Ayatullah Jaffer Subhani on Women Visiting Graves (ziyarat al-qubur)

The below is a translation of a treatise authored by Ayatullah Jaffer Subhani on the topic of whether Islam permits women from visiting graves and has been published in volume 6 of his rasāil fiqhiyya which is a 7-volume compilation of various treatises authored by His eminence surrounding the different chapters of jurisprudence.[1]

The 99th Treatise: On women visiting graves in Islamic Law

I was fortunate this year (1421 AH) to be granted the opportunity to visit the house of Allah (SWT) to perform Umrah al-Mufradah and to be blessed to visit the grave of the Holy Prophet (S) and the Imams (A) of al-Baqī and other sacred places. When I visited the graveyard of al-Baqī, my attention was drawn to the prohibition of women from entering the graveyard by the Saudi authorities due the edict of some of the Hanbali jurists, even though the religious sources are in contrary to this, as they prove that both men and women are equal in this matter. Fortunately, I was able to meet one of the officers in al-Baqī and we had a dialogue regarding the visiting of graves by women and we exchanged a few letters as well. Based on this I decided to write an extensive treatise on this topic in which I gathered the evidence of those who consider it permissible as well as those who consider it impermissible, in a manner that leaves no room for doubt.

This is the treatise that I present to the students of law at the Islamic University of Madinah, hoping they will be satisfied with it.

Muslims are unanimous on the desirability of visiting graves, emulating the Holy Prophet (S) in His (S) words and actions.

“Nawawī says, following al-Abdarī and al-Hāzimī and others: They are unanimous that visiting the graves for men is permissible.

However, it has been reported from Ibn Abi Shaybah and Ibn Sirīn and Ibrahim al-Nakhaī and al-Sha’bī, its detestability (kirāhah), to the extent that al-Sha’bi said: Had it not been for the prohibition of the Prophet (S), I would have visited the grave of my daughter…

It is as if the [report of the] abrogator (nāsikh) had not reached them.”[2]

It will be shown that there are is a multitude of evidence that prove its recommendation (istihbāb) as it [visiting graves] contains commands and encouragements and beneficial consequences such as remembering the hereafter and asceticism from the world. How far apart is this view from that which has been reported from Ibn Hazm that visiting the graves is obligatory even if once in a lifetime, due to the command about it! Since the recommendation about it for men is unanimously accepted, excluding the minority who did not receive the words of the Prophet (S) and His (S) actions, we will not prolong the discussion on it.

The crux of the discussion is regarding its recommendation, or permissibility, for women. Most of the Ahl al-Sunnah say it is recommended.

Ibn Hajar says: They differed regarding women, for it has been said they (women) are part of the general permission, and that is the view of most. And it has been said the permission is specific for men, and it is not permissible for women to visit the graves – and this is what Sheikh Abu Ishāq says in al-Muhadhab.[3]

And al-Sindī says in his commentary of Sunan al-Nasāī when explaining the words of the Prophet (S): “I prohibited you from visiting the graves, so visit them [now].” This combines the abrogated and the abrogator, and the permission is from His (S) words, “so visit them.” It has been said: it includes both men and women, and it has been said: it is specific to men, as is the apparent of the speech. However, the generality of the reasoning of ‘remembering [the hereafter]’ which has been mentioned in the narrations could support the generality of the ruling, expect if the generality of ‘remembrance of the hereafter’ excludes women due to their frequent heedlessness.[4]

And Nawawī reports three views in his commentary of Sahīh al-Muslim:

  1. Impermissibility (hurmah)
  2. Detestability (kirāhah)
  3. Permissibility (jawāz)[5]

These excerpts indicate a difference of opinion, even though most consider it permissible as is the correct opinion, based on the following evidence:

1. The narration of Ā’ishah

Reported by al-Nasāī in his Sunnan from Ā’ishah:

” Ā’ishah said: ‘Shall I not tell you about me and about the Prophet?’ We said: ‘Yes.’ She said: ‘When it was my night when he was with me’ – meaning the Prophet – ‘He came back (from ‘Isha’ prayer), put his sandals by his feet and spread the edge of his īzār (lower garment) on his bed. He stayed until he thought that I had gone to sleep. Then he put his sandals on slowly, picked up his cloak slowly, then opened the door slowly and went out slowly. I covered my head, put on my veil and tightened my īzār, then I followed him until he came to al-Baqī’. He raised his hands three times, and stood there for a long time, then he left and I left. He hastened and I also hastened; he ran and I also ran. He came (to the house) and I also came, but I got there first and entered, and as I lay down he came in. He said: “Tell me, or the Subtle, the All-Aware will tell me.’ I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, may my father and mother be ransomed for you,’ and I told him (the whole story). He said: ‘So you were the black shape that I saw in front of me?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He gave me a nudge in the chest that hurt me, then he said: ‘Did you think that Allah and His Messenger would deal unjustly with you?’ I said: ‘Whatever the people conceal, Allah knows it.’ He said: ‘Jibril came to me when you saw (me leave) but he did not enter upon you because you had taken off your garments. So he called me but he concealed himself from you, and I answered him, but I concealed it from you. I thought that you had gone to sleep and I disliked waking you up, and I was afraid that you would be frightened. He told me to go to al-Baqī’ and pray for forgiveness for them.’ I said: ‘What should I say, O Messenger of Allah?’ He said: ‘Say” Peace be upon the inhabitants of this place among the believers and Muslims. May Allah have mercy upon those who have gone on ahead of us and those who come later on, and we will join you, if Allah wills.”‘[6]

Signification: The teaching of the Ziyārah is a sign of the permissibility of acting upon it.

In addition to His (S) words, “I disliked waking you up” indicating that He (S) disliked waking her up in order for her to join him in visiting al-Baqī’.

Yes, the narration does not have any indication that she entered al-Baqī’ for she only left her house to find out about the whereabouts of the Prophet (S). However, the argument is not premised on her actually entering al-Baqī’ and visiting the graves with the Prophet (S), rather it is based on Him (S) teaching her the Ziyārah. Based on that, there are only 2 options:

  1. He (S) taught her whilst the visitation for women was recommended or permissible
  2. He (S) taught her whilst the visitation was prohibited for women

Based on the first option, our desired conclusion is proven. However, it is clear that based on the second option this would be pointless, for how can He (S) have taught her the manner of visitation that is prohibited, and this is similar to teaching someone [how to perform] an impermissible act?

Perhaps it can be fathomed that she learnt this so that she could visit al-Baqī’ from afar. However, such an idea is farfetched for the term visitation (ziyārah) refers to the existence of the visitor in the presence of the visited, so what does it even mean to say ziyārah from afar? And if the intended purpose of teaching her the ziyārah was for that kind of visitation, then the Prophet (S) ought to have alerted her to this and commanded her to do it as such.

As well as the fact that her words, “What should I say” i.e., what should I say during my visitation to the graves of al-Baqī’ like your visiting of them? The Prophet (S) then taught her exactly the same thing he would recite during his visitation.

2. Narration of Buraydah

Muslim has reported in his Sahīh, from Buraydah who said:

The Prophet (S) said, “I prohibited you from visiting the graves, so [now] visit them.”[7]

Nasāī has also reported the same in his Sunnan in a similar manner and added [the phrase]: “so whoever wishes to can visit [the graves] and do not say anything improper (hajra).”[8]

3. Narration of Abu Hurayrah

Ibn Mājah has reported in his Sunnan from Abu Hurayrah who said:

The Prophet (S) said, “Visit the graves for it indeed reminds you of the hereafter.”

And in another version, “Visit the graves for it indeed reminds you of death.”[9]

4. Narration of Ibn Mas’ud

Ibn Mājah has reported in his Sunnan from Ibn Mas’ud that the Prophet (S) said:

“I used to prohibit you from visiting the graves so [now] visit them for it indeed is a [source of] ascetism in this world and a remembrance of the hereafter.”[10]

Ibn Hajar says: Muslim has reported the narration of Buraydah which includes the abrogation of the prohibition, and His (S) words are: “I used to prohibit you from visiting the graves so [now] visit them.” And Abu Dawud and al-Nasāī have added, in the narration of Anas, “for it indeed is a remembrance of the hereafter” and Hākim in the narration has, “it softens the heart and makes the eyes flow, so do not say hajar” meaning obscene words. And in the narration of ibn Mas’ud, “it indeed is [a source of] ascetism in the world” and Muslim in the narration of Abu Hurarya in a marfu’ manner, “and visit the graves for it reminds you of death.”[11]

Signification: The address is general and includes both men and women and the masculinity of the pronoun is not problematic for it has been proven that the addressees of the Qur’an and Sunnah include both genders except in cases that are excluded by other evidence. And His words, “And maintain the prayer and give the alms,”[12]O you who have faith! Do not take My enemy and your enemy for friends,”[13] and “That you shall not ascribe any partners to Him,”[14] and tens of other examples, encompass both genders, including this narration.

In addition to that, the reasoning in the narration is an indicator of generality because His (S) words, “It indeed reminds you of the hereafter,” does not accept specification. And it has been maintained in the principles of jurisprudence that a reason [of a ruling] (illah) can generalize and specify the ruling. And is it acceptable to a sound mind that that which reminds one of the hereafter is specific to men only and women are prohibited from it?!

5. Narration of Anas ibn Mālik

Bukhāri has reported in his Sahīh from Anas ibn Mālik who said:

The Prophet (S) passed by a woman who was weeping beside a grave. He told her to fear Allah and be patient. She said to him, “Go away, for you have not been afflicted with a calamity like mine.” And she did not recognize him. Then she was informed that he was the Prophet (S). So she went to the house of the Prophet (S) and there she did not find any guard. Then she said to him, “I did not recognize you.” He said, “Verily, patience is at the first stroke of a calamity.”[15]

Ibn Hajar says in his commentary: His (S) words ‘first stroke of a calamity’ means that stability that occurs after the first assault on the heart as a consequence of extreme grief, that is the perfect patience upon which rewards are based, and the root meaning of ‘stroke’ (sadm) is the hitting of a solid thing on another solid thing and has been used as a metaphor for a calamity that hits the heart.[16]

Signification: The Prophet (S) advised her to exercise patience and piety as if she had said something that was against the requirements of piety.

Qurtubi says: Apparently, her crying had exceeded the normal amount, and that is why He ordered her to be pious.

Ibn Hajar says: And what supports it is that in the mursal narration of Yahya ibn Kathir: “He heard from her what he disliked so He stopped beside her,” and so if her standing at the grave and visiting it was a prohibited act, it would be upon the Prophet (S) to refrain her from doing so whereas the Prophet on both occasions commanded her to only have patience.

6. Ā’ishah visiting the grave of her brother

Tirmidhi reports in his sunnan, from Abdallah ibn Abi Mulaikah:

“Abdur-Rahman bin Abi Bakr died in Al-Hubshi” He said: “He was taken to Makkah and was buried there. When Aishah arrived, she went to the grave of Abdur-Rahman bin Abi Bakr and she said [the following lines of poetry]:

“We were like two drinking companions of Jadhimah for such a long time that they would say: ‘They will never part.’ So when we were separated it was as if I and Malik – due to the length of unity – never spent a night together.”

Then she said: By Allah, if I was present with you, you would not have been buried except where you died, and if I had met you, I would not have visited you.”[17]

And what immediately comes to mind from this phrase is that when she came to Makkah, she went to visit the grave of her brother, not that she randomly passed by it on her way to Makkah.

And as for her words, ‘If I had met you, I would not have visited you,’ it means ‘I did not fulfill your rights when you were alive hence, I visit you after your death. And if I had fulfilled your rights, I would not have taken the trouble of coming to visit your grave.’

7. Lady Fatemah (A) visiting the grave of Hamzah

Hākim has reported in his mustadrak, from Ali ibn al-Hussayn, from his father: Fatemah (A), the daughter of the Prophet (S), would visit the grave of her uncle Hamzah every Friday and would cry next to him.

Hākim says after reporting this narration: The narrators from the last of them are all reliable.[18]

These numerous authentic narrations clearly signify the permissibility of women visiting graves and whoever ponders over them would realize that the matter is very clear. However, in order to complete the discussion, we mention the evidence of the opponents, which are nothing more than mere misunderstandings.

The evidence of those who do not consider it permissible for women to visit the graveyard

The dissenters have argued using several reasons:

1. What has been reported by Tirmidhi from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet cursed the female visitors (zawwārāt) of graves.[19]

And Ibn Mājah has reported it from Hasān ibn Thābit and from Ibn Abbas and the wordings are the same in all.

Tirmidhi says: Some of the scholars have opined that this was before the Prophet allowed visitation of the graves, and after he gave the concession, both men and women were part of the concession. And others have said: He only disliked for ladies to visit the graves due to their lack of patience and excessive mourning.[20]

Shanqītī says: And they have differed regarding who was given the concession, it has been said it was only for men and not women . . ., and it has been said it is general for both men and women, and after mentioning the evidence for and against, he says:

The pattern of the word ‘zawwārāt’ does not encompass all types of visitations, it is specific to those who frequently visit because they [women] by frequently visiting are not able to protect themselves from the customs of Jāhiliyah such as counting the feats of the deceased which is problematic based on the verse: “mutual rivalry for piling up diverts you.”[21] As for just plain visitation without frequenting and staying for long, then no [it is not referred to in the narration].[22]

I [Ayatullah Subhani] say: This narration has been either abrogated or specified. If it was said before the concession, the generality of the concession ‘so visit [the graves]’ would be the abrogator and this narration would be abrogated. And if it was said after the concession, it would be a specifier (mukhaṣis). So, if it is either an abandoned narration or one that is acted upon, it can not be used as an argument.

  1. What has been reported by Ibn Mājah from ibn al-Hanafiyah from Ali, he said: “The Messenger of Allah (S) went out and saw some women sitting, and he said: ‘What are you sitting here for?’ They said: ‘We are waiting for the funeral.’ He said: ‘Are you going to wash the deceased?’ They said: ‘No.’ He said: ‘Are you going to lower him into the grave?’ They said: ‘No.’ He said: ‘Then go back with a burden of sin and not rewarded.’”[23]

This narration is lacking in both chain and signification. As for the chain, it contains Dinār Abu Umar (Ibn Umar).

Abu Hātim says regarding him: He is not well-known and Azdī says: abandoned and Khalīl says in al-Irshād: liar and ibn Hibbān says: He errs.

So is it possible to argue using such a narration?!

As for the signification, then firstly: The prophet (S) condemned those women that had no responsibility in the burial of the deceased and had only sat there to observe and watch. Otherwise, if they had some specific responsibility the proposition would have been reversed and they would be ‘rewarded and not burdened with sin.’ That is why the prophet asked them for the reason they were sitting there and once their state was known, He (S) rebuked them.

Secondly, the most that can be taken from the narration is the prohibition of women from following a funeral procession and Tirmidhi has also reported this narration under this tittle, and this is unanimously a disliked (makruh) matter and it is shown by the narration of Umm Attiyah whereby she said, “we were commanded not to follow the funeral procession, but it was not made impermissible for us.”[24] Her words ‘it was not made impermissible for us,’ means the prohibition was not such that it was haram, rather it is a disliked (makruh) matter.[25]

And where is that in comparison to what we are discussing about women visiting graves repeatedly?

In conclusion we would like to bring to light a point to the mind of the reader: Islam is a religion of fitrah (innate nature) and the Sharīah is easy and facilitatory and does not force anyone to suppress their feelings and emotions in their heart and not express them.

Now truth has been made clear and has become vivid with its utmost manifestation and it has become clear that permissibility is the correct opinion.

I hope from Allah, the Almighty, that He may vindicate the truth and annul falsehood, and may He unite the Muslims and grant them the Tawhīd of the Kalimah as He has granted them the Kalimah of Tawhīd, and the Muslims – notwithstanding their differences in laws – are united in many commonalities.

How well the poet of the newspaper Al-Ahram (i.e., Muhammad ‘Abdulghani Hasan) put it when he said:

Our beliefs are as one nation attuned

For by this guiding creed we’re subsumed

Our hearts by Islam will surely converge

No matter how far in tastes we diverge[26]

In the end, we present the view of the Imāmiyah about women visiting graves and we restrict ourselves to what Allamah Hilli says in Muntaha al-Matlab which he authored on the basis of comparative jurisprudence. He says:

‘The fourth: It is allowed for women to visit the graves. And from Ahmad, 2 reports, One of them: Disliked (Kirāhah).

For us: what has been narrated by the Sunnis from the Prophet (S): ‘I used to prohibit you from visiting the graves, so now do it.’ And the generality of it includes women.

And from Ibn Mulaikah that he said to Aishah: O mother of the believers, from where are you coming? She said: from the grave of my brother, Abd al-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr. So I said to her: Didn’t the Prophet (P) prohibit from visiting the graves? She said: Yes, he had prohibited then he [later] ordered to visit them.[27]

And from the Shia sources: What has been reported by Sheikh al-Tusi from Yunus from Imam al-Sadiq (A), He said: Indeed Lady Fatemah (A) would visit the graves of the martyrs every Sunday morning. So she would come to the grave of Hamza and would seek mercy for him and seek forgiveness for him.[28][29]


[1] Rasāil fiqhiyya, 6:613

[2] Fath al-Bārī: 3/148

[3] Fath al-Bārī, 3/148.

[4] Sunan al-Nasāī bi-Sharh al-Suyuṭī wa al-Sindī, 4/89

[5] Sharh Sahīh Muslim lil-nawawī, 7/49

[6] Sunnan al-Nasāī: 4/91, the command to seek forgiveness for the believers; Sahīh Muslim, 3/64, the chapter on what is said when entering the graveyard and supplication for its inhabitants. And the above wordings are from the version of al-Nasāī, and there are slight discrepancies in the two versions. [translation taken from https://sunnah.com/nasai/21]

[7] Sahīh Muslim, 3/65, The Prophet’s seeking permission from his Lord to visit the grave of his mother.

[8] Sunnan al-Nasāī, 4/89, chapter of visiting the graves.

[9] Sunnan Ibn Mājah, 1/501, Hadith 1572

[10] Sunnan Ibn Mājah, 1/501, Hadith 1571

[11] Fath al-Bārī, 3/148.

[12] Quran 2:110

[13] Quran 60:1

[14] Quran 6:151

[15] Sahīh Bukhāri, 2/79, Chapter of visiting the graves.

[16] Fath al-Bārī, 3/149, Chapter of visiting the graves.

[17] Sunnan al-Tirmidhi: 3/371, What Has Been Related About Women Visiting Graves, Hadith 1055.

[18] Mustadrak al-Hākim: 1/377, Chapter of Funerals

[19] Sunnan al-Tirmidhi: 3/371, What Has Been Related About Women Visiting Graves, Hadith 1056.

[20] Ibid

[21] Quran 102:1

[22] Adhwā al-Bayān: 9/79

[23] Sunnan ibn Mājah: 1/502, Chapter on what has been reported about women following a funeral, Hadith 1578

[24] Ibid

[25] Ibid

[26] I am indebted to brother Muhammad Hassanayn Jaffer for helping in translating this piece of poetry

[27] Al-Mustadrak lil Hākim: 1/376; Sunnan al-Bayhaqi: 4/78

[28] Tahdhīb: 1/465 – 1523

[29] Muntaha al-Matlab: 7/430