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SHRINE. The Arabic term qubbah (a tomb surmounted by a dome) refers throughout the Muslim world to saints’ shrines and mausoleums and places of special spiritual significance. Shrines are never just buildings, however. They stand for a complex of rituals, symbols, and shifting social and spiritual ties that link believers to Islam and create a sacred geography. Shrines are often associated with natural phenomenain Indonesia, for example, they are frequently located in elevated spots and have their own sources of water. In North Africa, the shrines of marabouts, or al-salihun (“pious ones”), dot the landscape so pervasively that they are rarely out of sight. Some are squat, whitewashed buildings. Others are quite elaborate. A visit to one of these shrines is thought to offer spiritual blessings, particularly if ties exist between the client (or client group) and the descendants of the marabout. Every rural settlement has such a shrine, sometimes just a semiderelict, sporadically maintained structure in a cemetery. In western Morocco, there is roughly one shrine for every 6 square kilometers and iso people. These tombs constitute a framework that concretely symbolizes social groups and their relations. As alliances change, derelict shrines can be restored or new ones constructed to reflect new identities.

In addition to these modest local shrines, there are more elaborate complexes linked to major religious figures. Major shrines have annual mawsims (festivals) that draw tens of thousands of pilgrims annually and have full-time caretakers, often descendants of the saint or pious one. Jews in North Africa also have shrines, most of which have been maintained despite the diminution of the Jewish population since the 1950s. Indeed, some Jewish shrines have been “relocated” in Israel as their North African supporters have emigrated there. In Morocco, some shrines attract both Jewish and Muslim pilgrims.

Shi’i Muslims also have elaborate shrine complexes associated with the principal imams and religious centers, and many of these, such as Qom in Iran and Karbala in southern Iraq, have religious schools associated with them along with bureaucracies to accept donations, support humanitarian works, and administer the endowed properties (awgaf; sg., wagf) that produce revenue for their upkeep. In Java, in contrast, modernist Muslims discourage visits to shrines, although the texts and oral traditions associated with them offer a vivid view of Java’s past and suggest its future directions. Thus shrines for many Javanese spatially represent their history and identity.

The most important shrine complex in the Muslim

world is that of the Ka’bah and the Great Mosque in Mecca. Some Muslims believe that the Ka’bah (literally, “cube”) was brought to Abraham by the angel Gabriel. At first it was white, but it turned black through contact with the impurities of the pre-Islamic period. Others say that the Ka’bah was built by Adam and that he is buried there. The Ka’bah is the most sacred space in the Muslim world, the point to which all Muslims turn to pray, and the direction to which their heads point in burial. It is the most important place of hajj (pilgrimage), and is distinguished from visits to local or regional shrines, known as ziyarahs. As the spiritual center of the earth, actions at the Ka’bah, such as its circumambulation, are duplicated in the heavens and at the throne of God.

Shrines define sacred space, both for the Great Mosque in Mecca and for the local shrines throughout the Muslim world devoted to mythical figures, great scholars imputed with mystical powers, and persons of exceptional piety. Shrines in Indonesia are associated with the coming of Islam and also relate to sacred time. To obtain the most benefit, pilgrims often visit several shrines, calculating their arrival on the day most favorably associated with each shrine in complex, interlocking cycles of five- and seven-day weeks. Major shrines can have ten thousand to fifty thousand visitors on their most auspicious days. Some modernist Muslims have sought to ban visits to shrines, but such visits retain their popularity except in Saudi Arabia, where the Wahhabis have forced their cessation, allowing only visits to those in Mecca and Medina.

Shrines also separate sacred and secular space. People can seek sanctuary in them and await the intervention of religious intermediaries to negotiate a truce or settlement. Oaths sworn at shrines are especially binding, because their violation incurs the wrath of the shrine’s marabout or wali. Some are known as centers for healing. Visits to the shrine of Bfi Yd `Umar, located near Marrakesh, Morocco, are reputed to cure the mentally ill.

Gender divisions are often associated with shrines. The shrine for Lalla Hrnya, a daughter of Sidi Mhammad al-Shargi in Boujad, Morocco, is visited almost exclusively by women seeking a remedy for infertility. Visitors tear strips of cloth from their clothing and affix it to the door of the shrine as a wa’dah (promise) to offer a gift or sacrifice if they bear a child. Such offerings are not made at Lalla Hniya’s tomb, but at the nearby shrine complex of her father. Until recently, women in rural Turkey were largely confined to their homes, except for visits to local shrines on religious and secular festivals. Visits to shrines secure blessings for the household and can be used to signal changes in personal status-marriage, the birth of a child, or mourning. Women say prayers at these shrines and are more conscious than men of local sacred geography. Men occasionally visit shrines with women, but rarely do soon their own.

The sacred geography of shrines is not confined to supposed vestiges of the past, although shrines, such as that at Mecca, had pre-Islamic significance, and other shrines, as in Java, are not associated exclusively with Islamic figures. Instead, they constitute a physical representation of the sacred, defining not only relations of particular social groups and categories with the divine but also the relations among social groups and between genders. Thus they offer a rich means of ordering the religious and social universes, and for many, they serve as a means of aligning one with the other.

[See also Hajj; Sainthood; Sufism, article on Sufi Shrine Culture; and Ziyarah.]


Eickelman, Dale F. Moroccan Islam: Tradition and Society in a Pilgrimage Center. Austin, 1976. Describes a major shrine complex in Morocco and the practices associated with it.

Esin, Emil. Mecca the Blessed, Madinah the Radiant. London, 1963. Beautifully written and illustrated account of Mecca and Medina as shrine complexes.

Fischer, Michael M. J. Iran: From Religious Dispute to Revolution. Cambridge, Mass., 198o. Chapter 4, “Qum: Arena of Conflict,” describes religious and political action in a major Shi’i shrine center.

Fox, James. J. “Ziarah Visits to the Tombs of the Wali, the Founders of Islam on Java.” In Islam in the Indonesian Social Context, edited by Merle C. Ricklefs, pp. 19-38. Clayton, Australia, 1991. McChesney, Robert. Waqf in Central Asia: Four Hundred Years in the History of a Muslim Shrine. Princeton, 1991. The best account for the historical continuity and changing significance of a major shrine in Central Asia.

Naamouni, Khadija. Le culte de Bouya Omar. Casablanca, 1993. Fascinating account by a Moroccan scholar of a shrine center associated with the cure of mental illness in southern Morocco.

Tapper, Nancy. “Ziyaret: Gender, Movement, and Exchange in a Turkish Community.” In Muslim Travellers: Pilgrimage, Migration, and the Religious Imagination, edited by Dale F. Eickelman and J. P. Piscatori, pp. 236-255. Berkeley and Los Angeles. 19go.

Weingrod, Alex. “Saints and Shrines, Politics and Culture: A Morocco-Israel Comparison.” In Muslim Travellers: Pilgrimage, Migration, and the Religious Imagination, edited by Dale F. Eickelman and J. P. Piscatori, pp. 217-235. Berkeley and Los Angeles. 19go.


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

  • writerPosted On: August 9, 2017
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