Thoughts of Ali ibn Abi Talib and cultural heritage of Najaf at heart of eventful day at UNESCO’s Paris Headquarters

@UNESCO Iraq/Panel of the roundtable

Experts from various parts of the world gathered last week at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France to explore how the thought of Ali ibn Abi Talib has contributed to a culture of peace and intercultural dialogue.  The event that took place on 20 November 2014 was part of a series of encounters that UNESCO organized on the occasion of World Philosophy Day 2014.  The roundtable was followed by a ceremony to launch the UNESCO publication “Najaf: the Gate of Wisdom”, a photobook presenting one of the world's most sacred cities. 

Attended by prominent historians and researchers, including scholars from the Baghdad and Kufa universities in Iraq and the universities of Indiana, Memphis and Georgetown in the US, the roundtable brought to light the ideas and philosophy of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, also known as Imam Ali, one of the Islamic world’s most progressive thinkers, with a special focus on his messages for tolerance, intercultural coexistence, and merciful and righteous governance.

In connection with the roundtable, a launching ceremony was organized also in Paris for the book: “Najaf: the Gate of Wisdom”, published by UNESCO. Illustrated with over 120 specially commissioned photographs and written by authors with first-hand experience of the city, this book retraces the city's history to the present day by surveying its urban form and major religious monuments, and offering vivid portraits of its people.

The book provides insight into Shia rituals from pilgrimage to passion plays and funerals in the Cemetery of Wadi al-Salam, and explains Najaf's role as a centre of learning and religious authority. An Afterword by Marco Di Bella who led UNESCO's training in book and manuscript conservation in the city, also highlights UNESCO's contribution to the preservation of the city's heritage.

The resting place of Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, Najaf is endowed with a unique spiritual significance for millions of Muslims. With the aim to highlight the city’s universal value and support local authorities in the restoration and protection of its several cultural assets, UNESCO, in cooperation with the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, has been implementing a project entitled “Safeguarding the cultural heritage of Najaf and promoting its international visibility”. In addition to the organization of the roundtable and the publication of the book, several significant components have been achieved under this project, including training the city’s experts on old manuscripts conservation. 

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