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The World's Largest Cemetery

Updated on July 13, 2014
These are not homes, but shrines in the cemetery
These are not homes, but shrines in the cemetery
The mosque
The mosque

You might think the largest cemetery might be in Syria, especially since the civil war there has killed well over 120,000 and forced millions to flee leaving only a wasteland of rubble. If you did think Syria, you are close.

It is in Iraq. It has 5,000,000 graves that sprawls out some 1,500 acres of land and located in Najaf. The cemetery continues to grow like an alien virus forcing the living to dig up the city's sidewalks and forcing businesses to move. At night, many avoid paying for a gravesite by secretly digging a grave for a loved one. On a normal day, the cemetery receives about 100 bodies to bury, however, due to the sectarian violence there from ISIS, this has overwhelmed those working there to 200 bodies. Most of those resting in this sea of dead are Shiite, but there could easily be some Sunni there also.

In order to make the most efficient use of space, graves are not more than one foot apart. Identifying a loved one's grave can be a problem, so many sites have a photo with an arrow pointing to the gravesite. The most expensive sites surround the Inam Ali mosque. I suppose the feeling is a dead one is closer to God by being closer to a mosque. For the grave diggers, they are overwhelmed with such steady employment, the upside to this morbid worksite. Digging a grave is 115F degree heat is just plain hell.

The mosque and cemetery began some 1300 years ago, when Inam Ali, a cousin of Islam's Prophet Muhammad, was buried there. Since then, Shiites seek to have a grave near the Wadi al-Salam that will allow dead loved ones rise again on judgement day.

The cemetery does face competition from other undertakers seeking to exploit the vast space of the site, that is difficult to monitor. Some competition tries to make a bargain for burial services before the family reaches the "real" office to buy a plot. If successful, the family gets a real deal- just $400 for a plot for a grave. But those are sometimes dug up when discovered and the body returned to the family. For a legitimate plot, they standard rate is $1500 for 500 sq. ft. to $10,000.

Morticians across the world always face criticism about their business. In Iraq, it is no different. The operator of the world's largest cemetery is Mr. Abu Sebei and family. It has been a family business handed down between generations for 400 years.

Talk about job security!


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    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 

      4 years ago from California

      Aside from knowing that it is very important to respect the dead and bury them as soon as possible in the middle east, I had no idea cemeteries were ever this big. I though Queen of Heaven in Chicago was big.

    • jellygator profile image


      4 years ago from USA

      Interesting! I had no idea!

      However, I do have a question: If the family is paying $1500 for 500 sq. feet, why are the bodies buried just one foot away from each other? Is this perhaps meant to read 50 sq. ft., which would be ten feet by five feet instead of the size of two average American bedrooms?

    • RachaelOhalloran profile image

      Rachael O'Halloran 

      4 years ago from United States

      That is amazing. It must be an all day visit just navigating through the cemetery to get to a loved one's gravesite. I'm glad I opted for cremation.


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