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Shrine

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Shrine

    A shrine is a special building erected at a site considered to be holy. In the Muslim world shrines are often tombs of descendants of Muhammad or Muslim saints. Some are associated with natural phenomena. Many Muslims perform a series of rituals at shrines, hoping to receive a divine blessing. Shrines are particularly important to Sufi and Shi'i Muslims.

    Shrines exist throughout the Islamic world. In North Africa, the shrines of marabouts (saints) dot the landscape. In addition to modest local shrines in rural areas, this region also has large elaborate structures devoted to key religious figures. Annual festivals are held at major shrines, attracting thousands of pilgrims. These sites have full-time caretakers, often descendants of the figure being honored there.

    Shi'i Muslims have constructed shrine complexes associated with principal imams and important religious centers. Many of these shrines, such as those in Qom (Iran) and Karbala (Iraq), are associated with religious schools. Administrators accept donations that help to support the shrines and various humanitarian causes. They also manage the finances for the maintenance of these complexes.

    The most sacred shrine complex in the Muslim world is the Kaaba and Great Mosque in Mecca (Saudi Arabia). The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is a major monument from the early Islamic era. Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan built the octagonal structure as a shrine in the late 600s. According to tradition, it is the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

    For many Muslims, shrines define sacred space. People involved in a conflict may seek sanctuary at a shrine. Oaths sworn at the sacred site are especially binding. Some shrines are believed to possess healing powers. Visits to the shrine of Bu Ya Umar, located near Marrakesh in Morocco, are said to cure people of mental illness.

    Because of their marginal status at mosques, women pray at shrines more often than men do. They may visit a shrine after an important event in their lives, such as marriage or childbirth.

    Many modern Islamic reformers criticize visits to shrines as mere superstition and a deviation from true Islam. Although some Muslims have sought to ban such visits, the practice remains popular. On certain holy days during the year, an important shrine may receive between 10,000 and 50,000 visitors. By contrast, the Wahhabis, an influential Muslim group in Saudi Arabia, reject the veneration of saints commonly practiced by Shi'is and Sufis. They have banned visits to shrines in that country, except in Mecca and Medina. See also Hajj; Kaaba; Karbala and Najaf; Muhammad ; Qom; Saints and Sainthood; Saudi Arabia; Shi'i Islam; Sufism; Wahhabi.

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