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Last Updated: 2008/09/06
Summary of question
What is the philosophy behind ziarah of Imams?
What is the philosophy behind ziarah of Imams (a.s)? Please provide a philosophical answer.
Concise answer

The inward tendency and attraction toward someone or something, along with respect and honor, is called ziarah. Since the reality of a human is his soul which is never annihilated, a za'er [pilgrim] who makes ziarah of a demised dignitary has in fact made ziarah of a living person, respected and honored him and sought his help. Therefore ziarah is a connection between living individuals.  Ziarah has many individual and social benefits and effects including:  establishing relationship with a perfect man, demonstrating faith and communicating with God, respecting and honoring Ahlul-bayt [the Prophet's progeny], reduction of crimes and unity against enemies.

Detailed Answer

In Arabic, Ziarah literally means tendency and inclination to do a work[1]. Technically it means to visit someone to respect and honor him[2]. It has three components:

1-Za'er: someone who has a tendency toward someone or something

2-Mazoor: visited person or place

3-Inner tendency and inclination, a quality existing with the pilgrim to respect and honor.

When one of these components is absent or not functioning properly, true ziarah is not implemented or actualized.  The more knowledge and understanding a za'er has of mazoor and the more virtues and perfections the mazoor has, the greater and more expansive would be the effects of ziarah.

Since the human soul is an incorporeal and abstract being and is not subject to annihilation thus it will never be terminated by death rather it travels from a small world to a larger one. In fact the soul leaves the prison of the body. Therefore, even when the za'er makes ziarah of someone's grave and burial site and communicate with him, this communication is between living individuals.

Abu Ali Sina, better known as Avicenna in the West, says: " Za'er is one who physically and with his material body travels toward the mazoor asking his soul to help him acquire a goodness or avert an evil. Since Mazoor's soul has departed the material world and has become similar to abstract intellects it will be the source of numerous and perfect effects. And because the za'er has reached the mazoor with both his body and soul, he will receive both material and spiritual benefits[3]."

Keeping this meaning of ziarah into account, the mazoor's life and death will be the same for za'er considering them present and available. Many traditions refer to this meaning that the life and death of an infallible (A.S) is the same. The Prophet (PBUH) says:" Someone who makes my ziarah after my demise is like one who has visited me when I was alive. I witness him and I will intercede for him in the Day of Resurrection[4]." To be near or far will not make a difference for him. The Prophet (PBUH) says:" One who makes my ziarah after my demise is like someone who has hurried to visit me and if you could not visit me from close, send me regards and greetings and I will receive them[5]." That in some ziarah it is testified that the mazoor is alive is for the za'er to note that he is communicating and making ziarah of someone who is a living being. In Imam Hussein's (A.S) ziarah we read:" I testify that you hear my voice and reply[6]."

Although the mazoor's incorporeal soul has no location and za'er can pay attention to him anywhere anytime and seek help, but since the mazoor's soul pays special attention to his body, an exclusive status is created near it. In these places, there are more opportunities to get closer to God and receive special bounties; since the departed soul has a kind of connection and attraction to its material body therefore sometimes it has been witnessed that even after a long time some bodies have not decomposed under the earth. There are different opinions on how this happens though[7]. For the same reason, one has a stronger spiritual mood in certain ziarah sites and there is more preparedness in the person to connect through his soul; human mind darkened by daily acts and situations is purified and becomes less preoccupied. In this state where the soul becomes more powerful and more attentive, it benefits from ziarah.

In conscious and knowledge-based ziarah of infallibles (peace be upon them) as the ziarah of a perfect human and God's waliy [deputy] on earth, valuable material and spiritual benefits can be obtained which can be considered as the philosophy of ziarah some of which are mentioned below:

1-Communion with God: as obeying Imams (peace be upon them) is obeying God and disobeying them is disobeying God and one who follows them has followed God anyone who honors them has honored God.

2- Ziarah is to announce and demonstrate one's love of God because religion is nothing but love. Imams are love God and God loves them. Loving someone who is loved by God is tantamount to loving God. Making ziarah of the holy shrines of the Prophet's progeny (peace be upon them) is a manifestation of this love and passion[8].

3-Respecting and honoring the perfect man: The most outstanding examples of the perfect man are the Imams (peace be upon them) who possess all possible attributes of perfection without any flaws; that's why they have been introduced as equals of the Quran in authentic tradition of Thaqalayn [two weighty things]; because they are the practical version of Quran. Respecting and honoring Ahlul-bayt is respecting and honoring the man's status and his vicegerency of God. Ziarah of holy shrines is an expression of this honoring.

4- Renewal of allegiance to the perfect man: All their lives, the Imams (peace be upon them) sought to fulfill sacred duties and uphold lofty goals for which they needed devout companions' help and cooperation, companions who were rare and hard to find at that time. Therefore most of those goals have not been implemented so far. Ziarah of a mazoor is considered as an allegiance and loyalty towards implementing these goals.

5- Ziarah is contacting the perfect man and connecting to the essence of humanity.

6- Ziarah of Imams is a show of faith and expression of humility toward religion.

7- Abstaining from this world, remembering the death and removing the barriers in his way to perfection.

8-Islam puts special emphasis on the social aspect of issues such as hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca], collective prayers and attending different Muslim gatherings etc. These gatherings obviously have a lot of benefits.

Analyzing this issue, we see that there are many benefits, effects and blessings for it (ziarah). Among the effects is that ziarah helps a Muslim grasp the value of Islamic society. When he lives among practicing Muslims for a period of time he will develop a confidence in that Islamic society. By seeing these gatherings, non-practicing Muslims and Muslims will also refrain from vices at least for a period of time. This is the least benefit ziarah has for the Islamic society. Crime experts state that during such days like the month of Ramadan, crime rates reach their minimum. Benefit like this are numerous that may not be completely mentioned here.

As for political benefits emanating from such practices, it is very clear that they have a lot of political benefits either. One of them is unity and collective cooperation against enemies.

Secondly, when the enemies see the gathering of pilgrims, they do count on them. That is why we see that even laic and secular movements or parties  hold such meetings and congregations in a bid to confront their enemies and show their power.


[1] Isfahani, Raghed, Mufradat Alfaz al-Quran, research by Davoudi, Safvan Adnan, p.387, first print, al-Dar al-Shamyia, Bairut, 1995

[2] Torayhi, Fakhrudin, vol.3, p.320, second print, Maktabat al-Murtazawyia,1987

[3] Rasa'el Ibn Sina, p.338, qouted from Javadi, Mortaza, Philosophy of Ziarah and its Rites

[4] Qomi, Ibn Qulawayh, Kamel al-Ziarat, p.45, first print, Mortazawiya, Najaf, 1935

[5] Qomi, Abbas, Safinat al-Behar, vol.3, p.518, second print, Osweh, Qom, 1995

[6] Qomi, Abbas, Mafatih al-Jenan, Imam Hussein's Ziarah in mid-Rajab ,p.798, second print, Arman, Qom, 2002

[7] See Philosophy of Ziarah and its Rites, p.27

[8] See Javadi Amoli, Abdollah, The Divine Drink of Hajj, p.489, second print, Esra, Qom, 2000


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