The Temptation of Graves in Salafi Islam
Iconoclasm, Destruction and Idolatry
Author(s): Ondřej Beránek & Pavel Ťupek
Reviewed by: Essam Ayyad , Qatar University, Qatar
This book tackles an obviously crucial topic, i.e. the present practices of certain ‘radical’ Islamist groups with relation to the destruction of funerary structures. According to the authors, the legality of the veneration of saints and their shrines was not particularly popular in the medieval Muslim world. They suggest that the interdiction of ziyarah, a medieval Islamic tradition of visiting gravesites to seek blessings and intercession primarily, reflects only a modern, particularly Wahhabi, stance as fed and fostered by the modern Saudi government (p. 5). In this context, the destruction of graves was looked upon as a religious undertaking and not a sort of vandalism. The book, however, does not give an adequate account of the liveliness in medieval times of such a peculiar Islamic tradition, i.e. ziyarah, which has subsisted in contemporary Islamic communities, albeit in a clearly less intensive measure.
In medieval Cairo, for example, the Qarafah, the cemetery where Cairene
Muslims used to bury their deceased, was not merely a necropolis, but it hosted on a regular basis a variety of public events. According to Egypt’s medieval key chronicler, al-Maqrizi (d. 845/1442), the laypeople were allured to visit and, quite surprisingly, stay at the Qarafah by the abundance of meat, desserts and other assortments of food and beverage which were either carried to or prepared there. As described by al-Maqrizi and others, the Qarafah took the form of a white settlement that was in a better condition than that of any other quarter in the city. Still populated until today, it was a recreational area for the people of medieval Cairo who assembled there during moonlit evenings, where they were regaled by a variety of entertainment including performances by minstrels. At that time, frequent visits to graves were paid not only by the rank and file like nowadays but also by religious scholars. The discrepancy in incentive and conduct of both groups may help us understand why it was legally allowed for latter and disallowed for the former.