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Islamic Society ( 10 May 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Shrine-Visitors are not Grave-Worshippers

 By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam

11 May 2013

The Sufi tradition of Ziyarat (visiting graves of holy men) has been, for ages, endorsed and recommended by the mainstream scholars of Islam. They have provided substantial evidence from both the Qur’an and the Prophetic traditions. A close study of the related Qur’anic verses and the Prophetic sayings compels us to believe that visiting the graves of pious men and especially that of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is a noble means to earn virtues, divine bounties and God’s especial blessings.

Ethical and Spiritual Influences

The practice imbibes some significant moral values and draws spiritual influences on the minds of people. Looking at a silent graveyard where everybody, whether poor or rich, weak or powerful, is buried with only three pieces of a cloth, a grave-visitor finds abundant  opportunity to purify his mind and heart and can overcome evils of greed, malice, avarice, pride and other worldly desires. The Prophet (pbuh) said referring to the very crucial point in a tradition:

    “Visit the graves; for visiting them becomes the cause of remembering the next world”. [1]

The Qur’an also reinforces the idea of visiting graves when it instructs the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh):

“And never (O Muhammad) pray (funeral prayer) for any of them (hypocrites) who dies, nor stand at his grave. Certainly they disbelieved in God and His Messenger, and died while they were defiantly disobedient.” (9:84)

The verse was revealed about the specific case of Abdullah bin Ubayy bin Salul, the chief hypocrite. God commanded the Prophet (pbuh) to disown the hypocrites and abstain from praying at their funeral when any of them dies, and from standing next to his grave to seek Allah's forgiveness for him, or to invoke Allah for his benefit. To further understand and delve deeper into the background of this revelation, it would be better to glance at the following tradition reported and authenticated by Imam Bukhari in his Sahih al-Bukhari:

"When Abdullah bin Ubayy died, his son, Abdullah bin Abdullah, came to the Messenger of Allah and asked him to give him his shirt to shroud his father in, and the Messenger did that. He also asked that the Prophet offer his father's funeral prayer, and Allah's Messenger stood up to offer the funeral prayer. Umar took hold of the Prophet's robe and said, `O Allah's Messenger! Are you going to offer his funeral prayer even though your Lord has forbidden you to do so? Allah's Messenger said, I have been given the choice, for Allah says:

“Whether you ask forgiveness for them (hypocrites), or do not ask for forgiveness for them. Even though you ask for their forgiveness seventy times, Allah will not forgive them. (9:80)”

Verily, I will ask (for forgiveness for him) more than seventy times. Umar said, `He is a hypocrite!' But Allah's Messenger offered the funeral prayer. Upon that, Allah revealed this Verse:

“And never (O Muhammad) pray (funeral prayer) for any of them (hypocrites) who dies, nor stand at his grave. Certainly they disbelieved in God and His Messenger, and died while they were defiantly disobedient.” (9:84)”

In this verse, God has prohibited his Prophet (pbuh) from both Salat (funeral prayer) and Quiyam (standing at the grave whether at the time of burial or after the burial). It implies that both the practices i.e. ‘reciting Salat’ and ‘standing’ are permissible and worthy for the graves of non-hypocrite believers.

Abrogation of Prophet’s Prohibition

People who vehemently oppose the practice of Ziyarat come up with outlandish arguments and weak evidences that do not stand up to scrutiny. The maximum they have to prove their point is some Mansukh Ahadith (abrogated Prophetic sayings) that forbade the earliest Muslims from visiting the graves. But they turn a blind eye to the Nasikh Ahadith (the abrogating sayings of the prophet pbuh) that came later abolishing the earlier Ahadith and allowing and favouring the practice of Ziyarat. In fact, the Prophet (pbuh) had prohibited the Ziyarat due to a temporary reason, and later he allowed and encouraged the people to do it regularly for its spiritual benefits.

The reason for his prohibition was that the newly converted Muslims were writing unfavourable elegies and saying un-Islamic things over the graves of their dead ones, who were predominantly polytheists and idol-worshipers. But after Islam successfully enlightened Muslims’ minds and broadened their intellectual horizons, this prohibition was lifted and a general permission was approved by the Prophet pbuh for the Muslim masses to go for Ziyarat and gain spiritual benefits from it. It was then and there that the Prophet (pbuh) addressed to his companions and said: 

“I had prohibited you from visiting graves. But from now on, you can go for Ziyarat because it will make you feel unattached towards this world and remind you of the hereafter.” (Muslim, Janaiz, 106; Adahi, 37; Abu Dawud janaiz, 77; Ashriba, 7; Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 7; Nasai, Janaiz, 100; Ibn Majah, Janaiz, 47; Ahmad b. Hanbal, I, 147, 452, III, 38, 63, 237, 250, V, 35, 355, 357).

The Prophet pbuh himself would go for Ziyarat-e-Qubur especially on the Night of Mid-Sha`ban (Laylat al-Bara’at). He used to visit the grave of his mother regularly and cry out of his love and remembrance of her, as the below tradition says:

“The Holy Prophet (pbuh) visited the grave of his mother and cried near her grave and also made others around him to cry. Thereafter he said: I have taken permission from my Lord to visit the grave of my mother. You too should visit the graves because such a visit will remind you of death.” (Sahih Muslim, vol. 3, p. 65)

Despite this clear Islamic concept of grave-visiting enshrined in the Quran and Hadith, some Islamist zealots the world over abhor the visitors of Sufi shrines and seek to vandalize the historic tombs, mausoleums and graves of Sahaba and Sufi saints along with other Islamic heritage sites. They equate this age-old traditional Islamic practice with the pre-Islamic pagan practise of grave-worshipping and thus call Sufi-lovers, the mainstream Muslims, “grave-worshipers”.

Wahhabi concept of Shirk

In fact, the grave-destroying doctrine stems from the theology propounded by Wahhabism’s founder Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab in the 18th century, who professed to take Islam back to its roots. This emerged in stark contrast to the Sufi way of Islam, which originated long before the emergence of Wahhabism, in fact, in the earliest period of Islam, and aims to develop a more personal relationship between man and god. Although Sufis are staunch believers of ‘Tawhid’ (the oneness of god) but Wahhabis take this belief to a completely different and strange level. They insist that being respectful towards Sufiya-e-Keram (people who Sufis believe attained a close interpersonal connection with god) and building shrines and tombs for them undermines their ‘Tawhid’ and is tantamount to equating saints with god (‘shirk’). They accuse Sufis of violating this core belief and engaging in Shirk just because they are grave-visitors (not because they are grave-worshipers).