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Take a Look at the Demolition of Jannat al-Baqi’ by House of Saud

Demolition of al-Baqīʿ refers to the event of demolition of historical and religious graves and shrines of al-Baqi’ cemetery by the Wahhabis of contemporary time.

Demolition of al-Baqi’ was followed by serious protests in Muslim countries including Iran. Wahhabis destroyed places and graves in al-Baqi’ two times, once in 1220/1805-1806 and the second time in 1344/1926. Many Shi’a hold gatherings, remember the event and mourn on Shawwal 8 of every year which is known as Yawm al-Hadm (Day of Demolition).


According to historical reports, choosing al-Baqi’ as the cemetery of Muslims was a decision of the Holy Prophet (s) in the first year after Hijra. Since then, the Prophet’s (s) companions and many Muslims were buried in this cemetery and in the next years and centuries, gradually upon some of the graves such as the graves of Abbas the uncle of the Prophet (s) and the four infallible Imams (a), domes and mausoleums were built.

Religious and historical places of this cemetery were always important to Muslims around the world and at the time of hajj, pilgrims of hajj often go to Medina and visited this cemetery and the graves and shrines there.

With the emergence of Wahhabis in Hijaz who were inspired by the ideas of Ibn Taymiyya, believed that building anything upon graves and visiting them is against monotheism and thus they destroyed all buildings of such form in different regions of Hijaz. In 1220/1805-1806, Wahhabis besieged Medina and after the city was surrendered, Sa’ud b. Abd al-‘Aziz seized all the properties in the treasures of the Shrine of the Prophet (s) and ordered demolition of all the domes in al-Baqi’.

Apparently Wahhabis are the first group in history who destroy graves and tombs having religious excuse. In other cases, other people tried to destroy such tombs with the excuse of existence of books criticizing caliphs in al-Baqi’ cemetery but they were not successful. In addition to demolition of the graves in Ta’if, Jedda, Karbala, elsewhere, Wahhabis focused their efforts on demolition of shrines and domes of religious sites in Mecca and Medina.

The shrine of the four Imams (a) and the dome of Lady Fatima (a) known as Bayt al-Ahzan were either destroyed or seriously damaged in the first attack of Wahhabis in the same year. According to Abd al-Rahman Jabarti, after a year and a half of besieging Medina and causing starvation, Wahhabi forces entered the city and destroyed all the graves and tombs except the shrine of the Prophet (s).

Ottoman empire sent an army and took back Medina in Dhu l-Hijja, 1227/1812. Some shrines were reconstructed in 1234/1818-9 by the order of Sultan Mahmud II (ruling from 1223/1808-9 to 1255/1839-40), as some reports suggest the existence of shrines after those years. Among some people who have reported the existence of the shrines of Imams (a) is Hisam al-Saltana, son of Abbas Mirza Qajar, Na’ib al-Saltana who went to Medina in 1297/1880 and visited those shrines and Bayt al-Ahzan. He mentioned more than 10 buildings and shrines in al-Baqi’ cemetery. There has been a Mihrab in the shrine of the four Imams (a) and on its left side, there has been a green wooden Darih on the graves of Imams (a). Bayt al-Ahzan of Lady Fatima (a) has been behind the shrine of Imams (a). There are some reports of the buildings in al-Baqi’ cemetery in the travel report of Haj Ayazkhan Qashqa’i in 1341/1922-3, about two years before demolition of al-Baqi’. According to him, the four Imams of Shi’a were in one shrine but their graves were separate. Ayazkhan also mentioned the existence of the tombs of Ibrahim, son of the Prophet (s), Abd Allah b. Ja’far al-Tayyar, Safiyya, the Prophet’s (s) aunt, ‘Atika, Safiyya’s sister, Umm al-Banin, mother of Abbas and some others from Banu Hashim located in an alley near al-Baqi’. Apparently, he was among the last Iranian pilgrims who visited Bayt al-Ahzan in al-Baqi’.

In the second attack of Wahhabis in 1344/1926, all historical sites in this cemetery were destroyed following the fatwa of Shaykh Abd Allah Bulayhad, the chief judge of Saudis claiming that visiting graves is a sign of polytheism and illegitimate innovation.

Muslims’ Reaction

According to Shi’a and Sunni Muslims and contrary to Wahhabi beliefs, building mausoleums upon graves is not against Islamic beliefs and on the contrary, visiting the graves of religious figures and believers is a recommended act which has a long history in Islamic tradition. In addition to the religious aspect, religious sites in al-Baqi’ had a historical importance as well and reminded the historical identity of Muslims. Therefore, demolition of al-Baqi’ sparked wide protests among Muslims and made some Islamic countries react to it.

Demolition of al-Baqi’ and other religious and historical places in Hijaz made so much anger, hatred and worries among Muslims. Many religious and political leaders of Islamic countries reacted to this behavior of Wahhabis and condemned it. After these demolitions, some of the Wahhabis and Saudis stood against their leaders and condemned their extremist actions.

From many near and far countries, people protested against demolition of domes and holy sites. People of Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, China, Mongolia, and India expressed their sorrow and criticism in many correspondences and warned about the consequences of demolition of the Prophet’s (s) grave.

Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Isfahani and other religious scholars of Najaf and Qom took a heated position. It is said that the report of demolition of the graves of al-Baqi’ made Ayatullah Ha’iri, the founder of the seminary of Qom cry on the pulpit of teaching and he closed his teaching session and the market of Qom was closed.

In the Islamic conference of Karachi, scholars such as Muhammad Husayn Kashif al-Ghita and Muhammad Taqi Taliqani, the representative of Ayatollah Burujirdi spoke with the representatives of Saudi Arabia and stressed on the reconstruction of the graves in al-Baqi’.

The government of Iran announced Safar 16, 1344/September 5, 1925 the national mourning day on the occasion of desecration of al-Baqi’ and Ayatollah Modarres made efforts in the parliament of Iran against this action. The parliament formed a commission for investigation about that. Muslims in countries such as India, Pakistan, parts of Russia made demonstrations and sent messages against this action. To avoid the wrath of Muslims and justify for the demolition of religious sites, Saudi Arabia summoned the representatives of Islamic countries to Mecca. From Iran, a delegation comprised of Ghaffarkhan Jalal al-Saltana, minister plenipotentiary of Iran in Egypt and Habibullah Khan Huwiyda entered Jedda on Jumada II 24, 1344/January 9, 1926. With deceptions of the Saudi government and not seriously pursuing the case by officials of Islamic countries, this incident was given up.

In his travel to Hijaz, Habibullah Khan Huwiyda met ‘Abd al-‘Aziz b. Abd al-Rahman b. Sa’ud. According to his report, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz accused “ignorant Bedouins” for demolition of the holy sites of al-Baqi’ and acquitted himself of that action.

In Iran, the members of the parliament objected to Al Saud and forming a commission, they sent a delegation for inspection on the case to Hijaz in 1925. Different plans were mentioned to confront with Saudis. It is said that Ayatollah Burujirdi sent his representative, Muhammad Taqi Taliqani (Al Ahmad) to follow up the proceedings. Al-Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin went to Hijaz to check out the situation and presented the result of his research to Muslims in Kashf al-Irtiyab. Also, some jurists issued fatwa for the obligation of the reconstruction of the shrines in al-Baqi’.

Some Iranian politicians and officials of hajj who were in Hijaz at the time of demolition and after it, described the very mournful condition of al-Baqi’. Seeing al-Baqi’ in such a condition made pilgrims very sad. Expressing their sadness, they have mentioned their wish for reconstruction of the shrines. Some westerners have also visited those graves after their demolition and have reported about them. In his memories, Sir Hartford has mentioned demolition of the domes of Imams’ (a) shrines and pillage of the precious stones of the shrine of the Prophet (s). Riter has described Wahhabis’ action of demolition of the graves in al-Baqi’ to a catastrophic earthquake. Donaldson has also described the tragic condition of the graves after demolition by Wahhabis.

Since Saudi Arabia refused to reconstruct demolished graves in al-Baqi’, for many years, Iran did not formally accept its government and for many more years their relationship was dark.

Publishing Written Works

Another reaction to demolition of graves was writing books and treatises on strengthening jurisprudential principles of building shrines on graves. In his treatise, Rad al-fatwa bihadm Qubur al-a’imma fi l-Baqi’, Muhammad Jawad Balaghi has serious questioned Wahhabis’ thoughts in giving permission for demolition of the graves. Also, different books were written about the mournful reports of demolition of the graves in al-Baqi’, including Thamin Shawwal written by ‘Abd al-Razzaq Musawi Al Muqarram who reported the event of 1344/1926 in details. In al-Baqi’ Qissa Tadmir Al Sa’ud lil Athar al-Islamiyya written by Yusuf Hajari and in Qubur a’immat al-Baqi’ qabl tahdimiha written by ‘Abd al-Husayn Haydari Musawi, the process of demolition of the shrines of Imams (a) in al-Baqi’ has been explained. In Baqi’ al-Gharqad, Hasan Al Baraghani reports about the first attack of Wahhabis to Medina and demolition of the graves of al-Baqi’. Another reaction of other Muslims to this action of Wahhabis was expressing their grievance in the form of poems. Many poets have expressed their grievance for demolition of graves in form of poems.

Current Condition

Currently, the graves of the four Imams (a) and great Islamic personalities in al-Baqi’ have no signs other than little pieces of stones on them. Although in comparison to the time of demolition, the condition of al-Baqi’ is a little better, but Saudi government refuses to look after this cemetery properly. Muslims, especially Shi’a have not forgotten the event of demolition and now when they go to Medina, despite the restrictions Saudi government has put for the visitors of al-Baqi’, Shi’a visitors attend in al-Baqi’ and visit demolished graves of the religious personalities buried in this cemetery and express their resentment of the demolition of their graves.

About 40 years after the event, following the efforts of the Shi’a of Iraq led by Shaykh Kashif al-Ghita’ and the follow-ups of Amir A’lam, the ambassador of Iran in Hijaz, Saudi government built a sunshade beside these graves and laid a stone-tiled way near these graves for going and coming of people in al-Baqi’. Also, the wall of al-Baqi’ was reconstructed at the time of Malik Fahd b. Abd al-‘Aziz and then between 1418/1997-8 and 1419/1998-9 the paths in al-Baqi’ were laid with stone tiles for the visitors.

Today, an organization called Amr bi-l-maʿruf wa nahy ʿani-l-munkar is established near the main gate of al-Baqi’ and its agents prevent visitors approach the graves or seek blessings from them.


About Ali Teymoori

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