What is the extent of the permissibility of traveling for long distances to visit the shrine of pious person or a sheikh?
- Traveling to visit the grave of a pious person or sheikh
It is permissible to visit graves according to the imams of the four schools of jurisprudence. There is a scholarly consensus that it is recommended for men, though only Hanafi scholars maintain its recommendation for women; other scholars deem it permissible but disliked due to their lack of emotional strength and patience. The premise for the recommendation of visiting graves is the hadith of the Prophet [pbuh] who said: “I had formerly prohibited you from visiting graves. But now visit them as they are a reminder of the Hereafter” [Muslim].
Visiting the grave of the Prophet
Though the majority of scholars maintained that it is disliked for women to visit graves, they excluded the grave of the Prophet [pbuh] and those of other prophets from this ruling due to the generality of evidences on this matter.
Traveling to visit graves
If visiting graves is sanctioned in Islamic law, then traveling for this purpose holds the same ruling. Traveling is not an act of worship in itself nor is it a fundamental part of performing one. Those who restrict visiting graves or the grave of the Prophet [pbuh] only to those residing in the same city as the shrine or grave, maintaining impermissibility of traveling for this purpose, are erroneous in their belief. Proof to this lies in the unanimity of scholars of jurisprudence on the axiom stating that means take the same rulings as their ends; if pilgrimage is obligatory, then so is undertaking the journey for it and if traveling to visit the grave of the Prophet [pbuh] and the graves of the righteous, relatives and those of Muslims in general is recommended, then it is determined that traveling to visit these graves is likewise recommended, or else how can an act be recommended when the means to it are prohibited?!
Discussion of Evidence
The Prophet [pbuh] said: “Do not set out deliberately on a journey to visit mosques except to three: this mosque of mine [in Medina], the Sacred Mosque [in Mecca] and al-Aqsa Mosque [in Jerusalem]” [Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim].
The injunction in this hadith is limited to traveling for the purpose of visiting any mosque except to those mentioned in it. In discussing this directive, Al-Sheikh Sulayman ibn Mansur, better known as al-Gamal, explains in al-Hashiyya ‘ala Manhaj al-Tullab vol. 2, p. 361, explains that the injunction in the hadith is specific to the impermissibility of traveling for the purpose of offering prayers in a mosque other than the three mentioned in the hadith. According to him, this does not conflict with traveling for other purposes. He quotes several scholars’ opinions and these include:
• Al-Nawawi. In his interpretation of the hadith, he says: “There is no virtue in traveling to any mosque apart from these three.”
• Al-‘Iraqi. He said that among the most beautiful meanings encompassed in the hadith is that the impermissibility expressed in it is restricted to mosques. Traveling for other purposes such as to seek knowledge; visit the righteous, friends and relatives; for trade purposes, recreation and so forth, are not included under this directive. This is further made explicit in the hadith narrated by Abu Sa’id al-Khudari, may Allah be pleased with him, who quoted the words of the Prophet [pbuh] in a raised chain hadith: “It is impermissible for a person to travel to any mosque for the purpose of offering prayers except for the Sacred Mosque, al-Aqsa Mosque and this Mosque of mine [at Medina]” [Reported by Imam Ahmed and ibn Abu Shaybah with a fair ascription].
• Al-Subki. He said:
There is no spot on earth that has virtue for its own sake and to which one can travel for the sake of that virtue apart from the three [mentioned in the hadith]. And what I mean by ‘virtue’ is what Islamic law established as being thus and in consequence of this, based legal rulings for it. A person is not to travel to places for their own sake, but for reasons such as seeking knowledge, for a visit or any other permissible or recommended motive. Those who maintain prohibition are erroneous in their belief, since the visit is intended for those who are in the mosque and not for the mosque itself. Therefore, what the hadith actually means is the impermissibility of traveling to a mosque or place for its own sake except to the three mentioned in it. But traveling for the purpose of visiting someone or to seek knowledge is not intended for the place itself but for those in that place.
Based on the above, traveling to visit the grave of a prophet, the righteous or relatives is a recommended matter since this is the only means of achieving this aim and any claim to the opposite is invalid.
Allah Almighty knows best.
Dar al-Fatwa al-Misriyya