Visiting Graves

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What is visiting graves in islam? What does visiting graves mean in islam? What is the Islamic equivalent of visiting the bomb?

In his journey through life, man quivers amid two incredibly opposing poles: the joy of living and the fear of dying. Without comprehending the true natures of the ever-flowing life and death, there can be no understanding of the true nature of man and the mysterious secret behind his creation.

Human comprehension, stuck between the twofold riddle of ‘coming to the world and exiting the world’, must raise itself to a proper and real judgment regarding the world and regulate all behavior accordingly. Only then will it be rescue itself from the deceitful shadows of the worldly life and embark upon a spiritual journey towards the real world.

For a believer, death is a pathway for reuniting with the Lord and a joyous, wonderful and desirable transition from one state to another. For a nonbeliever and a perverse, death is a painful and humiliating demise, a storm of punishment that blows right from the pits of Hellfire.

The most vital wisdom for man begins at the point he solves the riddle lying underneath the earth. The mysterious realm of the land of the dead does not disclose its secrets, unless man’s ideas, efforts, search, depth of heart and spiritual sensing centers on the inevitable reality of death.

Undoubtedly, man has two important advisers in life. One speaks, while the other remains silent. The vocal adviser is the Quran. And that, which gives advice through its deep silence, is death. It was due to this fact that Muslims, throughout history, established graveyards in town centers, by roads and in the courtyards of mosques, to give the living enough opportunity to benefit from the silent advices of death. The preferred choice of greenery was the evergreen and durable cypress, to act as symbols of the Hereafter; symbols of a never-ending life.

Death has no known language; yet what profound meanings are buried in its perplexing silence! Graveyards are now the abodes of mothers, father, children, lovers, friends and kindred, who have taken up residence therein, after exhausting their time on Earth.

Concerning the realm of the grave, whose nature will be shaped according to out stringency in following the commands of the Lord, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- says:

“The grave is either a garden of Paradise or a ditch of Hellfire.” (Tirmidhi, Qiyamat, 26) This indicates the tight relationship between the deeds of life and the experiences of after-death.

Whilst standing next to a grave, Othman –Allah be well-pleased with him- would cry until his tears would leave his beard soaked. Someone once said to him, “You do not cry when you remember Heaven and Hell; yet you bawl your eyes out when with a single thought of the grave!”

“That is because’ he replied ‘I heard the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- say, ‘The grave is the first station of the Hereafter. If one is able to pass it, the rest is easier. If not, the rest is even more difficult and intense. Nothing I witnessed was more dreadful and terrifying than the grave!’” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 5/2308; Ahmed, I, 63-64)

Aisha –Allah be well-pleased with her- reports that one day a Jewish woman came to her and said to her, after speaking awhile about the punishment of the grave, “May Allah protect you from its ordeal!”

Thereupon, Aisha –Allah be well-pleased with her- asked the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- about the punishment of the grave.

“Yes”, he said. “The punishment of the grave is a fact.”

“After that day, I never saw the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- offer a ritual prayer without seeking refuge from the punishment of the grave”, Aisha –Allah be well-pleased with her- would later state. (Bukhari, Janaiz, 87; Muslim, Masajid, 123)

Bara –Allah be well-pleased with him- recounts:

“We were with the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- during a funeral. Sitting by the grave, he began crying so much that it dampened the soil underneath. He then said, ‘Brothers…Prepare well for what (death) will inevitably come to all of us!’” (Ibn Majah, Zuhd, 19)

To be sure, graveyards are schools of wisdom and lesson and grave visiting offers the most effective training in the contemplation of death. As an act of loyalty, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- would frequently visit the graves of his Companions to have passed away before him and pray for their eternal well-being.

On visiting the graves of the martyrs of Uhud, he would say, “Peace to you in return to what you have kept patient with! How beautiful, for you, is the land of the Hereafter!” (Tabari, Jamiu’l-Bayan, XIII, 186; Ibn Kathir, Tafsir, II, 529)

Likewise, he would visit the Baqi Cemetery, time and again; after greeting the deceased, he would state: “Peace to you, dwellers of the land of believers! Allah-willing, we, too, shall reunite with you. I ask Allah the Almighty for well-being and peace on behalf of you and us.” (Muslim, Janaiz, 104)

In fact, while asleep in Aisha’s chamber one midnight, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- was delivered by Jibril –upon him peace- a Divine command: the Almighty was ordering him to visit the Baqi Cemetery and pray for those buried there. So, the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- quietly got up, making little noise in order not to awaken the sleeping Aisha –Allah be well-pleased with her-. But she had not yet fallen asleep; and curious as to where the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- was headed at such late a time in the night, she decided to secretly follow him. Seeing the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- enter the cemetery and shed tears for the eternal well-being of the believers buried therein, the previous suspicion of Aisha soon turned to embarrassment. She stood there for a while, watching the Blessed Prophet’s –upon him blessings and peace- emotional pleading from a distance. She then ran back to her chamber and snuggled under the quilt, acting as if she had been sleeping all along. Yet hearing her gasping for breath from all that running, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- understood what had just happened, and lamented:

“Were you afraid that Allah and His Messenger would wrong you?” (Muslim, Janaiz, 103) In saying this, he was also indicating that his conduct was under the constant surveillance of the Almighty.

The below account is provided by Muadh ibn Jabal –Allah be well-pleased with him-:

“Sending me off to Yemen as governor, the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- accompanied me to the outskirts of Medina to say farewell to me. I was astride my mount and he was walking by my side. After giving me some advice, he said:

‘Who knows, Muadh, you might not be able to see me again after this year. But perhaps you will visit my Masjid over there and my grave…’

Hearing those words, coupled with the grief of his separation, reduced me to tears.

‘Do not cry’, consoled the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace-. Then turning his gaze toward Medina, he said:

‘Closest to me among people are the pious who, wherever they are, uphold their piety for Allah.’” (Ahmad, V, 235; Haythami, IX, 22)

Dawud ibn Abi Salih explains:

“Marwan once saw a man who had placed his face against the gravestone of the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-. Holding the man by the scruff of his neck, he roared, ‘What do you think you are doing?’

The man looked back; and it just happened that he was none other than Abu Ayyub al-Ansari –Allah be well-pleased with him-. Staring at Marwan, the illustrious Companion said:

“I know exactly what I am doing. I have come to visit the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace-, not a stone. I once heard the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- say, ‘Do not fear over the fate of religion when the competent undertake its duties. But when the incompetent begin to see to the affairs of religion, no anxiety felt or tears shed can ever be enough!” (Ahmed ibn Hanbal, V, 422)

Above is a case of Companion brushing his face against the Blessed Prophet’s –upon him blessings and peace- gravestone during his visit.

Not only did the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- visit graves on a frequent basis, he also encouraged his Companions and entire Muslims to do the same:

“I had forbidden you from visiting graves. But now you may, for visiting graves will remind you of the Hereafter.” (Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 60; Muslim, Janaiz, 106)[1]

Grave visiting provides a lesson for the visitor and a means of mercy for the deceased; for a buried corpse pleas for help, like a person who has fallen abruptly into quicksand.

Ibn Abbas –Allah be well-pleased with him- narrates:

“Passing by two graves, the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- once said, regarding them, ‘They are both being punished but not over a major sin. One is punished for sowing discord and the other for not duly protecting himself from his urine while urinating.’ He subsequently asked for a green date branch. Severing it into two, he then placed them one by one on each grave, adding, ‘It is hoped that their punishment will be lessened, so long as they do not dry out.’ (Muslim, Taharat, 111)

Qurtubi, the exegete, interprets the above as:

“The expression ‘so long as they do not dry out’ alludes to the fact that the branches glorify the Lord, for the duration they remain green. Scholars have thus commented that planting trees on graves and reciting the Quran thereby, provides benefit for the deceased buried therein. If even planting a tree alleviates the punishment of the dead, who knows how much he will benefit from a recitation of the Quran? The deceased receive the rewards of whatever deed dedicated to them.” (Qurtubi, Tafsir, X, 267)

Reciting, especially, chapter Yasin is a method common to and practiced by all, in allowing the deceased to benefit from the Divine mercy that is brought about by a read of the Quran.  The hadith indeed states:

“Yasin is the heart of the Quran. If one is to read it solely for the pleasure of Allah and with a desire for the Hereafter, he will sure have his sins forgiven. Recite Yasin unto your dead.” (Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Musnad, V, 26)

“Once someone from among you passes away, take him to his grave without too much delay. And once you have buried him, let one person recite al-Fatiha beside his head and last part (the final two verses) of al-Baqara beside his feet.” (Tabarani, al-Mucamu’l-Kabir, XII, 340; Daylami, Musnad, I, 284; Haythami, Majmau’z-Zawaid, III, 44)

Ala ibn al-Lajlaj reports that before his father Lajlaj, a Companion, passed away, he left the following will:

“When you place me in the grave, say Bismillah wa ala sunnati Rasulillah[2] and shovel earth on me. Beside my head, recite the opening and final part of al-Baqara. I have personally witnessed the fondness of Abdullah ibn Omar with this practice.” (Bayhaki, as-Sunanu’l-Kubra, IV, 56)

Noteworthy are the final wishes of Companion Amr ibn As –Allah be well-pleased with him-:

“Once you place me inside the grave, wait by my side for a time that takes to slaughter a camel and cut apart its meat, so that your presence heartens me to get accustomed to my new life and that I can prepare the answers I am to give to the messengers of my Lord.” (Muslim, Iman, 192)

Imam Nawawi, who cites the above in his book, further narrates the following from Imam Shafii –may Allah have mercy on him-:

“Reading from the Quran by the grave side is recommended (mustahab). But reciting the Quran entire is better.” (Nawawi, Riyadu’s-Salihin, 293)

The Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- says, as reported by Ibn Abbas –Allah be well-pleased with him-:

“The dead in the grave is like a person on the brink of being drowned at sea, terrified and gasping for help. He anticipates a prayer from his father, mother, siblings and intimate, loyal friends. An incoming prayer is dearer to him than the entire world and what is within. Allah doubtless gives mountain-like rewards to grave dwellers, through the blessings of the prayers of the living. The best present the living can ever send to the dead is to pray for their forgiveness and give charity on their behalf.” (Daylami, Musnad, IV, 103/6323; Ali al-Muttaqi, XV, 694/42783; XV, 749/42971)

It is reported from Othman ibn Affan –Allah be well-pleased with him- that immediately following a burial, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- would wait by the side of the grave and say:

“Pray for the forgiveness of your brother and plea Allah to allow him to correctly answer the questions he is posed with in the grave…for he is being interrogated at this moment.” (Abu Dawud, Janaiz, 67-69/3221)

Jabir ibn Abdullah –Allah be well-pleased with him- recounts:

“When Saad ibn Muadh –Allah be well-pleased with him passed away-, we went with the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- to offer our final duties. After leading his funeral salat and burying Saad in his grave, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- continued reciting tasbihat for a while; and so did we. Then the Prophet of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- pronounced a takbir.

‘Why, Messenger of Allah, did you recite some tasbih and then a takbir?’ some Companions then asked.

‘Until Allah gave it breadth, the grave squeezed and further squeezed this righteous servant”, replied he.’” (Ahmad ibn Hanbal, III, 360)

Ibn Abbas –Allah be well-pleased with him- narrates:

“The day Saad was buried, the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- said, whilst standing by his grave:

“Had there been a person immune to the trial of the grave”, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- then continued, “it would surely have been Saad. But the grave squeezed even him until Allah gave it breadth.” (Tabarani, Mujam’ul-Kaabir, X, 334)

As can be understood from all the above, visiting graves, praying for the forgiveness of the dead buried therein, doing charitable work in their name and reciting Quran unto them act as a means of mercy for the deceased. In the Quran, the Almighty commands us to pray, in the following, for believers who have migrated to the eternal realm before us:

“Our Lord! Forgive us and those of our brethren who had precedence of us in faith, and do not allow any spite to remain in our hearts towards those who believe! Our Lord, surely You are Kind, Merciful” (al-Hashr, 10)

But while visiting a grave, it is vital is to refrain from certain false and innovated (bidah) practices.  Even though Muslim scholars have said and written copiously to protect Muslims from indulging in excessive and deficient behavior during grave visiting, both kinds of unwanted behavior have, unfortunately, prevailed to this day.

Refining grave visiting from excessive and deficient behavior, a matter that confuses the minds of those with a shallow knowledge of religion, is a difficult undertaking. Human incompetence of grasping abstract realities has turned the nature of grave visiting into something of a shirk, at least according to some; like lighting candles by and tying rags around the graves and seeking aid directly from the person lying therein. This is a manifestation of a defect, similar to how Christians ascribe divinity to Jesus –upon him peace-, simply due to their incompetence in appreciating an abstract concept of God. A stark contrast of this excessive behavior, on the other hand, has seen the emergence of a deficient approach, which takes the protestation far enough to downright equate grave visiting with shirk.

Reminiscent of its approach in all other issues, Islam embodies the principle of moderation with regard to grave visiting. As was mentioned above, the verbal and applied standard of grave visiting set by the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- and followed by the Companions clearly illustrates the proper approach to be adopted in visiting graves, without falling into either excess or deficiency.

Ibn Abbas –Allah be well-pleased with him- explains:

“Saad ibn Ubadah –Allah be well-pleased with him-, whose mother had passed away only recently, came to the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- and asked:

‘My mother died, Messenger of Allah, at a time when I happened to be away. Will it benefit her if I were to give charity in her name?’ And when the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- answered ‘Yes’, Saad said:

‘Then bear witness, Messenger of Allah, that I am offering my fruit garden as charity in the name of my mother.’” (Bukhari, Wasaya, 15)

Abdurrahman ibn Abi Amra reports that her mother had vowed to set a slave free overnight but had postponed it until morning. However, she did not make it to daybreak and passed away. So he approached Qasim ibn Muhammad and asked whether it would benefit her mother if he was to set a slave free in her name. Qasim thereupon said:

“Saad ibn Ubadah had approached the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- and asked, ‘My mother has just passed away. Would it be to her benefit if I were to set a slave free in her name?’ to which the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- replied, ‘Yes’”. (Muwattaa, Itq, 13)

Abdurrahman, the son of Abu Bakr –Allah be well-pleased with him-, had suddenly died in his sleep. Aisha –Allah be well-pleased with her- gave away lots of charity on her deceased brother’s behalf. (Muwattaa, Itq, 13)

Ibn Abbas –Allah be well-pleased with him- explains:

“A man once came to the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- and inquired, ‘My mother has passed away, Messenger of Allah, with a month of fasting overdue. Should I fast on her behalf?’

‘If your mother owed a debt’, said the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- ‘would you not have covered the debt in her name?’

‘I would have’, replied he, whereupon the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace- said:

‘Allah is more deserving to have His debt paid off’” (Muslim, Siyam, 155)

Another narration of the same event reports the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- as asking, “Had your mother owed a debt and you had paid it off, will that have been valid?” With the man agreeing that it would have, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- stated, “Then fast to compensate for your mother”. (Muslim, Siyam, 156)

The Noble Messenger –upon him blessings and peace-, our guiding light, has furthermore declared:

“All of man’s deeds are terminated with death; except for three things: A charity from which others continue to benefit (sadaqah-i jariyah), a knowledge which serves and a virtuous child who sends his prayers.” (Muslim, Wasiyyah, 14)

These statements of the Prophet illustrate the rewards a deceased believer reaps from charities given in life and which continue beyond his death, and moreover, that they do benefit from the prayers and charities intended for them by their living loved ones and Muslim brothers, whom are therefore encouraged to engage in charitable activities in their name.

It is indeed important to continue charitable work in the name of Muslims who have passed on to the Afterlife. Compliant with the last hadith aforementioned, a Muslim’s book of deeds does not close, as long as his charities continue to flow in life. Giving charity in the name of a believer, who has bode farewell to the world to enter the grave all on his own, is among the most virtuous and loyal deeds his inheritors and true friends can ever offer.

Closing the outstanding debts of the deceased, in particular, is a righteous act recommended personally by the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-. The first inquiry the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- used to make at a funeral was whether the deceased person had an outstanding debt; and he would proceed to offer his funeral salat only after the debt had been closed. How delicate an instruction of mercy this serves us, in regard to restoring the unsettled duties of the deceased.

An analogy based on the ransom a Muslim is allowed to pay as compensation for the fasts he was physically prevented, both on time and at a later date, from offering, led Imam Muhammad to a jurisprudential ruling (ijtihad) known as isqat-i salat, where the inheritors of a deceased Muslim may pay ransom in compensation for the ritual prayers he failed to offer in life. Accordingly, a ransom is to be given for each unoffered ritual prayer; either a days feed for the poor or an equivalent amount of money. This charity must furthermore be transferred to the needy without there being any decrease or altering of the required amount. There are three noticeable benefits in Imam Muhammad’s ruling:

  1. An encouragement to offer charity, in whose rewards the presenter of the charity partakes.
  2. Its bringing joy to the needy and their ensuing prayers for the deceased.
  3. An anticipation of the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness.

Yet, it is unfortunate that this practice of isqat[3] has today become distanced from its original purpose, having been transformed to an exercise known as dawr[4], something that conflicts the spirit of Islam.

The practice of dawr has been turned into a form of trickery. This false practice depicts an unoffered deed of worship as if it is compensated by a charity that itself is not, in actual fact, given. What takes place is that a certain amount of money, intended for absolving the deceased of his debt over the ritual prayers[5] he failed to offer in his lifetime, is placed in the middle, which instead of being permanently given to the needy, is then made to circulate between the two parties: the presenter to the recipient and then back to the presenter and then, once again, to the recipient, repeatedly; and with each circulation, the amount of charity supposedly becomes inflated. Handing a small amount of money to the recipient, often many in number, only to take it back -which incidentally is the intention carried to begin with- and then to reoffer the money to the same recipient or another, only to have him hand it back once again, and presuming that by doing so the amount of this pseudo charity increases the more recipients there are, is nothing short of an ugly innovation; and the persons involved can only deceive themselves. Especially astonishing is how some wealthy people resort to this means and expect the desired result. This is nothing but a vain endeavor, which from the outside, appears as absurd and illogical as a plot to trick the Almighty.

O Lord! Reconcile our intentions with Your pleasure! Protect us from the doom of those who have dived into the world and have thus drowned themselves in a puddle! Our Lord, the Most Merciful of the Merciful! Adorn and perfect our lives and deaths with the blessings, grace, sublime beauties You have given Your righteous servants and, above all, with Your reunion!

O Lord! Allow us the privilege of beholding the universe with the gaze of Divine love, of observing it from the vantage of spiritual consciousness and feeling; with the shiver of conscience and the excitement of faith…And allow us to make it to the climes of mercy, to Your presence, through the tears of remorse that flow from our eyes, with a clean name and a peace of mind!

Amin…

[1]        During the period of Ignorance, people used to boast with their dead, supposing that they had acquired a sacred status, and would visit their graves in this mindset. In order to eradicate this superstition, the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- had at first banned grave visiting. Yet, once the remnants of this superstition no longer existed, he lifted the ban, specifically encouraging it for the purpose of contemplating death.

[2]        In the name of Allah, glory unto Him, and upon the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah –upon him blessings and peace-.

[3]        Isqat is to relieve the deceased from the debts he accrued through ritual prayers, fasts, vows etc. he had failed too offer while alive, by handing the needy, in cash value, their compensation. (Hayrettin Karaman, Ebediyet Yolcusunu Uğurlarken, p. 81-85)

[4]        In contrast to handing the amount in cash value to the poor, dawr is to place a certain amount of money in a piece of cloth which is presented to the needy, only for the needy to re-present it to the benefactor; and for this circulation to continue until the specific amount of debt is closed off. This innovative practice neither existed during the time of the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-, nor during the Companions, nor during the Tabiun generation that followed. Isqat was ruled permissible by the end of the second century following the Hegira, while dawr as late as the fifth century. Today’s widespread practice of dawr, thought by many as stemming from the ethos of Islam, is really a harmful innovation that encourages stinginess and laziness in offering deeds. It is therefore necessary to abandon the custom of dawr and to instead offer direct charity in the name of the deceased and pray the Lord that he be forgiven. This way, one will have complied with the Sunnah, and at the same time ensure that the charity is delivered to its true owner, the one in need. (Hayrettin Karaman, Ebediyet Yolcusunu Uğurlarken, p. 81-85)

[5]        Meant by the debts of ritual prayer are the prayers that the deceased either failed to offer in life or those he did offer without observing its inner guidelines like sincerity and concentration. Otherwise, it does not, in any way, imply the ritual prayers one consciously neglected, by counting on this as means of potential compensation.

Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, Sufism, Erkam Publications

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