Mazar-e Sharif,

town, northern Afghanistan, 35 miles (56 km) south of the border with Uzbekistan, at an elevation of 1,250 feet (380 m). The town derives its name (meaning "tomb of the saint") from the reputed discovery there of the tomb of the caliph 'Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, in the 15th or (according to Afghan legend) 12th century. A blue-tiled mosque and a shrine mark the location of the tomb, which is venerated by all Muslims, especially the Shi'ites. Mazar-e Sharif's growth and the corresponding decline of the much older town of Balkh, a few miles to the west, date from this discovery. Mazar-e Sharif came under Afghan rule in 1852 and became the political hub of Afghan Turkistan in 1869. After their military intervention in 1979, Soviet forces established a military command in the town and in 1981 began construction of a new road and rail bridge across the Amu Darya north of Mazar-e Sharif near Termiz, Uzbekistan.

Mazar-e Sharif is located in one of Afghanistan's most fertile regions, extensively irrigated by the Balkh River and producing cotton, grain, and fruit. The town's industries include flour milling and the manufacturing of silk and cotton textiles. It is connected by road and air with Kabul, 200 miles (320 km) southeast, and other Afghan cities and is the nation's chief transit point for Soviet trade. A well-known Islamic theology school is located there. Nearby is Dehdadi, a military headquarters with an airfield. The inhabitants of Mazar-e Sharif are mainly Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Turkmens. Pop. (1988 est.) 130,600

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