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Thursday, September 05, 2013

Graves of Sahaba and ahlul Bayt

Many people get emotional when talking about sites associated with the Prophet’s (saw) companions or ahlul bayt. Others try to defend the Saudis no matter what they do. I hold no brief either for those who venerate graves, or for the Saudis.

I have interests in archaeology, as well as many other subjects, and my best learning part (age 20-30) was spent in the West, in a secular environment, with a scientific approach. So destruction of historic sites and artifacts pains me as much as it would anyone else.

It bothers me that I have this interest, while the Prophet (saw) ordered destruction of sites where shirk was committed, and artifacts with them. For example, we are told that he had all idols destroyed, in the Ka`aba as well as whole of Arabia. Had they been preserved in a museum, they would have led us to study at least the art of pagan Arabs. We could have seen how their religion developed, and how their culture was shaped.

Not only that, he (saw) also forbade all things that could lead a future generation to re-engage in shirk. He sent Ali (ra) to level the graves to one palm’s height, and destroy the buildings that housed idols. My sense of history and archaeology tells me that preservation of those buildings would have given us knowledge of the Arab temples. But that knowledge about Arab pagan worship and about the rituals for their dead, has been permanently removed from us. Shouldn’t my enlightened scientific mind consider it a loss to humanity? In contrast, where these have been preserved e.g. in Egypt, we have been able to decipher a great deal about the people of those times.

However, he (saw) asked the Sahaba to quickly pass those sites where Allah (swt) had sent His retribution. Those sites are today devoid of idols, but we do not know when those idols were removed. I have not found any mention of broken pieces of idols in Saudi Arabia.

Contrast this with Pakistan. We have an abundance of maqbaras, and ancient graveyards that any nation can be proud of. These are kept in good repair, and we have pirs who preside over their ancestors’ graves and those who regard the dear departed as living. We have dedicated vast jagirs (and freed them from income tax, with serfs to toil on the land) for the upkeep of these graves. Naturally, these pirs themselves have large landholdings, or are related to these big land owners. They pay nothing to the state, but they have big clout, so they are returned to power, where they make sure that the ordinary people get poorer and poorer, while they get richer and richer, passing on the liabilities of the state to the poor.

However, we have these ancient and new maqbaras, and that is what counts. If we were to study the patterns on these graves, the color and method of production of the tiles on the roofs of these maqbaras, wouldn’t it be educational. It could boost the tourist industry – just like in Iran and Central Asia. Studies in those enlightened lands have resulted in volumes written about them; knowledge has grown; even the tiles are being reproduced in the same way as earlier, and they fetch dollars, too, for these scientifically aware states. Alas for us.

Coming back to KSA, on the net I can see the dwellings of Thamud at Madaene Sualeh and other sites. I can see the houses and forts at Khyber that the Jews left behind. The Wahhabi movement has not destroyed these. Access, however, is restricted, just like at other sites all over the world, and one is discouraged from staying too long in such places, according to the injunction of the Prophet (saw).

I can see the graveyards at Makkah, Madinah, Uhud, etc. When I went there (2005), graves of various Sahaba and Sahabiyaat were pointed out to me, but of course, there were no plaques to mark the individual graves, but there were plain stones, according to Sunnah.

What the Wahhabi movement removed were signs which this Ummah, like the previous ones, was using to venerate, and seek interdiction from, the departed. Our people have been told that to say that these people in the graves are dead, is blasphemy. The departed should be considered alive, and asked for help and intercession on our behalf. Naturally, the populace goes to seek help from the departed and even from the trees planted around the graves. This has the added benefit of preserving old culture and customs, so we are actually in a continuum, not cut off from our past. Something to rejoice!

Yet, the Prophet (saw) did not allow these benefits to the people of his times.

Is that the answer? Were (naoozobillah) those Sahabis Bedouin or paindoo Arabs? so all temptation of shirk had to be removed from them. We consider ourselves far more advanced and cultured. We know the difference between shirk and culture, so all is allowed to us! In the words of Hali:

                     Magar muslamanon peh kushada hein saree rahein

In Jordan - another enlightened state, I see that temples are being restored in Petra to their former glory. Tourists will flock to these sites, and some will start the rites observed by the Nabateans or the Romans.

I also remember the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan. It hurt me. I thought:

“These barbarian Taliban, don’t they know better. They are destroying the finest examples of art of the Buddhist civilization in Afghanistan. Scientists have wondered how the people of those times managed to carve such fine huge statues on cliff faces. Now those are gone forever. Does it matter that I had seen Japanese tourists saying prayers to these Buddhas.

                                           La ikraha fid deen

so should we say: If they want to do shirk, let them”.

But the Prophet (saw) ordered removal and destruction of such things.

I went for Hajj in 2005 with a Tableeghi group, which included some Barelvis as well. There I discovered that the Tablighi group was not apolitical. Our group leader and some others from our group would clandestinely meet with their locally resident leaders, and occasionally hint at the corruption of Saudi society, and how soon they would be able to come to power and reverse all that the Saudis had done.

Far more sinister was the attitude of the Iranians, and the Turks, both with exaggerated sense of grave veneration. The Iranians in particular would congregate at graves, try to start a procession, raise slogans, etc. and the Saudi police had to disperse them.

Maybe the Saudis felt compelled to remove the markings so that this congregation of bidati people would not take place, which could also create a law and order situation.

So what is the conclusion? Are the graves of the Sahaba and ahle bayt, landmarks of early Islam, or can they lead to shirk, and must be removed?

I see the modernization of Makkah and Medinah, and I long for the pristine desert city look of these cities in the times of the Prophet (saw). But it is true, too, that Hajj has become easy and within reach of a lot of people, who otherwise would not have been able to perform it. It is also true that expansions and incorporation of neighborhoods has taken place throughout history.

We should also be careful not to confuse the Wahhabi movement with the Saudi dynasty.

The Saudi dynasty is a kingship. All evils of kingship will eventually appear in it. The Wahhabi movement was a purification movement. When its Ulema get close to kings, the corruption of power will afflict them, too. Yet, when the destruction of landmarks is for prevention of shirk, it should be appreciated. When it is only for the benefit of the dynasty, it should be condemned, but not laid at the door of the movement.

In conclusion, the Wahabi movement achieved the purification of Saudi society from physically perceptible shirk, in line with the Prophet's (saw) injunctions. Any excesses we see today may be to prevent the resurgence and reassertion of Shias and other venerators of graves.