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Imam Reza

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Mashhad, Iran.

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The existence of pilgrimage places, other than the Ka’ba in Mecca, is a controversial subject in Islam. Orthodox Sunni Muslims, following Muhammad’s revelations in the Koran, state that there can be no pilgrimage site other than Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The reality however, is that pilgrimage places dedicated to Muslim saints are popular throughout the Islamic world, for both the Sunni and Shi’ite sects, particularly in Morocco, Tunisia, Pakistan, Iraq and Shi’ite Iran. The Sunni and Shi’ite sects, while quite similar in theological matters, differ in their understanding of who should have been the leader of Islam following the death of Muhammad. The Shi’ite, living mostly in present day Iran, believe the Prophet had designated his cousin and son-in-law Ali to be his successor. The Sunni, convinced that Muhammad had given no such indication, choose from among their group a series of Caliphs.

A distinctive institution of Shi’ite Islam as practiced in Iran is the Imamate. The Shi’ites maintain that the only legitimate successor of Mohammad was Ali, both by right of birth and by the will of the Prophet. Shi’ites revere Ali as the First Imam, and his descendants, beginning with his sons Hasan and Hussain, continue the line of the Imams until the Twelfth, who is believed to have ascended into a supernatural state to return to earth on judgment day. While none of the Twelve Shi’ite Imams, with the exception of Ali, ever ruled an Islamic government, the Shi’ites always hoped that they would assume the leader of the Islamic community. Because the Sunni caliphs were aware of this hope, the Shi’ite Imams generally were persecuted, and often assassinated, throughout the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. A significant practice of Shi’ite Islam is that of visiting the shrines of the Imams in Iraq and Iran. It is interesting to note that only one of the Imam shrines is located in Iran, that of Imam Reza in Mashhad, while the other Imam shrines are found in Sunni Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The Shi’ite shrines in Sunni Iraq have frequently been destroyed or desecrated by fundamentalist Sunnis but each time the shrines are reconstructed, ever more gloriously, by Shi’ite believers.

Mashhad, the second largest city in Iran, is best known for its beautiful pilgrimage shrine of Imam Reza, the eighth Shi’ite Imam (765-818). A person of extraordinary scholarship and saintly qualities, he was surprisingly appointed by the Sunni Caliph Mamun to become his successor. Mamun’s actions, while welcomed by members of the Shi’ite sect, disturbed the rival Sunnis, with the result that violent uprisings ensued and Imam Reza soon died, perhaps by assassination. The Caliph Mamun, deeply mourning the death of Reza, built a mausoleum over the Imam’s grave in 818 AD. Since that time the shrine has been frequently renovated and enlarged, is currently visited by over twenty million pilgrims each year, and is the most beautiful mosque in all of Iran.

More on Iman Reza from Sacred Sites.

Written by  Martin Gray.

Comments, reviews and questions by other travellers

i was in the holy shrine.very beautiful place and helpful clerks

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