Building shrines on graves
Fatwa No: 9943


Is it lawful to visit shrines? Please provide a detailed answer.


All perfect praise be to Allaah, the Lord of the worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Him, and that Muhammad, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, is His slave and Messenger.


The answer to your question consists of several points:


Firstly, it is impermissible under the Sharee‘ah (Islamic jurisprudence) to establish shrines. The dead should be buried in graves, according to the Sunnah of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam; it runs counter to it, to then build shrines or mosques over them, or to lay them to rest inside mosques, under the pretext that they were righteous allies of Allaah The Almighty, etc..


Ibn Al-Qayyim  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him mentioned that it was not the practice of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, to make the graves raised or build [over] them with bricks, in a plastered or domed manner. All of this is a detestable Bid‘ah (religious innovation), contradictory to his guidance.


Ibn Al-Qayyim  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him further quotes the Hadeeth that relates that the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, dispatched ‘Ali  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him to Yemen, ordering him to destroy every statue and level every elevated burial place. [Muslim]  He went on to clarify that the Sunnah, thus, was to flatten all high graves, with a warning against plastering it with lime, it being built on or inscribed.


Indeed, the graves of the Companions were neither too protruding nor flat, like the burial places of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, as well as Abu Bakr and ‘Umar  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  them. All of their graves are slightly above ground level, covered with gravel and not plastered with mud. The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, used to mark the grave that he wished to identify with only a rock. He also strongly banned praying at graves and lighting lamps on them, to the extent that he cursed those who did so.


Moreover, the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, even forbade Muslims from frequenting his grave in such a manner that it would become like a shrine, habitually sought out and visited. He especially cursed women who tended to visit graves [and commit forbidden acts, like wailing]. The Prophet’s, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, guidance involves prohibiting treading over graves, sitting or reclining on them, glorifying the deceased by praying at or by their burial sites, visiting them habitually [in veneration] or referring to them as idols.


Pointing out the ruling on mosques that are built over graves, Ibn Al-Qayyim  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him mentioned that they are to be demolished; and, the bodies are to be exhumed if they have been buried in a mosque, according to Imaam Ahmad  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him and others.


In Islam, a mosque and grave are not to be in one place; whichever was there first takes priority, in terms of existence. If someone provides a plot of land for a mosque, given that the design includes a tomb, its construction is impermissible and the donation is invalid. If such a mosque has been established, it is impermissible to pray in it, because the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, forbade it and cursed those who build mosques on graves or who light lamps over them. This is a beneficial summary of what Ibn Al-Qayyim  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him had to say on this topic and is sufficient for those who will reflect.


Secondly, the guidance of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, regarding visiting graves is the most perfect. It is better if we cite it here in brief; Ibn Al-Qayyim  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him mentioned:


When the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, went to the burial place of his Companions, he used to beseech Allaah the Almighty to have mercy on them and forgive them. Such was the etiquette of visiting graves that he ordained for his nation. It is also narrated that he instructed anyone visiting the cemetery to say: “As-salaamu ‘alaykum ahla ad-diyaar min al-mu’mineena wal muslimeena wa inna inshaa’ Allaah bikum laahiqoon. Nas’alu Allaah lanaa walakum al-‘aafiyah”, meaning, “Peace be upon you, dwellers of this place, from believers and Muslims. We will join you [too], Allaah willing. We ask Allaah The Almighty to grant us and you wellbeing”. [Muslim]


Ibn Al-Qayyim  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him condemned those who visit graves for the sole purpose of asking the dead to fulfill their needs, to make Tawassul (means of seeking nearness to Allaah The Almighty) through them for that purpose, or to supplicate to Allaah the Almighty at the burial site. According to him, the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, would only do at graves as he did in funeral prayers for the dead: invoke Allaah The Almighty to show mercy and forgiveness to them.


Contrary to this guidance, polytheists supplicate to the deceased, associate them in worship with Allaah The Almighty and seek fulfillment of their invocations through them, saying, “I swear, by virtue of so-and-so, O Allaah, that You do such-and-such for me.” Additionally, they insist on seeking help from the deceased, contrary to the Prophet’s, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, guidance, which gives prime consideration to Tawheed (monotheism) and utmost respect for the dead. Indeed, their methodology only incorporates Shirk (association of partners with Allaah The Almighty in worship) and detriment to their own selves. Their practice involves invoking the dead, praying by virtue of them or simply on their graves; in fact, such people [seem to] affirm that supplicating at a burial site is more obligatory than doing so in a mosque. If you reflect on the Prophet’s, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, guidance and that of his Companions, then, the difference between that of him and [such] polytheists is manifest.


Thirdly, based on the above, we would like to ask the questioner: what is the purpose of visiting a shrine? Is it to practice the Sunnah in that regard? Or, is it to do any of the [forbidden] practices mentioned by Ibn Al-Qayyim  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him?


If the sole purpose is to pray to the dead and seek their help, then visiting shrines becomes prohibited, because it leads to polytheism, Bid‘ah (innovation) and error. However, if it is to greet them and supplicate to Allaah The Almighty for mercy and forgiveness for them, as stated in the Sunnah, a person must also give the matter some thought, because a visitor to such places is very rarely safe from the evil that abounds. For instance, if he sees others there doing Tawassul through the dead or supplicating to them, it is obligatory for him to forbid it. Now, in response, they may hit or offend him, so visiting such places is not recommended because of the [overriding] potential harmful consequences.


On the other hand, if such a person does not object to what they are doing, he incurs a sin and may be subject to the punishment of Allaah the Almighty, Who Says (what means): {And it has already come down to you in the Book that when you hear the verses of Allaah [recited], they are denied [by them] and ridiculed; so do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation. Indeed, you would then be like them. Indeed Allaah will gather the hypocrites and disbelievers in Hell all together.} [Quran 4:140] Thus, if it is impossible to forbid evil with one’s hand, it must be spoken out against; if even that is not within one’s ability, it must be opposed in the heart and one should leave the place, as indicated by this verse.


‘Umar ibn ‘Abd Al-‘Azeez  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him was informed that some people were drinking wine, so he ordered them to be lashed. When told that one of them was fasting, he instructed that the sentence be enforced on him first, quoting the abovementioned verse [since he should have gotten up and left].


In conclusion, it is impermissible to visit shrines, because they are areas where sins are usually committed; and, there may be consequent harm for the visitor [who may not even indulge in wrong acts], beyond the benefit of practicing the Sunnah to visit the dead. However, it is permissible to greet the dead in graves and shrines. ‘Aa’ishah  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  her asked the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, what she should say when passing by the burial grounds. He instructed her to say: “As-salaamu ‘alaykum ahl ad-diyaari min al-mu’mineen”, meaning, “Peace be upon you, believers who dwell herein”. [Muslim]

Allaah Knows best.

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