Since receiving his PhD from New
York University in 1982, Yasser Tabbaa has taught Islamic art and architecture
for more than 30 years at several research universities in the US and the
Middle East. Working at the juncture of architecture,
social history, religion, and aesthetics, Tabbaa has written books and articles
on Islamic architecture, ornament, and calligraphy, including Constructions of Power and Piety in Medieval
Aleppo (Penn State Press, 1997) and The
Transformation of Islamic Art during the Sunni Revival (U. Washington Press, 2001). He has also published several articles on
Islamic gardens and poetics. His most recent book is Najaf: The Gate of Wisdom (UNESCO, 2014), and he is currently directing
a similar project on the city and monuments
of Samarra and preparing a book on Shiʿi
In July 2015, Dr. Tabbaa donated his teaching archive to the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT. The collection can be found here.
"This introductory book does not assume any prior knowledge of Islam, Shi'ism, Iraq or Najaf, and it deals with some issues that have not been of great interest to Iraqi scholars, such as urbanism and architecture. The book also addresses some unfounded assumptions and negative images related to our topics of discussion, some of which may have reached the lay reader through newspapers or websites of questionable reliability. It follows then that this book has a twofold mission to lay a common foundation for understanding the basic historical and religious concepts about the city and culture of Najaf and to present in a clear
and straightforward manner the singularity, beauty and charisma of the city.
Methodologically, the book adopts a multidisciplinary approach, which addresses its complex case study from the viewpoints of history, demography, architectural history, anthropology and of course photography. It begins by introducing Najaf's topography, history and urban character, before proceeding to expand on its religious architecture, the rites and rituals of its visitation, its penchant for the pursuit of knowledge, and the rites and rituals of burial at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery."