Building domes and shrines over the deceased


There are two adjacent mosques in our village, each containing a shrine of a Friend of Allah. Since the 50′s we have been alternating Friday prayers in the two mosques, but during audible prayers disturbance is inevitable due to the proximity of the two mosques. One person wants to tear down the two mosques and build a single one instead and pay for the construction himself but stipulated removing the two shrines from the mosques and transferring the remains of their inhabitants to the village cemetery. Some brothers agreed on the basis of the opinion of those who maintained the prohibition of praying in mosques containing shrines. What is the ruling on this?


Praying in mosques containing shrines of the friends of Allah is not only valid and permissible, but reaches the status of recommendation as confirmed by primary evidence from the Qur`an and Sunnah, the practice of the Companions and the practical consensus of the community.

Evidence from the Qur`an

Allah the Almighty says:

{They dispute among themselves as to their affair. (Some) said, “Construct a building over them”: Their Lord knows best about them.” Those who prevailed over their affair said, “Let us surely build a place of worship over them.”} (Al-Kahf, 21)

The context of the verse indicates that the words in the first quotation were uttered by the disbelievers while those in the second were uttered by the believers. Allah the Almighty relates the two statements without repudiation, demonstrating the permissibility of both opinions. But contrary to the words of the believers which were marked with indecision, the words of the believers imply commendation and resoluteness in their desire to erect a mosque and not a mere structure.

Scholarly opinions

• Imam Al-Razi’s interpretation of {Let us surely build a place of worship over them} means a place in which ‘to worship Allah and keep the remains of the people of the cave in it.’
• In his meta-commentary on Al-Baidawi’s exegesis, al-Shihab al-Khafaji wrote: “This is evidence on the permissibility of building mosques over the [graves of the] righteous.”

Evidence from the sunnah

• `Urwa Ibn al-Zubair narrated through al-Musawer Ibn Makhrama and Marawan Ibn al-Hakam (may Allah be pleased with them) that when Abu Basir died, Abu Jandal Ibn Suhail Ibn Amr buried him and constructed a mosque over his grave at Saif al-Bahr in the presence of three hundred of the Companions.[1] The ascription of this hadith is sound and includes trustworthy scholars. Such an action could not have been concealed from the Prophet ; in spite of this it was not reported that the Prophet ordered that the grave be removed or exhumed.

• It was confirmed that the Prophet said, “The graves of seventy prophets can be found in the mosque of Al-Khayf.”[2]

• Non-prophetic narrations confirm that prophet Ismai’il and his mother Hajar (may Allah be pleased with her) were both buried in Al-Hijr in the Sacred Precinct. This was mentioned by trustworthy historians and acknowledged by Islamic historians such as Ibn Is-haq in Al-Sira, Ibn Jarir al-Tabari in Tarikhu, al-Suhaili in Al-Rawd Al-Unuf, Ibn al-Jawzi in Muntadhim, Ibn al-Athir in Al-Kamel, al-Dhahabi in Tarikh Al-Islam and Ibn Kathir in Al-Bidaya wa Al- Nihaya among others. The Prophet acknowledged both the fact that prophets are buried in Khayf Mosque and that Ismai’il and his mother are buried in al-Hijr and did not order that their graves be removed.

Practice of the Companions

Imam Malik recorded the Companions’ disagreement over the Prophet’s burial place in his Muwatta`. He cited that some people favored that the Prophet be buried at the pulpit while others wanted to bury him at al-Baqi`. Abu Bakr then came forward and said, ‘I heard the Prophet say, “Whenever a Prophet died, he was buried in the same place where he died’; therefore, the Prophet was buried in a grave in the same room where he died.
None of the Companions renounced the suggestion to bury the Prophet at the pulpit which is definitely part of the mosque. Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) only refrained from acting upon this suggestion to conform to the Prophet’s order to be buried in the place where he died. Consequently, the Prophet was buried in ‘A`isha’s room which was adjoined to the Prophet’s Mosque where Muslims pray. In our time, this corresponds to the scenario of mosques adjoining rooms containing the shrines of the friends of Allah.

The claim that adjoining a shrine or a grave to a mosque is a privilege of the Prophet is invalid since it is unsubstantiated by any evidence and is, furthermore, completely nullified by the burial of Abu Bakr and `Umar in the same room in which ‘Ai`sha (may Allah be pleased with her) lived and performed both her obligatory and voluntary prayers. The Companions’ acknowledgment of this is proof of their unanimous agreement on its permissibility.

The practical consensus of the community and scholarly acknowledgement

• The righteous predecessors and later generations offered their prayers in the Prophet’s Mosque and others containing shrines without anyone raising objections.
• In the year 88 A.H., Al-Walid Ibn Abd al-Malik issued orders to the governor of Medina at that time, `Umar Ibn `Abd al-`Aziz, to include the room where the Prophet was buried within the premises of the mosque itself. Scholars from among the seven scholars of Medina approved of this and none of them objected except Sa`id Ibn al-Musaib. He only protested because he wanted to preserve the Prophet’s quarters to serve as an example for Muslims to become acquainted with the living conditions of the Prophet and thereby renounce worldly pleasures not because he maintained the prohibition of praying in a mosque containing a grave.

‘A`isha’s hadith

‘A`isha narrated that the Prophet said, “Allah cursed the Jews and the Christians for taking the graves of their prophets as masjids” (Recorded in the Sahih of Bukhari and the Sahih of Muslim). The word ‘masjids’ here refers to places of worship i.e. they prostrated before the graves in glorification and worship like the disbelievers who worshipped statues and idols. This is further elucidated in an authentic hadith mentioned by Ibn As`ad in Tabaqat Kubra through Abu Huraira (may Allah be pleased with him) who narrated that the Prophet said, “O, Allah do not make my grave an object of worship; Allah cursed those who took the graves of their prophets as masjids.” The words “Allah cursed those…” indicate that taking the grave as an object of worship and therefore the hadith is interpreted as: ‘O Allah! Do not let [people take] my grave as an object of worship before which people prostrate and worship as others did with the graves of their prophets.’

Imam Al-Baidawi said:

Allah cursed the Jews and the Christians because they prostrated in glorification before the shrines of their prophets, took the graves as their Qibla towards which they turned for prayer and as objects of worship. Allah forbade Muslims from imitating them. However, there is no objection to building a mosque around the grave of a righteous person or to praying inside his shrine, by way of seeking blessings and not veneration to its inhabitant. Do you not see that the grave of Isma`il in the Holy Mosque and the graves at Hatim are the best places in which to pray? The prohibition only concerns exhumed graves containing filth.

It is established in Islamic law that a grave must have been either owned by its inhabitant before his death or endowed to him after his death. Conditions laid down by the endower are tantamount to rulings laid down by the Legislator and so it is impermissible to use the grave for any other purpose.

The sanctity of the deceased

Islam forbids violating the sanctity of the dead and renders it impermissible to exhume their graves, since the sanctity of the dead is tantamount to the sanctity of the living. If the inhabitant of a grave is one of the pious friends of Allah, then it is even more prohibited and a greater crime to disinter or remove his grave. This is because they are of great importance in the eyes of Allah and consequently whoever violates their graves will be subject to Allah’s punishment. Concerning this issue, Abu Huraira narrated the following hadith Qudsi, “I will declare war against whoever is hostile to a friend of Mine”( Recorded by Bukhari])

The ruling

It is impermissible to disinter the two shrines mentioned in the question and violate the sanctity of their inhabitants with the excuse of building a single mosque instead of the two present ones. It is better to join the two mosques and leave the shrines where they are since the performance of a righteous act through unlawful means is permissible. It is likewise impermissible for those in charge of the mosque to agree to removing the shrines as a condition of building the mosque.

Furthermore, it is better to keep the mosques separate until Allah the Almighty sends righteous people who know the status of the pious friends of Allah and who will preserve their sanctity by replacing the two mosques with a single structure containing the two shrines and therefore establishing the mosques on the basis of piety and devoutness.

Allah the Almighty knows best.

Shaykh Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt

[1]This hadith was related by Abd al-Raziq through Mu`amir, Abu Ishaq in Al-Sira and by Musa Ibn `Uqba in Maghaziyah.
[2]Included by Al-Bazar and by al-Tabarani in his Al-Mu`jam Al-Kabir. The hadith scholar, Ibn-Hajar, mentioned in Mukhtasr Zawa`id Al-Bazar that its ascription is sound.

About Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa

Shaykh Ali Gomaa was born on March 3rd 1952 in Bani Suwaif, Upper Egypt. He was raised in a pious household that respected knowledge. His father, a lawyer specializing in personal status shariah law, transferred his love of books to his son whose private library now boasts over 30,000 titles and is sought out by students and researchers from around the world in need of rare texts. Shaykh Ali began memorizing the Quran at the age of ten and, although he did not go to religious schools, by the time he graduated from high school he had studied the six canonical collections of hadith as well as Maliki jurisprudence. When it came time for him to go to college he had the choice to enter either the faculty engineering or the faculty of commerce. He chose commerce since it was a field that would allow him the spare time to continue his religious studies while he was in school. After graduating from college Shaykh Ali enrolled in al-Azhar University. During his first year in al-Azhar he memorized many of the foundational texts that other students who had gone through the al-Alzhar high school system had already encountered. These included works in jurisprudence, Arabic grammar, Quranic recitation, and hadith methodology. After completing a second bachelor's degree from al-Azhar in 1979, Shaykh Ali enrolled in a master's degree program at the same university's department of shariah and law. He obtained his master's degree in 1985 followed by a PhD from the same department in 1988. In addition to his official studies, Shaykh Ali spent time with many Shaykhs and masters of the shariah sciences and the spiritual path outside of the university setting. The most influential of these Shaykhs was the Moroccan hadith scholar and Sufi Shaykh Abdullah bin Siddiq al-Ghumari who considered Shaykh Ali to be one of his most accomplished students. Other scholars that Shaykh Ali studied with include: Shaykh Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuda, Shaykh Muhammad Abu Nur Zuhayr, Shaykh Jad al-Rabb Ramadan Goma', Shaykh al-Husayni Yusif al-Shaykh, Shaykh Muhammad Yasin al-Fadani, Shaykh Abd al-Jalil al-Qarnishawi al-Maliki, Shaykh al-Azhar Shaykh Jad al-Haqq Ali Jadd al-Haq, Shaykh Abd al-'Aziz al-Zayat, Shaykh Ahmed Muhammad Mursi al-Naqshibandi, Shaykh Muhammad Zaki Ibrahim, and Shaykh Muhammad Hafidh al-Tijani. Before his appointment as Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shaykh Ali was Professor of Juristic Methodologies at al-Azhar University. In addition to teaching classes on the university campus, in the mid-1990's Shaykh Ali reestablished the tradition of giving lessons in the al-Azhar mosque. For a decade Shaykh Ali could be found in one of the side rooms of the mosque teaching jurisprudence, juristic methodology, hadith and its sciences, theology, and spirituality from the early morning until noon six days a week. These lessons were open to the public and a number of students who had adopted an extremist approach to religion attended regularly. Shaykh Ali engaged these students challenging their understanding of Islam and offering alternative interpretations to extremist views. As a result many of these students renounced extremism and embraced the more moderate vision of Islam that Shaykh Ali taught. A close circle of young religious scholars who had adopted his approach soon formed around Shaykh Ali and now that much of his time is taken up with official duties, this group of scholars continues the tradition of giving informal lessons in the al-Azhar mosque. In 1998 Shaykh Ali began delivering the Friday sermon at Cairo's Sultan Hasan Mosque, one of the city's grandest and most beautiful examples of Mamluk architecture. His sermons drew a crowd of hundreds, many of whom would remain after the prayer to attend his public lesson and question and answer session. In the ten years since he began delivering sermons there Cairenes from all walks of life have been drawn to Sultan Hasan to hear his message that emphasizes mercy, intelligence, and understanding when confronting the difficulties of the contemporary world. In 2003 Shaykh Ali was appointed Grand Mufti of Egypt. Since taking on the position he has revolutionized the process of issuing fatwas in Egypt transforming Dar al-Ifta from a institution that was the extension of one individual (the Grand Mufti) to a modern institution with a fatwa council and a system of checks and balances. Shaykh Ali has also added a technological aspect to the institution by developing a sophisticated website and call center through which people can request fatwas even if they are unable to come to the institution personally. Over the last five years Shaykh Ali has overseen the issuance of many important, and some controversial, fatwas all of which share the common characteristic of striving to show the continued relevance of Islam for people living in the 21st century. The methodology according to which this is carried out can be characterized by a profound respect for the intellectual product of the past accompanied by a realization of its shortcomings, when they exist, and an understanding of the specific needs the times in which we live. Shaykh Ali is a prolific author and writer on Islamic issues and he writes a weekly column in the Egyptian al-Ahram newspaper in which he discusses matters of current interest and religion.
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