By Abbas Sarhan.
In Karbala religion is big business. But for some time now, the religious authorities there have been moving into businesses other than faith - such as farming and transportation. Now smaller businesses say that the big religious projects are driving them out.
The southern Iraqi city of Karbala is home to some of the most sacred sites for Shiite Muslims from right around the world; as a result the city draws millions of the faithful every year and religion is big business here, from hotels to tour operators to taxi drivers and restaurateurs.
But for some time now, the organizations that manage the various holy sites have been getting into other business projects too. Today, there are dozens of small and large-scale projects being run by committees from the religious shrines and as a result, the shrines are becoming business heavyweights in Karbala.
The special committees running these projects are linked to the most important shrines in Karbala – that of the Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, and the shrine dedicated to his brother, Abbas. The committees are composed mostly of clerics alongside their staff and professionals with relevant expertise. The finances for the shrines come mostly from donations from the faithful but they also get some money from the local government as well as upkeep from the Shiite Muslim Endowment, the body tasked with running Shiite mosques and shrines around Iraq.
Projects run by the shrines’ departments of development and investment include a number of large agricultural projects to the south of the city, that produce a range of different vegetables.