Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (d. 795H) on praying near sacred relics and building over graves

Muslim Pilgrims pray at the top of Mount Noor in Mecca, during the annual Haj Pilgrimage

In the Sahih of Imam al-Bukhari, the following narration is recorded in the Chapter of Mosques

It is related that ‘Itban ibn Malik, one of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and one of the Ansar who was present at Badr, came to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and said, “Messenger of Allah, my eyesight is weak and I lead my people in prayer. When it rains, the water flows in the river bed between me and them so that I am unable to get to their mosque and lead them in the prayer. Messenger of Allah, I would very much like you to come and pray in my house so that I could take it as a prayer-place.” The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said to him “I will do that, if Allah wills.”

‘Itban said, “The following day when the sun was well up, the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and Abu Bakr came and the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, asked for permission to enter and I gave him permission. He did not sit down when he entered the house but said (the Messenger of Allah), “Where in your house would you like me to pray.” I indicated to him a place in the house. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, stood and said the takbir, and we stood and formed rows. He prayed two rak’ats and then said the salam. We persuaded him stay with us to eat a dish of khazira which we had prepared for him. Quite a number of men from our clan had gathered in the house and one of them said, ‘Where is Malik ibn ad-Dukhayshin or Ibn ad-Dukhshun?’ Another of them said, ‘That man is a hypocrite who does not love Allah and His Messenger.’ The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, ‘Do not say that. Do you not see that he has said, “There is no god but Allah,” desiring by that only the face of Allah?’ The man said, ‘Allah and His Messenger know best,’ adding, ‘We have seen him going off with and advising the hypocrites.’ The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, ‘Allah has forbidden the Fire for anyone who says “There is no god but Allah” desiring by that the face of Allah.'”

Ibn Shihab said, “Then I asked al-Husayn ibn Muhammad al-Ansari, one of the Banu Salim and one of their best men, about the hadith of Mahmud ibn ar-Rabi’ and he confirmed it.”

Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali in his commentary of Sahih al Bukhari, comments on this narration:

وقد اعتذر عتبان – أيضا – بأن السيول تحول بينه وبين مسجد قومه الذي يصلي بهم فيه، فطلب من النبي – صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ – أن يأتيه في بيته فيصلي فيه، حتى يتخذه مصلى.
وفي هذا: استحباب اتخاذ آثار النبي – صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ – ومواضع صلواته مصلى يصلى فيه.
وقد ذكر ابن سعد، عن الواقدي، أن بيت عتبان الذي صلى فيه النبي – صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ – يصلي فيه الناس بالمدينة إلى يومه ذاك.
ويشهد لهذا المعنى – أيضا -: قول عمر – صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ – للنبي – صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ -: ألا نتخذ من مقام إبراهيم مصلى؟ فَنَزَلت: {وَاتَّخِذُوا مِنْ مَقَامِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ مُصَلّىً} [البقرة:125] .
وقد نقل أحمد بن القاسم وسندي الخواتيمي، عن الإمام أحمد،أنه سئل عن إتيان هذه المساجد؟ فقال: أما على حديث ابن أم مكتوم: أنه سأل النبي – صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ – أن يصلي في بيته فيتخذه مصلى، وعلى ما كان يفعل ابن عمر يتبع مواضع النبي – صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ – وأثره، فلا بأس أن يأتي الرجل المشاهد، إلا أن الناس قد أفرطوا في هذا، وأكثروا فيه.

Rough translation:

‘Itban (bin Malik) apologized that because of the water flows forming in between him and his people, he is not able to go to the mosque to lead them in prayer, and he asked the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم  to come to his house and pray so that he can take that as a prayer place.

In this: It is recommended to take the athar (relics/remnant) of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and the places where he prayed, as a Musallah in which to pray.

And Ibn Saad reported from al-Waqidi, about the house of ‘Ithban where Prophet  صلى الله عليه وسلم prayed, that people of Madinah pray in it to this day.

And witness to this meaning is the saying of Umar رضي الله عنه to the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم  “Should we not take the Maqam of Ibrahim as a place of prayer ?” to which the verse was revealed {And take, [O believers], from the standing place of Abraham a place of prayer.}[2:125]

It is narrated that when Imam Ahmed was asked about entering in these mosques, he said, “On this is the narration of (Abdullah) Ibn Umm Makthum, that he asked the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم to pray at his home so that he can take it as a musallah, and that what Ibn Umar رضي الله عنه used to do in following the traces/spots of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and his athar (relics), there is nothing wrong for a man to come down to view these sites, however the people have become excessive in this, and more in this.


And just to add for the sake of information, Ibrahim al-Shaghouri mentioned the following other companions of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم who used to do the same practice of praying at the same spot where the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم  prayed in their house, (in his book “Defense of the Sunnah: An Analysis of the Theory and Practices Of Tasawwuf“) :

Hafiz Ibn Hajar (Isaba fi Tamyiz as-Sahaba, 4:424) stated that Zubayr ibn Bakkar recorded in Akhbar al-Madina (also Ruyani 2:230 #1106) that the Prophet (asws) entered the home of Sahl ibn Sa’d and sat in the middle of the house, and afterwards Sahl and his wife used to take that exact place as a place for prayer. Um Sulaym also asked the Prophet (asws) to pray in her house, so they could take that as a place of prayer too (Tabarani’s Mu’jam al-Awsat , 6:305 #6481)

Regarding the legality of having a building over a grave, Imam Ibn Rajab in this same book writes while commenting on the narration reported from Ibn Umar رضي الله عنه that Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “Pray in your houses, and do not make them graveyards”. He writes:

وقد قال بعضهم في قوله: ((ولا تتخذوها قبورا)) : أنه نهى عن الدفن في البيوت، وهذا بعيد جداً.

قال الخطابي: لا معنى لقول من تأوله على النهى عن دفن الموتى في البيوت، فقد دفن النبي – صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ – في بيته الذي كان يسكنه.

وأكثر العلماء على جواز الدفن في البيوت، ووصى يزيد بن عبد الله بن الشخير أن يدفن في داره، فدفن فيها، وشهد الحسن جنازته، ولم ينكر ذلك أحد.

Rough translation:

And some of them said regarding the saying “do not make them graveyards” that it forbids burial in the home, and this is too far fetched.

Al-Khattaabi said: It does not make sense to interpret this as a prohibition of burial in the house, because the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was buried in his house which was inhabited. 

Most of the scholars consider it permissible to bury in the house, Yazid bin Abdullah bin al-Shakhir instructed that he buried in his home, and he was buried there. Hasan attended his funeral and he did not condemn this.

And finally, regarding the narration that curses the Jews and Christians for taking the graves of their Prophets as masajid, Hafiz Ibn Rajab, explains its meaning quoting Hafiz Ibn Abd al Barr (d. 423H):

قال ابن عَبْد البر: الوثن الصنم. يقول: لا تجعل قبري صنما يصلى إليه، ويسجد نحوه، ويعبد، فقد اشتد غضب الله على من فعل ذلك

Ibn Abdal al-Barr said: Do not make my grave an idol by praying towards it, and by prostrating towards it, and worshiping it. The wrath of Allah intensifies on those who do so. 

He also quotes:

وقال صاحب ((التنبيه)) من أصحابه: أما الصلاة عند رأس قبر رسول الله – صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ – متوجها إليه فحرام.

Said in the book “Al-Tanbih” : To pray at the apex of the grave of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم  facing it, is forbidden.



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