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IMAMZADAH. Literally “offspring or descendent of an imam,” imdmzddah, in Iran, is most commonly applied to a shrine-tomb of a descendent of the Shi`i imams. Imdmzddahs are the centers of popular Shl’! devotion and the objects of pilgrimages. Many of them are regarded as possessing miraculous and healing properties. The source of veneration of imdmzddahs in Iran is to be found in geopolitics. The ziydrah (pilgrimages to imams’ tombs) constitutes a principal aspect of Shi`i popular worship. However, only one of the Twelver Shi`i imams, `All al-Rids, is buried in the vast territory of Iran. His shrine-tomb grew into a large shrine city called Mashhad (“sepulcher”) in northeastern Iran. The other imams are buried in central and southern Iraq and in Medina.

The most important Shi i tombs, those of Imam `Ali at Najaf and Imam Husayn at Karbala, are situated in present-day Iraq. Making a pilgrimage to those holy tombs was often physically, politically, and financially difficult for Iranian Shi`is. Hence, the basis for the veneration of the descendants of imams in Iran sprung from a practical necessity before becoming a parr-of popular piety. “These shrines (called Imamzadas) are to be found in large numbers in Iran, especially in the areas around Qumm [Qom], Tehran, Kashan, and M.azandaran, which have been Shi`i from the earliest times, and, therefore, tended to be a refuge for `Alids, who were often being persecuted in other parts of the Muslim world” (Momen, 1985, p. 182). From the time that Shiism became the state religion of Iran (beginning in the sixteenth century), popular beliefs and rituals played a very important role in the spread of Shiism. Going on pilgrimages and paying homage to the descendants of the imams at their tombs has been one of the most popular activities of the Iranian Shl’is. They have been encouraged by the Shl’i `ulama’ (community of religious scholars) to participate in these pilgrimages in order to acquire merit and blessings. Shah `Abbas (1571-1629), the Safavid king, however, encouraged the pilgrimages to imdmzadahs within the boundaries of Iran for economic reasons-it reduced the outflow of money from the country.

As the pilgrimages to the tombs of the imams and their descendants became increasingly elaborate activities, many guidebooks to such visitations were written. One of the most important manuals for Slu`i pilgrims is Tuhfat al-zd’irin (A Present for Pilgrims), written by one of the most powerful and influential members of the `ulama’ of the late Safavid period, Muhammad Bagir Majlisi (d. 1699). In this guidebook, Majlisi writes: “in all the cities there are many tombs attributed to imdmzddahs and other relations of the Imams. The graves of some of them, however, are not marked, and in the case of others, there is nothing in particular that is known of their lives. It is advisable to visit all of them whose tombs have been identified. Honour shown to them is equivalent to honouring the Imams” (Donaldson, 1933, p. 264).

The rituals connected with visitations to the tombs of imdmzddahs reflect the rituals of the pilgrimage to Mecca, the hajj. The most important part of the ritual is the recitation of the prayer of visitation, known as the Ziyarat-Namah. Each shrine has its own visitation prayer. As the imdmzddah shrines brought prestige and even economic benefits to a locality, some of the tombs of holy men who were not descendants of the imams fell under the rubric of imdmzddah. Many of the pilgrimages to imdmzddahs have been adapted into seasonal rituals and become embellished with colorful observances. Imamzadahs, like mosques, traditionally have enjoyed the status of extraterritoriality in which bast (asylum) could be sought.

Among the most famous imamzddah shrines of Iran is that of Shah `Abd al `Azure in Ray on the outskirts of Tehran. During the late Qajar period (1796-1925), many famous men, including Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-1897), fled to the Shah `Abd al-`Azim shrine seeking refuge. And during the Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911), many constitutionalists took refuge there. The first railway built in Iran was the five-mile stretch between the shrine of Shah `Abd-al `Azim and the capital city of Tehran. This shrine was also the site of the assassination of Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar in 1896. The mausoleum of Fatimah, venerated as Ma’sumah (The Innocent), in Qom should be the most famous imamzddah in Iran, as Fatimah was the daughter of Imam Musa Kazim and the sister of Imam ‘Ali Rida. However, since only male descendents of the imams are accorded the title imamzddah, the shrine of Fatimah, though visited daily by thousands, does not belong to this category.

People are drawn to the imamzddhs in search of intercession. At the imamzddah shrines people can unburden themselves of their personal problems and misfortunes. Women can pray for the conception of children and men for success in their professional endeavors. The upkeep of the imdmzddahs is paid by either awgdf (religious endowments; sg., wagfl or the donations of pilgrims.

Among the Shl’is of southern Iraq, the veneration of the descendants of the imams is of secondary importance, since the main imam tombs are situated in close proximity. The Sh!`Is of India, however, face even greater difficulty than the Iranians in visiting the tombs of the imams because of their great distance from them. In India, the visitation and veneration of the imams’ tombs has been substituted by the building of replicas of these tombs, which are carried in processions during the month of Muharram. These replicas, known as ta`ziyah, in reality bear little resemblance to the original tombs and have become the end product of an act of the artists’ piety. Solid, artistic replicas of the imams’ cenotaphs (zarih) are housed in the imambarahs and `ashurkhdnahs. The creation of these edifices by the Shi`I communities of India solved the problem of local devotion and visitation. Together with the dargahs, which contain what is believed to be the personal effects of the imams (such as `alam [“standard”] or a sword), ta’ziyah have come to serve as the local centers of pilgrimage and devotion. The construction of the “local Karbalas,” cemeteries where people and ta`ziyahs are buried, further alleviated for the Indian Shil’is the need for pilgrimages to the actual tombs of the imams or their descendants.

[See also Imam; Karbala; Mashhad; Najaf; Qom; Shrines; Ta’ziyah; and Ziyarah.]


Ayoub, Mahmoud M. Redemptive Suffering in Islam. The Hague, 1978.

Donaldson, Dwight M. The Shiite Religion. London, 1933. Lambton, Ann K. S. “Imamzada.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 3, pp. 1169-1170. Leiden, i96o-.

Majlisi, Muharnmad Bagir. Tuhfat al-za’irin. Tehran, 1857. Momen, Moojan. An Introduction to Shi’i Islam. New Haven, 1985. Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, Halnid Dabashi, and Seyyed Vali Reza Nast, eds. Shi’ism: Doctrines, Thought, and Spirituality. Albany, N.Y., 1988.

Von Grunebaum, G. E. Muhammadan Festivals. New York, 1951.


WAN. Literally “faith” or “belief,” iman is technically faith in the religion of Islam, the person with iman being a mu’min. The Arabic word connotes security: one who believes becomes secure against untruth and misguidance in this world and against punishment in the next. In surah 6.82, the Qur’an throws light on this connotation through subtle wordplay: it is “those who have believed” (alladhina dmanu) who shall enjoy “security” (amn; cf. surah 59.23, where God is described as mu’min, “protector, guarantor of security”)

iman, in the sense of “to become a believer,” distinguishes a Muslim from a non-Muslim. As a summary statement, it represents belief in the following: the oneness of God, angels, prophets, revealed books, and the hereafter (see, e.g., surah 2.1’7’7). The phrase iman bial-ghayb, usually translated “belief in the unseen,” stands for belief in metaphysical realities that are inaccessible to the senses but are presumably affirmed by reason.

According to several Qur’anic verses (e.g., surahs 6. III; 1o.99, loo), if God had wished them to believe, all human beings would have believed. Such verses do not teach fatalism but the exact opposite, namely, that since God does not compel anyone to believe, therefore every individual is free to make his or her own choice. Surah 18.29 says: “And say: The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wants to, let him believe; and whoever wants to, let him disbelieve.” On the other hand we read in the Qur’an that God hardens the hearts of those who have become thoroughly evil and so deserved the hardening of heart. Their hearts “stamped” by God, such people are rendered incapable of believing (surahs 2.88; 4.46, 155; 6.2; 10.33; 41.44; see also io.88, where Moses prays to God to “seal up” the hearts of Pharaoh and his followers so that they may not believe until they see the promised punishment descending on them).

The Qur’an establishes a close connection between faith and action, or iman and `aural: true iman manifests itself in right conduct, which, to be fruitful, must be grounded in right faith. The Qur’an requires “those who have believed” to conduct themselves in certain ways. For example, the believers are commanded to obey God, the Prophet, and the authorities (4.59; 8.1, 20, 24; 33-36; 47-33), fulfill their commitments (5.1), speak the truth and say the right thing (33.70), perform the ritual prayer (4.103; 14.31), spend of their wealth in the way of God (2.254, 257), fight in the way of God (4.76) steadfastly (8.15, 45; 9.123), shun wine-drinking and gambling (5.9o), refrain from making transactions involving interest (2.278; 3.130), and avoid treating condescendingly those they have done favors to (2.264). !man is also the basis of Islamic brotherhood, and the series of injunctions given, for example, in surah 49.912 are explicitly predicated on that premise. Surah 23 opens with the statement, “The believers have achieved success,” and then explains who the believers are, giving details of a certain type of conduct. !man and `aural are thus inseparable, several verses explicitly stating that actions that are apparently good but lacking a basis in iman will be nullified (4.124; 10.40; 16.97; 17.19; 20.75, 112; 21.94).

In view of this connection between iman and `aural it might seem surprising that the question of the relationship of faith and works occasioned a serious debate in early Islamic history. According to one group, one guilty of a major sin ceases to be a Muslim. Since the militant Khawdrij were not content to state their views but fought against all those who differed with them, they faced strong opposition from the majority of the Muslim population. On the doctrinal level, however, the anti-Khariji polemic resulted in the formulation of a view that undermined the integral relationship between `aural and iman. The Murji’i reaction (the Murji’ahfrom irja’, “postponement”-put off the verdict on the grave sinner until the Last Day, leaving the matter in God’s hands) stressed, or rather overstressed, the importance of iman, in effect devaluing `aural.

The relationship between iman and Islam (“submission”) is to be understood in similar terms. The prayer offered for a deceased person well illustrates the relationship: “Those of us whom you [God] would keep alive, keep them alive on Islam; and those of us whom you would cause to die, cause them to die on iman.” On this distinction iman is the inner state of mind one should be in at the time of death-or at any given moment of one’s life-whereas islam is activity and conduct through life as lived from one moment to another.

Another early debate was whether imdn remains static or registers an increase or decrease. Several Qur’anic verses (e.g., 3.173; 8.2, 125; 48.4) say that the quality of imdn can change. Abu Hanifah (d. 767), however, maintained that iman remains the same, a view for which he was criticized. As a jurist, Abu Hanifah was actually referring to the critical amount of faith that qualifies a person as a believer. In other words, he was speaking of legal iman as opposed to the spiritual quality of iman, which may increase or decrease.

In modern times the problem has become less of defining iman in precise terms and more of vindicating imanespecially in the sense of belief in realities that are beyond the perceptible world-in the face of a dominant secularist and scientific outlook. Can belief in the supernatural and the miraculous be sustained? Is there a rational explanation of faith or is talk of such an explanation a contradiction in terms? In brief, is there room or need for iman at all today? Many Muslim scholars have produced works to safeguard the iman of Muslims, especially of the Muslim youth. These works typically seek to assure Muslims that satisfactory responses to the present-day detractions of religion in general and of Islam in particular do exist and that there is no reason for Muslims to abandon their faith or entertain doubt about it.


Ghazali, Abu Hamid al-. Ihyd”ulum al-din. 5 vols. Beirut, I9g1. First quarter, Book 2, “Kitab gawa`id al-`aga’id.” Translated into English as The Foundations of the Articles of Faith by Nabih Amin Faris (Lahore, 1963).

Khatib al-Tibrizi, Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah al-. Mishkat almasabih. Beirut, 14o5/1985. Vol. I, Book I, “Kitab al-iman.” Shaltut, Mahmfid. AI-Isldm, `agidah wa-shari`ah. Beirut, 1403/1983. Tantaw1, ‘Ali. Ta`rif `amm bi-din al-Islam. Beirut, 1394/1974.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/imamzadah/

  • writerPosted On: April 21, 2014
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