Visiting the Graves of the Righteous

Zanbal – Visiting the Graves of the Righteous

Nurulain Wolhuter tells of how visiting the righteous dead is a blessed act for those who seek to make their hearts alive.


The place is Zanbal, the resting place of the Ba‘alawi family of descendants of the Prophet in Tarim, Yemen. The time is after asr. The sun is beating on the white sand that cushions the shoe-less feet of the visitors that silently wind their way through the cemetery – shoe-less out of respect for the righteous occupants of the graves, and also in order to receive the healing that the sand is said to provide. The sky is clear and silent, a regal reminder of the power of its Creator. The scent of perfume effuses the air, and Tarimi-style wreaths left by previous visitors are dotted around the graves.

The visitors stop first to greet Sayyid Muhammad al-Faqih al-Muqaddam and then his son, Ahmad. They read Sura Ya Sin quietly and make supplication. For newcomers, a brief biography of al-Faqih al-Muqaddam is read. Born in Tarim in 574 AH, he founded the Ba‘alawi sufi order by drawing together the paths of Shaykh Abu Madyan and Shaykh Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani, and the way of his forefathers. (Buxton, Imams of the Valley) Tears start to well from the intensity of the experience of proximity to souls of this stature, as the visitors make their way to the graves of other great saints, like Imam al-Aydarus al-Akbar (born in Tarim in 811 AH). Known as the “sufi of his time,” he contributed significantly to the development of the order. (Buxton)

Visiting the graves of these righteous people is a truly blessed experience. Our standard-bearer, the Beloved of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, used to visit graves. It is narrated that he visited the grave of his mother and he wept, and moved others around him to tears, and said, “I sought permission from my Lord to beg forgiveness for her but it was not granted to me, and I sought permission to visit her grave and it was granted to me. So visit the graves, for that makes you mindful of death.” (Muslim) It is also narrated from Ibn Mas‘ud (with a weak chain) that the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “I used to forbid you to visit the graves, but now visit them, for they will draw your attention away from this world and remind you of the Hereafter.” (Sunan Ibn Majah)

In addition to drawing one closer to Allah and reminding one of the after-life, other blessings also flow from such a visit. Ibn al-Juruzi said that supplications are answered at the graves of the righteous, on known conditions. And Imam Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn Ali al-Baghdadi said (with a chain of transmission to Imam Shafi‘i) that Imam Shafi‘i said: “Indeed, I took blessings with Abu Hanifa and I came to his grave every day, visiting, and when a need befell me I prayed two rakat and came to his grave and asked Allah Most High for the need [while there] with him, and it wasn’t long before it was met.”

The visit culminates at the grave of Imam al-Haddad (born in Subayr in 1004 AH). Despite becoming blind at the age of four, he was a devoted caller to Allah. He used his many litanies and poems in aid of this cause, and became known as the mujaddid (renewer) of the 12th century AH, Allah have mercy on him. (Buxton)

Here, the visitors’ souls unite in chanting the verses the Imam left for posterity. Verses that continue to inspire thousands to this day, :

يا عالم السر منا لا تهتك الستر عنا
وعافنا واعف عنا و كن لنا حيث كنا

O Knower of our secrets, do not remove (your) protective veil from us;

Exempt us, forgive us, and – wherever we are – be there for us.

The heart is soft there, open and vulnerable, and those who have visited will always remain somehow at one with it. As a lovely Tarimi lady put it: They’re alive in their graves and they hear you, and if you love them, they love you.

For authoritative and established fatwas and arguments on the practice of visiting graves, see Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Reliance of the Traveller g.5.8; g.5.9;
نماذج من أدلة أهل السنة والجماعة في بعض المسائل التي يتعرض لها المبتدعة إعداد لجنة بدارالمصطفى .