Opinion Editorials, November 2003, www.aljazeerah.info
Turning People Away From the Prophetís Grave
Arab News, 11/17/03
Q. I recently visited the Prophetís Mosque in Madinah and noticed how the guards turn people away from the Prophetís grave when they try to touch the outside walls or the gate or anything on the structure. They claimed that all this is a form of ďshirkĒ, or associating partners with God. Does this apply to kissing the forehead or the hand of a grandfather, or a tribal chief, or a prime minister, or a ruler?
A. Gestures differ according to the way they are used and understood in the community. The same gesture may carry opposite meanings in different communities. In Russia, for example, when the audience applauds, the speaker returns their gesture with similar applause.
If this were to be done by a speaker in the Middle East or in Western Europe, it would be found very strange.
During the Prophetís lifetime, people greeted him with gestures expressing their love and respect as was acceptable in their community. After his death, we greet him and request God to grant him peace and blessings. In this way, which he himself recommended, we express our love and respect to him. In our society here in Saudi Arabia, people express their respect to their elders by kissing their hands, or their foreheads. They express welcome to a dear friend by touching noses. All these are acceptable, since there is no confusion in the meaning of the gesture itself.
When visiting relativesí graves, the proper thing to do is to greet the dead and to pray God to shower His mercy on them. No gesture of touching the grave or wailing is permissible. When standing before the grave of a highly respected person, such as a scholar or an ancestor, we should confine ourselves to verbal prayers and greetings. The same applies to visiting the Prophetís grave. We stand there in all humility, greeting the Prophet (peace be upon him) and declaring our belief in him as Godís messenger who delivered His message complete and guided us to follow it, giving us good counsel.
We pray to God to reward him as He best rewards a prophet and a messenger. To touch or kiss the walls of his grave is wrong. It is indeed a gesture similar to what polytheists used to do. Islam takes a very strong stand to any gesture or action that is associated in peopleís minds with worship. People who worshiped ancestors, or saints, or dead people often indulge in actions that are not permissible in Islam. One of these is to touch the grave, or to hold to its gate and pray to God. All this is unacceptable.
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