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ZIYARAH. Literally, “visitation,” ziyarah technically refers to visiting gravesites (ziydrat al-qubur) for the purpose of praying for the dead and remembering death. According to well-documented practices in all Sunni compilations, at some point in the period between 61o and 622, the Prophet had apparently forbidden visitation to gravesites because of the exaggerated importance attached to the practice. However, when Islam came he made it lawful and recommended it, because “it will remind you of the hereafter” (al-Sayyid Sabiq, Ftgh alsunnah, Beirut, 1977, vol. 1, p. 477). In another tradition, such visits are recommended in order to remind oneself of death. The overall religious significance of ziydrah, as it emerges in several narratives, is remembrance of death and reflection over the hereafter. Therefore, some traditions even permit visitation of the graves of nonbelievers as reminders of the wrong that one commits against oneself by rejecting faith. It is also recommended to weep and to express one’s need for God when passing through infidel graveyards.

The rituals connected with ziyarah require that, when reaching the grave, one should turn one’s face toward the dead, offer a greeting and pray for that dead person. The Prophet used to visit the cemeteries and greet the dead saying: “Peace be upon you, o you the believers and the Muslims! We shall, God willing, join you. You have preceded us and we shall follow you. We pray to God for our and your well-being” (Sabiq, p. 477).

However, there was a problem with ziyarah by women. Again, the problem relates to pre-Islamic practice among the Arabs to which many narratives seem to be responding. The Maliki and some Hanafi jurists deduced the permission of jurists on the basis of the narrative in which A`ishah, the Prophet’s wife, one day was returning from having visited her brother’s grave. When reminded of the Prophet’s prohibition by `Abd Allah ibn Ubayy, she replied: “Yes he had forbidden the visitation of the graves [earlier], but had ordered [amara bihi] it afterwards” (Sabiq, p. 478). On the other hand, Hanbalis, citing another tradition in which the Prophet cursed the women who visit graves, regard it as makruh (reprehensible). They also argue that the reprehensibility is owed to the belief that women are less patient and excessively overcome by grief. The Wahhabiyah of Saudi Arabia, who also follow the Hanbali school, extrapolate the same tradition to deduce absolute interdiction for women to visit the gravesite (`Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Qasim al-`Asimi alNajdi al-Hanbali, Hashiyat al-Raved al-murbi` sharh Zad al-mustaqni`, Riyadh, 1982, vol. 3, pp. 144-46). It is for this reason that they prohibit women from entering the historical Baqi cemetery in Medina where the Prophet’s family, wives, and prominent companions are buried. In 1925 they leveled all the structures that marked these graves. Earlier, in 1801, they raided and destroyed the shrines at Karbala and Najaf. The Wahhabi belief, shared by no one else in the Sunni community, regards the ziydrah in general as amounting to “saint veneration,” which leads to the grave sin of shirk, associating divinity with these persons.

The Shafi`i and the Shi’i jurists have no problem with the visitation by women to gravesites. The Shi`i jurists recommend that the visitor place his or her hand on the grave and read the Fatihah, the opening chapter of the Qur’an (`Amili, Wasd’il al-Shi`ah, vol. 2, p. 881ff). Several traditions regarding the prohibition of women from performing the ziydrah and expressing grief during the visitation must be regarded as a later reaction to the preIslamic funeral practices which included extravagant slapping of cheeks and tearing of clothes (Bukhari, Jand’iz, h, adith 382). Otherwise there are traditions that explicitly establish that women did perform the ziydrah. In another tradition preserved by Bukhari, the Prophet passed by a woman who was weeping beside a grave. He told her to fear God and be patient, without requiring her to leave the site or reminding her about the prohibition on her (Bukhari, Jana’iz, hadith 372).

The visitation to the tombs of the imams and their descendants (imdmzddah; formally extended only to male descendants, although female descendants are included as sayyidah or bibi) who were distinguished by special sanctity or by suffering martyrdom, and to the tombs of holy men and women, is treated as pilgrimage by both the Sunnis and the Shi`is. Hence the universal practice of ziyarah of Medina among all Muslims. Visitation includes the shrines of famous women in Islam, including those of Sayyidah Zaynab, daughter of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, and Sayyidah Ruqayyah, daughter of Husayn, in Damascus; Sayyidah Zaynab and Nafisah in Cairo; Bib! Fatimah, daughter of Musa al-Kazim, the seventh imam, in Qom; Narjis Khatun, the twelfth imam’s mother, and Hakimah, the daughter of ‘Ali alHadi, the tenth imam, in Samarra. It has always been common for both Shi’is and Sunnis to undertake pilgrimages to these mostly Shi`i shrines. Unlike the hajj,  which is performed at a set time, ziyarah to these shrines can be undertaken at any time, although some particular days are recommended. In the case of some shrines, pilgrimage is associated with a special lunar month or season of the year. Thus, the ziydrah of Sayyidah Zaynab in Cairo is performed in the month of Rajab; whereas the ziydrah of Imam Rida in Mashhad is recommended in the month of Dhu al-Qa`dah. The ziydrah of imamzadah Sultan `Al! near Kashan is held on the seventh day of autumn. Only the ziyarah of Husayn in Karbala is recommended every Thursday evening, in addition to the major occasion of `Ashura’ (the day of his martyrdom). That evening, the mashhad of Karbala is thronged with crowds of pilgrims from many lands. The performance of ziyarah is regarded by the pilgrims as an act of covenant renewal between the holy person and devotees. This is a covenant of love, sincere obedience, and devotion on the part of the believers. Through ziyarah, the person participates in the suffering and sorrows of the ahl al-bayt (the Prophet’s family).

People who cannot undertake the arduous and expensive journey to the shrines of the imams can go into the wilderness, or onto a high roof of one’s house, and then turn toward the qiblah (direction of Mecca) and pronounce the salutations. There are special ziyaratndmah (salutations) for specific occasions. Although distinction is made between the ziydrat of the imams and other holy persons, Shf! scholars have regarded it permissible to show them all honor and respect by addressing them in a prescribed way. Some of these salutations are taken from the words of the imams directly. However, the ziyarah of the imams is followed by two rak`ah (units of prayer) as a gift to the imam whose ziyarah is being performed. The ziydrah is concluded with a petition for the intercession of the Prophet and his family and praise to God.

[See also Imamzadah; Karbala; Mashhad; Najaf; Qom; Shrine.]


Ayoub, Mahmoud M. Redemptive Suffering in Islam: A Study of the Devotional Aspects of `Ashura’ in Twelver Shi`ism. The Hague, 1978. Discusses ziyarah and its prescribed rituals in Shi’i piety. Lambton, Ann K. S. “Imamzada.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 3, pp. 1169-1170. Leiden, 1960-.


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

  • writerPosted On: June 26, 2017
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