Fondness of gemstones becomes crucial part of Iraqi traditional culture-Xinhua

Rings inlaid with gemstones are displayed at an old market in downtown Baghdad, Iraq, on July 23, 2022. (Xinhua/Khalil Dawood)

Gemstones are seen by many Iraqis as more than beautiful ornamental stones or objects of art, believing that they will bring about luck, ward off evils, prevent danger, and even possess healing powers.

BAGHDAD, July 29 (Xinhua) — Walking down a narrow alley near the heritage al-Rasheed street in central Iraqi capital of Baghdad, visitors will be fascinated by all kinds of fine gems and adornments displayed by stall vendors and shops on both sides of the alley.

With sparkling colors and exquisite designs, gemstones have captured the hearts of Iraqis for centuries, becoming part of their traditional and cultural heritage.

Gemstones are seen by many Iraqis as more than beautiful ornamental stones or objects of art, believing that they will bring about luck, ward off evils, prevent danger, and even possess healing powers.

Customers visit a gemstone stall at an old market in downtown Baghdad, Iraq, on July 23, 2022. (Xinhua/Khalil Dawood)

“I have been working in selling gemstones since 2010, and there is a great demand for gems such as agate, Sulemani Hakik, Daoudi, Abbasabad, and many others,” said Sabah Kamel, a 51-year-old vendor at a stall full of colorful stones, prayer beads, and gem inlaid rings.

Kamel told Xinhua that the business is lucrative, because the buyers believe that the precious stones would bring them good health and fortune.

Most of the gemstones in the market are imported from Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and many other countries. Others are extracted from local mines in Najaf of Anbar province, some 160 km south of Baghdad, and the mountainous areas in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan.

A customer looks at prayer beads made of gemstones at a shop in Baghdad, Iraq, on July 23, 2022. (Xinhua/Khalil Dawood)

Gemstones sold on the market include red and blue sapphire, opal, emerald, turquoise, onyx, crystals and jade, along with Dur al-Najaf, a glossy and clear gemstone from the quartz family that was produced near the city of Najaf, which Kamel said is of great demand.

Throughout the Iraqi history, the enchanting luster and rarity of gemstones have inspired many people to endow them with supernatural powers, a belief that has gradually become a crucial part of local culture.

“People believe that Dur al-Najaf is a blessed stone because it is usually found only in the holy Shiite city of Najaf … It is believed that it increases happiness and helps cure eye diseases,” Kamel added.

A vendor displays a ring inlaid with gemstones at his shop in an old market in downtown Baghdad, Iraq, on July 23, 2022. (Xinhua/Khalil Dawood)

Fadhel Abbas, 45, who traveled some 100 km to the gems market in al-Maidan of Baghdad, said he takes gemstone collecting as a hobby.

“I used to come to the gems market in al-Maidan every two or three weeks, because I love them,” he said. “I have a large selection of gemstones. Some are very expensive,” he added.

In his lapidary workshop, Isam Abu Haider said gemstones sometimes sell at a better price if vendors relate them to ancient tales, customs, religious beliefs, historical events or artwork, or if they look similar to animal shapes or names.

“Once, I got a stone that the composition of its layers looks like a fish. It was very beautiful. I sold it for more than twice its price. People are willing to pay,” Abu Haider added.

Mohammed Rashid, 45, was busy attending to customers inside his large shop in the alley. When he finally squeezed some time, he put out dozens of prayer beads in different colors, some of which were priced between 2,000 -3,000 US dollars.

“For me, gemstones is the best trading option due to unstable political and social situations in Iraq, let alone the fluctuation of the dollar value and other precious metals,” Rashid told Xinhua.

“I think what they call gem therapy is a psychological effect that makes some people feel good and healed. For me, it’s a business, and I care about the aesthetic side of gemstones and their profits as well,” Rashid added.

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