What is the importance of visiting graves in Islam? Why do muslims visit graves? What is the significance of visiting the grave? Is it allowed to visit graves in Islam? What does Islam say about graves?
A) Life In The Grave
The place where the deceased is buried is called qabr meaning grave. Its plural is “qubūr”. This place is also called a mazār. The life that begins with death and continues in the grave until the resurrection is called “life in the grave” or “barzakh”. The human being is a living being that consists of a soul and body. The creation of the soul precedes the body. Accordingly, the phases of human life can be divided into four:
a) The phase of souls: It is the period from the time the soul was created until it is blown into the body. The fetus is biologically alive during the period of up to 4 months and 10 days in the mother’s womb. After this period, the soul is blown into the body and the process of vitality begins. The collective creation of souls and their questioning are mentioned in the Qur’an as follows: “When your Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): ‘Am I not your Lord (who cherishes and sustains you)?’ They said: ‘Yea! We do testify!’ (This), lest you should say on the Day of Judgment: ‘Of this, we were never mindful’”
b) The life of this world: The life in this world, which begins with the soul’s entry into the body and birth, is a period that continues until the soul leaves the body. The purpose of life in this world is to test how people will act and behave in this world and to see the consequences.
c) Life in the grave: It begins with death and continues until the Day of Judgment.
d) Life in the next world: It is the life in the hereafter that begins with the end of the world and will last forever.
We will now offer some information about the third period, life in the grave, below.
Whether the deceased is buried in a grave or lost in the sea, whether he is burned in the fire, his ashes are scattered, or he is torn into pieces by animals, the phase of life in the grave begins on its own terms for every human being. Building graves and cemeteries have continued throughout history in all nations and lands as a continuation of the dwelling in this world as a sign of the importance given to the human being and the respect for him.
There are various verses and hadiths about life in the grave. We will give a few. The following is stated in the Qur’an: “In front of the Fire will Pharaoh and his men be brought, morning and evening: And (the sentence will be) on the Day that Judgment will be established: ‘Cast you the People of Pharaoh into the severest Penalty!’” This verse speaks of the existence of torment before the end of the world. This was interpreted as torment in the grave. As a matter of fact, according to the hadiths narrated by al-Tirmidhi and others, the first communication with the next world will begin in the grave as follows: When a person dies and is put in the grave, two angels named Munkar and Nakir come to him and ask him various questions such as “Who is your Lord?” “Who is your Prophet?”, and “What is your religion?” When the one who has faith and good deeds answers them correctly, his grave will be expanded to seventy by seventy cubits then it is illuminated for him. Then it is said to him: ‘Sleep.’ So he says: ‘Can I return to my family to inform them?’ They say: ‘Sleep as a newlywed, whom none awakens but the dearest of his family.’ Until Allah resurrects him from his resting place. If he was a hypocrite or a disbeliever, he would not answer the questions. So the earth is told: ‘Constrict him.’ So it constricts around him, squeezing his ribs together. He continues being punished like that until Allah resurrects him from his resting place.
The Prophet (saw) once passed by two graves and said, “They (the deceased persons in those graves) are being tortured not for a great thing that could have been avoided.” And then added, “Yes, (they are being punished for a big sin), for one of them used to go about with calumnies while the other never saved himself from being soiled with his urine.” Then he took a green leaf of a date palm and split it into two pieces and fixed one piece on each grave and said, “May their punishment be abated till these (two pieces) get dry.” The tradition of planting trees next to graves is based on this hadith. Cypress tree planting has been preferred in Turkey because of the fact that it does not cover the side of the graves, that there is no risk of the branches getting into each other, and because of its steep growth above the grave.
In some hadiths, the grave is described as follows: “The grave is either a garden from the gardens of Paradise or a pit from the pits of Hell.”, and “The grave is the first of the stops of the hereafter. Whoever escapes that stop, passes the next stops more easily. If he cannot escape, it will be more difficult to pass the next stops.”
The following is stated in the Qur’an regarding the life in the graves of martyrs: “Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord.”, and “And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah: ‘They are dead’. Nay, they are living, though ye perceive (it) not.”
According to Abu Ḥanīfa, prophets, martyrs, and children do not face the questioning and torment of the grave. However, Abu Ḥanīfa left unanswered a question about the life in the grave and the afterlife life of the children of the people of disbelief. As a matter of fact, in the hadiths from Ibn Abbas and Abu Hurayra, the Prophet (saw) gave an unclear answer to such a question by saying, “Allah knows better what action they would have done if they had lived.” However, following these hadiths, al-Bukhari transmitted a hadith from Abu Hurayra, “Every child is born with a true faith (i.e. to worship none but Allah Alone) but his parents convert him to Judaism or to Christianity or to Magainism.” Since the responsibility starts after the age of puberty, it would be more appropriate to accept the spirit of the hadith above and the unlimited mercy of Allah Almighty and to construe this to mean that children who die before this age die in accordance with the nature of Islam.
The issue of whether the torment in the grave will be applied only to the soul, the body, or both is controversial among scholars. The view that this torment will be applied to both the soul and the body seems preferable. Moreover, the nature of the soul is also not fully explained. The following is stated in the verse: “Say: ‘The Spirit (comes) by command of my Lord: of knowledge, it is only a little that is communicated to you, (O men!)’”
B) Graves And Cemeteries
The cemetery is the place where a buried person will stay the longest. For this reason, the religion of Islam wanted the places where the graves are found to be organized, clean, and green. However, this respect for the graves is basically related to the importance given to human beings. As a matter of fact, it is stated in a hadith: “Remember your dead with goodness and cover their bad deeds.”
It is essential that the graves should be simple and unpretentious, and that they are covered with earth.
It is stated in the Qur’an that the beginning of idolatry began with the erection of monuments to the demise of a few loved ones in the society and the worship of them by the next generations. “And they have said (to each other), ‘Abandon not your gods: Abandon neither Wadd nor Suwa’, neither Yaguth nor Ya’uq, nor Nasr’” These were righteous people who were loved very much among the people of Noah (as). When they passed away, their monuments were built with the inculcations of the devil, their names were given, and then, when no one knew them, new generations began to worship them.
Aisha (r. anha) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said during his fatal illness: “Allah cursed the Jews and the Christians because they took the graves of their Prophets as places for praying.” Aisha added, “Had it not been for that, the grave of the Prophet (saw) would have been made prominent but I am afraid it might be taken as a place for praying.” The narration that Muslim narrated from Jundab (ra) is as follows: “Beware of those who preceded you and used to take the graves of their prophets and righteous men as places of worship, but you must not take graves as mosques; I forbid you to do that.” Again, Aisha said, “When Umm Ḥabiba and Umm Salama mentioned a church that they had seen in Ethiopia, in which there were images, the Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “Those people if there was a righteous man among them, when he died they built a place of worship over his grave and made those images. They will be the most evil of creation before Allah on the Day of Resurrection.” In short, when the Jews and Christians began to prostrate themselves to the graves of their prophets, to honor their glory, to attain them as their qibla, and regard them as idols, Allah cursed them and forbade Muslims from doing similar acts. However, a person who acquires a mosque in the vicinity of a pious person does not mean glorification, and to attain him as qibla but only aims for a blessing in approaching Allah should not be thought of as being within this scope.
It is permissible to transfer a grave to another place in cases of necessity such as crossing a road, flooding, property belonging to someone else, or fear of the enemy destroying the grave. Jabir Ibn Abdillah (ra) narrates: “My father, who was the first martyr in Uhud, was buried with a man (Amr Ibn al-Jumūh)in the same grave. I had a desire at heart for that (place for my burial). So I took him out after six months. I did not find any change (in his body) except a few hairs that touched the earth.”
It is mandūb to bury the dead body in the cemetery of the place where he died. However, there is no harm in transporting it to a distance of one or two miles. As a matter of fact, although the cemetery of Medina was close, the martyrs of Uhud were buried where they were martyred, and the Companions who were martyred while conquering Damascus were buried next to the gates of the city. Some consider it permissible to transfer the corpse to another place due to a necessity or need before the burial.
After the body of the person in the grave decays and disappears, this grave can be opened and someone else can be buried in its place. The bones that may belong to the previously buried body are wrapped in a clean cloth and buried at the foot of the grave.
Some say that it is not makrūḥ to build a building on the grave if the deceased is from the Sufi masters, scholars, and prominent men. After stating that this is permissible only in a cemetery which is not an endowment and that some people did not see any harm in this, Ibn Abidin made the following statement: According to a narration from Abu Ḥanīfa, it is makrūḥ to build a house, a dome or a similar building over the grave. Because it is reported by Jabir Ibn Abdullah (ra) as saying that the Messenger of Allah (saw) forbade the plastering of graves with lime, writing on them, constructing buildings, and sitting on them.
However, in some towns, Muslims choose to lay stones or adobe bricks or made the edges of the graves concrete in order to protect them from being robbed or collapsing and to make it easy for people to find their places. Provided that it is not too extravagant and a means of showing off, such acts should be deemed within the scope of the following hadith, “What Muslims consider beautiful is also beautiful in the sight of Allah.” As a matter of fact, it is reported that the Prophet (saw) brought a stone and placed it at the head of Uthmān Ibn Maẓʿūn’s grave and said, “I will recognize my brother’s grave with it and I will bury the deceased from my family next to it.” Today, writing certain information on the gravestones is also a way of finding the graves. However, it is makrūḥ to write a verse of the Qur’an on the graves.
The graves of the people of dhimma (Jews and Christians) living in the Muslim land are also under the protection of the Muslim society. Just as they cannot be tortured while they are alive, their graves are also inviolable after their death. However, in a place that Muslims have recently conquered, if necessary, the graves of the enemy can be opened, the bones can be gathered somewhere and this place can be used for another purpose, such as building a Muslim cemetery or a mosque.
C) Visiting The Graves
In general, visiting graves is considered as recommended for men and permissible for women. It is mandūb to visit the graves of righteous people, parents, and close relatives. It is also necessary for women to follow the rules of visiting the grave and not to show excessive mourning. As a matter of fact, the Prophet recommended patience to a woman who was crying over her child’s grave and did not forbid her from visiting. It is also reported that Aisha visited the grave of her brother Abdurrahman Ibn Abi Bakr.
The fact is that the Prophet forbade visiting the graves at a time when the belief in divine decree had not yet taken root and the habits of ignorance had been prevalent, and women lamented and wailed at funerals. However, later it was permitted with the following hadith. “I forbade you to visit graves. From now on, visit the graves. Because this visit reminds you of death.” It was narrated from Abu Hurayra (ra): “The Messenger of Allah (saw) visited his mother’s grave and wept and cause those around him to weep. The Messenger of Allah (saw) then said: ‘I asked my Lord’s permission to pray for forgiveness for her, but I was not allowed. I then asked His permission to visit her grave, and I was allowed. So visit graves, for they make one mindful of death.’” The Prophet’s parents were from families that had a decent life in the pre-Islamic period. It is better not to comment and to leave it to Allah Almighty the situation of those who are not known to have shown openly the signs of disbelief and polytheism. For among them, there may be those who follow an earlier divine religion, such as Waraqa ibn Nawfal, as well as those who are considered to be from the hanif religion and those who will be treated as in the period of interregnum because they did not get a divine message through a prophet.
It is not permissible to invoke Allah for those who are clearly known to have died as polytheists. As a matter of fact, Ali (ra) warned a Companion who asked for forgiveness from Allah for his parents who died as polytheists, and when this Companion said that Ibrahim also asked forgiveness for his pagan father, Ali (ra) asked the Messenger of Allah (saw) about the situation. Thereupon, the following verse was revealed: “And Abraham prayed for his father’s forgiveness only because of a promise he had made to him. But when it became clear to him that he was an enemy to Allah, he dissociated himself from him: for Abraham was most tender-hearted, forbearing.” Moreover, it is also known that after the death of Abu Talib, the uncle of the Prophet (saw), he was forbidden from invoking Allah for his uncle with the two verses revealed to him.
The hadiths stating that the Prophet cursed the women who visited graves frequently go back to the period when visiting graves was prohibited. Al-Tirmidhi made this clear. Aisha and Ibn Abdilbarr are of the same opinion. According to the sound view of the Ḥanafis, a woman’s visit to the grave is permissible provided that it does not contain excessive acts because the permission about visiting graves in the hadiths also includes women.
Visiting the graves reminds us of the hereafter, leads people to asceticism and piety, and prevents excessive worldly greed and committing ḥarām. Moreover, visiting the graves of the Prophet and righteous people gives relief to the souls and helps us to strengthen our spiritual feelings. It would be mandūb to travel for such a visit. The following is stated in a hadith: “Whoever visits me after I die, it will be as if he visited me while I was alive.”
At the beginning of every year, the Prophet (saw) would come to the graves of the martyrs of Uhud and say: “as-Salāmu ʿalaykum bi-mā ṣabartum fa niʿma uqba’d-dār” (Peace be upon you for what you have been patient with! This is the best result in the world!) Again, the Messenger of Allah (saw) would go to the Medina cemetery to visit the dead and would say: “as-Salāmu ʿalaykum ya dāra qawmin mu’minīn wa innā inshā-Allāhu bikum lāḥikūna, as’alullāha li wa lakum’l-āfiyata.” (O inhabitants of the land of the believers! Greetings to you. We will meet you, God willing. I pray to Allah for us and you, well-being and salvation from the fears and troubles of the hereafter.) Ibn Abbas narrated that the Messenger of Allah once stopped by the Medina cemetery, turned his face to the graves, and said: “As-Salāmu ʿalaykum, yā ahla’l-kubūr! Yagfirullāhu lanā wa lakum. Antum Salafunā wa naḥnu bi’l-asari.” (O people of the graves! Peace be upon you! May Allah forgive us and you. You went before us, and we will follow you.) Aisha came to the Medina cemetery one night, following the Messenger of Allah. Seeing her, the Prophet (saw) said: “Your Lord has commanded you to go to the inhabitants of Baqi’ (to those lying in the graves) and beg pardon for them.” Aisha said: “Messenger of Allah, how should I pray for them (How should I beg forgiveness for them)?” He (saw) said: “as-Salāmu ʿalā ahli’d-diyār mina’l-mu’minīn wa’l-muslimīn wa yarḥamullāhu al-mustaqdimīna minna wa’l-musta’khirīn, wa innā insha’allahu, bikum lalāhukunā.” (Peace be upon the inhabitants of this land (graveyard) from among the Believers and the Muslims, and may Allah have mercy on those who have gone ahead of us, and those who come later on, and we shall, God willing, join you.)
It is makrūḥ to pray towards a grave during a visit. It is not permissible to acquire plants, candles, and other things to burn on graves. However, it is permissible to do such things to illuminate the environment around the graveyard.
It is makrūḥ to sleep next to graves, to pollute the environment, to pluck out fresh grass, flowers, and trees. For it is hoped that such greenery will cause the torment of the dead to be alleviated.
It has been narrated from Ali (ra) and Anas ibn Mālik (ra) that when the chapter Ya-Sin is recited next to the grave, Allah will give ease to the dead and that the reciter will be given as many benefits as the number of the dead found in the graveyard.
 Al-Aʿrāf, 7: 172. See al-Mulk, 67: 2; Al-Baqara, 2: 55. Al-Ghāfir, 40: 46. See al-Baqara, 2: 154; Āl ʿImrān, 3: 169; al-Ghafir, 40: 46; al-Tirmidhī, Janā’iz, 70; al-Bukhari, Tafsīru surah, 14, Janā’iz 86. Al-Bukhari, Janā’iz 82, 89; Muslim, Imān, 34; Abū Dawūd, Ṭaḥāra, 26. Al-Tirmidhī, Qiyāmah, 26. Al-Tirmidhī, Zuhd, 5; Ibn Maja, Zuhd, 32. Āl ʿImrān, 3: 169. Al-Baqara, 2: 154. Aliyyü’l-Kari, Fikh-ı Ekber Şerhi, Trans. Y. V. Yavuz, Ist. 1979, p. 259. See al-Bukhari, Janā’iz, 93. Al-’Isrā, 17: 85. Abū Dawūd, Adab, 42; al-Tirmidhī, Janā’iz, 34. Nūḥ, 71: 23. Al-Alūsi, Tafsīr, XXIX, 95; Elmalılı, Hak Dini Kur‘an Dili, Azim edition, VIII, 356. Al-Bukhari, Janā’iz, 42, 96, II, 90, 91; Muslim, Masājid, 22. Muslim, Masājid, 23. Al-Nasā’ī, Masājid, 13. See al-Nasā’ī, Masājid, 13. Footnote, Çağrı neşri, II, 41. Abū Dawūd, Janā’iz, 73, Hadith No: 3232. Ibn Abidīn, Radd al-Mukhtār, III, 495. Al-Tirmidhī, Janā’iz, 58, Hadith No: 1052; Muslim, Janā’iz, 94- 98; Ibn Abidīn, ibid, III, 491, 492. Ahmad b. Hanbal, I, 379. Ibn Abidīn, ibid, III, 492. al-Fatawā al-Hindiyya, Beirut 1980, I, 165-167; Bilmen, ibid, İst. 1985, p. 259 ff. Al-Bukhari, Janā’iz, 7, Aḥkām, 11; Muslim, Janā’iz, 15. Al-Tirmidhī, Janā’iz, 61. See Muslim, Janā’iz, 106, Aḍāḥī, 37; al-Tirmidhī, Janā’iz, 7, 60; Abū Dawūd, Janā’iz, 77, Ashriba,7; al-Nasā’ī, Janā’iz, 100; Malik, Muwaṭṭā’, Ḍaḥāyā, 8. Abū Dawūd, Janā’iz, 75-77, Hadith No: 3234; Muslim, Janā’iz, 105, 106; al-Nasā’ī, Janā’iz, 101, Hadith No: 2032. Al-Tawba, 9: 114; al-Nasā’ī, Janā’iz, 102, Hadith No: 2034. See al-Tawba, 9: 113 and al-Qaṣaṣ, 28: 56; al-Nasā’ī, Janā’iz, 102, Hadith No: 2033. See al-Tirmidhī, Ṣalāh, 21, Janā’iz, 61; al-Nasā’ī, Janā’iz, 104; Ibn Maja, Janā’iz, 49. Al-Tirmidhī, Janā’iz, 60. Al-Tirmidhī, Janā’iz, 60, 61; Ibn Abidīn, ibid, İst. 1984, II, 242. Ali Nasif, Tajj, al-Jāmi’al-‘Uṣūl, II, 190. Muslim, Janā’iz, 104; Al-Nasā’ī, Janā’iz, 103; Ibn Maja, Janā’iz, 36; Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, II, 375, 408. Al-Tirmidhī, Janā’iz, 59, Hadith No: 1053. Muslim, Janā’iz, 103; Al-Nasā’ī, Janā’iz, 103, Hadith No: 2035. Muslim, Janā’iz, 97, 98; Abū Dawūd, Ṣalāh, 24; al-Tirmidhī, Ṣalāh, 236. Bilmen, ibid, p. 265.