Given the importance of the Prophet (s.a.w) to all Muslims and the importance of the Imams (a.s) to the Shia in particular, it is not surprising that Shi’as have decided to adorn the resting places of the Imams (a.s). Locations at which the Imams (a.s), their close companions, children and relatives are buried, also generally have mausoleums erected at the site of their graves.
Some Muslims have argued that by erecting structures of elaborate beauty and building Mosques
next to the resting places of the Imams (a.s), the Shi’a are actually violating Islamic Law and are committing polytheism.
It is necessary to point out that it is not a practice restricted to the Shi’a, rather many of the Sunni scholars have permitted the erecting of Mosques and structures of worship at the graves of pious individuals who have passed away. Furthermore, it is crucial to remember that these are shrines of pious individuals the visitors of whom go to theses holy places to offer prayers directly to Allah (s.w.t).
Buildings over sites of graves is not in any way deemed impermissible, but on the contrary is endorsed and given as an example:
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 Lord knows best about them: those who prevailed over their affair said, "Let us surely build a place of worship over them” (Surah 18, Verse 21)
Since the Qur’an doesn’t mention any rebuke concerning the actions of the companions of the cave, it is clear that the act is not one condemned by God in his revelation to the Muslims.
Furthermore, the books of ahadith are filled with references pertaining to the merits and virtues of visiting the graves of individuals such as Prophets (s.a.w) and the Imams (a.s) which would completely contradict the view of those who make the claim that doing such is prohibited in Islam.
There are numerous shrines which are of importance to Shi’a Muslims. These shrines can be divided into three distinct categories:
1) Shrines of the Infallibles themselves
2) Shrines of close relatives to the Imams
3) Shrines of children of the Imams (a.s) and companions.
The Shrines of the Infallibles
The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w)
The Mosque of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w) is situated in the city of Madinah, in present day Saudi Arabia. Buried next to the Prophet (s.a.w) are the first two Caliphs, namely Abu Bakr and ‘Umar.
Fatimah al-Zahra (a.s)
Historians generally agree that Lady Fatimah al-Zahra (a.s) is buried within al-Baqi’ cemetery in Madinah, Saudi Arabia. However, the precise location remains largely unknown. She wished to be buried in secret, due to her displeasure with the political establishment at the time of her death. She requested that her final burying place be kept a secret so those who had usurped her rights would not be able to attend her funeral prayers or visit her grave. While there is little information about the specific location, Shi’as believe it is somewhere in Madinah, and recite recommended supplications when visiting the Baqi graveyard in Madinah.
Imam Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s)
Imam ‘Ali (a.s), according to the unanimous consensus of Shi’a, is buried in the city known as Najaf al-Ashraf in present day Iraq. Due to the symbolism of Imam ‘Ali (a.s) as the door to the City of Knowledge, this city has thrived as an educational centre for Shi’a learning, and Najaf is considered to be the oldest Hawza in the World.
The shrine remains a popular site for visitation by pilgrims of both Sunni and Shi’a and attracts millions of visitors every year.
Imam al-Hasan b. Ali (a.s)
Imam al-Hasan (a.s), the second Imam of the Shi’a, is buried in the city of Madinah, in present day Saudi Arabia in the cemetery known as al-Baqi’.
For over a thousand years visitors could visit the shrine in which the Imam (a.s) was buried, until 1925 C.E when it was leveled by King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. This has resulted in annual protests over the way in which the sacred burial sites and Mosques of Jannat al-Baqi’ were dealt with, with many calling for their rebuilding.
Imam al-Husayn b. Ali (a.s)
Imam al-Husayn (a.s), the third Shi’a Imam, was given the honorary title (along with his brother Imam al-Hasan (a.s)) of the “Master of the Martyrs” by the Prophet (s.a.w). He has a dedicated shrine and Mosque built over his grave in the city of Karbala, in present day Iraq. From amongst all the Shi’a shrines, the shrine in the city of Karbala receives the most pilgrims annually and during certain periods of the year is known to accommodate more visitors and pilgrims that the annual Hajj Pilgrimage to Makkah. This is directly related to his sacrifice, which Shi'a believe saved Islam from virtual ruin under the rule of Yazid and Bani Umayya.
Imam Ali b. al-Husayn (a.s)
Like Imam al-Hassan (a.s), the fourth Shi’a Imam, Imam ‘Ali b. al-Husayn (a.s), once had a grand shrine and Mausoleum which was visited by Muslims from all over the world in the cemetery known as “Jannat al-Baqi’” in Madinah, Saudi Arabia. This shrine was well maintained during the Ottoman period, however, was finally demolished alongside all other gravesites in Jannat al-Baqi’ during 1925 at the command of King Ibn Saud, the ruler of Saudi Arabia.
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s)
The Fifth Imam, Muhammad b. ‘Ali al-Baqir (a.s), once had a grand shrine where visitors could pay their respects paid to him. It was a grand site and attraction, which was visited by Muslims from all over the world until it was demolished, along with all the other sites, in the “Jannat al-Baqi’” cemetery in Madinah by King Ibn Saud in 1925.
Imam Ja’far b. Muhammad al-Sadiq (a.s)
Imam al-Sadiq (a.s) is the last of four Imams buried in al-Baqi’ cemetery. Like many of his predecessors, he once had a grand shrine within the Jannat al-Baqi’ cemetery, before it was destroyed in 1925.
Imam Musa b. Ja’far al-Kadhim (a.s)
The shrine of Imam Musa al-Kadhim (a.s) is located in Iraq, in a specific area of northern Baghdad known as al-Kadhimiyyah, a largely Shi’a area. It is frequently visited by Shi’a pilgrims. The shrine has survived numerous attempted sectarian terrorist attacks.
Imam Ali b. Musa al-Ridha (a.s)
In the city of Mashhad, in present day Iran, the Eigth Imam of the Shi’a Imam ‘Ali al-Ridha (a.s), is buried. His shrine has become one of the most popular sites for Shi’a devotees to visit.
Amongst the reasons for the popularity of visiting the shrine of Imam ‘Ali al-Ridha (a.s) are the following:
1) The shrine has been described in traditions from later Imams as being unique, and there exist numerous traditions stating that one who visits the Eighth Imam’s (a.s) shrine, it is as if he has visited all of the other Imams shrines.
2) Due to the political oppression which Shi’a faced under the reign of Saddam Hussein, Iraq had become a more difficult place to visit and was viewed by many Shi’a as impractical to visit.
3) Due to the establishment of numerous large Hawzas (Shi’a Seminaries of Learning) in Iran, Iran has become a centre for Shi’ism in the world and many religious Shi’a choose to visit Iran to study, allowing relatively easy access to the Shrine of Imam ‘Ali b. Musa al-Ridha (a.s).
Imam Muhammad b. Ali al-Taqi/al-Jawad (a.s)
Imam Muhammad b. ‘Ali al-Taqi (a.s) is buried in the shrine at Kadhimiyyah, known as al-Kadhimayn, alongside his grandfather Imam Musa al-Kadhim (a.s).
Imam Ali b. Muhammad al-Hadi (a.s)
The resting place of the Tenth Imam, namely Muhammad b. ‘Ali al-Hadi (a.s), is located in the shrine city of al-Samarra, which originally was a small military garrison city.
Unfortunately for Shi’a Muslims, the shrines have been attacked by two devastating terrorist attacks in recent years which sought to destroy it. Whilst still allowing visitors to visit the Imam (a.s), the shrines have not fully been repaired as of yet.
Imam Hassan al-Askari (a.s)
Imam al-Askari (a.s), the Eleventh Imam and the last of the deceased Imams, is buried next to his father in the city of Samarra, in present day Iraq. As was described in the entry on his father’s shrine, the shrine of Imam Hassan al-‘Askari (a.s) unfortunately was subjected to two large terrorist attacks and led to the dome of the shrine being destroyed in a bombing. The dome is still undergoing repairs presently.
Shrines of Close relatives of the Infallibles
Lady Zaynab b. Ali
A shrine which has received much attention from Shi’a pilgrims known as the “Shrine of Zaynab b. ‘Ali,” the daughter of Imam ‘Ali (a.s) and the sister of the second and third Imams.
Her role in the history of Shi’a Islam is a major one and she is often hailed as the heroine of the aftermath of Karbala. Whilst there exists some debate as to whether or not she died in Damascus, Syria or in Cairo, Egypt; the former has become the more acceptable view in the eyes of the vast majority of historians and scholars.
The Shrine of Zaynab is situated in the district just outside of greater Damascus known as Sayeda Zaynab, and is home to numerous seminaries as well as mosques due to the fact that many Shi’a have migrated to Syria in order to live close to the shrine. The shrine constantly undergoes renovations and expansion in order to accommodate the growing number of
Shrines of Children of the Imams (Imamzadehs)
Abd al-‘Adhīm b. Abdullāh al-Hasanī
The shrine of Shah Abd al-‘Adhim b. ‘Abdullah al-Hasani is based in Ray, in South Tehran, present day Iran. ‘
Abd al-Adhim was a descendant of the second Shi’a Imam al-Hasan al-Mujtab (a.s), and is highly praised in Shi’a traditions. He was a companion of Imam Hadi (a.s), the ninth Shi’a Imam, and the merits of visiting his grave are mentioned in numerous traditions of the Imams.
Shrines such as al-Hasani’s are known as “Imamzadehs” which refers to the fact that as they are children of the Imam’s, they often lack the grandeur of the larger shrines of the infallibles. However they play a significant role in Shi’a societies and can be found in many diverse countries across the Muslim world.
The shrines perform a crucial function in Shi’a Islam, be they shrines for the Infallibles or shrines which contain the graves of close relatives. Whilst this entry has omitted many such shrines due to the fact there are literally hundreds throughout the world, it has given the details of the shrine locations of the Infallibles and has given examples of the other types of shrines which exist within Shi’a Islam.
These shrines are valuable in as they often create small communities around them as their burial places in most cases were in uninhabited areas hence they became the reason for the development of large cities and towns which serve as destinations of religious expression for the Shia around the world and allow an income to locals who benefit from running businesses around the vicinities of these places of worship.
Bibliography and Further Reading
- Al-Qarashi, Baqir Sharif, Mawsu‘at Sirat Ahl al-Bayt, Dar al-Ma‘ruf, Qum, 2009.