The grave of Imam Ali (AS) was first discovered by Dawud bin Ali al-Abbasi around 139 AH/ 756 AD. Harun Al-Rashid found it around 170 AH/ 786 AD whilst on a hunting trip. He ordered the building of a dome of red mud. Today the shrine consists of the courtyard, the halls and the four-sided tomb which is covered by a gold dome and two gold minarets.
The Islamic seminary, founded by Sheikh Tusi in 448AH/ 1056 AD, became the most important religious school in the world catering for students from all over the Muslim world. The method of instruction is unique as the student has complete freedom in selecting his teacher, topic and lecture times. The student is awarded the highest degree - Ijtihad - after passing three stages; the introduction, discussions based on certain books and finally discussions without relying on a single book. The final stage is the most important and only 3 percent of students are successful. Tuition is free and the religious authority provides financial support, books and other necessities. There are 25 religious schools in Najaf.
The man who heads the Marjaiyah in Najaf at present is Syed Ali Al-Husayni Al-Sistani who came to Najaf in 1951 to study religion and lives in a small house in the Buraq quarter of the old city about two hundred metres from the shrine of Imam Ali. The Syed has a wide network of representatives inside and outside Iraq who keep him in touch with developments in various fields. He also runs a large number of religious schools and cultural foundations.
Najaf has 125 mosques in total. There is no quarter or street without a mosque which could be small for the locals or large and attended by visitors to the city. The Imams of these mosques are normally led by distinguished scholars. The most prominent scholars and well known families in Najaf have their own mosques, the most famous being: Al-Tusi to the north of the shrine in Al-Amarah quarter, Al-Hindi in Al-Rasoul Street to the south of the shrine, Al-Hannanah on the left side of the road between Najaf and Kufa, Al-Shakiry mosque in Imam Ali street at the entrance to Najaf and Kashif Al-Ghita mosque in Al-Amarah.
There are many private libraries belonging to religious families, such as the library of Ali Kashif Al-Ghita, Hadi Kashif Al-Ghita, Bahr Al-Ulum and Al-Qazwini. The famous public libraries are: Imam Al-Hakim library in Al-Rasoul Street, Al-Alameen library in Al-Tusi mosque, Al-Haidary library and Ameer Al-Muminin library in Al-Huwaish quarter. This library contains more than half a million books and manuscripts in all fields of knowledge. One of its rare books is a Quran written by Imam Ali himself in Kufic style with no dots on the letters. The copy, written on deer skin, has the stamp of his son Imam Hasan (AS) which proves its authenticity.
The land of Najaf is famous for precious stones, especially its beautifully shaped, transparent pearls. Rings made from these pearls are believed to bestow many benefits on the wearer.