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MASHHAD. An Arabic word meaning “a place where a martyr died,” mashhad is the gravesite of an imam of Ithna `Ashari Shiism believed to have suffered shahddah (martyrdom). The Qur’an attests that a martyr is granted special heavenly privileges, and the concept of exalting divine purposes by suffering violent death played an important role in the development of the belief in the sanctity of the imams’ gravesites. The imam as shahid (martyr) will be called on to bear witness on the Day of judgment as to what was revealed to the Prophet as well as to those who acknowledged him and those who charged him with falsehood. The first Shi`i imam, `All ibn Abi Tdlib, was abandoned and murdered by Muslims, and each of the imams after him was persecuted or poisoned by a caliph or his supporters. Thus all imams are revered as martyrs, and their tombs have become sites for ziydrah (annual visitation) by ShMs, who believe that their wildyah (devotion) to the martyred imams, expressed through these pilgrimages, will win forgiveness for their sins and a share in the final victory of the Mahdi, the messianic imam. Pious Shi is also look on the shrines as places where they can share in the imam’s sanctity.

Of all the imams, Husayn ibn ‘Ali enjoys the status of Chief of Martyrs, having suffered the torments of thirst and hunger in the desert and having been slaughtered by his enemies at Karbala, in present-day Iraq. His tomb was probably the first mashhad in Shi i piety, and it was regarded as holy immediately after his martyrdom in 68o. The ritual of ziydrah, salutations offered at the tombs of the imams, evolved from the concept of mashhad. Unlike the hajj, which has to be performed at a set time, the ziyarah can be performed at any time, although some special days, such as `Ashurd’ (the day of Husayn’s death), are recommended.

Following the one at Karbala, the tombs of other imams were also regarded as mashhad. The mashhad of `All at Najaf, Iraq, a town some six miles west of Kufa, was revealed to the public in the early `Abbdsid period (749-1258). The mashhad at Kazimayn, a town near Baghdad, enshrines the tombs of Musa al-Kdzim and Muhammad al-Jawad, the seventh and ninth imams. In Samarra, a city north of Baghdad, `Ali al-Hadi and alHasan al-`Askari, the tenth and eleventh imams are buried; the eighth imam, `Ali al-Ridd, is buried in Sanabad, in the district of Tus, which has given rise to the most celebrated city of the Shi ah world, Mashhad, Iran.

The mashhads of other imams in Medina’s Baqi graveyard were leveled by the Wahhabiyah in 1925. The Sunni Wahhabi “puritans” regard the Shi’i practice of venerating the mashhad as leading to a form of shirk (“associationism”), hence, grave sin against God.

The mashhads of all imams were richly endowed, and lavish gifts were bestowed by various Muslim rulers, especially those of ShN dynasties. Towns grew up around them, and the haram (sacred areas) were adorned with magnificent and costly ornamentation. All the shrines have some architectural features in common. The tomb lies in a courtyard surrounded by arched halls and cells.

Its walls are decorated resplendently with colored tiles. The entrance to the main rectangular building is through a golden outer hall. In the middle of the central golden-domed chamber lies the shrine, surrounded by a darih (silver enclosure). Two golden minarets usually flank the entrance to the shrine.

The shrines are important centers of ShN learning, and important madrasahs (seminaries) grew up around them. Every Shi’i longs to find a last resting place in the holy precincts of the beloved imams, and this has resulted in the development of extensive cemeteries at all the shrines, especially at Karbala, Najaf, and Mashhad and in areas near these shrines.

[See also Ithna `Ashariyah; Karbala; Martyrdom; Najaf; Qom; Shrine; Wildyah; Ziydrah.]


Algar, Hamid. Religion and State in Iran, 1785-1906: The Role of the Ulama in the Qajar Period. Berkeley, 1969. Discusses the mashhads of Najaf and Karbala in the politics of Muslim powers.

Ayoub, Mahmoud M. Redemptive Suffering in Islam: A Study of the Devotional Aspects of `Ashurd’ in Twelver Shi ism. The Hague, 1978. Covers mashhads and Shi i piety.

Donaldson, Dwight M. The Shiite Religion. London, 1933 Noldeke, Arnold. Das Heiligtum al-Husains zu Kerbeld. Berlin, 1909.


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

  • writerPosted On: August 3, 2014
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