering shrines with gold is a way to seek forgiveness from God in the afterlife, but the process takes years of donations and

Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites agree on one thing, which is, covering shrines with gold is a way to seek forgiveness from God in the afterlife, but the process takes years of donations and craftsmanship to achieve the spectacular view that adds splendor to holy sites.

Covering a dome with gold is very costly and is a style known as Islamic adornment or Karbala architecture and was first used on mosques and luxury houses. Karbala art

This craft is passed down from generations and craftsmen refuse to reveal its secrets as they consider the mystery an important part of the rare profession.

Very few in Iraq master Karbala art, said Abdul-Saheb al-Kawaz, one of the craftsmen who works in gold plating domes.

"Some think it is just about covering the squares on the domes, minarets, and front of shrines, but it is not just that," he told Al Arabiya. "It is a construction process that starts with choosing the type of brick, the degree of burnishing, and the accompanying materials. It is part of Islamic art."

Ibrahim Abu Kalal, a master of Karbala art, allowed his assistant Abdul-Hussein Farhan to explain the process while he was busy covering the dome of Imam Abbas ibn Ali ibn Abi Taleb in Karbala.

"We started covering the passageway under the dome after we collected gold pieces donated by shrine visitors," he told Al Arabiya. "Then we cover the dome, the minaret and the front."

Gold purification

The amount of gold donated is usually dozens of kilograms a year and the deficit is paid from cash donations or from the shrine's budget.

"The first step is purification of gold since the gold donated is of different degrees of purity," Farhan said. "Then we make brass tiles on which thin gold plates are placed. The last step is sticking the plates in their places according to a pre-planned design."

Abdul-Razaq al-Fattal, who supervises gold plating of in the city of Samara, 110 kilometers (about 68 miles) north of Baghdad, said they are now covering the walls of buildings and rooms with green marble.

Craftsman Kawaz differentiates between gold plating and carving.

"Gold plating is a rare craft that not many excel in while carving involves geometrical shapes and Quranic verses in various colors. Theses are two independent crafts."

Karbala art has its own artists and craftsmen, said Majid Humaid, professor of sculpture at the Academy of Arts.

"There are specific artists who use the Karbala art and one of them is sculptor Nedaa Kazem who built the Unknown Soldier shrine in east Baghdad," he told Al Arabiya.

According to Qadouri, on of the oldest construction workers in Baghdad, Karbala art is also used in modern houses in Iraq.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)

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Article Details
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Publication:Al Arabiya (Saudi Arabia)
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:May 14, 2009
Words:500
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