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Last Updated: 2015/11/21
Summary of question
When was visiting graves allowed given the fact that it was, for some time in the early period of Islam, unlawful to visit graves?
question
For a short period of time, visiting graves was prohibited and considered unlawful. Given the reports in Sunni sources and with reference to prophetic traditions, Ayatollah Subhani has pointed out in one of his works that the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) used to prostrate on the graves of their prophets which was why the Prophet of Islam (S) forbade Muslims from visiting graves but he allowed it later on. Please explain further as to when this happened during the Prophet\'s time?
Concise answer
Among the practices which, in the early period of Islam, were forbidden was visitation of graves. Visiting graves was prohibited for a number of reasons. As the Islamic society developed and grew more mature,  a suitable environment to deal with this issue came into being. The Holy Prophet of Islam, peace be upon him and his family, made a public announcement as to the permissibility of visiting graves. Not only did he allow visiting graves but he also taught Muslims the manner and etiquette of visiting them.
 
Detailed Answer
Based on the evidences and historical reports and confirmations from the Quran and prophetic traditions, people used to visit, in one way or the other, the graves of their leaders and loved ones long before the advent of the religion of Islam. Over the history of nations, one way to keep the memories of leaders, personalities and important figures alive was to erect structures and tombs over their graves and to visit them as often as possible. Over the history various human civilizations that have so far existed in different parts of the world such as the ancient Greece, Persia and Egypt, we see lofty structures built over graves of prophets, kings and renowned figures which have, with the passage of time, turned into visitation sites for their followers. According to some reports, some people worshipped those tombs and some others turned those places into synagogues, temples and places of worship. Some Christians and Jews did engage in such practices.[1]
The Holy Quran making reference to the story of the People of the Cave whose bodies were discovered by people pinpoints a reality which was rampant among the people of the past, and that was building structures and tombs to commemorate certain people.  The verse in question also refers to people's discrepancy over how to commemorate the People of the Cave. Some suggested that a structure be erected and some others said that a place of worship be built. The Holy Quran does not denounce any of these two suggestions.[2] Obviously, these suggestions were aimed at commemorating and visiting them.
Now the question is, when did visiting graves started become lawful among Muslims? When did Muslims begin to build tombs and structures over graves? Did it start from the early day of Islam or perhaps, it started sometimes after the prophetic mission when the Prophet (S) was alive?
Based on narrations and historic reports, at first the Holy Prophet (S) forbade people from visiting graves. The prohibition was due to a number of factors or motivations and when those reasons and motivations ceased to exist, not only visiting graves became allowable but it also turned into a recommended action.
When it comes to factors responsible for prohibiting Muslims from visiting graves on the part of the Holy Prophet (S), we can mention a number of factors:
1. It is pertinent to mention that in the early period of Islam, all the graves and tombs belonged to pagans and idolaters. Islam had cut off all ties with and relationships with them. One of the ways through which Muslims could cut off ties with them was to stop visiting their graves. The Holy Prophet of Islam forbade Muslims from visiting them.[3]
2. As well, the fact that Muslims had just embraced Islam and the Islamic society was not purified from all customs and norms of the period of ignorance which could lead the society to adopt certain unlawful behaviors such as wailing and mourning for the dead over their graves in the way the ignorant people did, caused the prohibition of visiting graves until the time was propitious and suitable for rescinding the prohibition and allowing Muslims to visit graves.  Therefore, no sooner the religion of Islam spread its influence and its teachings in the Muslims' hearts paving ground for visitation of graves, than the Holy Prophet (S) lifted the ban and advised Muslims to visit graves.  A proof of this saying is a tradition from the Prophet (S) himself who advised us how to visit graves. He has been reported as having said: "I was forbidding you from visiting graves, but now visit the graves but do not utter improper words (while addressing the dead or God)."[4]
3. Perhaps, another reason that can be associated with the prohibition is that since Islam had just been introduced to Muslims and it was going through a tough time and was vulnerable, if visiting graves were allowed, Muslims would remember their loved ones who were killed on the battlefields and it was likely that they would get scared causing them to refrain from taking part in Jihad. Later, as Islam and Muslims grew stronger and more stable, this problem ceased to exist and visiting of graves became permissible.[5]
When and how was visiting of graves allowed?
Based on what was mentioned briefly, the Prophet of Islam forbade Muslims from visiting graves in the beginning but the prohibition did not last long and when it was the right time to start visiting graves, he allowed Muslim to visit graves. On the seventh hegira year when the Prophet (S) performed Umrah Hudaibiyah[6], the Prophet (S) visited and repaired his mother's grave; he wept on her grave in such a manner that those who were in his company were impressed and began to weep with him. The Prophet (S) then said: "God has permitted Muhammad to visit his mother's grave… "He went on to say: "I used to forbid you from visiting graves, but (you are allowed to) visit them now."[7]
Visiting of Graves according to Quran and Sunnah
One tends to visit someone whom he loves or who he is spiritually or materially dependent upon. That is why we see that the Quran and prophetic tradition have affirmed and endorsed visiting graves as a permissible act. We read in a verse from the Holy Quran that indicates the existence of the practice of visiting graves in the early period of Islam. God, the Exalted, prohibits the Prophet (S) to pray for infidels and visit their graves. According to some exegetes, the prohibition about praying on the pagans' graves and visiting them show the desirability of visiting the believers' graves.[8] The Holy Prophet (S) not only recommended Muslims to visit graves but he also, through his conduct and practice, taught Muslims how to visit graves as well as to speak with the dead. A number of traditions have been transmitted in this regard as mentioned below.
It has been reported from Aisha, wife of the Prophet (S) that on some nights, he would go to the Baqi' Cemetery and address the dead as such: "Greetings to the believers and Muslims buried in these graves, what you were promised has now befallen you; may Allah have mercy on those before us and those who follow, we shall join you soon."
As well, it has been reported that the Prophet (S) said: "Gabriel came down to me and said to me that God commands you to go to Baqi' and to seek forgiveness for the people buried therein."[9]
Benefits of Visitation
Visiting graves has a lot of important educational and moral benefits some of which the Prophet, peace be upon him and his family, has pointed out in his sayings. The Holy Prophet (S) says: "Visit graves since it reminds you of the hereafter."[10]
Visiting graves of people from different walks of life, people who once lived on this planet earth and then rushed to the hereafter, will reduce envy and greed for the worldly life and its glamour.  Perhaps, his behavior will change with the change of his attitude towards the reality of life in this world. Visiting of graves will cause him to give up on committing evil and to focus on moral values. That is why the Holy Prophet (S) makes reference to this educational benefit of visiting graves. He says, "Visit graves since there are lessons in this visitation."[11]
It has been reported from Imam Redha (AS) that he said: "Whoever visits his faithful brother's grave and places his hand on his grave and recites "inna anzalna…" seven times, he will be protected from punishment on the Day of Judgment." As well, he said that whoever visit his faithful brother's grave and recites "inna anzalna…" seven times, God will forgive him and the owner of the grave.[12]
When it comes to visiting the graves of the Holy Prophet (S) and the Infallible Imams (AS) and the benefits which it entails thereof, there are many narrations. For example, Imam Hussein (AS) asked the Holy Prophet (S) about the benefit of visiting his grave. The Prophet (S) answered:
"Whoever visits me or your father or you, it is obligatory on me to visit him on the Day of Judgment and deliver him from his sins."[13]
These are some of the general benefits of visiting Muslims' graves. However, when it comes to visiting religious and noble personalities' graves, there are a lot of social benefits which shall be mentioned briefly as under.
If we look carefully at the tombs which are often respected and visited by momenen and Muslims across the world, we shall find out that those graves and tombs belong to the nobles and righteous leaders. These personalities are divided into two categories:
1. The prophets and religious leaders who carried divine messages with them and made all kinds of sacrifices to propagate the message of God and fulfill their mission and went through thick and thin to guide humanity in the right path.
2. Scholars and thinkers who burned like candles to give light to others generally lived their lives with piety, abstinence and hardship. The outcome of their endeavor is generally important as it incorporates varied scholarly achievements.
3. The warriors and revolutionaries who were tired of the oppression and injustice committed by the tyrants revolted against the tyrants and oppressors asking for human dignity to be preserved and human rights to be protected. They irrigated the tree of justice with their own blood.
Visiting the graves of these personalities with the Holy Prophet (S) and the Infallible Imams being at the top is a way of appreciating their endeavors and their struggles. It is also another way of transmitting the culture of honoring and appreciation of these people to the next generations so that they may know that this is part of the worldly reward of those who make efforts in the way of truth, guiding humanity and defending religious values, and principles.[14]
Owing to the social impacts of visiting the righteous ones and nobles, non-Muslim nations also try to commemorate their iconic and influential figures by visiting their graves and tombs. That is why we see a lot of tombs here and there in the world belonging to historic figures, both religious and non-religious. These tombs are respected and regularly visited; and homage is paid to them simply because of the great role they plaid in their respective communities. That is why human beings across the world consider it as their responsibility to commemorate them and it is in the inborn nature (fitra) of man to do so.
Therefore, visiting graves is an issue affirmed and endorsed by the Quran, Sunnah and human reason; it can be said that it is something natural and inborn. That is because man is always interested in visiting and commemorating those to whom he is attached. Visiting graves not only has worldly benefits but it does have heavenly or other-worldly benefits as well. With the teachings of Islam spreading and a better understanding of religious and ideological concepts coming into being, this recommended act which also earned Muslims other-worldly benefits was not only considered permissible but it was also regarded mustahab.
Related index:
The Concept of Visiting the Imams (AS), 30632 (site: 3295)
 

[1] Saduq, Muhammad bin Ali, Man La Yahzuruhu al-Faqih, vol.1, p. 178, Islamic Publications Institute, Qom, third edition, 1413 A.H.
[2] Al-Kahf, 21.
[3] Subhani, Ja'far, al-Wahabiyah fi al-Mizan, p. 96.
[4] Ihsai, Muhammad bin Ali, 'Awali al-Le'ali, vol.1, p. 45, Sayyid al-Shuhada Publications, Qom, first edition, 1405 A.H.
[5]   Al-Wahabiyah fi al-Mizan, p. 96.
[6] Ibn Sa'd, al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, vol.1, p. 94, Beirut, Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyah, first edition, 1410 A.H.
[7]Salehi Shami, Sobol al-Hoda, vol.8, p. 384, Beirut, Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyah, first edition, 1414 A.H.
[8] Subhani, Ja'far, Fi Dhilal al-Tawhid, p. 241.
[9] Subhani, Ja'far, Fi Dhilal al-Tawhid, p.244.
[10] Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir, Behar al-Anwar, vol.79, p. 169, al-Wafa Institute, Beirut – Lebanon, fourth edition 1404 A.H.
[11] Faiz Kashani, Mulla Mohsen, al-Mahajatul Baidha, vol.9, p. 289, Islamic Publications, fourth edition, 1417 A.H.
[12] Atardi, Azizullah, Musnad al-Imam al-Reza (AS), vol.2, p. 254, Astan Quds Rizvi, first edition, 1406 A.H.
[13] Saduq, Muhammad bin Ali, Man La Yahzuruhu al-Faqih, vol.2, p. 577, Islamic Publications Institute, Qom, 3rd edition, 1413 A.H.
[14] Al-Wahabiyah fil Mizan, p. 103.
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