Citation for Ziyārah

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Sachedina, Abdulaziz . "Ziyārah." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. May 19, 2022. <>.


Sachedina, Abdulaziz . "Ziyārah." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed May 19, 2022).


Literally, “visitation,” ziyārah technically refers to visiting gravesites (ziyārat al-qubūr) for the purpose of praying for the dead and remembering death. According to well-documented practices in all Sunnī compilations, at some point in the period between 610 and 622, the Prophet had apparently forbidden visitation to gravesites because of the exaggerated importance attached to the practice. However, when Islam came he made it lawful and recommended it, because “it will remind you of the hereafter” (al-Sayyid Sābiq, Fiqh al-sunnah, Beirut, 1977, vol. 1, p. 477). In another tradition, such visits are recommended in order to remind oneself of death. The overall religious significance of ziyārah, as it emerges in several narratives, is remembrance of death and reflection upon the hereafter. Therefore, some traditions even permit visitation of the graves of nonbelievers as reminders of the wrong that one commits against oneself by rejecting faith. It is also recommended to weep and to express one's need for God when passing through infidel graveyards.

The rituals connected with ziyārah require that, when reaching the grave, one should turn one's face toward the dead, offer a greeting, and pray for that dead person. The Prophet used to visit the cemeteries and greet the dead, saying “Peace be upon you, O you the believers and the Muslims! We shall, God willing, join you. You have preceded us and we shall follow you. We pray to God for our and your well-being” (Sābiq, p. 477).

However, there was a problem with ziyārah by women. Again, the problem relates to pre-Islamic practice among the Arabs to which many narratives seem to be responding. The Mālikī and some Ḥanafī jurists deduced the permission of jurists on the basis of the narrative in which ʿĀʿishah, the Prophet's wife, one day was returning from having visited her brother's grave. When reminded of the Prophet's prohibition by ʿAbd Allāh ibn Ubayy, she replied: “Yes, he had forbidden the visitation of the graves [earlier], but had ordered [amara bihi] it afterwards” (Sābiq, p. 478). On the other hand, Ḥanbalīs, citing another tradition in which the Prophet cursed the women who visit graves, regard it as makrūh (reprehensible). They also argue that the reprehensibility is due to the belief that women are less patient and excessively overcome by grief.

The Wahhābīyah of Saudi Arabia, who also follow the Ḥanbalī school, extrapolate the same tradition to deduce absolute interdiction for women to visit the gravesite (ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn Qāsim al-ʿĀṣimī al-Najdī al-Ḥanbalī , Ḥāshiyat al-Rawḍ al-murbiʿsharḥ Zād al-mustaqniʿ, Riyadh, 1982, vol. 3, pp. 144–146). It is for this reason that they prohibit women from entering the historic Baqīʿ cemetery in Medina where the Prophet's family, wives, and prominent companions are buried. In 1925 they leveled all the structures that marked these graves. Earlier, in 1801, they raided and destroyed the shrines at Karbala and Najaf. The Wahhābī belief, shared by no one else in the Sunnī community, regards the ziyārah in general as amounting to “saint veneration,” which leads to the grave sin of shirk, associating divinity with these persons.

The Shāfiʿī and the Shīʿī jurists have no problem with visitation by women to gravesites. The Shīʿī jurists recommend that the visitor place his or her hand on the grave and read the Fātiḥah, the opening chapter of the Qurʿān (ʿAmilī, Wasāʿil al-Shīʿah, vol. 2, p. 881ff). Several traditions regarding the prohibition of women from performing the ziyārah and expressing grief during the visitation must be regarded as a later reaction to the pre-Islamic funeral practices, which included extravagant slapping of cheeks and tearing of clothes (Bukhārī, Janāīiz, ḥadīth 382). Otherwise there are traditions that explicitly establish that women did perform the ziyārah. In another tradition preserved by Bukhārī, the Prophet passed by a woman who was weeping beside a grave. He told her to fear God and be patient, without requiring her to leave the site or reminding her about the prohibition on her (Bukhārī, Janāīiz, ḥadīth 372).

The visitation to the tombs of the imams and their descendants (imāmzādah; formally extended only to male descendants, although female descendants are included as sayyidah or bībī) who were distinguished by special sanctity or by suffering martyrdom, and to the tombs of holy men and women, is treated as pilgrimage by both the Sunnīs and the Shīʿah. Hence the universal practice of ziyārah of Medina among all Muslims. Visitation includes the shrines of famous women in Islam, including those of Sayyidah Zaynab, daughter of ʿAlī ibn ʿAbī Ṭālib, and Sayyidah Ruqayyah, daughter of Ḥusayn, in Damascus; Sayyidah Zaynab and Nafīsah in Cairo; Bībī Fāṭimah, daughter of Mūsā al-Kāẓim, the seventh imam, in Qom; Narjīs Khātūn, the twelfth imam's mother, and Ḥakīmah, the daughter of ʿAlī al-Hādī, the tenth imam, in Sāmarrāʿ. It has always been common for both Shīʿah and Sunnīs to undertake pilgrimages to these mostly Shīʿī shrines. Unlike the ḥajj, which is performed at a set time, ziyārah to these shrines can be undertaken at any time, although some particular days are recommended. In the case of some shrines, pilgrimage is associated with a special lunar month or season of the year. Thus, the ziyārah of Sayyidah Zaynab in Cairo is performed in the month of Rajab, whereas the ziyārah of Imam Riḍā in Mashhad is recommended in the month of Dhū al-Qaʿdah. The ziyārah of imāmzādahSultān ʿAlī near Kashan is held on the seventh day of autumn. Only the ziyārah of Ḥusayn in Karbala is recommended every Thursday evening, in addition to the major occasion of ʿĀshūrāʿ (the day of his martyrdom). That evening, the mashhad of Karbala is thronged with crowds of pilgrims from many lands. The performance of ziyārah is regarded by the pilgrims as an act of covenant renewal between the holy person and devotees. This is a covenant of love, sincere obedience, and devotion on the part of the believers. Through ziyārah, the person participates in the suffering and sorrows of the ahl al-bayt (the Prophet's family).

People who cannot undertake the arduous and expensive journey to the shrines of the imams can go into the wilderness, or onto a high roof of one's house, and then turn toward the qiblah (direction of Mecca) and pronounce the salutations. There are special ziyāratnāmah (salutations) for specific occasions. Although distinction is made between the ziyārat of the imams and other holy persons, Shīʿī scholars have regarded it permissible to show them all honor and respect by addressing them in a prescribed way. Some of these salutations are taken from the words of the imams directly. However, the ziyārah of the imams is followed by two rakʿah (units of prayer) as a gift to the imam whose ziyārah is being performed. The ziyārah is concluded with a petition for the intercession of the Prophet and his family and praise to God.



  • Ayoub, Mahmoud M.Redemptive Suffering in Islam: A Study of the Devotional Aspects of ʿĀshūrāʿ in Twelver Shiism. The Hague, 1978. Discusses ziyārah and its prescribed rituals in Shīʿī piety.
  • Lambton, Ann K. S.“Imāmzāda.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. 3d ed., vol. 3, edited by Marc Gaborieau, Gudrun Kramer, John Nawas, and Everett Rowson, pp. 1169–1170. Leiden, 2007.
  • Taylor, C. S.In the Vicinity of the Righteous: Ziyāra and the Veneration of Muslim Saints in Late Medieval Egypt. Leiden, 1999.

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