Building mosques over graves – Verdict of the Sunnah

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After establishing the permissibility of building mosques over graves from the Noble Quran, we turn to the reliable Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.). It must be noted that when a matter has been established by the firm and clear (muhkam) verses of the Holy Quran, we do not need any other substantiation since all other evidences are verified in the light of the Holy Quran and not the other way round.

Click here to read – Permissibility of building mosques over graves – Verdict of the Holy Quran

However, for the benefit of those who refer the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) Sunnah for conviction, we have advanced many proofs from the most-reliable sources of the Ahle Tasannun to establish the belief that building mosques is permissible, rather recommended in Islam.

Objection of the Skeptics

Before answering their objection to building mosques over graves, let us first revisit the tradition advanced by the skeptics in support of their contention.

Their foremost argument revolves around the tradition related by the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) concerning the actions of the Jews and the Christians. It has come in a tradition that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) cursed the Jews and Christians who took the graves of their Prophets (a.s.) as places of worship. Based on such traditions, these Muslims conclude that those who build graves are subject to the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) curse.


It is clear to all Muslims – both in the era of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) as also in subsequent eras – that the tone and tenor of this and other such traditions prohibits the worshipping of graves as one worships Allah. Praying near the grave to achieve divine proximity through the person buried inside the grave or turning toward the inmate of the grave with the intention of securing a reliable channel towards Allah is not prohibited; rather it is highly recommended.

The objective of the Muslims behind praying and reciting supplications near the graves of Allah’s Prophets (s.a.w.a.) and his righteous servants is not different from the objective of the angels of Allah who prostrated in front of Prophet Adam (a.s.) on divine command. Or, the respect accorded by the brothers of Prophet Yusuf (a.s.) and his parents – including his father Prophet Yaqoob (a.s.) to Prophet Yusuf (a.s.).

Since these actions are shown as highly recommended by the Holy Quran, it is surprising why the skeptics are raising a hue and cry over building mosques over graves. It hardly matters that Prophets Adam (a.s.) and Yusuf (a.s.) were alive and the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) is buried, since the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) is superior to both of them. Are these Muslims suggesting that acts of proximity like prostration are recommended while the person is alive but become polytheism (shirk) after death? Monotheism (Tauheed) and polytheism (shirk) have nothing to do with being alive and dead. The Christians, who took Prophet Eesa (a.s.) as god, did so in his lifetime. So, applying the yardstick of these so-called Muslims, it should be a highly recommended act!

Moreover, the incident of As’haab-e-Kahf in Surah Kahf (18): Verse 21 clearly repudiates this false notion and underscores the fact that building graves over the righteous servants is recommended.

Building mosques over graves is advocated by Sihaah-e-Sittah (the six compendiums of traditions regarded as highly reliable by the Ahle Tasannun)

While these Muslims are quick to advance traditions from Sahih-e-Bukhari and Sahih-e-Muslim that suit their motive to brand accepted Islamic practices as apostasy, they appear oblivious to the scores of other traditions that reject their contention.

1. Umar’s grave is inside a structure

Bukhari narrates in his Sahih in the Book of Janaaiz:

When Umar was stabbed, he sent his son Abdullah with a message to Ayesha to – ask her – If I can be buried with my two companions i.e. in her room, next to the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and Abu Bakr.

Ayesha replied: I wanted the spot for myself, but I will prefer him (Umar) to myself today.

It had been her custom that if a man from among the companions requested her for that spot, she would always refuse. She herself gave the following instructions before her death: Bury me with my lady-friends (the wives of the Prophet in al-Baqi but do not bury me with the Prophet in the house, for I dislike to be held in reverence).

Ibn Umar came back with the news whereupon Umar said: Nothing in the world was more important to me than that resting-place. (Sahih-e-Bukhari, Book of Janaaiz)

If housing one’s grave inside a structure / room was prohibited, then Umar should have insisted that he NOT be buried next to Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) inside a room but in the open in Baqi.

2. Elevation of graves

Abu Bakr b. Ayyaash narrates that Sufyan al-Tammar told me that he had seen the grave of the Prophet elevated and convex. (Sahih-e-Bukhari, vol. 2 book 23, tradition 473)

It is established that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) placed a rock on top of Usman b. Maz’un’s (r.a.) grave. (Sunan-e- Abi Dawud, Al-Bayhaqi in al-Kubra, vol. 3, pg 412)

The detailed report states that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) asked a man to place a rock on top of Usman b. Maz`un’s grave; when he was unable to move it, he rolled up his sleeves and helped him till the whiteness of his arms was visible. Usman b. Maz`un was the first of the migrants buried in Baqi. Ibrahim, the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) son, was buried next to him.

Kharijah b. Zaid states: I can see myself when we were young men in the time of Usman (b. Affaan). The strongest one of us in high jump was he who could jump over the grave of Usman b. Maz`un and clear it. (Sahih-e-Bukhari in Chapter: (Placing) a stalk on top of the grave; Ibn Hajar in Fath al-Baari vol. 3 pg 256 of 1959 ed., Al-Bukhari in his Al-Tarikh al-Saghir vol. 1 pg 42)

These references are clear evidences for raising the grave and elevating it above the surface of the earth.

Al-Shawkaani, a leading Salafi scholar, admitted that the Salaf built up the graves high as proved from above references.

Ibn Hibban (in his Sahih-e-Ibn Hibban) who according to many Sunni scholars ranks as the most reliable scholar after Bukhari and Muslim has documented his visitation (Ziyaarah) to the tomb of Imam Ali b. Moosa al-Reza (a.s.) in Mashshad, Iran:

I have done ziyaarah of his tomb many times, during my stay at Tus. Whenever I got into any difficulty I went to the grave of Imam Ali b. Moosa al-Raza (s.a.) and asked Allah for the fulfillment of my need. Every time I was answered and my difficulty was removed. This is such a reality that I found it to be true no matter how many times I did it. May Allah grant us death in the true love for Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and his blessed Ahle Bait! (Ibn Abi Haatim al-Raazi, Kitab al-Theqah, vol. 8 pg 457, tradition 14,411)

3. Prophet Eesa (a.s.) will be buried next to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.)

According to traditions Prophet Eesa (a.s.) on his death, after his second coming, will be buried alongside the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) in Medina.
(Mishkaat al-Masaabih; al-Qawl al-Mukhtasar fi Alaamat al-Mahdi al-Muntazar)

All these traditions clearly prove that praying near the grave, building structures over graves and elevating graves are Islamic practices adopted by the Holy Prophet of Islam (s.a.w.a.) and the righteous ancestors (Salaf-e-Saaleh).

Who understands monotheism (tauheed) and polytheism (shirk) better – the Salaf or the Salafi?

According to the incident of Umar’s stabbing, neither Umar nor Abu Bakr before him, nor Ayesha, nor Abdullah b. Umar nor the numerous companions who sought to be buried alongside the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.) thought anything wrong in being buried inside a structure. Far from being prohibited and an act of polytheism or paganism, they thought it was the ultimate place for burial since it was in proximity to the Noble Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) resting place.

And most importantly –Muhammad b. Ismail al-Bukhari – the compiler of Sahih-e-Bukhari did not believe that building mosques over graves was polytheism. Otherwise, how do these Muslims explain the grand mausoleum, which is nothing short of spectacular, built over his grave near Samarqand in present day Uzbekistan?

Obviously, Muslim b. al-Hajjaj – compiler of Sahih-e-Muslim and student of Bukhari – did not think of building graves as polytheism, or else he would have protested regarding his teacher’s mausoleum and taken steps to ensure that his own grave was not turned into a tomb visited by pilgrims.

All the four Imams of the Ahle Tasannun, who have documented numerous traditions about worshipping Allah, monotheism and polytheism, would have most certainly taken steps to ensure their graves were as level as the graves of present day Jannatul Baqi. But that was not the case and Malik b. Anas, whose book al-Mawatta is regarded by many like Shaafi as superior to all books except the Holy Quran – was buried in Baqi with a structure over his grave that stood for nearly 600 years until it was demolished by people who claimed to have a deeper knowledge of Islam and Tauheed than him.

Interpretation of traditions that prohibit building of graves

It is clear from the Holy Quran and the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) Sunnah and actions of the righteous ancestors that building of graves is permitted and even recommended in case of esteemed personalities. Then, how does one reconcile the apparent prohibition in some traditions?

The answer is simple for those who understand the tone and tenor of such traditions. Many scholars have explained it in their works – only if these so-called Muslims would have referred to these books. Perhaps, they have referred but chose to hide the truth!

Both the Ibne Hajars (Haythami and Asqalaani) among other scholars have advanced a rationale for such traditions, which is so plain that even a Muslim child will understand it.

Ibn Hajar al-Haythami, who had no love lost for the Shias, in his al-Zawaajir an Iqtiraf al-Kabaair elaborates on the tradition under question that the prohibition for building graves is if the prayer is performed towards or on the grave and this is only if one prays so close to it that if while praying the prayer of those attentive (looking down), the grave would be within one’s sight. (Al-Zawaajir an Iqtiraf al-Kabaair)

This was the method of the prayers of Jews and Christians and hence the prohibition. No one in the history of Islam took this tradition as proof of prohibition for the building of tombs/shrines over righteous Muslims as Muslims do not worship in this manner.

Likewise, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalaani states: In view of the fact that the Jews and Christians were taking the graves of their Prophets (a.s.) as their Qiblah for the purpose of respect, and were paying attention towards them at the time of their prayers, their graves took the position of idols. Hence, Muslims have been forbidden from this action. However, if someone constructs a mosque near the grave of a pious person for the purpose of seeking blessing (tabarruk) and not for prostration or paying attention towards them, he will never be included in this prohibition (as mentioned in Surah Kahf (18): Verse 21) (Ibn Hajr al-Asqalani, Fath al-Baari vol. 3 pg 208)

Mosques were built over graves before Islam

While there are more instances than can be humanly listed of mosques being built over graves after the advent of Islam, building mosques over graves was a common practice of divine religions even before the advent of Islam. We have already witnessed this in the interpretation of Surah Kahf (18): Verse 21.

Many traditions reveal that Prophets (a.s.) of past nations are buried in mosques.

• For instance, Abdullah b. Umar narrated from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) – Inside the Mosque of al-Khayf (Masjidul Khayf in Mina) are graves of 70 Prophets (together).

According to al-Haythami the narrators of this tradition are reliable (theqah), thereby indicating that the tradition is Sahih (authentic and reliable). (Majma’ al-Zawaaid, vol. 3 pg 640 Baab fi Masjid al-Khayf, tradition 5,769)

• According to another scholar of the Ahle Tasannun, Mullah Ali Qaari graves of Prophets (a.s.) are present inside Masjid al-Haraam: …Don’t you see that grave of Prophet Ismail (a.s.) is inside the Masjid al-Haraam near the hateem and to pray there is superior than in other places. However, to pray near the graves is only forbidden when the soil becomes dirty due to impurity of the deceased. In the hateem near Hajr al-Aswad and drain pipe (mizaab), there are graves of 70 Prophets (a.s.). (Al-Mirqaat fi Sharh al-Mishqaat, vol. 2 pg 202)

• Abu Hanifa narrates from Salim al-Aftas – There is no Prophet who has not fled from his people towards the Kaabah to worship Allah, and around it there are graves of 300 Prophets (a.s.). (Kitaab al-Asar of al-Shaybani, pg 150 published by Turath Publications, London)

Both these instances of Masjid al-Khayf and Masjid al-Haraam being the burial place of Prophets (a.s.) are widely documented and acknowledged. What is not documented even once is a verse of the Holy Quran or Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) tradition wherein Muslims have been forbidden to pray inside Masjid al-Khayf or Masjid al-Haraam for fear of polytheism or have been commanded to bring both these mosques down to the ground to promote monotheism in the world as the way of the Salaf.

On the contrary, we have been ordered to pray at Maqaam-e-Ibrahim inside Masjid al-Haraam:

وَاتَّخِذُوا مِن مَّقَامِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ مُصَلًّى

“And take the place of standing of Ibrahim as a place of prayers.”
(Surah Baqarah (2): Verse 125)

None claims that Maqaam-e-Ibrahim is nothing but footsteps of a dead man and to honour it and pray near it is nothing but polytheism.

Janaab-e-Haajerah and Prophet Ismail (a.s.), due to their patience in the way of Allah and tolerance of loneliness, attained such a position that the marks of their steps became the place of worship i.e. the distance between the hills of Safaa and Marwah. (Jalaa al-Afhaam fi al-Salaah wa al-Salaam Alaa Khair al-Anaam by Ibn al-Qaiyyim Jauziyyah, a disciple of Ibn Taymiyyah, pg 228)

What can be a greater irony that a disciple of Ibn Taymiyyah observes: If indeed, the footmarks of these two individuals, due to their patience and forbearance in their way of Allah, became so blessed that the Muslims are commanded to worship Allah at this point and to perform the Sa’ee with dignity and splendor, why the grave of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) who displayed extreme patience and steadfastness in reforming the society cannot become blessed? Why prayers and supplications cannot be performed in a place that enjoys such honor and nobility?

If performing prayers besides the grave was not legitimate, then how did Ayesha for a considerable period of time perform prayers and worship Allah beside the grave of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) in a corner of her room for nearly 50 years except for the brief period when she set out in the Battle of Jamal against the rightful Caliph of her time Imam Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) and was sent back to Medina so that she could resume her worship next to the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) grave.

Mansoor-e-Dawaaneqee told to face the Prophet (s.a.w.a.)

Therefore, we find that even the Caliphs of the time were deeply influenced with worshipping near graves and wanted to know the reality behind the act as Mansoor-e-Dawaaneqee asked Imam Maalik (one of the leaders of jurisprudence of Ahle Tasannun) in a debate that took place in Masjid-e-Nabawi:

While supplicating, should I stand facing the Qiblah or should I face the burial place of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.)?

Imam Maalik: Why are you turning your face away from your father the Holy Prophet ( He is your intercessor and the intercessor of your forefather Adam (a.s.). Rather, turn towards the grave of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a) and seek intercession through him.

Rejection of Abil Hayyaaj’s narration about leveling the graves

Another narration advanced by the skeptics is that of Abil Hayyaaj wherein Ameerul Momineen Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) allegedly ordered him (Abul Hayyaaj) to level all graves which was also the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) order to him (Ali (a.s.).

In light of the numerous proofs from the Noble Quran and the reliable Sunnah in favour of building mosques over graves, such a narration has no standing. This is more so when you consider that Abul Hayyaaj is the sole narrator of this tradition (Khabar-e-Waahid). Consequently, the narration is rendered weak and unreliable.

Nonetheless, it can be viewed as an attempt by the Salaf of the time to level the graves with each other as graves of the time were not of uniform height. So this was probably an attempt to make the level of all graves consistent and not level it to the earth as the skeptics claim.

Then take lesson, O people of wisdom!

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