An Abridged History Regarding the Shrines of the Imams at Jannat al-Baqi’

The following is a translation of an originally Persian article written by Dr. Aḥmad Khāmehyār regarding the history of Jannat al-Baqī’. The original article has been linked, published on the popular Persian blog site Kātebān.[1] Dr. Khāmeyār is a prominent historian specializing in the history of Islamic sanctuaries.

The tombs at Jannat al-Baqī’, which subsume the purified bodies of four of the Shī’ah infallible Imams (Imām Ḥasan, Imām Zayn al-‘Ābidīn, Imām Muḥammad al-Bāqir, and Imām Ja’far al-Ṣādiq upon them be peace), are generally esteemed by Muslims among the most important destinations for ziyārah in the city of al-Madīnah al-Munawwarah. Until less than a hundred years ago, the large mausoleums and domes erected upon these graves were considered among the major architectural monuments of Madīnah. In this essay, we will aim to present an abbreviated history of the shrines of the Imams at al-Baqī’, analyzing the time of their construction as well as their architectural reconstructions and revisions. We will aim to do this with reference to primary historical and geographical sources. This study will demonstrate that the graves of the Imāms at al-Baqī’ were devoid of any monuments until the 5th century AH and that the first vault erected upon them was by the order of Majd al-Mulk al-Barāvistānī al-Qummī (d. 498 AH). Major architectural developments occurred in the latter period with the first and second demolitions of the shrines by the Wahhābīs, as well as their reconstruction during the Ottoman period after the first destruction.


The cemetery of al-Baqī’ was considered the original graveyard of Madīnah throughout the Islāmic period and is generally regarded as one of the most holy locations of this city by all Muslims. The historical significance of this cemetery goes back to the time of the Prophet (sawa) during which time several prominent companions of the Prophet (including As’ad ibn Zurārah and ‘Uthmān ibn Maẓ’ūn) as well as the children of the Prophet (such as Ibrāhīm and Ruqayyah) were buried. Additionally, during this period Fāṭimah bint Asad, the mother of Imām ‘Alī (as), was also buried in its soil.

After the burial of Ibrāhīm ibn Muḥammad (sawa) adjacent to the grave of ‘Uthmān ibn Maẓ’ūn in the tenth year AH, people began to incline towards burying their loved ones in al-Baqī’. As such, every tribe had a designated portion of its land reserved for burial of its respective dead.[2] Hence, within the very lifetime of the Holy Prophet (sawa), al-Baqī’ was transformed into a cemetery. The Holy Prophet (sawa) himself used to go there to give his salutations and seek God’s forgiveness for those buried therein.[3]

After the demise of the Holy Prophet, the burial of the deceased continued in al-Baqī’; in the first and second centuries AH, many of the Ahl al-Bayt, Ṣaḥābah, and Tābi’īn were buried therein. In the following centuries, many of the fuqahā and muḥaddiths of the Muslims also took al-Baqī’ as their resting place. At the same time, the construction of shrines and vaults over the remnants of graves belonging to these holy personalities transformed it into one of the most frequent destinations for ziyārah among the pilgrims of Madīnah. Among these monuments for ziyārah that carried a special significance for Muslims was the mausoleum of the Ahl al-Bayt, containing the bodies of four Shī’ah Imāms (Imāms Ḥasan al-Mujtabā, Zayn al-‘Ābidīn, Muḥammad al-Baqir, and Ja’far al-Ṣādiq) as well as the grave of the Prophet’s uncle ‘Abbās ibn ‘Abd al-Muṭṭalib. Rather, based on reviewing the memoirs of Ḥajj and the historical sources, it may be said that the mausoleum of the Imāms at al-Baqī’ had been among the most important sites of ziyārah throughout history.

Until its destruction at the beginning of the third Saudi regime, the mausoleum of the Imāms of al-Baqī’ was considered a historical relic in Madīnah; it becomes clear from the descriptions of historians and tourists as well as old pictures of the shrine that it was valued among the grandest monuments with deep architectural significance. Considering the spiritual and religious dimensions of the shrine as well as its historical and architectural value, we will aim to construct an abbreviated history of its construction and latter-day developments based on reliable historical references.

The First Structure upon the Graves

In reference to the uncle of the Holy Prophet ‘Abbās ibn ‘Abd al-Muṭṭalib, Ibn Shabbah (d. 262 AH) reports his grave being close to that of Fāṭimah bint Asad’s tomb at the threshold of “The Cemetery of Banū Hāshim” in the vicinity of ‘Aqīl’s house.[4] It becomes clear from this historical report that owing to the burial of several prominent members of Banū Hāshim in this region (including the four Shī’ah Imāms), this precinct was referred to in the early centuries as “The Cemetery of Banū Hāshim.” Furthermore, the report by Ibn Shabbah does not give any indication of buildings upon these graves; rather the use of the word cemetery seems to hint that no sort of monument existed on the gravesites. The fact that these graves were within the vicinity of the house of ‘Aqīl also contradicts the notion of buildings upon these graves; as is known from the historical record, the house of ‘Aqīl was expansive, and it is likely that these graves were situated within its open quarters. In the third century AH, the ground of al-Baqī’ was completely transformed into a graveyard and there was no remnant of the house of ‘Aqīl thereafter.

In the following centuries, we find mention of the construction of a shrine for the Imāms at al-Baqī’ as per the commandment of Majd al-Mulk al-Barāvistāni al-Qummī, one of the statesmen of the 5th century Seljuk dynasty. In all other historical sources, we do not find any mention of a structure over the graves preceding that of Majd al-Mulk. Furthermore, when one analyzes the earliest descriptions of the site of the Imams at al-Baqī’, the terms “grave” or “graves” are frequently used; it is only after the sixth century AH that we find the term “dome” (Arabic “al-qubbah”) being referenced to describe these sites.

Thus, Al-Mas’ūdī (d. 364 AH) who was one of the first individuals to give a description of these sites only alludes to stone tablets over the graves without mentioning anything regarding domes or mausoleums. The relevant excerpt from his work clarifying the inscription at the gravesite is as follows:

الحمد لله مُبید الأمم ومُحیی الرّمم. هذا قبر فاطمة بنت رسول الله سیّدة نساء العالمین، والحسن بن علیّ بن ابی‌طالب، وعلیّ بن الحسین بن علیّ، ومحمد بن علی، وجعر بن محمد، رضوان الله علیهم اجمعین

“Praise be to God, the Destroyer of Nations, the Reviver of Decayed Bones: here is the grave of Fāṭimah bint Rasūl Allāh—the Leader of the Women of the World, al-Hasan bin ‘Alī bin Abī Ṭālib, ‘Alī bin Ḥusayn bin ‘Alī, Muḥammad bin ‘Alī, and Ja’far bin Muḥammad, may God’s pleasure be upon them all.”[5]

Another important source is an ancient geographical description of Makkah, Madīnah, and Jerusalem by an unknown author; its editor the late Ḥamad al-Jassir believed its author belonged to the Maghribī tradition and that the work was penned around 350 AH.[6] In this manuscript we find the following description of the Imāms of al-Baqī’:

“If you should exit the door of the city, you will see the grave of Ḥasan bin ‘Alī on your right side which is slightly elevated; on the grave is written the following: “This is the grave of al-Ḥasan bin ‘Alī, who was buried aside his mother Fāṭimah, may God be pleased with him and her.” Next to these graves you will find the graves of three Imāms: ‘Alī bin Ḥusayn bin ‘Alī, Muḥammad bin ‘Alī bin Ḥusayn, and Ja’far bin Muḥammad. Additionally, the place where ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib recited his ṣalāt upon Fāṭimah can be found opposite the grave of Ḥasan; a mosque has been constructed there.”[7]

Another manuscript contemporary to the aforementioned source is that of Muḥammad bin Aḥmad al-Maqdisī in his geographical magnum opus Aḥsan al-Taqāsīm fī Ma’rifat al-Aqālīm (375 AH). In his description of al-Baqī’, al-Maqdisī only states the following:

“Al-Baqī’ is to the east of Madīnah and has excellent land; amongst its graves is that of Ibrāhīm the son of the Prophet, Ḥasan, as well as several other companions; ‘Uthmān’s grave also exists at its far end.”[8]

Imām Muḥammad al-Ghazzālī (d. 505 AH) also states the same: when he elucidates the etiquettes of ziyārah to Madīnah and the graveyard of al-Baqī’, he notes the religious recommendations to visit the graves of the four Shī’ah Imāms, to recite prayer at the Masjid of Lady Fāṭimah, and to visit personages such as the third caliph ‘Uthmān, Ibrāhīm the son of the Holy Prophet (sawa), and Ṣafiyyah the aunt of the Prophet (sawa).[9]

Similarly, in a number of Shī’ah texts predating the 6th century that elucidate the etiquette of ziyārah to al-Baqī’, we find that the word “grave” or “graves” (qabr or qubūr) is used to describe the sites.[10] At the same time, the memoirs dated after the 6th century utilize the term “dome” (or al-qubbah in Arabic).[11]

After recommending visitation of the Imams’ graves at al-Baqī’ and narrating their ziyārah rites, Shaykh al-Ṣadūq emphasizes the importance of praying eight units of ziyārah prayer in the masjid located there to mark the location where Lady Fāṭimah used to pray.[12] This is yet another strong contextual clue that the graves of the Imāms were in a graveyard that was devoid of any building, because it is clear the Shī’ahs would conduct their ziyārah prayers in the masjid of Fāṭimah (also known as Bayt al-Aḥzān in the latter period). In contradistinction, we find that post-sixth century sources utilize the expression “dome” (al-qubbah) or “meadow” (al-rawḍah) to mark the gravesites in place of the more direct terms “grave” (al-qabr) or “graves” (al-qubūr) used in the pre-sixth century manuscripts. For instance, we may point to the text al-Istibṣār fī ‘Ajā’ib al-Amṣār penned by an anonymous author wherein the term “the meadow of ‘Abbās ibn ‘Abd al-Muṭṭalib” is mentioned.[13]

We also find Ibn Māzah al-Bukhārī (d. 566 AH) alluding in his memoir of Ḥajj dated to the year 548 AH that in the al-Baqī’ cemetery of Madīnah, one may find the graves of the four Imāms and ‘Abbas the uncle of the Prophet subsumed under a “dome.”[14] ‘Alī ibn Abī Bakr al-Harawī (d. 611 AH) in the latter half of the sixth century also hints to the “vault of ‘Abbās” in al-Baqī’.[15] Ibn Jubayr (d. 614 AH) similarly describes the shrine in great depth in his work.[16]

The History of Building the Vault

Regarding the period of construction and architect of the dome for the Imāms at al-Baqī’, we find two historical reports in the ancient record. The first report comes from ‘Abd al-Jalīl al-Qazwīnī al-Rāzī (560 AH), one of the notable Shī’ah Imāmī scholars of the 6th century, whereby in his book Ba’ḍ Mathālib al-Nawāṣib fī Naqḍ Ba’ḍ Faḍā’iḥ al-Rawāfiḍ he mentions that the dome of ‘Abbās and the four Shī’ah Imams was constructed upon the order of Majd al-Mulk al-Barāvistāni.[17]

Abū al-Faḍl As’ad ibn Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Barāvistānī al-Qummī known as Majd al-Mulk was the vizier of Berkyaruq (487-498 AH) of the Seljuk Dynasty who was murdered in the year 492 AH. Al-Rāzī narrates in his work that al-Barāvistānī paid special attention to the gravesites of the Imāms and their progeny. In addition to creating the dome at al-Baqī’, he also issued for the reconstruction of the courtyards at Kāẓimayn and the courtyard of ‘Abd al-‘Aẓīm al-Ḥasanī at Ray. He also ordered for the construction of a dome or chahartaq over the grave of ‘Uthmān.[18]

The second historical record we have is from ibn al-Athīr al-Jazarī (d. 630 AH) which reports that Majd al-Mulk al-Balāsānī (sic) sent for an architect from Qum to construct the dome of Ḥasan ibn ‘Alī and ‘Abbās at Madīnah. However, after Majd al-Mulk was murdered, this architect fled to Makkah due to fear of the ruler of Madīnah, Sharīf Manẓūr ibn ‘Amārah al-Ḥusaynī (d. 495 AH). The ruler of Madīnah initially granted amnesty to this architect and had him sent back to Madīnah, however he then violated his covenant and ordered for the architect’s execution.[19]

It is clear that “al-Balāsānī” in the report of ibn al-Athīr is a misspelling of “al-Barāvistānī;” nonetheless this report gives exclusive information about the individual responsible for the construction of the shrines and his bitter fate. Unfortunately, the report does not clarify the name of this architect, nor does it specify the reason why the ruler of Madīnah betrayed him by ordering for his execution after granting him amnesty initially.

In reference to the year of construction of the domes, when one considers that Majd al-Mulk was killed in 492 AH and Manẓūr ibn ‘Amārah died in 495 AH, it becomes clear that the architect was killed between these two years. One may roughly estimate that the shrine was therefore constructed approximately around 490-491 AH.

It appears that these two reports of the restoration of the domes of the Imāms at al-Baqī’ by the order of Majd al-Mulk were not accessible to the historians of Madīnah and were not well-known during the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods. As a result, unfortunately several historians fell prey to inaccurate presumptions and estimations about when the mausoleum was constructed.

After a relatively long hiatus in recording the history of Madīnah, Ibn al-Najjār  (578-643 AH) was the first historian in the Ayyubid period to reinitiate its documentation. He referred to the domes of al-Baqī’ as being “ancient in construction,” without specifying the date of their creation.[20] This expression reveals that this vault was created prior to his lifetime; it also discloses that he was completely unaware of when it was created or who its architect was.

Jamāl al-Dīn al-Maṭarī (d. 741 AH), one of the Medinite historians in the Mamluk period, attributed the construction of the dome to the ‘Abbāsid caliph al-Nāṣir li Dīnillāh (575 -622 AH),[21] and was also followed in this claim by al-Samhūdī.[22] However there is no doubt that this claim is incorrect because ibn al-Najjār was a contemporary of al-Nāṣir al-‘Abbāsī and does not make even the slightest mention of his being responsible for its construction. Rather he states that it is “ancient in construction,” implying that it existed prior to his lifetime.

Al-Samhūdī refers to a wooden casket over the grave of ‘Abbās during his time which was dated to 519 AH and theorizes correctly on this basis that the construction of the dome was before this date. However, he also falls into another blunder in this context when he relies on a plaque over the miḥrāb of the shrine which stated that it was constructed by “Al-Manṣūr al-Mustanṣir billāh” and uses this evidence to suggest that the dome was created by the second ‘Abbāsid caliph Abū Ja’far al-Manṣūr (136-158 AH). There is no doubt that this conclusion is fallacious, and it is quite surprising that a historian the calibre of al-Samhūdī could make such an egregious mistake. It is well-known that the name “al-Mansūr” written on the miḥrāb was not the namesake of the second ‘Abbāsid caliph. Rather, it was the namesake of the 36th ‘Abbāsid caliph named “Al-Mustanṣir billāh” (623-640 AH) whose child “al-Musta’ṣim billāh”(640-656 AH) was the last caliph of the ‘Abbāsid dynasty.

It is garnered from the descriptions of the historians about the shrine of the ziyārah sites at al-Baqī’ that the architecture consisted of an elevated vault; ibn al-Najjār considered it the biggest dome of al-Baqī.[23] He also reported that the building consisted of two gates of entry; al-Nāblūsī (d. 1143 AH) also described two entryways in the northern and southern aspects of the building.[24]

The Latter Developments of the Shrines and Domes

The historical sources grant only a limited account of the architectural renovations and reconstructions of the mausoleum at al-Baqī’ in the latter period. Of course, it seems that the precedent laid by Majd al-Mulk al-Barāvistānī served as the foundation for the later ‘Abbāsid caliphs to improve on its architectural design. Among these improvements as reported by al-Samhūdī was the erection of wooden caskets over the graves and the creation of miḥrābs within the structure.[25] In particular, al-Samhūdī mention that the wooden casket placed over the grave of ‘Abbās was erected in the year 519 AH by order of the ‘Abbāsid caliph “Al-Mustarshid billāh” (512-529 AH). This casket, along with another one over the graves of the four Imams, has also been described by ibn Jubayr and ibn al-Najjār in their respective works.[26] As we discussed in the last section, al-Samhūdī also reports the creation of a miḥrāb in the southern aspect of the building during the reign of “Al-Mustanṣir billāh” (623-640 AH).

As it pertains to the architectural improvements rendered in the first three centuries of Ottoman rule, we unfortunately suffer from a dearth of documentation. Sayyid Muḥsin al-Amīn (d. 1371 AH) narrates from a manuscript of Tadhkira-ye-Naṣrābādī[27] that the grand vizier of Shah ‘Abbas al-Ṣafawī (996-1038 AH)—‘Alā’ al-Dīn Ḥusayn Mar’ashī Iṣfahānī (d. 1064 AH) also known as the Khalīfah al-Sulṭān and Sulṭān al-‘Ulamā—was tasked with renovating the al-Baqī’ shrine during his trip to perform Ḥajj.[28]

It also seems that the miḥrāb present until the time of al-Samhūdī (that is, until the end of the Mamluk period) was replaced in the Ottoman period with a window and/or a metal cage. According to the belief of some of the Ahl al-Sunnah, this site was meant to represent the purported grave of Lady Fāṭimah (as). We find mention of such a window in much later manuscripts, while those of the Mamluk period do not allude to its existence at all.[29]

Notwithstanding, the most important architectural change during the latter period was the destruction of the shrine at the hands of the Wahhābī movement. We know that just as many other shrines and ziyārah sites of Makkah and Madīnah, the dome at al-Baqī’ was subjected to razing twice by the Wahhābī Saudi regime. The first event occurred in the year 1220 AH during the first Saudi reign after the seizure of Madīnah by the king Sa’ūd ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz (1218-1229 AH). After a relatively short period of time, the Ottoman forces under the command of Ibrāhīm Pāshā son of Muḥammad ‘Alī Pāshā the ruler of Egypt (1220-1256 AH) were successful in recapturing Madīnah. Following this, Muḥammad ‘Alī Pāshā was issued an order by the Ottoman sultan Maḥmūd Khān the Second (1223-1255 AH) to rebuild the al-Baqī’ mausoleum.[30]

The scholar Muḥammad ‘Abd al-Ḥusayn al-Hindī stayed in Madīnah for a number of days in the year 1231 AH; in his memoirs of the journey, he alludes to the destruction of the al-Baqī’ shrine of the Imāms and expresses his ardent desire for its reconstruction.[31] This sentiment makes it clear that until that point in time, the reconstruction of the shrine had not yet begun. His memoirs also make it clear that a wooden casket was erected over the graves of the four Imāms on the 22nd of Jumādī al-Ūlā as well as another wooden casket over the grave ascribed to Lady Fāṭimah on the 24th of Jumādī al-Ūla of that same year.[32]

The second destruction of the shrine occurred during the era of the king ‘Abd al-‘Azīz (1319-1372 AH), the founder of the third Saudi regime. Under his direction, in the year 1343 AH, the Wahhābī faction seized Madīnah; in the subsequent year, on the 8th of Shawwāl 1344 AH, they destroyed the shrines at al-Baqī’ yet again.[33] From the time of that destruction until the present day, the holy graves at al-Baqī’ have persisted without any mausoleum or vault.


Early historical sources and the descriptions of al-Baqī’ by medieval historians make it clear that during the first few centuries AH, there was no structure erected upon the purified graves of the Imāms at al-Baqī’. It appears that the first architectural construction was a dome that was constructed at the end of the 5th century AH, most likely in the year 490 AH at the order of Majd al-Mulk al-Barāvistānī al-Qummī, the vizier of the Seljuk king Berkyaruq. This was carried out at the hands of an anonymous architect from Qum charged by Majd al-Mulk to complete the task.

The speculations wrought by Madīnah’s historians Jamāl al-Dīn al-Maṭarī and Nūr al-Dīn al-Samhūdī, who credited their construction to the ‘Abbāsid era of al-Nāṣir li Dīnillāh or Manṣūr al-Dawānīqī respectively, cannot be accurate. Nonetheless, some architectural innovations did occur during the reign of the ‘Abbāsids such as the creation of wooden caskets over the graves at the time of al-Mustarshid billāh and the creation of a miḥrāb during the era of al-Mustanṣir billāh.

Furthermore, given that the historical sources are quiet about the revisions and renovations in the latter years, it appears that this structure remained present until the end of the Ottoman era without a great deal of architectural advancement. The most important changes of the latter period include the two razings of the shrine during the first and third Saudi regimes, as well as the reconstruction of the shrine between this period during the era of the Ottoman sultan Maḥmūd the Second.


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  25. Al-Nablūsī, ‘Abd al-Ghanī. “Al-Ḥaqīqah wa al-Majāz fī Riḥlah Bilād al-Shām wa Miṣr wa al-Ḥijāz.” Crit ed. Riyāḍ ‘Abd al-Ḥamīd Murād. Beirut, Dār al-Ma’rifah (first edition): 1989 corr. 1410 AH.
  26. Namāzī, Shāhrūdī, ‘Alī. “Mustadrak Safīnat al-Biḥār.” Crit ed. Ḥasan bin ‘Alī al-Namāzī. Qum, Mu’assasah al-Nashr al-Islāmī al-Tābi’ah li Jamā’ah al-Mudarrisīn (3rd edition): 1427 AH.
  27. “Waṣf Makkah wa al-Madīnah wa Bayt al-Maqdis.” Crit ed. Hamad al-Jāsar. Majallah al-‘Arab (year 3, issue 5.6): 1393 AH.
  28. Al-Harawī, ‘Alī ibn Abī Bakr. “Al-Ishārāt ilā Ma’rifat al-Ziyārāt.” Crit ed. Janine Sourdel-Thomine, Damascus, al-Ma’had al-Faransī: 1953



[2] Cf. Ibn Shabbah, volume 1 page 121

[3] Cf. Ibn Sa’d volume 2, page 203-205; ibn Shabbah volume 1 pages 86-91; Balādhurī, volume 2 page 213-216.

[4] Cf. Ibn Shabbah volume 1 page 128

[5] Cf. Al-Mas’ūdī, page 301

[6] Cf. Al-Jassir, pages 328-330

[7] Cf. Al-Jassir, page 354

[8] Cf. Al-Maqdisī, page 82

[9] Cf. Al-Ghazzālī, volume 1 page 307

[10] Cf. al-Ṣadūq volume 2 page 575, al-Mufīd page 475, ibn Barrāj volume 1 page 279

[11] Cf. ibn al-Mashhadī page 88

[12] Cf. al-Ṣadūq volume 2 page 577

[13] Cf. al-Istibṣār page 42

[14] Cf. ibn Māzah al-Bukhārī page 207

[15] Cf. al-Harawī, page 92

[16] Cf. ibn Jubayr, page 174

[17] Cf. Al-Qazwīnī al-Rāzī, page 91 and 236

[18] Cf. Al-Qawīnī al-Rāzī, page 91 and 236

[19] Cf. Ibn Athīr, volume 1 page 352

[20] Cf. Ibn al-Najjār, page 455

[21] Cf. Al-Maṭarī, page 119

[22] Cf. al-Samhūdī, volume 3 page 301

[23] Cf. ibn Jubayr page 174, ibn al-Najjār page 455, al-‘Ayyāshī page 376

[24] Cf. ibn Al-Najjār page 455 and al-Nāblūsī volume 3 page 134 and 140

[25] Cf. Al-Samhūdī volume 3 page 301

[26] Cf. ibn Jubayr page 174 and ibn al-Najjār page 255

[27] Translator’s Note: this is a famous book written by Mirzā Nasrābādī (b. 1027 AH) that chronicles the lives of around one thousand poets of the Safavid period.

[28] Cf. al-Amīn volume 6, page 165

[29] Cf. Farāhānī page 229 and Farhād Mirzā page 156

[30] Cf. Ṣabrī Pāshā page 991

[31] Cf. Karbalā’ī Karnātakī, pages 124 and 139

[32] Cf. Karbalā’ī Karnātakī, page 139

[33] Cf. Namāzī Shāhrūdī, page 66