Customs and Rituals

Are there any other forms of religious pilgrimage?

Ziyara (pronounced zeeYAArah, meaning “visitation”) is a form of minor pilgrimage still popular all over the world, with a few regional exceptions such as the Arabian peninsula. Devout Muslims travel to the tombs of holy persons to receive baraka (blessing/power, pronounced BAraka) by association with the saint’s power and holiness. Elaborate shrine complexes have grown up around some of these sacred sites. Since the nineteenth century especially, Muslim authorities in Saudi Arabia have sought to stamp out the practice because they have deemed the veneration of miracle-working saints a threat to pure monotheism. Ironically, Saudi Arabia remains the home of the prime example of ziyara. Each year millions of pilgrims to Mecca make a trip north to Medina to visit the mosque in which Muhammad, his daughter Fatima, and the first caliph, Abu Bakr, are buried. Sunni Muslims from Morocco to Malaysia continue to visit secondary holy places, most of which are graves of Sufi shaykhs. Shi’a Muslims also visit sites connected with similar Friends of God, but their devotional travel revolves more around a number of distinctively Shi’a holy places. They are the tombs of the Imams, spiritual and biological descendants of Muhammad through his daughter Fatima. Most of the Imams’ shrines are in Iran, with its overwhelmingly Shi’a population, and southern Iraq, where most of that country’s slight majority of Shi’ites live.


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