Is the building of mosques upon or near the graves of the righteous permissible or not?
If it is permissible, what is the meaning of the tradition related by the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) concerning the actions of the Jews and the Christians? For, 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. Is the building of mosques near the graves of Allahâs friends not tantamount to the actions of the cursed ones in this tradition?
Building mosques besides the graves of the saints and the righteous as a general principle of Islam does not have the slightest prohibition because the purpose of building the mosque is nothing except to worship Allah near the place of the burial of Allahâs beloved, which is a source of blessing.
In other words, the aim of building a mosque in these places is that the visitors of the shrines of Allahâs friends may perform their obligatory acts of worship before or after paying obeisance to them. Since, neither the visitation of the graves â” per se â” even according to the Wahhabis is prohibited (haraam) nor is the performance of prayers before or after paying a visit to a shrine. In this case, there is no reason the construction of mosques near the graves of Allahâs friends with the aim of worshipping Allah and discharging divine duties be prohibited.
Deliberating on the incident of the Companions of the Cave (Asâhaab-e-Kahf), one can comfortably derive that this act (of building mosques over the graves) was a recommended act amongst the earlier religions, an incident that has been related by the Holy Quran sans criticism.
When the case of the companions of the cave became known to the people after 309 years, they were divided into two groups with regards to revering and honouring them. One group said âLetâs build a structure over their gravesâ (so that through this act, we will preserve their remembrance, names and signs). The Noble Quran has expressed this view in the following words:
âAnd they said: Construct upon them a buildingâ.
The second group said, âLet us build a mosque on their graves (in the cave)â (and thus seek blessings through this act).
Commentators of the Holy Quran are unanimous that the first suggestion was that of the polytheists while the second was that of the monotheists and believers. Therefore, while narrating this incident, the Holy Quran says, âThose who prevailed in their affair said: We will certainly raise a mosque over their graves.â
History testifies that the era of the appearance of Asâhaab-e-Kahf was that of monotheismâs victory over polytheism. After them, the signs of the polytheistic rulers and their successors who invited the people towards idol-worship were destroyed. Naturally, this victorious group were the same monotheists.Â Especially, the context of their suggestion, that is, the building of a mosque was for worshipping Allah, which by itself was evidence that those who had suggested were monotheists and used to perform prayers.
If building a mosque upon or near the graves of Allahâs friends was really an act of polytheism, why did the monotheists give such a suggestion? Why did the Majestic Quran relate this without criticizing them? Is not the narration of the Holy Quran, accompanied with silence, a proof for its permissibility? It is appropriate that Allah narrates an act of polytheism from a group without implicitly or explicitly criticizing it?Â This act narrates the approach always prevalent amongst the monotheists of the world and it was a type of reverence or seeking blessings from the buried one. It was better that the Wahhabis, before proving their view through a tradition, should have presented the issue through the Holy Quran and then proceeded to the traditions.
Now, we will discuss their arguments and analyze them.
Proofs of Wahhabis on the Prohibition of the Construction of Mosques near the Graves of Allahâs Friends
This group through a series a traditions has tried to prove the prohibition of the construction of Mosques near the graves of the righteous. We shall analyze all of them.
Bukhari in his Saheeh in the chapter, âIt is abominable to build mosques on gravesâ cites two traditions narrated hereunder:
- When Hasan Ibn Hasan Ibn Ali passed away, his wife constructed a tent over his grave and lifted it after one year. Â They heard someone cry out, âDid they find what they have lost?â Another voice replied, âNo, they have despaired and changed the place.â
May Allah keep the Jews and the Christians away from His Mercy! They have built mosques on the graves of their Prophets. Ayesha says, âIf it was not feared that they would take the grave of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) as a mosque, the Muslims would have made his grave prominent and would not have built a barrier around it except that I fear that his grave is made as a mosque.â
Muslim in his Saheeh has narrated this tradition with a slight difference; therefore we shall suffice by mentioning only one text.
Beware! Those before you have taken the graves of their prophets and pious ones as mosques. Beware! Never take the graves as mosques. I am prohibiting you against this.
It has been narrated from Umm Habibah or Umm Salmah (wives of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a)) in the country of Abyssinia, when they were migrating with a group of people they saw an image of one of Allahâs Prophet (a.s.). The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said, âThey are a people whenever any pious person from them died, they built a mosque on his grave and made their images. They will be the worst people near Allah on the Day of Judgment.â
Nisaai in his Sunan in the chapter, âRegarding as unclean the lighting of lamps on the graves of peopleâ, narrates from Ibn Abbas
âThe Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a) cursed those ladies who go to the graves of the people and construct mosques over them and light lamps on them.
Ibn Taymiyyah, one the founders of such beliefs (as also Muhammad Ibn Abdil Wahhab, a very strong advocate of these views) indulges in whimsical interpretation of the aforementioned tradition by concluding that it is absolutely forbidden to construct a mosque upon or near the grave of a righteous person.
Again Ibn Taymiyyah writes that âOur scholars say that it is absolutely forbidden to construct a mosque near a graveâ.
Performing Prayers and Supplications near the graves of Allahâs Friends
After narrating the proofs of the Wahhabis regarding the prohibition of construction of a building on the graves, along with the other doubts that have come from their side, we shall proceed to answer both of them.
From amongst the issues that have been discussed in the Wahhabi books is the issue of performing prayers and reciting supplications near the graves of Allahâs friends and illuminating them.
The founder of this school in the paper âZiaaratul Quboorâ writes:
None of the past leaders has said that performing prayers near the graves is recommended; rather, all of them are unanimous that performing prayers in mosques and in homes is better than performing them near the graves of the righteous.
Islamic scholars, including celebrated Sunnis amongst them, have opposed the strange views of the Wahhabis. In an answer attributed to the scholars of Madinah, we read thus:
It is well-known that the prohibition of being attentive to the graves of the Prophets during supplication but, as related in reliable books, it is not prohibited. For, the best of directions is that of the Qiblah.
With the passage of time, this issue has evolved from that of prohibition to take the color of polytheism. Even now, amongst them this act has taken the colour of polytheism and its doer is enumerated amongst the polytheists.
It should be known that basically whenever anybody performs prayers near the grave of a person with the intention of worshipping him or treats him as his Qiblah, then certainly such an act will be polytheism. But on this earth, there is no Muslim â” worth his salt – who has done such an act near the graves of Prophets (a.s.) or Allahâs friends (a.s.); he neither worships them nor does he treat them as his Qiblah.
Therefore, the thought of polytheism is nothing more than an imagination. The purpose of the Muslims for performing prayers and reciting supplications near the graves of Allahâs friends is the same thought of the blessings of a place where the beloved of Allah is buried. They think that since that place embraces a person who is amongst the dear ones of Allah and thus enjoys a special status, consequently, their actions will have greater reward.
Now, it is necessary that we discuss whether on account of the virtuous and the righteous being buried, does that place enjoy some special significance or not?
If this order is proved from the Holy Quran and Sunnah, then naturally performing prayers and reciting supplications on the graves of the leaders of religion will enjoy excellence. Otherwise, one cannot consider them and announce them as prohibited. In fact, there are so many places where it is allowed to perform prayers and recite supplications even though they may not enjoy some special merit.
Now, let us restrict and focus our discussion to the fact whether the graves of Allahâs friends enjoy special merit or not, and whether we have proofs from the Holy Quran and the Sunnah to prove this.
This fact can be explained from the aforementioned verses:
1 â” Regarding the “Companions of the Cave”, the group of monotheists said:
âLetâs build a mosque over them (their graves).â
Building a mosque over their graves had no other purpose except to perform their obligatory acts on them and to perform prayers and recite invocations (2). They held the view that since this place embraced the bodies of Allahâs beloved servants, it enjoys a special position and merit and they would seek blessings and greater reward from it.
The Noble Quran, while narrating this concept from the group of monotheists, has remained silent. If this act was incorrect or vain or senseless, then the Holy Quran would certainly not remain silent upon it. It would have criticized it in some manner or the other. It would not pass silently because silence is an obvious indication of agreement.
2. In the Holy Quran, Allah the Almighty has ordered his servants to perform prayers at the place of Prophet Ibraheem (a.s.) [Maqaam-e-Ibraheem], a spot where he (a.s.) used to perform prayers.
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âAnd take the place of standing of Ibraheem (a.s.) as a place of prayers.â [Surah Baqarah (2): Verse 125]
If you show this verse to anyone, he will not understand anything except the fact that since Prophet Ibraheem (a.s.) stood at that spot and probably worshipped Allah, it enjoys special significance and excellence. Due to its blessings and dignity, Allah has ordered that Muslims pray at this spot and seek blessings from it.
A place where Ibraheem (a.s.) stands becomes a cause of glory and nobility of that place. Doesnât the place of burial of the martyrsâ corpses in the way of Allah and the people of nobility become a source of honour and privilege? Does not that place naturally enjoy more excellence than others? Will not prayers stand a chance of being accepted more at such a place?
True that this verse was revealed concerning Prophet Ibraheem (a.s.) but can we not use it as a general principle?
Mansoor-e-Dawaaneqee asked Imam Maalik (one of the leaders of Sunni jurisprudence) in a debate that took place in Masjid-e-Nabavi, âWhile supplicating, should I stand facing the Qiblah or should I face the burial place of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.)?â Maalik replied, âWhy are you turning your face away from your father the Holy Prophet (s.aw.a.)? 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.â
From this discussion, it is understood that according to the people and the most learned scholars of Sunnis of the early period of Islam, supplications near the grave of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was unobjectionable. The debate of Mansoor with Maalik was considering the superiority of one over the other and Maalik replied that turning to the grave was like turning towards the Qiblah.
Referring to the traditions about the Prophetâs ascension [Meraaj], this reality will become even clearer. For, in the traditions of Meraaj, it has come that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a) has performed prayers at places like âTaybahâ, âMount Sinaiâ and âBethlehemâ. Archangel Jibraeel (a.s.) asked, âO Prophet! Do you know where you have performed prayers? It is the birthplace of Prophet Eesaa (a.s.)â.
It can be interpreted from these narrations that performing prayers at a place that has come in contact with the body of a Prophet is a source of merit and excellence. The blessings of this place are because of the birth of Prophet Eesaa (a.s.).
4 â” Janaab-e-Haajerah and Prophet Ismaaeel (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 (5)
A disciple of Ibn Taymiyyah says, âIf 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 Saâee with dignity and splendor, why the grave of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) â” who displayed extreme patience and steadfastness in reforming the society â” cannot become blessed? Why prayers and supplications cannot be performed a place that enjoys such honor and nobility?
5. If really 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 as narrated in some accepted traditions of the Sunnis?!!
This tradition of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) narrated by the Muslim traditionalists in which Allah has cursed the Jews and the Christians, who took the graves of their Prophets as a mosqueâ (6) and which the Wahhabis have used as evidence for declaring the performance of prayers near the graves of Allahâs friends as prohibited, actually means that they used to prostrate on the graves of their Prophets (a.s.) or worship them or took their graves as Qiblah. Obviously, each of these actions is in breach of the Islamic Shariah. If the tradition means as the Wahhabis interpret, then why did Ayesha â” the narrator of the tradition â”spend 50 years praying in that chamber and worship Allah?
6 – If the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) grave had no particular honor and privilege, then why did Abu Bakr and Umar insist that their bodies be buried next to him (s.a.w.a.)? Why did Hasan Ibn Ali (a.s.) will that his body be buried next to his grandfather and if the enemy does not allow it, then he should be buried in the cemetery of Baqi?
What relation does this tradition have with the action of a Muslim, who prays near the grave of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) facing the Qiblah, seeking grace from Allah while his aim is to receive excellence from that place?
7. The revered daughter of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), who â” even according to the Sehaah-e-Sittah Â âHer happiness is the happiness of Allah and His Messenger and her anger is the anger of Allah and His Messengerâ â”used to visit the grave of her uncle Hamzah every Friday, pray there and cry. The following is the exact quote from historical accounts:
âFatimah (s.a.) used to visit the grave of her uncle Hamza (a.s.) every Friday; she prayed and wept there.â
These proofs, in addition to the practice of the Muslims who always prayed, sought blessings and supplicated near the graves of Allahâs friends and Prophets (a.s.), imply that they enjoy greater virtue and dignity. Their purpose was naught but to seek blessings from the loftiness of the place and to perform their actions where Allahâs attention was greater.
After the above topic has become clear, even if we assume â” for the sake of argument â” that there is no evidence in the Holy Quran and traditions regarding the special status of these places, and the excellence of performing prayers and reciting supplications there, how does it prove that performance of prayers and reciting supplications is prohibited there? How these places are not included in the general rule that every land is a place of Allahâs worship (8) to prohibit the Muslims from praying near the graves of Allahâs beloved?
We have mentioned earlier as to what is the aim of traditions talking about the Jews and the Christians taking the graves of their Prophets as mosques. By no means do these traditions imply the prohibition of performing prayers for Allah facing the Qiblah and supplicating near the graves.
LIGHTING CANDLES ON GRAVES
The issue of lighting candles on the graves of Allahâs beloved, which the Wahhabis and their ilk prohibit with utmost fervor and intensity, is not so important. For, its reference is the same tradition from Sunan-o-Nisaai narrated on the authority of Ibn Abbas that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) cursed the women who visit the graves, take them as mosques and light candles upon them (9).
These traditions apparently are applicable in cases where lighting of candles is similar to the acts of the disbelievers and some religions of the world. But if the purpose of lighting the candles is to recite the Holy Quran, supplications, perform prayers and other religious acts, there is no religious problem in it without doubt. In fact, lighting candles or lamps in such places, especially for the aforementioned sacred goals, will be a clear application of the verse
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“Help each other in goodness and piety (10)â. In such a case, how can it be forbidden and prohibited?
A group of exponents of traditions have justified its prohibition from another angle. In the margins of Sunan Nisaai it is written, âIt is prohibited because it is waste of wealth without any benefit.â (11)
Therefore, the claim of the Wahhabis banning the Muslims from building mosques upon or near the graves and lighting lamps near the graves or stopping them from praying and reading supplications near the graves have no religious sanction and hence, refutable. On the contrary, by declaring such permissible actions as polytheism and prohibited, they themselves have become perpetrators of innovation in religion (bidâah).
1. Commentaries of the Holy Quran: Al-Kashshaaf, Majmaâ al-Bayaan, Gharaaeb al-Quran of Neyshaboori, Jalaalain and Al-Meezaan can be referred
2. Jaarullah Zamakhshary in Tafseer al-Kashshaaf under the interpretation of the above verse writes: âThe Muslims prayed in them and sought blessings from these places.â Neyshaboori, in his exegesis, pens under the same verse: âThe Muslims prayed in them and sought blessings from these places.â
3. Wafaa al-Wafaa Fi Akhbaar-e-Daar al-Mustafa, vol. 4, p. 1376
4. Al-Khsaaes al-Kubra by Abd al-Rahmaan al-Suyuti
5. Jalaa al-Afhaam Fi al-Salaah wa al-Salaam Alaa Khair al-Anaam by Ibn al-Qaiyyem p. 228.
6. Allah has cursed the Jews and the Christians; they took the graves of their Prophets (a.s.) as places of worship. Sunan-o-Nisaai, v. 4, p. 96, published at Beirut
7. Sunan-o-Baihaqi, v. 4, p. 78; Mustadrak of al-Haakem, v. 1, p. 377
8. âThe earth has been made for me as a mosque and pure.â Musnad-o-Ahmad, vol. 2, p.222
9. “The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) has cursed the women who visit the graves, take them as mosques and light candles on them.â Sunan-o-Nisaai, v. 3, p. 77, published at Egypt and v.4, p. 95, published at Beirut; Tayseer al-Wusool Ilaa Jaameâ al-Usool, vol. 4, p. 210
10. Surah Maaedah (5): Verse Â 2
11. Sunan-o-Nisaai, v. 3, p. 77, published at Egypt and v. 4, p. 95, published at Beirut; Sharh-o-Jaameâ al-Sagheer, v. 2, p. 198 should be referred
Excerpts from the article written by Ms. Samaanah Khan Ahmadloo
World Assembly of Shia Studies
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