Generally, visiting graves is mustahab (recommended) for men and permissible for women. Visiting the graves of saintly people, parents and close relatives is considered mandoob (desirable). It is permissible and possible for women to visit graves as long as they do not cry out, wail, behave hysterically and respect graves too much, which can cause mischief. This is because the Prophet advised a woman who was wailing at her child’s grave to endure; yet he did not forbid her to visit the grave. (Bukhari, Janaiz, 2, Ahkam II; Muslim, Janaiz, 15). In addition, it is narrated that Hazrat Aisha visited her brother’s, Abdurrahman b. Abi Bakr, grave. (Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 61).
The Prophet prohibited visiting graves during a period of time when belief in fate was not yet settled and traditions of the era of ignorance were still being practiced. However, later he permitted it. The following is stated in a hadith:
“I had prohibited visiting graves for you. From now on you can visit graves”. (Muslim, Janaiz, 106; Adahi, 37; Abu Dawud janaiz, 77; Ashriba, 7; Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 7; Nasai, Janaiz, 100; Ibn Majah, Janaiz, 47; Ahmad b. Hanbal, I, 147, 452, III, 38, 63, 237, 250, V, 35, 355, 357). Hadiths that state that the Prophet cursed on women who visited graves too often (Tirmidhi, Salat, 21; Janaiz, 61; Nasai, Janaiz, 104; Ibn Maja, Janaiz, 49) belong to the period of time when visiting graves were prohibited. Tirmidhi stated it clearly (Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 60). Hazrat Aisha and Ibn Abdilberr agreed on it.
According to the sound view of Hanafis, it is permissible for women to visit graves as long as they do not display extreme behaviors such as wailing and behaving hysterically. This is because the permission mentioned in hadiths applies to women too. (Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 60, 61; Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Mukhtar, Istanbul, 1984, II, 242).
It has been observed in the stream of history that graves were also visited to ask for help from the dead and even to worship them.
This is the reason why visiting the Prophet’s grave was prohibited in the early years of Islam. Jews and Christians made the graves of people, whom they considered saints, place of worship for themselves. In the Era of Ignorance, people used to prostrate before graves and worship idols. Idolatry started with respect and revering to eminent people’s graves and eventually, that respect turned into worshipping idols. The aim of Islam was to place the principle of tawhid (accepting Allah as the unique Creator and worshipping to Him only) in people’s hearts. Previously, Prophet Muhammad had prohibited visiting graves because he found it risky for this reason. However, when the creed of tawhid was settled in people’s hearts and well comprehended by Muslims, he permitted people to visit graves.
As a matter of fact, there are benefits in visiting graves both for the living and the dead. When the Messenger of Allah was on the expedition to Makkah, he visited his mother Amina’s grave and cried, and made the people around him cry too, and he permitted Muslims to visit graves. (Ibn Majah, Janaiz, 48; Nasai, Janaiz, 101; Muslim, Janaiz, 36; Abu Dawud, Janaiz, 77). That permission and also encouragement of visiting graves are available in well-known hadiths. (Ibn Majah, Janaiz, 47; Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 60).
Benefits of Visiting Graves
a) It reminds one of death and afterlife, and makes him draw a lesson from it for his afterlife. (Muslim, Janaiz, 108; Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 59; Ibn Majah, Janaiz 47-48; Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, I, 145).
b) It directs one to asceticism and taqwa (God-Consciousness). It prevents over-ambitiousness for worldly life and committing harams. It directs one to commit good deeds. (Ibn Majah, Janaiz, 47).
c) Visiting graves of saintly people – especially that of our Prophet’s – refreshes one’s soul and helps to evoke supreme feelings in them. It is mandoob to travel to the graves of our Prophet and Allah’s saintly slaves in order to visit them. The Prophet states in a hadith: “Whoever visits me after I die, it is as if he visited me when I was alive.” (Mansur Ali Nasif, at-Taj, al-Jamiu’l Usul, II, 190).
d) Visiting graves helps the strengthening of one’s relations with his past, religious culture and history.
Benefits of Visiting Graves for the Dead
a) Graves of parents, other relatives and friends are visited especially in order to pray for the peace of their souls and for their salvation. The fact that thawabs gained from good deeds that are performed on behalf of the dead will reach to them is stated in hadiths and determined by the consensus of Islamic scholars. When visiting the dead, one prays for the peace of their souls, reads the Quran and thawabs gained from those good deeds are donated to them. It is thawab to plant a tree at one’s grave. There are hadiths stating that a tree planted at a grave will be a reason to ease the dead person’s agony. It is makrooh (abominable) to put a wreath on graves as Christians do.
This Quranic verse indicates the fact that prayers and supplication made for the sake of the dead people’s souls will be beneficial for them: “Our Lord! Forgive us, and our brethren who came before us into the Faith, and leave not, in our hearts, rancor (or sense of injury) against those who have believed.” (al-Hashr, 59:10). There are many hadiths on the issue (Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, II, 509; VI, 252; Ibn Majah, Adab).
b) The dead hear the living ones: It is stated in the hadiths that those in graves hear the ones who speak while visiting them and respond to their salutations. As narrated by Abdullah b. Umar, the Prophet addressed the corpses of Quraish people lying on the ground after the battle of Badr: “Have you comprehended that the punishment the Lord promised to you was true?” Upon this, Hazrat Umar said to him: “O Messenger of Allah, are you addressing those emotionless corpses?” And the Messenger of Allah said: “You do not hear more than those do. But they cannot answer.” (Ahmad b. Hanbal, II, 121). On the issue, Hazrat Aisha narrated the following hadith: “Now that they have died, they will comprehend the reality better. As a matter of fact, Allah said: O by beloved prophet, you cannot make yourself heard by the dead”. However, the majority of the Islamic scholars opposed Hazrat Aisha on the issue and based their views on the narration by Abdullah b. Umar written above because it was in line with other narrations. (see: az-Zabidi, Tajrid-i Sarih, translation, Kamil Miras, Ankara, 1985, IV, 580).
Appropriate Manners for Visiting Graves
When a visitor arrives in a graveyard, he turns his face towards graves and, as our Prophet said, he salutes them: “O inhabitants of the land of believers and Muslims! May peace be upon you. Insha’allah we are going to join you. I ask Allah for the salvation of both you and us.” (Muslim, Janaiz, 104; Ibn Majah, Janaiz, 36).
Although the meaning of the narration by Hazrat Aisha is the same, its expression is a little bit different. According to the narrations by Tirmidhi and Ibn Abbas, the Messenger of Allah visited Madinah graveyard once and turning to graves, he said:
“O the inhabitants of the graveyard, peace be upon you! May Allah forgive us and you. You went before us and we are going to come after you.” (Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 58, 59). If one salutes a dead person he knows while passing by his grave, the dead person responds to his salutation and recognizes him. If one salutes a dead person he does not know while passing by his grave, the dead person responds to his salutation. (Gazali, Ihyau Ulumi’d-din, IV, Ziyaratu’l Qubur).
During visit to graves, one cannot perform prayers (salat). Graveyards can never be used as masjids. It is makrooh to perform prayers facing a grave. It is not permissible to put candles and light them up on graves. (Muslim, Janaiz, 98; Abu Dawud, Salat, 24; Tirmidhi, Salat, 236).
The Prophet prohibited lighting candles on graves because money is wasted for them and they are lit on graves for revering. It is makrooh to sit on and step on graves. (Muslim, Janaiz, 33; Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 56).
One must avoid uttering nasty and nonsense words which are unrelated to grave visits, walking in an arrogant manner and one must be in a modest state. (Nasai, Janaiz, 100; Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 46). One must avoid relieving nature in graveyards. (Nasai, Janaiz, 100; Ibn Maja, Janaiz, 46). It is makrooh to cut down trees and plants in graveyards. It is makrooh to make sacrifice near a grave, even though it is performed for the sake of Allah. And it is definitely haram to make sacrifice in order to make the dead content and get help from them. There are some who said it is shirk (attributing partners to Allah); because, making sacrifice is a kind of worship and only Allah can be worshipped. One cannot perform tawaf around graves like around the Kaaba. Asking for help from the dead and tying pieces of cloths or handkerchiefs on gravestones for this reason will not work. Believing that some graves and tombs heal diseases and considering their stones, soil and trees holy do not comply with Islam’s creed of tawhid.
It is called “tawassul” to make live or dead saintly people mediators for asking something from Allah. One in grave is incapable of being useful or harmful to someone else. According to Ibn Taymiyya and his followers, it is haram and even shirk to make saintly people, including prophets, mediators for asking something from Allah. And according to the majority of Islamic scholars, it is permissible to make saintly people mediators to ask something from Allah and to visit their graves for this reason. For instance, it may be a reason for the acceptance of prayers to say “Accept my supplication for the sake of Hazrat Muhammad, O my Lord, I am supplicating to you through him.” According to Hanafis and Malikis, it is more virtuous to visit graves on Fridays, on the days before and after Fridays, that is, Thursdays and Saturdays. According to Shafiis, it is more appropriate to visit graves from the afternoon on Thursdays until the morning on Saturdays. According to Hanbalis, it is not right to determine a specific day for visiting graves. In conclusion, although it is more virtuous to visit graves on Fridays, it is possible and permissible to visit graves on other days as well. (Abdurrahman al-Jaziri, al-Fiqh ala’l-Madhahibi’l Arbaa, I, 540).
A tomb is a grave that is visited. It is a building with domes, built over the graves of eminent scholars, saintly people, dervishes, rulers, wives and children of rulers, emirs, viziers and commanders in Islam. The buildings built over non-Muslims’ graves are also called tombs. Graves of eminent Islamic scholars, over which a building is not built, are also called tombs as a respect for them. While visiting her father’s grave, Hazrat Fatima said:
“What happens to a person who smells the soil of Ahmad Alayhissalatu wassalam’s grave? S/he needs to smell nice scents such as musk all his/her life. I am covered with such calamities that if they were to cover the days, days would turn into nights.” (Qastalani, Mawahibu’l Ladunniyya, Egypt, 1281, II, 501).
She preferred to call the Honored Grave “Grave of Ahmad” in her speech. As a matter of fact, as an indication of respect to the Prophet, the Grave of Bliss (the Prophet’s grave) is not called “tomb” but “Rawda al-Mutahhara” and “Qubbatu’l-Khadra”.
The Prophet, in some of his hadiths, prohibited building buildings and masjids over graves. (see: Bukhari, Janaiz, 69; Muslim, Janaiz, 31-32, Masajid 63; Abu Dawud, 76; Nasai, Janaiz, 295, 339, 299). The majority of Islamic scholars said: Building houses, tombs, domes, madrasas or masjids or arbors is makrooh, though it is not haram, on condition that they are not built to show arrogance or wealth. If they are built to show arrogance and wealth, it is haram. It is unlawful to build a tomb in a public graveyard. If the grave belonged to the property of the dead person, it is makrooh to build tomb over it (see: Abdurrahman al-Jaziri, al-Fiqh ala’l Madhahibi’l Arbaa, Cairo, I, 536). Nevertheless, some Islamic scholars said it was permissible to build tombs over the graves of sheikhs, scholars, rulers and wives and children of rulers. There have been scholars who found it permissible to build tombs and domes if there are many buildings and domes like that in places where tombs are built and if those tombs and domes will not result in any kind of prestige such as respect and revering to them, apart from making the dead people recognized and their names known. (Hassan al-Idwi, Mashariqu’l-Anwar, Egypt, 1316/26).
It has been agreed by all except Wahhabis that it is necessary to put a gravestone so that the dead person’s name and where he lies will be known.
Except for gravestones which are necessary not to forget the dead person’s name and where he lied, unnecessary ornamentations and constructions must be avoided. The living people need the money spent on graves more than the dead. None of them will be of use to the dead except planting trees.