Building mosques over graves – Verdict of History

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Having advanced irrefutable evidences from the Noble Quran and the reliable Sunnah on the subject, the discussion on building mosques or domes over graves is already concluded and further evidences cannot add to the certainty provided by these two pillars.

However, as is the skeptics’ wont, they are looking for proofs even after the matter is conclusively settled.

So to lend further credence to the established Sunnah of building mosques and domes over graves, we advance instances from history – both pre-Islamic and post-Islamic.

Pre-Islamic instances of mosques built over graves:

The following list is merely indicative and should not be treated as exhaustive:

1. Prophet Dawood (a.s.) in Quds, Israel

2. Prophet Ibrahim (a.s.) in Hebron, Israel

3. Prophet Is’haaq (a.s.) in Hebron

4. Prophet Yaqoob (a.s.) in Hebron

5. Prophet Yusuf (a.s.) in Hebron

All these graves were elevated structures of stones and remained in this condition even after the spread of Islam in Quds. (Kashf al-Irteyaab, pg 306)

Even Ibn Taimiyyah admits that the structure over Prophet Ibrahim’s (a.s.) grave existed when Islam reached Hebron and in the very presence of companions, none of whom raised any objection. Only thing is the door to the mausoleum (of Prophet Ibrahim (a.s.)) remained closed till 400 AH.
(Majma’ al-Fataawaa of Ibn Taimiyyah vol 27 pg 141)

Even if we accept the argument of the skeptics that building mosques over graves by the Bani Israel was misguided and should be leveled to the earth by the Muslims, how does one explain why Umar b. Khattab – the second caliph of the Muslims – after the conquest of Quds (in present day Israel) chose to leave the elevated structures over the graves of all the aforementioned Prophets (a.s.) buried over there?

Was Umar ignorant about Tauheed and Shirk? What about the other venerable companions? Why did they not move to demolish the graves? Were they so ignorant of Shirk? Or, were they not serious about the crime of Shirk? Are Ibn Abdul Wahhab and his cohorts more informed about Tauheed and Shirk than the venerable companions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.)?

Did Ibn Taimiyyah, who has admitted that structures over graves of Bani Israel Prophets (a.s.) existed while the companions were present in Quds, not understand Tauheed and Shirk?

Ironically, Ibn Taimiyyah has never explicitly forbidden building of mosques over graves. The prohibition is attributed to him by the skeptics just like they have attributed many actions and claims to the righteous ancestors (Salaf-e-Saaleh) to lend authority to their misguided decrees and actions like demolishing the graves of Jannatul Baqi!

Even more ironically, Ibn Taimiyyah’s lone grave stands distinct in the cemetery in Damascus – all other graves except his were razed to set up a hospital in the locality. None of his followers and so called followers of the righteous ancestors showed the same enthusiasm in razing his grave to the earth they showed in leveling the graves of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) daughter – Fatimah (s.a.), his grandson – Imam Hasan b. Ali (a.s.) and his great grandsons – Imam Ali b. Husain (a.s.), Imam Muhammad b. Ali (a.s.) and Imam Jafar b. Muhammad (a.s.) in Jannatul Baqi.

It is not clear whether the objection to raising elevated structures over graves is only with reference to Jannatul Baqi (in Medina) and Jannatul Mualla (in Mecca) or all graves including the two caliphs in the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) mosque, the Imams of Sunni jurisprudence (Imam Malik’s grave is leveled in Baqi), authors of Sihaah-e-Sittah like Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim and the leaders of the Salafi ideology like Ibn Taimiyyah.

Elevated structures existed right from the beginning

Some skeptics have attempted to cast aspersions on the commencement of grave building. They claim it started from the 5th century Hijri. Through this, they hope to exonerate the earlier generations of the Muslims from grave building and taint it with innovation.

Firstly, by distorting the starting point of grave building in the Islamic era they cannot gloss over the practice of grave building in the time of the Israeli Prophets (s.a.w.a.) to which the earliest companions like Umar and Usman were silent, consenting and approving spectators after the conquest of Quds.

Secondly, evidence of grave building in the earliest centuries of Islam exposes their agenda to shift the timeline to subsequent centuries.

We list some instances to prove our point that building graves is as old as Islam itself:

1. Existence of the structure i.e. Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) chamber inside which he (s.a.w.a.) lies buried. (Akhbaar al-Madinah vol. 1 pg 81)

Initially the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) room where he lies buried did not have walls. It was Umar b. Khattab who first constructed walls around it and gave it the shape of a structure.
(Wafaa al-Wafaa be Ikhtiyaar al-Mustafa, vol. 2 pg 521)

In fact, constructing and re-constructing walls around the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) grave was an ongoing effort with Ayesha, Abdullah b. Zubair (during his brief reign in Medina) and Mutawakkil, among others.

2. Constructing a mosque over the grave of Hazrat Hamzah (a.s.). (Ibid)

3. Grave of Ibrahim – son of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) in the house of Muhammad b. Ali b. Zaid. (Ibid)

4. Building a structure over the grave of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) in the year 372 AH. (Sair-o- Aalam-e-Nobala vol 1 pg 251)

5. Building a structure over the grave of Zubair in the year 386 AH. (Al-Muntazim, vol. 14 pg 377)

6. Building a structure over the grave of Sa’d b. Maaz in the second century. (Sair-o-Aalam-e-Nobala vol. 13 pg 285)

7. Embellishing the grave of Imam Bukhari – compiler of Sahih-e-Bukhari in 256 AH. (Al-Tabaqaat al-Shaafiyyah al-Kubra, vol. 2 pg 234)

8. Abbaside Emperor Haroon al-Abbasi constructed a dome over the tomb of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) during his reign in the second century. (Sair-o-Aalam-e-Nobala vol. 16 pg 251)

If leveling graves to the earth was ever mandated in Islam we can be certain that Haroon al-Abbasi would definitely have done it given his animosity with the Ahle Bait (a.s.) of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and his role in the murder of the Prophet’s grandson – Imam Moosa b. Jafar al-Kazim (a.s.). On the contrary, we find that he has constructed a dome as a mark of respect for someone who he did not particularly love.

9. The respected companion of the Prophet (a.s.) – Hazrat Salman-e-Muhammadi (r.a.) passed away in 36 AH. Khateeb-e-Baghdadi writes about his tomb – His grave is present even today near the palace of Kasra in Madaaen, Iraq. It is well-known heritage site and has a structure over it. (Taarikh-e-Baghdadi, vol. 1 pg 163)

10. Regarding Talhah b. Abdullah – who died while fighting the caliph of his time, Ibne Batutah writes in his journal, “His grave is at the entrance of the city and over the grave is a dome and a mosque.” (Safarnaameh Ibn Batutah, vol. 1 pg 208)

When this is the respect accorded by the Muslims to the grave of a companion who died on falsehood, graves of those like the Imams of the Ahle Bait (a.s.) who were martyred on truth and were in fact Imams of truth, deserve even more embellishment, veneration and respect.

11. Muhammad b. Idris al-Shaafei – Imam Shaafei, one of the four jurists of the Sunni school, passed away in 204 AH. Zahabi writes, “The entire city collectively constructed a dome over his grave.” (Duwal al-Islam pg 344)

12. Zahabi has documented, “Mutawakkil Abbasi in the year 236 AH ordered the razing of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) shrine along with adjacent structures. The residents expressed their extreme anguish at this order and protested against it and condemned Mutawakkil through various measures like poems, articles, etc.”

Two points are noteworthy over here:

First – Since Mutawakkil wanted to raze the shrine he could well have taken the support of all the proofs advanced by the skeptics like the tradition of Jews and Christians worshipping graves or the narration of Abil Hayyaaj to level graves so as to give his decision an Islamic touch and take the high ground of Tauheed. But Mutawakkil could not advance any proof from the Holy Quran or Sunnah simply because there was no proof available. Had it been available, we are sure he would have announced it. His decision was purely out of hatred for the Ahle Bait (a.s.). We fail to see any difference between him and those so-called Muslims who have razed the shrines of the Ahle Bait (a.s.) because both actions are rooted in animosity.

Second – The large scale protest of the Muslims on Mutawakkil’s action shows that building shrines (for the righteous) was the prevalent Sunnah and demolishing shrines was an innovation.

There are many examples throughout the history of Islam (as also before Islam) of graves being built and Muslims of all ages and schools of thought have undertaken the task. Except for these skeptics who have surfaced less than a hundred years ago, none have objected to it under any pretext, least of all from Noble Quran and the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) Sunnah.

To conclude, we quote Akram al-Bushi who is a master of Islamic history and in his notes on Sair-o- Aalam-e-Nobala by Zahabi writes, “These structures (over graves) are constructed by all the common Muslims. In this context, none is aware (i.e. there is no evidence) that this action is an innovation and thus prohibited.”

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