MASHAD - While one visits Imam Ali Raza (as) shrine in this Iranian city to satisfy the spiritual thirst, there are plentiful arrangements to satiate the worldly desire to eat.

More than 30, 000 pilgrims are served with a generous breakfast, a lavish lunch and a mouthwatering dinner each day at the Imam Ali Raza (as) shrine which also works as a ‘medicine’ for scores of ailing devotees.

Every year, the holy shrine of Imam Reza (as) in Mashhad attracts millions of pilgrims from Iran itself and around the world - especially Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon, Britain and Pakistan.

Since every pilgrim is desirous of having the holy food, the administration has introduced a registration system. The pilgrims are granted an invitation and on their turn and they can enjoy a meal in an environment competitive with an up-market restaurant. No need to describe the atmosphere, which is filled with spirituality.

Deputy custodian at Imam Raza (as)’s harrem (sacred inviolable place) Syed Khalil Monabati said the administration “tries to accommodate as much pilgrims as possible for the daily meals.”

 “This is the world’s biggest charity meal. You are welcomed at the dining hall and treated like Imam Raza’s guest. More than 30, 000 people have these meals daily. All the money to arrange these means comes from donations,” he told The Nation at his office here.

He said during Ramzan, 170 thousand fasting people enjoy blessed Iftar (fast breaking) of Imam Reza (as) every day in both Razavi Holy Shrine and Mashhad’s suburban areas. He said paying attention to the poor was a priority of this spiritual organization.

Monabati said the langgar (holy food) had been a tradition for centuries and the guests at the dining halls had been increasing each day. “We don’t need money for this. We don’t even seek money from anyone. The people themselves donate and we just spend it back on them,” he explained.

He said close to 2.5 million pilgrims were served food from the kitchen of the holy shrine per year, of whom 360,000 “break their fast in Ramzam.”

Monabati said the meals at the shrine worked as ‘medicine’ for several patients. “It’s a miraculous food. Even apart from food, the people come here for healing and so many of them recover to lead healthy lives,” he maintained.

He said the after the holy Kaaba, Imam Raza (as)’s shrine was the only place where pilgrims continue to come 24 hours a day. He said 10, 000 people at always at work in the shrine to ensure cleanliness. “Out of them round 60 percent are volunteers. Others are salaried people,” he elaborated.

Monabati said a big rest house near the Pak-Iran border was being built to facilitate the pilgrims who take so much pain to enter Iran by the road. “The rest house will be functional next year. It will offer free meals and accommodation to the pilgrims. We hope Pakistan also ensures security and safety of the pilgrims on their side,” he added.

The Deputy Custodian said about 300 million domestic and foreign pilgrims made pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Reza (as) every year. He put the area of the holy shrine at one million square meters.

Monabati said the holy shrine and its museum held one of the most extensive cultural and artistic treasuries of Iran, particularly manuscripts and paintings.

Mashhad is also home to one of the oldest libraries of the Middle East called the Central Library of Astan Qods Razavi with a history of over six centuries.

Astan Qods Razavi Museum homes more than 70,000 rare manuscripts from various historical eras. There are some six million historical documents in the foundation’s central library.

Given the spiritual and exalted value of this building, the best and most magnificent Islamic arts can be found in this religious complex. It consists of four raised verandas including Abbasi, Tala, Eastern (Naqqare Khaneh (literally “Naqqare-house”) and Western veranda, as well as eight courtyards including Enghelab, Azadi, Imam Khomeini, Qadir, Kowsar, Hedayat, Qods and Jame-e Razavi.

The Holy Razavi Shrine witnessed physical changes and fundamental and apparent evolution in each historical period, which exerting these artistic changes is owed to architecture masters with different constructional styles.

In terms of architecture and decoration, this building is one of the most comprehensive and magnificent buildings of the Islamic World, which in addition to its spiritual aspects, it is decorated by most frequent artistic styles such as different types of tiling, molding, sextet items of hand-writing in calligraphy, mirror work, mosaic on wood, carving, lithography and inlay.