Visiting the Tombs and Shrines of the Holy Infallibles (A.S.)
By: Ayatullah Shaheed Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim
Legitimacy of visiting the graves
Visiting the tombs of the Holy Prophet (S), the Holy Imams (‘a), the prophets (‘a), the saints, and the descendants of the Holy Imams (‘a) is regarded as the most important ritual emphasized by the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) and dutifully observed by the virtuous community. Such visits (or pilgrimages) are a significant phenomenon in the lives of the virtuous community.
In their capacity as a sort of Hajj (i.e. pilgrimage), these visits, in both content and form, are considered one of the general rituals of Islam, since traditions have described them as a complementary part of the ritual Hajj Pilgrimage.
On the other hand, Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and his followers known as Wahhabis discommend and even forbid visiting or going on pilgrimage to tombs or building structures and domes on them. Nevertheless, numerous are the traditions that are uninterruptedly reported from the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), not to mention the Holy Prophet (S) and the honorable companions, confirming the recommendation of visiting the tombs.
Hereinafter, I will mention some traditions reported from the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), confirming the act of visiting the tombs as one of the highly advisable acts and the leading mottos of the virtuous community.
Shaykh al-Kulayni, in al-Kafi, Shaykh al-Saduq, in ‘Uyun Akhbar al-Ridha and ‘Ilal al-Ahkam, and Ibn Qawlawayh, in Kamil al-Ziyarat, have reported through a valid chain of authority that Imam al-Ridha (‘a) said: The disciples and followers of every Imam (‘a) are connected to him with a binding covenant that they must fulfill. Among the elements of an excellent fulfillment of these covenants is indeed the visiting of the Imams’ (‘a) tombs. Hence, if one visits their tombs eagerly and with the intention of gaining their (the Imams’) desire, the Imams will intercede for him on the Day of Resurrection.1
According to another validly reported tradition, Zayd al-Shahham has reported that he asked Imam al-Sadiq (‘a), “What is the reward of one who visits (the tomb of) one of you?”
The Imam (‘a) answered: He (who visits one of us) will be rewarded the same reward of one who has visited the Messenger of Allah (S).2
According to another validly reported tradition, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) has said: Almighty Allah has not created a category of creatures greater in number than angels. Verily, seventy thousand angels descend every day to circumambulate the Holy House (of God). Then, they circumambulate the Holy Ka’bah. Then, they visit the tomb of the Holy Prophet (S) to offer greetings. Then, they visit the tomb of Imam ‘Ali, the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) to offer greetings. Then, they visit the tomb of Imam Hasan (‘a) to offer greetings. Then, they visit the tomb of Imam Husayn (‘a) to offer greetings. They then ascend back to the skies before sunrise. Then, the angels of daylight descend to circumambulate the Holy House (of God) all the day. Before sunset, they leave to visit the tomb of the Holy Prophet (S) to offer greetings. Then, they visit the tomb of Imam ‘Ali, the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) to offer greetings. Then, they visit the tomb of Imam Hasan (‘a) to offer greetings. Then, they visit the tomb of Imam Husayn (‘a) to offer greetings. They then ascend to the skies before sunset.3
According to another tradition that is reported through numerous chains of authority, Abu-’Amir al-Tabbani, the preacher of Hijaz, has reported that he visited Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) and asked, “O son of Allah’s Messenger, what is the reward of one who visits the tomb of the Commander of the Faithful (Imam ‘Ali) (‘a) and those who construct it?”
The Imam (‘a) answered: O Abu-’Amir, my father narrated to me on the authority of his father, on the authority of his grandfather, Husayn ibn ‘Ali, on the authority of (Imam) ‘Ali, that the Messenger of Allah (S) said to him (i.e. Imam ‘Ali), “By Allah I swear this: you shall be slain in the land of Iraq and you will be buried therein.” Imam ‘Ali (‘a) asked, “O Allah’s Messenger, what will be the reward of one who visits our tombs, constructs them, and protects them?” The Holy Prophet (S) answered, “O Abu’l-Hasan, Almighty Allah has verily chosen your tomb and the tomb of your son to be sites and courtyards of Paradise. He has also made the hearts of excellent persons from amongst His creatures and choice persons from amongst His servants long for you and endure humiliation and harm for your sake.
They will thus build your tombs and frequently visit them, to seek nearness to Allah and show love for His Messenger. O ‘Ali, it is these who shall deserve my intercession exclusively and who shall join me at the Divine Pond. In Paradise, they shall be my visitors. O ‘Ali, whoever constructs and protects your graves, is regarded as if he has helped (Prophet) Solomon the son of (Prophet) David build the Sacred Mosque of Jerusalem. Whoever visits your tombs will be given the reward of going on Hajj Pilgrimage seventy times after the obligatory Hajj, and he will be free of sins like the day on which his mother gave birth to him until he returns home after visiting your tombs.
So, receive these glad tidings and convey to your loyalists and devotees the glad tidings of bliss and delight of the eye in such a way that no eye has ever seen, no ear has ever heard, and no heart has ever imagined. However, dregs of the society will impute dishonor to the visitors of your tombs in the same way as dishonor is imputed to an adulteress for her sin. These are the evilest of my nation. May Allah never allow them to enjoy my intercession and may they never approach my Pond.4
Traditions especially emphasize visiting the tombs of the Holy Prophet (S), Imam al-Husayn (‘a), and Imam ‘Ali (‘a) because the Holy Prophet (S) and these two holy Imams (‘a) represent the epitome of the beliefs of the virtuous community, in addition to the special outcome in the field of cultural, spiritual, and political education gained from visiting them.
In the coming chapter of Ziyarah, we will notice that all emphasis has been generally laid on visiting the Holy Prophet’s tomb, while visiting the tombs of the Holy Imams (‘a) has only been attached to this visit. Special visits have been emphatically mentioned for Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi-Talib and Imam al-Husayn, peace be upon them.
The Cultural Content of Visiting the Tombs
In the previous discussion of the cultural foundations under the title of visiting Imam al-Husayn’s tomb, we have looked into the spiritual, political, and social outcomes of such visits. They also stand for a practical and spiritual embodiment of the interrelation between the individuals of the virtuous community and the Holy Infallibles (‘a). A visitor of their tombs believes that he is visiting that Imam (‘a) in his house. Almighty Allah “has permitted them to be exalted so that His name may be remembered in them”. The visitor, by reciting the paragraphs of the Ziyarah formula, believes he is talking to the Imam who, beyond doubt, can hear his words, understand what he says, and answer him.
The best presentation of this fact is the following formula of seeking permission (isti'dhan) by a visitor before entering any of the holy shrines of the Holy Infallibles (‘a). This form reads as follows: O Allah, I am standing at one of the doors of Your Prophet’s Houses—may Your blessings be upon him and his Household—and You have prevented people to enter there before they obtain his permission. You have thus said, “O ye who believe! Enter not the Prophet's houses until leave is given you.”
O Allah, I believe in the sanctity of the owner of this holy shrine in his absence just as I believe in it in his presence. I also know with certainty that Your Messenger and Your Representatives—peace be upon them—are alive, finding their sustenance in Your presence. They can see my place, hear my words, and respond to my greetings. You have prevented my hearing from receiving their words, but You have opened the door of my understanding to taste the sweetness of my confidential speech with them. I thus ask Your permission—O my Lord—first of all, and secondly the permission of Your Prophet—peace be upon him and his Household—and the permission of Your Representative, the Imam, obedience to whom is incumbent upon me…
You may here mention the name of the visited person, and then continue: …and thirdly (permission of) the angels commissioned to supervise this blessed area. May I enter, O Messenger of Allah? May I enter, O Proof of Allah? May I enter, O angels of Allah—the intimate, the residing in this shrine? So, (please) permit me to enter, O my Master, with the best of permission that you have ever conferred upon any of your intimate adherents. If I do not deserve such permission, then you are worthy of not conferring it upon me.5
All formulas of ziyarah uttered at the tombs of the Holy Infallibles (‘a) carry doctrinal, monotheistic, Islamic, and spiritual aspects. They are: repeating the takbir statement (allahu-akbar: Allah is the Most Great) one hundred times, and uttering the two statements (shahadatayn) of Islam—I bear witness that there is no god save Allah and that Muhammad is His messenger. They all offer salutation to the Holy Imams (‘a), mention them by names, and utter words of praise, glorification and gratitude to Almighty Allah for granting the bliss of visiting the shrine—all these are direct doctrinal, moral, and spiritual lessons given to the visitors of these tombs.
Encyclopedias of traditions (i.e. Hadith) have dealt with this subject matter so expansively that the encyclopedias of the followers of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) and the virtuous community have been characterized by expatiating upon this topic. Since the first century of Shi’ite writings, many books dealing exclusively with the formulas of ziyarah and supplicatory prayers have been written. Some are: Kamil al-Ziyarat by Ibn Qawlawayh, Misbah al-Mutahajjid by Shaykh al-Tusi, Al-Mazar al-Kabir by Shaykh Muhammad al-Mashhadi, Al-Mazar by al-Shahid al-Awwal, Al-Misbah by Shaykh al-Kaf’ami, and many others. All these books substantiate the special interest in the ritual and devotional ziyarah and supplicatory prayers.6
In this discussion, we will refer, yet generally, to the major sections of ziyarah and to some of the most important times and occasions observed by the individuals of the virtuous community, leaving the details to the extensive books on this topic. Basically, we will depend upon the well-known book of Mafatih al-Jinan.
There are general etiquettes and manners for ziyarah, which a true faithful believer must observe because they correspond to an aspect of the blessed rite of ziyarah. The most important in this connection is spiritual purity, attained by ritual bathing and ablution, and the material cleanliness of body and clothes, attained by removing impurities and dirt. Another is the frequent remembrance of Almighty Allah, by repeating words of glorification, praise, and thanks to Him for granting this blissful boon.
It is worth mentioning that there are certain manners and etiquettes in this regard, including saying certain supplications, offering certain prayers, and choosing certain times for traveling (i.e. going on pilgrimage for visiting a holy shrine). Because traveling is the first step towards ziyarah, these manners and etiquettes have been mentioned as a prelude to the etiquettes of pilgrimage and ziyarah.7
Pilgrimage to the Tombs of the Holy Prophet (S) and the Holy Imams (‘a) Buried in al-Baqi’ Cemetery
Many corroborated traditions have confirmed great reward for visiting the tomb of the Holy Prophet (S) while others have deemed it obligatory upon those who can do it after accomplishment of the obligatory rites of the Hajj Pilgrimage. Other traditions sternly forbid shunning a visit to the Holy Prophet’s tomb as a sort of alienation from him. Many other traditions assert that visiting his tomb results in entrance into Paradise.
Among these traditions, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: Any one of you who goes on the Hajj Pilgrimage must conclude his Hajj by visiting us, because it is the completion of the Hajj.8
Imam ‘Ali, the Commander of the Faithful (‘a), is reported to have said: When you go on pilgrimage to the House of Allah, complete your Hajj by visiting the Messenger of Allah(S) because to avoid doing so is a sort of alienation from him which you have been ordered to avoid. Also, complete your Hajj with visitation of the tombs that Almighty Allah has ordered you to visit and carry out your duties towards them. Seek sustenance therein.9
Imam al-Baqir (‘a) is reported to have quoted the Holy Prophet (S) as saying: Whoever visits me in my lifetime or after my death, will receive my intercession on the Day of Resurrection.10
Imam Hasan ibn ‘Ali (‘a) is reported to have asked the Holy Prophet (S), “O father, what is the reward of one who visits you?” The Holy Prophet (S) answered: O son, he who visits me in my lifetime or after my death, or visits your father, your brother, and you, will put me under the duty of visiting him on the Day of Resurrection to deliver him from (the consequences of) his sins.11
According to another tradition that is reported through a valid chain of authority, the Holy Prophet (S) said to Imam al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali (‘a): O son, whoever comes to me to visit me after my death will be awarded Paradise. Whoever comes to your father to visit him after his death will be awarded Paradise. Whoever comes to your brother to visit him after his death will be awarded Paradise. Whoever comes to you to visit you after your death will be awarded Paradise.12
According to another tradition, Imam al-Ridha (‘a) is reported to have quoted the Holy Prophet (S) as saying: He who visits me in my lifetime or after my death has in fact visited Almighty Allah.13
Zayd has reported that he asked Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) as to what the reward of one who visits the tomb of the Holy Prophet (S) would be.
The Imam (‘a) answered: It shall be as if he has visited Almighty Allah on His Throne.14
It is also reported that Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) was once asked, “Is it lawful to visit (the tomb of) your father?” “Yes, it is,” answered the Imam (‘a). “What is then the reward of one who visits him?” he was asked. He answered: The reward will be Paradise for those who believe in (and follow) his Imamate.
“What is the punishment of one who shuns visiting him out of purposeful alienation from him?” he was asked. The Imam (‘a) answered: The punishment will be intense regret on the Day of Regret.15
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: Whoever visits me will have his sins forgiven and will be saved from dying in poverty.16
Because of its priority over all other visits and because it is the criterion and example of visiting the tombs of the other Holy Infallibles (‘a), confirmations have been made regarding visiting the tomb of the Holy Prophet (S).
It goes without saying that visiting the tombs of the Holy Prophet and the Holy Imams—peace be upon them—is one of the best activities and rites that is practiced by the individuals of the virtuous community who pay more interest to such visits in the seasons of Hajj Pilgrimage and ‘Umrah (minor Hajj). They therefore endure various sorts of suffering and harm, especially in the days when the custodians and keepers of these shrines exert pressure on the visitors and accuse them of baseless charges.
1. - ‘Allamah al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 97:116, H. 1.
2. - ‘Allamah al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 97:117, H. 5.
3. - ‘Allamah al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 97:117, H. 8.
4. - ‘Allamah al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 97:120, H. 22.
The same chain of authority of this tradition is mentioned for traditions No. 23, 24, and 25 of the same reference book.
5. - Shaykh ‘Abbas al-Qummi, Mafatih al-Jinan, pp. 311-312 as quoted from Shaykh al-Kaf’ami’s al-Balad al-Amin.
6. - All-inclusive and relatively concise, the book of Mafatih al-Jinan can be considered the best and most famous book ever written in the field of rituals and etiquettes of ziyarah and supplicatory prayers. It was compiled by the late master researcher and traditionist, Shaykh ‘Abbas al-Qummi, recently in Farsi, based upon a variety of the most reliable reference books. Up to now, millions of copies of this book have been published, being read by all milieus in all countries. Moreover, the book has been translated into Arabic and Urdu, as well as many other languages. For thorough acquaintance with the details of all issues, etiquettes, and best times of ziyarah and supplications, it is highly advised to refer to this book.
7. - About the etiquettes of traveling and the etiquettes of ziyarah, refer to Mafatih al-Jinan, pp. 302-306 and 306-311 respectively, where these etiquettes are mentioned briefly.
8. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 14:324, H. 1.
9. - ‘Allamah al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 97:139, H. 2.
10. - ‘Allamah al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 97:139, H. 3.
11. - ‘Allamah al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 97:140, H. 7.
12. - ‘Allamah al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 97:144, H. 16.
13. - ‘Allamah al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 97:139, H. 4.
14. - ‘Allamah al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 97:145, H. 31.
15. - ‘Allamah al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 97:145, H. 36.
16. - ‘Allamah al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 97:145, H. 34.