The Ahl al-Bayt’s View regarding Mosques and Holy Places
By: Ayatullah Shaheed Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim
Mosques and holy places are privileged in the Ahl al-Bayt’s view and characterized by expansiveness, all-inclusiveness, and profundity. A ‘holy place’ is one of the items upon which all Muslims agree unanimously and all divine religions accept with admissibility. To the Muslims, the general title of a holy place is mosque (masjid) which is the Muslims’ place of worship to which the Holy Qur'an has referred many times: He only shall tend Allah's mosques that believes in Allah and the Last Day and observes proper worship and pays the poor-due and fears none save Allah. For such only is it possible that they can be of the rightly guided. (9:18)
Set your faces upright toward Him at every masjid and call upon Him, making religion pure for Him only. As He brought you into being, so return you to Him. (7:29)
The mosques are only for Allah, so pray not to anyone along with Allah. (72:18)
The Role of Mosque
The word ‘masjid’ is the Muslim term for a place of worship. For instance, a place for public worship for a Christian is a church, a place for Jewish worship is a temple, and a place of meeting for Jewish or Sabaean worship is a synagogue. Referring to all these terms, the Holy Qur'an says: Had there not been Allah's repelling some people by others, certainly, there would have been churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques pulled down, in which Allah's name is much remembered. And surely, Allah will help him who helps His cause. Most surely, Allah is Strong, Mighty. (22:40)
Mosques were not just restricted to worship but played a significant role in Islamic legislation, Islamic culture, education, general activities, and political and spiritual mobilization. In the earliest period of Islam, mosques were used for administration of the affairs of the Islamic state, administration of justice, and judgment of disputes. Mosques were thus devotional, cultural, political and social foundations that played effective roles in Muslim communities and gained the sacredness, veneration, and respect of all.
Thus, we come upon a large number of traditions, reported from the Holy Prophet and his noble Household (S), about the laws, etiquettes, and affairs of mosques as well as how to venerate, sanctify, and construct them materially and devotionally. Such traditions also include the reward of frequenting, praying in, and occasional confinement to mosques.1
The Ahl al-Bayt’s View about Holy Places
In the traditions of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), other holy places are also sacred, including the homes and holy shrines of the Holy Prophet and his Household (S) and places that are historically associated with prophets and saints who had offered prayers there or other events related to them took place there.
Some holy texts show that the Holy Qur'an pays considerable attention to historical sites and monuments that embody the movements, circumstances, and deeds of these personalities, especially their praise of Almighty Allah, and the necessity of strengthening such sites and events historically.
This idea can be fundamentally concluded from the confirmation of some historical events, the establishment and practice of some rites, and the concepts that the Holy Qur'an has established as a part of the features of the Islamic mission. It can be also concluded from some Prophetic traditions.
Let us now refer to some features involved:
First: Relating the story of the Sleepers of Ephesus, the Holy Qur'an confirms that the believers who prevailed on the affairs of the people of that time, decided to erect a mosque over the graves of the Sleepers as a sign of exalting the incident of these righteous men who had rejected paganism and tyranny: Thus did We make their case known to the people, that they might know that the promise of Allah is true, and that there can be no doubt about the Hour of Judgment. Behold, they dispute among themselves as to their affair. Some said, “Construct a building over them (their remains). Their Lord knows best about them.” Those who prevailed over their affair said, “Let us surely build a place of worship over them.” (18:21)
Second: Prophet Abraham’s Standing-place, which is a place upon which he stood while building the Holy Ka’bah, is highly praised in the Holy Qur'an and it is deemed obligatory, on the consensus of all Muslims, to offer a two unit prayer there after performing the ritual circumambulation of the Ka’bah. The Holy Qur'an thus reads: Take you the station of Abraham as a place of prayer. (2:125)
Third: As unanimously agreed by Muslims, it has been made obligatory to include the site that is called Hijr Isma’il (the fence built by Prophet Ishmael (‘a) around the tomb of his mother) with the ritual circumambulation even though it is not part of the Holy Ka’bah itself. Likewise, it is recommended to offer prayers on that site because it is the graveyard of Prophet Ishmael’s mother as well as a group of prophets.
Fourth: The Holy Qur'an has confirmed the act of hastening between the hills of Safa and Marwah as one of the rituals determined by Almighty Allah. In this respect, the Holy Qur'an says: Behold! Safa and Marwah are among the RITUALS of Allah. So, if those who visit the House in the Hajj Season or at other times should compass them round, there is no sin in it. And if any one obeys his own impulse to good, be sure that Allah is He Who recognizes and knows. (2:158)
Historically, running seven times between Safa and Marwah, as a ritual, is a repetition of the running of Hajar, Prophet Ishmael’s mother, between these two hills in order to save her child from thirst, which culminated in gaining the water of the Zamzam Spring.
Shaykh al-Kulayni has reported through a valid chain of authority that Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) said: When (Prophet) Abraham (S) left behind him his child Ishmael (‘a) at Makkah, the child felt terribly thirsty. His mother walked towards Safa and climbing it, cried out, “Is there any friend in these deserts?” As she received no answer, she walked towards Marwah and repeated the same words. She received no answer. She then returned to Safa and continued running between these two places, which were full of trees, seven times. Accordingly, Almighty Allah determined running back and forth seven times at this site as a religious tradition.2
Fifth: In its capacity as the earliest kiblah (i.e. direction towards which faces are turned in prayers), a place where past prophets used to worship Almighty Allah, and the origin of the Holy Prophet’s ascension into heaven, the Furthest Mosque (of Jerusalem) has been determined to be an object of glorification and honor.
Sixth: Muslims unanimously agree upon the necessity of having a high regard for the Quba Mosque “whose foundation was laid from the first day on piety” as expressed in the Holy Qur'an. This mosque was also the place where the Holy Prophet (S) offered a prayer on his way to Madinah and resided for some time before he entered the city. Therefore, Muslims erected a mosque at that place. Further details will soon follow.
Seventh: The Holy Qur'an has strongly asserted that there are certain houses that Almighty Allah has permitted to be exalted and that His Name should be mentioned therein. These are houses that the righteous inhabit. The Holy Qur'an has thus said: In houses which Allah has permitted to be exalted and in which His name is remembered in the mornings and the evenings, therein are men who glorify Him, whom neither merchandise nor selling can divert from the remembrance of Allah and the keeping up of prayer and the giving of poor-rate. They fear a day in which the hearts and eyes shall turn about. (24:36-37)
Rooted in this conception, the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), familiar with the history of the divine missions, took it upon themselves to revive the features of the previous divine missions and the mission of Islam and urge sanctification of these places and commemoration of the events that took place in them.
The Sacred Mosque (in Makkah), the Prophet’s Mosque (in Madinah), and the Furthest Mosque (of Jerusalem) are endowed with special veneration and respect by all Muslims.
Some Muslim traditionists have reported that pilgrimages must not be made to any places other than these three mosques,3 which are given such exclusive respect and religious regard. In addition, the Holy Qur'an has mentioned these three mosques, especially the Sacred Mosque of Makkah.
As for the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), they have endowed mosques with a vast and all-inclusive concept quantitatively and qualitatively.
Concerning quality, the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) have ordered showing respect to these holy places, explained their historical importance, and performed many devotional acts there.
There are other holy places besides the abovementioned three mosques, which have gained great respect and sanctity. These include: Masjid e Kufah, Masjid e Quba, Masjid e Khif, Masjid e Sahlah (or Suhayl), Imam al-Husayn’s shrine, the Valley of Peace (wadi al-salam) in Najaf, Imam ‘Ali’s shrine, Masjid e Buratha, Imam Ridha’s shrine in Tus (Khurasan), and the other shrines of the Holy Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a).
1. - Books of Muslim jurisprudence and Hadith have dealt with all these aspects in various chapters, the most important of which are the sections on the place of prayer within Book of Prayer (kitab al-salat).
2. - Shaykh al-Kulayni, al-Kafi 4:202, H. 2.
3. - Mansur ‘Ali Nasif, al-Taj al-Jami’ lil-Usul 1:224.
This tradition is reported by the five Sunni master traditionists; namely, al-Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, and al-Nasa'i. However, the traditions reported from the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) show that such special respect is not dedicated to these three mosques exclusively.