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Visiting Graves

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Visiting graves (Arabic: زيارة القبور) is among Islamic and Shi'a traditions which is recommended according to some verses of the glorious Qur'an and many hadiths from the Prophet (s) and Imams (a). Visiting graves has been an important practice for Muslims and there is no disagreement among Sunnis and Shi'a regarding that. The conduct (sira) of the Prophet (s), practices of his companions, conduct of Muslims and also rulings (fatwas) of the scholars of the four Sunni schools and Shi'a are among the reasons for the value of visiting graves.

Relying on the narration of shadd al-rihal, Ibn Taymiyya considered legitimate visiting limited to saying greetings upon visit and praying for the dead one and regarded other practices such as traveling for visiting graves an innovation (Bid'a) and an act of polytheism. Many Shi'a and Sunni scholars have rejected the views of Ibn Taymiyya in their works and have considered the narration of shadd al-rihal referring to the great merits of visiting the three mosques mentioned in the narration.

Verses, Hadiths and the Conducts of the Prophet (s) and Imams (a)

Verses of the Holy Qur'an

To prove the merits of visiting the grave of the Prophet (s) and also visiting other graves in general, many verses of the Qur'an have been mentioned:

  • Visiting the grave of the Prophet (s): Qur'an 4, verse 64:
"We did not send any apostle but to be obeyed by Allah’s leave. Had they, when they wronged themselves, come to you and pleaded to Allah for forgiveness, and the Apostle had pleaded for them [to Allah]for forgiveness, they would have surely found Allah all-clement, all-merciful."

According to verses and hadiths, believers can repent to God near the grave of the Prophet (s); they consider no difference between the time the Prophet (s) was alive and when he (s) is dead regarding the application of the verse; the same way they respect the manners of communicating with the Prophet (s) both during his life and after his demise, such as not raising one's voice beside his grave. The verb "Ja'uk" (Arabic: جاءوك come to you) in the verse is mentioned in conditional form which is a sign of generality in meaning and therefore covers both the time of the Prophet (s) and after his demise.

  • Visiting the graves of great religious personalities: In Qur'an 22, verse 32:
"That. And whoever venerates the sacraments of Allah—indeed that arises from the Godwariness of hearts."

Those who have mentioned this verse for the legitimacy of visiting graves, consider visiting the graves of great religious personalities a sign of the taqwa of the heart and thus, they have considered any religious sign, a cause of getting close to God. Fadil Miqdad was among the first people who considered visiting the graves of the Prophet (s) and Imams (a) among Islamic sacraments.

  • Visiting the graves of believers: Qur'an 9, verse 84:
"And never pray over any of them when he dies, nor stand at his graveside. They indeed defied Allah and His Apostle and died as transgressors."

According to this verse, the Prophet (s) was ordered not to pray upon the bodies of hypocrites or stand beside their graves. Many scholars of jurisprudence including Fadil Miqdad, Abu l-Futuh al-Husayni al-Jurjani and Ja'far Subhani relied on the meaning of this verse and emphasized that doing both actions is good to be done for those who are not hypocrites. According to some exegetes, this verse shows the conduct of Muslims and the action of the Prophet (s); for if the Prophet (s) did not do those actions for believers, prohibiting him from doing them about hypocrites would not sound right.

Speeches, Actions, and Approvals of Imams (a)

According to Islamic hadiths, the noble Prophet (s) not only advised his companions to visit the graves, but he (s) himself visited graves. In Sahih Muslim, it is quoted from 'Aisha that in the last part of the night, the Prophet (s) left the house to visit al-Baqi' cemetery and spoke with dwellers of graves.

While after the primary prohibition of visiting the graves in early Islam, the noble Prophet (s) ordered to visit the graves. There are many reports mentioned in historical and hadith books, that the Prophet (s) went to al-Baqi' cemetery, the grave of his mother, and also the graves of martyrs.

In sayings quoted from Imams (a), visiting graves has been frequently advised and there are many reports about their conducts in this regard that removed any doubts or questions of scholars of jurisprudence about legitimacy, permission, and recommendation of visiting graves.

There are many books written with the title al-Mazar or al-Ziyarat which have collected the speeches, practices and tradition of the Infallible Ones (a) regarding visiting graves. Ibn Qulawayh al-Qummi, al-Shaykh al-Mufid, al-Sayyid b. Tawus, and al-Shahid al-Awwal are some of the authors of such works.

To prove the legitimacy of visiting graves and to answer the questions of Sunni scholars in their works, Shi'a scholars in theology such as al-Shaykh al-Mufid, al-Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin, al-'Allama al-Amini, Ja'far Subhani, and Sayyid Hasan Tahiri Khurramabadi have referred to the conduct of the Infallible Ones (a). They also have quoted from some Sunni works including Sahih Muslim which contain hadiths about merits of visiting graves.

Fatwas of Sunni Scholars of Fiqh

Shi'a and Sunni scholars have referred to the many verses and hadiths about visiting graves some of which refer to visiting graves in general and some others are special to visiting the grave of the Prophet (s).

In Ittifaq al-a'imma, Ibn Hubayra (b. 499/1105-6, d. 560/1165), the Hanbali jurists, has said that Malik, al-Shafi'i, Abu Hanifa, and Ahmad b. Hanbal considered visiting the grave of the Prophet (s) recommended.

It is quoted from Ahmad b. Hanbal, "recite the chapters of Fatihat al-Kitab, al-Nas and al-Falaq when you enter tombs for visiting."

The Hanbali scholar, Shams al-Din b. 'Abd al-Wahid al-Muqaddasi (d. 663/1264-65) mentioned some hadiths and said that Muslims visited all places in all times and recited the Qur'an for the dead ones. He considered this tradition agreed by all and said that no one rejected it. Two of the hadiths he has referred to are:

  • "Anyone who passes by the graves and recites Sura al-Tawhid 11 times and dedicates its rewards to the dead ones, he will be granted rewards by the number of them."
  • One who enters tombs and recites chapters of Fatihat al-Kitab, al-Ikhlas and al-Takathur and then prays, 'I dedicated what I recited from Your word to believing men and women dwellers of the graves.' They will intercede for him before the Almighty God."

Muhy al-Din al-Nawawi (d. 676/1277), the Shafi'i commentator and jurist, considered Shafi'i followers and companions agreeing that visiting graves is recommended for men. In addition to the agreement of Muslims, he considered authentic famous hadiths, a reason for this recommendation as well.

Sayyid Muhammad Amin known as Ibn 'Abidin (d. 1252/1836), among Hanafi scholars of 13th/19th century, regarded visiting graves recommended every week.

Visiting Graves in Islamic Culture

One of the functions of visiting graves in Islamic culture is remembering death and being aware about the shortness of life. In Ma'na al-ziyarah, Ibn Sina (b. 370/980, d. 428/1037) mentioned that visiting graves prevents from being drowned in worldly issues and it is a cause of return to God.

Fakhr al-Razi (b. 544/1149, 606/1209-10), the Sunni scholar in jurisprudence, theology and commentator of the Qur'an has mentioned several benefits for visiting graves and believes that wise people benefit from visiting graves.

Even though visiting graves in Islamic culture was not well cared about during the time of Sahaba (the companions), but at the time of the Tabi'un (the followers), it was gradually spread. Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Taymi and 'Abd Allah b. Burayda were followers who helped spreading the culture of visiting graves through quoting hadiths from the Prophet (s) about it.

However, people such as 'Amir b. Sharahil al-Sha'bi and Ibrahim al-Nakha'i disapproved of visiting graves and even considered it a cursed action. According to some reports, also al-Hasan al-Muthanna, a descendant of Imam al-Hasan (a) was against visiting graves.

According to Shi'a hadiths, dead ones get familiar to the visitors of their graves and miss them if they do not visit for long. In some other hadiths, it is mentioned that dead ones come to visit their living relatives and friends and they will be pleased if those who are alive, have good actions and they will be sad if those relatives and friends, have bad actions. From the documents left from 4th/10th century, it can be learned that over time, visiting graves was not abandoned and even grew and became a common practice.

Mystics and Sufis

Mystics and Sufis, whether Shi'a or Sunni, consider visiting graves a part of journey toward God and have explained the reasons for legitimacy of visiting graves in their works. Visiting the grave of their Shaykh and staying there, is among the manners of disciples and believers in him. In Nafahat al-uns, 'Abd al-Rahman Jami lists the graves of Sunni Sufis whose tombs are places people visit to be blessed by them, such as Ma'ruf Karkhi (d. 200/815-16) in Baghdad, Ibrahim Satanba al-Harawi (alive in 2nd/8th century) in Qazvin and al-shaykh Baha' al-Din 'Umar (d. 857/1453) in Jaghara, Herat.

Graves of Hujwiri in Lahore, Nizam al-Din Awliya' in Delhi and Gisu Daraz in Golbarge of Hyderabad Dakan are some Sufi graves, Hindus as well as Muslim visit. Mausoleums in Africa have been burial places for Sufi leaders and have a place for worshipping and places for reciting the Qur'an and staying of visitors which are called Zawiya. Some of these graves in Africa were the graves of women who were taught in these Zawiyas and reached high positions. There are graves of the relatives of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) and great Shi'a personalities in Egypt which have been the centers for holding Sufi rituals. Since the end of 13th/19th century and during 14th/20th century, the most important Sufi ritual in Egypt was celebrating the birthdays of the Prophet (s), the Ahl al-Bayt (a) and religious leaders near the graves and in the mosques.

Ibn Taymiyya and Visiting Graves

Ibn Taymiyya (b. 661/1263 – 707/1328) was among the first people who issued the prohibition of traveling for visiting the grave of the Prophet (s), supplication and asking requests near the grave of the Prophet (s). He claimed that anyone who travels to visit the grave of the Prophet (s) opposes the consensus of Muslims and leaves the religion of the Prophet (s). He also claimed that all Muslims prohibit touching, kissing and putting the face on the grave and none of great people in early Islam did such actions. He considered it an act of polytheism.

In the view of Ibn Taymiyya, travelling to visit the grave of the Prophet (s) is a sinful journey and praying in this trip should be in complete form.

About visiting graves, the supreme commission of fatwa in Saudi Arabia which is the highest religious position in this country and follows the views of Ibn Taymiyya and Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Wahhab has declared that traveling to Medina to visit the grave of the Prophet (s) is not permissible and if someone travels to Medina for work such as business, seek knowledge, etc. can also visit the grave of the Prophet (s) with some conditions. For this ruling, they have referred to the hadith of shadd al-rihal. In this ruling, also asking and making entreaty to the Prophet (s) after his demise is considered like asking and making entreaty to other dead people and regarded an act of greater polytheism.

Hadith of Shadd al-Rihal

Opposite to the majority of Muslims, a small group have used hadith of shadd al-rihal to declare travelling to visit the graves of the Prophets (s), Imams (a) and great people, forbidden, Makruh (reprehensible). The text of this hadith mentioned in Sunni sources such as Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan Ibn Maja and other sources is, "no journey is to be made other than to three mosques: Masjid al-Haram, my mosque, or Masjid al-Aqsa."

Ibn Taymiyya, the greatest dissident of legitimacy of visiting the graves, wrote in his al-Ziyarah,

"Traveling to visit the graves of the Prophets (s) and the righteous is not permissible, due to the Prophetic hadith mentioned in Sahihayn saying, 'no journey is made other than to three mosques: Masjid al-Haram, my mosque or Masjid al-Aqsa.'; and all scholars agree upon the correctness of this hadith and the necessity of following it."

Elsewhere, he claimed that no authentic hadith of the Prophet (s) is available about visiting his grave and whatever available is either weak or forged.

Many Muslim scholars of different Islamic schools have written works to reject the claims of Ibn Taymiyya.