Permissibility of building monuments on graves in the school of Ahle Bait (a.s.)

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Is it permissible to build monuments on graves in the school of Ahle Bait (a.s.)? There are reports in the books of Shias wherein Ahle Bait (a.s.) have seemingly prohibited building monuments on graves. These reports are freely cited by the Nasibis to criticize the Shias for building monuments and shrines over graves of Imams (a.s.) and other revered personalities in violation of the instructions of the Ahle Bait (a.s.).

Let us explore the traditions and narrations of the purified Ahle Bait (a.s.) on building monuments over the graves and understand their perspective on it.
Traditions that apparently prohibit building of structures over graves
Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) narrates from Ameerul Momineen Ali (a.s.):
I have been sent by Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) to destroy the graves and wipe off pictures (idols)

• Al Kafi v 6 p 528, Wasail al-Shia v 2 p 870, Jame al-Shia v 3 p 445

Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) informed:
Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) sent me to Medina with the instruction: ‘Do not leave any picture without being destroyed, any grave without being leveled…’

• Al Kafi v 6 p 528, Wasail al-Shia v 2 p 870, Jame al-Shia v 3 p 445

Sama‘ah ibn Mehran asked Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) about visitation of graves and building mosque, so Imam (a.s.) replied:
There is no problem in visitation of graves but do not build mosque upon graves.

Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) instructed:
Do not designate my grave as Qibla (direction of prayers) or mosque, certainly Allah has cursed the Jews as they established the graves of their prophets as mosque (places of prostration)

• Man laa Yahzorohu al-Faqih v 1 p 178

Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) informed: Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) prohibited offering prayers upon graves, sitting on graves and to build a monument upon the graves.

• Wasail al-Shia v 2 p 869

It is narrated from Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) that he (s.a.w.a.) prohibited cementing the grave, erecting a monument on it and sitting on the grave.

• Mustadrak al-Wasail v 1 p 127

Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.)– Sources of unlawful earnings are:
1. Passing judgement after accepting bribe
2. Earnings from evil deeds
3. Earnings of an idol worshipping priest
4. Earnings from selling of dogs
5. Earnings of those people who used to build monuments upon graves

• Mustadrak al-Wasail v 1 p 127

Ali Ibn Jafar (a.s.) says: I asked Imam Moosa Kazim (a.s.) – Is it is permissible to build a monument upon grave and is it permissible to sit on the graves?

Imam (a.s.): No, it is not permissible to build a monument upon graves and sitting on them is not right, plastering and cementing the grave is not correct.

• Wasail al-Shia v 2 p 829

Unravelling the truth from traditions that apparently hint at prohibition of building monuments over graves

The modern day Kharijis, also known as Salafis, have resorted to the same tactics as their ancestors by misinterpreting verses and traditions to serve their sinister agenda.

Abduallah Ibn Umar even with his basic knowledge of religion identified this trend when he condemned the Kharijis thus:
The worst creation of Allah are those who take the verses revealed for the infidels and apply them to the believers.

• Fath al-Bari v 12 p 282 (Chain is Sahih)

Since they are helpless and deviated in matters of laws of jurisprudence, they imagine they understand reports better than others and can misuse them to target well-established practices of the Muslim nation.

A simple explanation exists that clarifies the intent of the infallibles (a.s.) behind traditions that supposedly prohibit building structures over graves.

First Tradition – Response

Tradition narrated by Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) wherein Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) said:
I have been sent by the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) to destroy the graves and erase pictures (idols)
In this tradition, one cannot find any prohibition to build a monument upon graves, as claimed by the skeptics. Rather this tradition is for a specific command and is related to the era of ignorance wherein people prostrated and prayed to the graves, and it was commanded to destroy such graves.

Moreover, the tradition mentions the command of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) to wipe off pictures (idols) as it was widely known that people of the time of ignorance attributed pictures (idols) as gods and worshipped them. So clearly destroying graves means destroying the symbols and traces of ignorance (pagan) era practices.

Therefore, this command was only specific to graves of people of ignorance and does not apply to the people of religion (Islam) who have built the graves as per the commandments of the Shariah, otherwise Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) would have not commanded construction of grave of his (s.a.w.a.) son – Ibrahim (a.s.). It is narrated from Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) that Ibrahim, the son of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) suffered from a disease and eventually passed away and the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) commanded to solidify the grave.

• Wasail al-Shia v 3 p 192

Second Tradition – Response

The tradition in which Sama‘ah Ibn Mehran asked Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) about visiting graves and making masjid (i.e. place of prostration) on them, to which Imam (a.s.) replied:– there is no problem in visitation of graves but do not build masjid upon graves.

The explanation of above tradition lies in the meaning of masjid, which means place of prostration in Arabic lexicon. Imam (a.s.) is instructing Muslims not to prostate on the graves like the People of the Book – Jews and Christians i.e. Ahle Kitab. This group used to prostrate in front of graves to show respect and would pray (salat or its like) in the direction of the graves. These actions are condemned and prohibited by the infallibles (a.s.) in various reports.

Third Tradition – Response

It is narrated from Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) that he said – Do not designate my grave as Qibla (direction of prayers) or mosque, certainly Allah has cursed the Jews as they established the graves of their prophets as mosque (places of prostration)

As highlighted earlier, the Arabic meaning of the word masjid (mosque) means ‘place of prostration’ and on this premise, it is prohibited to prostrate or establish prayers upon the grave, however there is no prohibition to build a mosque around the grave and worship Allah in such a mosque.

As a matter of fact, in the incident of Ashab-e-Kahf, construction of mosque around the grave is mentioned in the Holy Quran in verse 21 of Surah Kahf:

قالَ الَّذينَ غَلَبُوا عَلى‏ أَمْرِهِمْ لَنَتَّخِذَنَّ عَلَيْهِمْ مَسْجِداً

Those who prevailed in their affair said: We will certainly raise a masjid over them.

Means such a place of worship (Masjid) wherein Allah is worshipped, and the grave of companions are also present is a legitimate place of worship and prostration.

However, a place wherein people pray in the direction of the grave or prostrate on the grave is a prohibited act performed by the Jews and the Christians and is criticized in traditions of the Ahle Bait (a.s.).

Clearly, the prohibition is in establishing the graves as a place of worship (or prostration). However, it is permissible to pray (salat and other acts of worship) beside the grave or prostrate to Allah, particularly if the grave belongs to a prophet (a.s.) or his successor.

This difference can also be understood from the saying of Imam Zamana (a.t.f.s.) which Shaikh Tusi (r.a.) has quoted from Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Himyari –
I wrote to Imam Zamana (a.t.f.s.) that a person who visits the grave of Imams (a.s.), is it appropriate for him to prostrate on the grave? A person who prays (salat) near the grave of Imams (a.s.), is it permissible for him to pray while facing the grave and designate it as Qibla and stand near the head & foot of the owner of grave? Is it permissible to stand ahead of the grave and pray salat?

Imam (a.t.f.s) replied to my letter:
I have read your letter, …it is not permissible to prostrate on the grave in an obligatory prayer or supererogatory prayer or even during ziyarat. However, it is permissible to place your right cheek on the grave and is also permissible to pray salat behind the grave and not ahead of it. It is not permissible to offer prayers ahead of Imam (i.e. his grave) as no one is superior to the Imam, it is permissible to pray on the right or left side of Imam.

• Al-Tehzib v 2 p 228

There are many traditions on permissibility of praying salat near graves

One such tradition is narrated by Abdullah al-Himyari, who says that I asked Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) – what is the reward for the one who visits the grave of Imam Husain (a.s.).

Imam (a.s.) replied – Whosoever visits (the grave) of Imam Husain (a.s.) and prays two units of Salat near the grave then reward of one complete Hajj will be written in his scroll of deeds and if he prays four units of Salat then reward of one Hajj and one Umrah will be written in his scroll of deeds.
I (the narrator) asked- may my life be sacrificed upon you. Is this level of reward written on visitation of grave of any of the Imams (a.s.)?

Imam Sadiq (a.s.) replied – Without a doubt, this is the reward to visit every such Imam whose obedience is obligated by Allah. (Al-Tehzib v 6 p 79)

Explanation –
There is no prohibition in building a mosque or a monument wherein Allah is worshipped, rather it is prohibited to follow the practice of the Jews and the Christians, because they regarded the graves of their prophets (a.s.) as place of prostration and they prostrated on the graves as a sign of reverence and they also prayed their salat with facing the graves and regarded the graves as their direction of prayers (Qibla).
Our explanation is accepted by one of the scholars of the opponents i.e. Al-Hafiz Abu Umar Ibn Abdul Barr. After narrating traditions that prohibit prostration on graves, he says that in these traditions it is permissible for the disbelievers to seek their wishes near the graves and it is prohibited to pray on the graves of prophets (a.s.).
This means that it is prohibited to prostrate in front of other than Allah, and it can also be proved that it is not permissible to pray while facing the grave of the prophets (a.s.). Some people have imagined that as per this tradition, it is abominable to pray in a graveyard or while facing the graves, however in my view it is not correct to draw such an inference from this tradition.

• Al-Tamhid lima fi al-Muwaṭṭa min al-Maʿani al-Asanid v 6 p 383

Opinion of Ibn Barr is aligned with the 5th tradition wherein offering salat on graves is clearly prohibited. The tradition says the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) prohibited offering salat on graves, sitting on them and erecting a monument upon graves. If we look at 5th tradition and other narrations such as 6th, 7th and 8th tradition wherein we find prohibition to erect a building upon the grave; however, we cannot find any argument to prohibit building holy shrines upon the graves and this is based on several reasons:

First reason: As you know that the prohibitory command (the act that is being restrained) is to designate a grave as a place of prostration, just like the Jews and the Christians practiced in past, or to follow the rituals of times of ignorance (pre-Islamic era) and designate the graves as temples and therefore to build a monument with the same intention as that of Jews, Christians or people of ignorance is prohibited. However, if the constructed monument is a mosque and the intention is to worship Allah and a grave is on one of the sides, then there is no objection in it, rather this is a mosque and its correctness can be validated with the help of verse of Holy Qur’an wherein the companions of cave (Ashaab-e-Kahf) are mentioned, hence in view of the clear verses of Holy Qur’an wherein permissibility to build monument upon grave is granted, one can say that the traditions that command prohibitions should be regarded as specific to certain people or certain era only and there is no prohibition to erect a monument upon grave provided two conditions are met – i.e. one must not perform prostration upon the grave and one must not face the grave and perform prayers.

Second Reason: In reality, erecting a monument cannot be regarded as construction of graves as it has been narrated in traditions that the height of a grave should not be more than one hand span or four joint fingers, rather a monument is built by erecting walls near the grave and placing roof & a dome on the top of grave, therefore there is a distance between the grave and its monument and this construction cannot be regarded as elevation of the level of grave. Therefore, it can be said that the prohibitions narrated in traditions does not encompass erecting a monument around a grave, but rather it is forbidden to elevate the level of grave and to build a monument on the grave itself.
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) mentioned – Apart from the soil of grave, everything else placed upon the grave is a burden upon the owner of grave. (Man laa Yahzorohu al-Faqih v 1 p 189)

Third Reason: We have another argument in favor of permissibility to build shrine around the grave of the holy infallible Imams (a.s.) as this construction is excluded from the scope of prohibiting traditions. One such tradition is from Abu Amir Saaji who was a speaker at Hijaz. He says that I went in the presence of Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) and I mentioned to Imam (a.s.) – What is the reward for visiting the grave of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) and for constructing his (a.s.) grave?

Imam Sadiq (a.s.) replied:
O Aba Amir – my father narrated from his father, who narrated from his father Imam Husain Ibn Ali (a.s.) who narrated from Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said:
You will be killed and buried in the land of Iraq.

I (Ali (a.s.)) said – What is the reward for people who will visit our grave? And reward for those who build and maintain our graves?
Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) replied – Allah will designate your grave and the grave of your children as one of the places of heaven and one of the courtyards of heaven and surely, Allah will instill interest and love for visitation of your graves, in the hearts of His best and selected individuals and these individuals will bear a lot of troubles to visit your grave, they will build your graves and excessively visit your graves for the sake of proximity to Allah and love of His Prophet (s.a.w.a.) .

These individuals will be worthiest of my intercession and will arrive at the Pond of Kausar and will visit me in paradise.
One who builds and protects your grave is like the one who helped Suleman Ibn Dawood (a.s.) in construction of Bait al-Maqdas and if a person visits your graves after completing his obligatory Hajj, then Allah will grant him the reward of seventy Hajj and he will be purified of all his sins just like he was pure at the time of his birth.

So give glad tidings to your lovers about such bounties that no ears have ever heard of, no eyes have ever witnessed and no thoughts can ever imagine.
The worst of people will derogatorily view your visitation just like an adulteress is looked upon for her bad deeds. These people will be the worst of my nation, they will not receive my intercession and will not arrive at the Pond of Kausar.

  • Al-Tehzeeb v 6 p 22

The Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) narration shines a light on the following:

  • Graves of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and his infallible successors (a.s.) are places of heaven and among its courtyards.
  • Love for visitation of their shrines is among the gifts of Allah to a select group.
  • The visitors will excessively visit the graves and undertake efforts to preserve the graves.
  • They will be worthiest of intercession on account of the visitation.
  • The reward of the visitation is beyond imagination and comprehension.
  • Those who look down upon the visitors of the infallibles (a.s.) are the worst of the Muslim nation and will forfeit intercession of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.).
  • We will continue to build the shrines of the Holy Infallible Imams of Ahle Bayt (a.s.) and continue to safeguard them through our visitations.

Clearly those who criticize the Shias for visiting and constructing graves / shrines by advancing the reports of the Ahle Bait (a.s.) are presenting half-truths to support their weak arguments.

Therefore, we can conclude that building monuments over graves is not prohibited by the Ahle Bait (a.s.). And the traditions which the opponents quote are reports of Ahle Bait (a.s.) which criticize the polytheist practices of the past nations who used to prostrate on the graves or face them in worship as the Qibla and do not target the Muslim nation. This is an age-old tactic – deceptively employed first by the Khawarij and then by their latter-day brothers the Salafis to hound and defame the Muslims with verses and reports that are directed at polytheists and People of the Book.

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