Islamic saints.
October 6, 2002 10:14 AM   Subscribe

Islamic saints. The linked article, while a bit disapproving ("There can be little doubt that Muhammad would be displeased if he could see what passes for Islam in much of the Muslim world today"), gives a good description of the cult of saints and their tombs in popular Islam. [More inside.]
posted by languagehat (8 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Far from the puritanical Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, who frown on Sufism and the cult of saints, Muslims around the world, both Sunni and Shi'i, go on making pilgrimages to saints' tombs as they have for centuries. Here is a description of the cult of local saints in rural Tunisia, and here is one of pilgrimages in Marrakesh (with great photos). But don't think it's as exotic and foreign as all that -- we've got them right here in America.

I thought this would be a useful counterpoint to the image of Islam we've been getting lately...
posted by languagehat at 10:17 AM on October 6, 2002

What nonsense! Ok. Now tell me that simnilar things may be found in Christianity and in Judaism etc. To which I can but say, again: What Nonsense.
posted by Postroad at 10:33 AM on October 6, 2002

Good stuff, languagehat. I think we tend to view the major religions as monolithic entities, when in reality they're often a somewhat looser conglomeration of divergent beliefs and outright schisms. The other night, I was watching a fascinating travelogue about Cairo's City of the Dead, a huge collection of tombs built by the caliphs and other Islamic high officials of Egypt. Apparently, these tombs were built in contradiction to Mohammed's desire that burials should be at ground-level, without external ornamentation. To get around this, the tombs were built to function as mosques. Sufis were often housed onsite, and employed to conduct rituals in the buildings to give it even more of a sense of being an active place of worship rather than a burial site.
posted by MrBaliHai at 10:41 AM on October 6, 2002

I was just reading about Islamic saints yesterday--how serendiptious to find this nice post. Thanks.
posted by y2karl at 1:01 PM on October 6, 2002

There are dargas (tombs of saints) all over South Asia. My dad frequents them whenever he gets near one. It's such a entrenched part of South Asian Islam that it isn't even debated (well, it is in Pakistan). Some important shrines include those of Nizamuddin Aulia in New Delhi and Moin-ud-din Chisti in Ajmer.
posted by laz-e-boy at 12:10 AM on October 7, 2002

Thanks, laz-e-boy -- I was hoping to attract some links from other parts of the world! Any Central Asian or West African MeFites out there?
posted by languagehat at 4:51 AM on October 7, 2002

There are a few in Sri Lanka. The largest is Kataragama, believed to be the home of the mysterious Al-Khidr. The front page is overwhelming - the links to Islamic traditions are on the left, midway down. Let me tell you, that place is a trip!

A great book freely available on pdf from is Attar's Islamic Saints and Mystics.

Languagehat, you already busted the wahhabis, so I shouldn't belabor the point, but this is one of their major doctrinal departures from Sunni theology. Those interested in a scholarly defense of tawassul, or intercession of saints, can find it here.
posted by BinGregory at 5:22 AM on October 7, 2002, I mean. Can you believe spellcheck didn't fix that?
posted by BinGregory at 6:19 AM on October 7, 2002

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