The Loss of Meaning: The Destruction of Muslim Holy Sites
EVERY YEAR, Muslim holy sites are destroyed at an alarming pace. What is perhaps more alarming is that some Muslims see no problem with this.
Rather, they may even feel that this is a good thing because an “exaggerated emphasis” is placed on the holiness of such sites. This overstated emphasis, they fear, could weaken or cloud sound understanding of the Oneness of God and reliance solely upon Him.
However, Muslims from the earliest generations have sought blessings (tabarruk) of individuals, objects, places and times.
The Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) vied with each other for his hairs, sweat, leftover water from wudu, and objects related to him, as established in rigorously authenticated hadiths.
We see this practice in subsequent generations, too. Imam Shafi’i washed a shirt sent to him by Imam Ahmad and drank the water it was washed in (Ibn ‘Asakir, Tarikh Dimashq, 5.312).
Imam Shafi’i also would visit the grave of Imam Abu Hanifa and pray there when he had some pressing need and ask God to fulfill that need, which would invariably be fulfilled. (al-Baghdadi, Tarikh Baghdad, 1.122)
Imam Ahmad made a bequest that he be buried in Bab al-Tibn in the Qati’a cemetery. When asked about this, he responded, “I have strong proof that there is a prophet buried in Qati’a, and I would rather be buried close to a prophet than to my very own father” (Ibn Abi Ya’la, Tabaqat al-Hanabila, 1 . 188).
Why are such sites considered blessed?
The question arises, then: why this emphasis on the baraka (blessedness) of buildings, relics and individuals? The Qur’an talks about the baraka of certain individuals (such as Jesus), places (such as the Levant), things (such as the olive tree), texts (such the Qur’an), words (such as the greeting of salam, peace), and times (such as Laylat al-Qadr, when the Qur’an was first revealed).
Raghib al-Asfahani explains that baraka is “affirming Divinely-placed good in something” (Asfahani, Mufradat Alfadh al-Qur’an, 119).
Blessed individuals, objects and places are signs of the Divine. Beautiful in themselves, in meaning or form, they remind us of the Divine – of Divine Beauty, Oneness and of the ways of approaching the Divine.
They are a means of remembering God. They awaken us to the reality that the forms of created things have a meaningthey are all, in fact, signs of God. As the poet said,
In everything there is a sign,
Indicating that He is the One
God tells us in the Qur’an, “And whosoever venerates the sacred things of God, it shall be better for him with his Lord” (Qur’an 22:32), and, “And whosoever venerates God’s waymarks, that is of the godliness of the hearts” (Qur’an 22:36). Qurtubi explains that the “sacred things of God” (sha ‘a’ir Allah) are the distinguishing signs of His religion (Qurtubi, al-Jami’li Ahkam al-Qur’an, 12.55).
This is why Muslims throughout the ages have loved, venerated and sought the blessings of righteous individuals and places of significance, such as mosques, historical sites and the graves of the righteous. It is an expression of the love of God to see and celebrate His signs and to love those things beloved to Him. As the poet said,
We see this in the very practice of the Beloved of God, for Ibn ‘Umar relates that, “The Messenger of God (peace and blessings of God be upon him) used to ask for water to be brought from purificationpools. He would drink from this water, seeking the blessing of the hands of Muslims” (Related by Tabarani in alAwsat, 1.243, and Abu Nu’aym in al-Hilya, 8.203; Haythami said in his Majma ‘ al-Zawa ‘id, 1.214, that its chain of transmitters is reliable).
In an age of increasing meaninglessness, the loss of these persons and places that remind us of God, and of the ways to approach Him, is unfortunate indeed.
By Shaykh Faraz Rabbani