Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bringing the Pilgrims to Qom

March 25, 2011 | Maryam Eskandari

featured in PBS|Frontline - Tehran Bureau

Islamic Republic's push to develop Shia holy city as a top Middle Eastern destination.

[ dispatch ] Since the early 16th century, during the Safavid dynasty, the holy city of Qom has been a significant center of Shia theological education and a locus of pilgrimage. Recently, its development has become a top priority for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Over the past eight years, Iran has been expanding Qom, not only as an "Islamic Education Center," in competition with other such cities such as Najaf, Iraq, but with the goal of making it one of the major destinations in the Middle East.

After the late 1700s, when the city flourished as a center of religious learning under Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar, little attention was paid to its development for more than century. However, in 1915, when invading Russian forces entered the nearby city of Karaj, many residents of Tehran province moved to Qom, spurring its growth into one of the region's major metropolitan areas. Consideration was even given to shifting the Iranian capital from Tehran to Qom. Over the past six years, under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a vast amount of development money has been flowing into the city.