Forgotten Sunnas of Visiting Graves
In this month’s article, Shaykh Jamir Meah discusses the sunna of visiting graves. He covers the benefits and blessings of visiting graves, reflecting on our own state, remembering those who have gone ahead, and ends with a practical challenge for anyone who wants to fully revive the spirit of this sunna.
Man passes through five stages of existence. The first stage of man begins in the passing through the loins of his male and female ancestors. The second phase of life sees his birth into this earthly life and continues until his death. The third phase is spent in his grave and the Intermediate Realm (al barzakh) until the Day of Resurrection. The fourth stage is spent entirely on that momentous Day and continues until his final judgements is passed. The fifth and final phase is his life in the Eternal Abode, be it the Garden or the Fire.
A succinct summary of these stages is mentioned in the Qur’an, when Allah Most High puts to us, “How can you deny Allah? You were lifeless and He gave you life, then He will cause you to die and again bring you to life, and then to Him you will be returned.” (2:28)
Stages on Life’s Way
As the writer of this article, and you as the reader of this article, we can both safely assert that we have passed through phase 1 of our existence fairly successfully, and are now of course, somewhere in phase 2 (perhaps not passing through so successfully!).
We spend years unwittingly being passed down from loin to loin, then having appeared on earth, we spend a good amount of our formal years learning everything we need to survive. We struggle and toil to maintain survival, establish security, while fulfilling our hopes and aspirations for the rest of our lives, and then, ready or not, we’re evicted from Earth’s surface and buried in it. Enter phase 3.
Phase 3 introduces us to the grave and the intermediate realm, both unfamiliar territory to us; we will find ourselves alone and separated from everything we spent attaching ourselves to in those 60 + years of terrestrial existence.
When you or I die, our “judgement” effectively starts then, for a person “will be shown [in his grave] his [final] abode in the morning and in the evening.” (al Bukhari) We remain in this third intermediate phase until the Day of Judgement, much longer a period than the mere 60-90 years we spent laboring on earth.
Phase four is the beginning of eternity, and the rest is, as they say, history (well, not really, for us it is our “future,” while in reality, the earthly concept of time will cease to exist).
Every Soul Shall Taste Death
On reflection then, in the grand scale of the five phases of man’s existence, this earthly stage seems pretty minuscule. It is for this reason we find so many reminders in religious texts concerned with our ultimate ending on earth. Meek or mighty, we all affirm with unequivocal certainty that “Every soul will taste death.” (Qur’an, 3:185)
Infinitesimal as earthly life may be; it is not of course without colossal consequence. In this blink-of-an-eye span of earthly life, we either make or break our eternal future. What we do on earth determines where we are post-earth. The user-manual for “what to do and be successful on earth” is of course the Qur’an and Sunna.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)ﷺ advised us, “Remember often the destroyer of pleasures” (Ibn Maja), meaning death. This is not being morbid or pessimistic. It is dealing with an inevitable reality.
Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity. – Hamlet, Act I, scene 2
In the same way that one would not remain idle nor waste precious time if told by the doctor that they have a terminal illness and only a short time to live, any sensible person who reflects with an open and sincere heart will come to realize that “this worldly life is no more than play, amusement, luxury, mutual boasting, and competition in wealth and children … And in the Hereafter there will be either severe punishment or forgiveness and pleasure of Allah, whereas the life of this world is no more than the delusion of enjoyment.” (Qur’an, 57:20)
There are many ways to remember this unrelenting destroyer of pleasures. One way of remembering our inevitable ending is remembering those who have preceded us and already arrived at phase 3 of man’s existence, namely the Intermediate Realm. We can do this by frequenting the graves, which is the subject of this article.
Recommendation and benefits of visiting the grave
Visiting the graves was recommended by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)ﷺ as a means to remind oneself of the passing on from this world and onto the hereafter.
Anas narrates that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)ﷺ said, “I forbade you to visit the graves then it appeared to me that they soften the heart, bring tears to the eyes, and remind one of the hereafter.” (Ahmad)
Abu Huraira, relates the Prophet’s words, “Visit graves, for it reminds one of his death.” (Sahih Muslim).
The recommendation applies to both men and women, as is evident when a Companion saw ‘A’isha visiting the grave of her brother, he said to her, “Did not the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)ﷺ forbid this visitation of graves?” She replied, “Yes, he had forbidden it. Then he ordered to visit them.” (Al Hakim, al Bayhaqi)
The benefits of visiting the grave extend beyond the visitor only. It is reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)ﷺ said. “There is not a person who passes by the grave of his fellow believer whom he used to know in this life, and sends greetings upon him, except that he recognises him and returns his greetings.” (al Istidhkar) Other narrations describe the solace and happiness the deceased find when a person visits their grave.
Intention When Visiting the Graves
One makes high intentions when visiting the grave. Among these intentions are:
- To follow the recommendation and actions of the beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).ﷺ
- To remind oneself of the fleeting nature of this world, the moment of death, the immediate life, and the Hereafter.
- To pray for one’s brothers and sisters and others.
- To fulfill some of the rights of the dead and bring comfort to the deceased.
- To encourage others to visit the grave and remember death.
- To hope that in turn, one will have many visitors to their own grave when the time comes.
- To soften one’s heart by remembering one’s lowly return to the earth and review one’s path and relationships with God and others.
The Hard heart which has become rough is softened only by the tokens of decay.” – The “old woman” of Abd al Qays, Ihya ‘Ulum al Din
When to Visit the Grave?
The grave may be visited at any time, but the scholars have generally recommended visiting the cemetery on Thursday night, Friday and Friday night until sunrise. It has been narrated and observed that the spirits of the dead return to their graves at these times.
Etiquettes when visiting the grave
When a visitor enters the cemetery one should say a general salam to all the believers and make dua, by saying:
السَّلاَمُ عَلَى أَهْلِ الدِّيَارِ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُسْلِمِينَ وَيَرْحَمُ اللَّهُ الْمُسْتَقْدِمِينَ مِنَّا وَالْمُسْتَأْخِرِينَ وَإِنَّا إِنْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ بِكُمْ لَلاَحِقُونَ
Peace be upon the inhabitants of this abode from among the Believers and the Muslims, and may Allah have mercy on those who have gone ahead of us, and those who come later on, and we shall, God willing, join you. – Sahih Muslim
Some scholars stated it is etiquette to stand facing the top of the buried person’s head. Others have said one should face the chest of the deceased, who would be facing the qibla.
One should place fresh green branches on the grave if available. It is said that the green branches of living leaves bring relief to the deceased.
One should enter and sit at the grave with serenity and no hurry, particularly if visiting anyone who had rights over them, such as parents, relatives, teachers.
One should reflect and ponder on the state of the deceased and on one’s own state. Imam al Ghazali says: “The visitor should not neglect to pray for himself and for the one deceased, or to derive a lesson. This latter may only come about through picturing the deceased in one’s heart, and the way in which his members have been scattered abroad, and how he shall be raised from his grave, and that one shall be joining him before long.” (Ihya Ulum al Din:40)
One should recite whatever of the Qur’an they are able to, with the intention of the reward going to the deceased.
One should make abundant supplication for their forgiveness, and through this the dead will rejoice. Imam Abdullah al Haddad relates that “A dead man was once seen in a dream and, upon being questioned about his state, said that he had been greeted by an angel who attempted to burn his face with a flame held in his hand. But one of the living said, ‘God have mercy on so-and-so!’ and the flame went out!” (The Lives of Man)
Visiting the graves is a solemn act. As such, one should maintain the proper dignity at all times by keeping within the boundaries of the Shariah. One should avoid excessive crying and wailing, which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)ﷺ forbade.
This month’s practical challenge is for all of us to try to visit a nearby cemetery once. It does not matter whether the deceased is someone known to you or not. Let’s take the time to pray for them, to reflect on our own state and journey, and re-assess our lives and relationships with each other, and our relationship with Allah.
Although we may not see or even know the deceased, on the Day of Judgement we will know them, and it may just be that the person intercedes for us because of what we did for them, and through it, we enter Paradise.
Shaykh Jamir Meah grew up in Hampstead, London. He travelled to Tarim, Yemen, where he spent nine years privately studying a range of Islamic sciences under the foremost scholars and muftis from the Ribat Tarim, specializating in Shafi’i fiqh. In early 2016, he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continues advanced studies under many of Amman’s most prominent scholars, in a range of Islamic sciences, including Islamic theology, logic, legal principles and precepts, hadith studies, grammar and rhetoric, seerah, Quranic studies and tafsir. He is also an experienced homeopath, having studied and been mentored under some of its leading practitioners.