Islamic Relics: The History of Some of the Holiest Items in Islam (Unabridged) Islamic Relics: The History of Some of the Holiest Items in Islam (Unabridged)

Islamic Relics: The History of Some of the Holiest Items in Islam (Unabridged‪)‬

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Today, the most important religious split in Islam is between the Sunnis and the Shias (Shiites). Unlike divisions in other faiths—between Conservative and Orthodox Jews or Catholic and Protestant Christians—the split between the Sunnis and Shia has existed almost as long as the faith itself, and it quickly emerged out of tensions created by the political crisis after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. In a sense, what are now two different forms of Islam essentially started as political factions within the unified body of Muslim believers.

Much the way Christian relics have been venerated by different denominations, Muslims of all sorts also have valued relics over the course of nearly 1,500 years. In Islam, relics are objects or remains associated with prophets or holy people, kept and venerated for their spiritual significance. However, it is also important to note that Islam does not place the same importance on relics as some other religions, such as Christianity, do. In Islam, the primary holy relic is the Kaaba in Mecca, which is considered the central holy place and is surrounded by numerous other relics, including items associated with the Prophet Muhammad. Other sacred relics do not play as significant a role in Islamic practice.

Muslim relics have become sought after relatively recently, since in the tradition of Islam it is customary to bury the deceased together with his belongings. However, many religious relics have rather controversial origins. Sometimes the faithful sincerely worship artful forgeries masquerading as holy relics and things that supposedly belonged to saints. The real sanctuaries are carefully guarded and are not always accessible to believers. They are brought out for public viewing on especially festive days. It is often represented as creating a special ritual.

It is curious that the attitude towards such relics gradually changed over the centuries. If, at first, they were considered amulets used by private individuals, then over time their purpose and comprehension took on a different character. Firstly, the possession of the relics of the prophet began to be considered one of the arguments in favor of the appointment of the Caliph. Secondly, where they once were kept in private houses, over time, they became an integral part of the Muslim cult, mosques became their place of storage.

The concentration of several relics in one mosque immediately sharply increased, in the eyes of the believers, the piety of such a mosque; this, in turn, immediately affected the growth of its wealth and political influence. Thus, in the published catalog of relics stored in the former Badshahi mosque of the Mughal state in Lahore (now Pakistan), there are 28 items: seven belonged to the prophet himself, three to the son-in-law of the prophet Ali, two to the daughter of the prophet Fatima, five to the grandson of the prophet Hussein, etc. It is believed that some of these items were taken out by Timur after the capture of Damascus, and some were donated by Sultan Bayazid to Timur's descendant, Babur. After the fall of the Mughal dynasty in India, they were first in private possession in the second half of the 19th century. In different ways, they came to the Lahore Mosque.

However, historical experience shows that sometimes even if a relic burns out or is lost somewhere in the darkness of centuries, interest in it does not weaken at all, but flares up with renewed vigor. And even if the relic is obviously a copy, such a circumstance does not at all reduce the halo of its holiness in the eyes of believers. It applies to the relics of all religions and is very clearly seen in the example of the relics of Islam.

Religie en spiritualiteit
KC Wayman
u. min.
28 november
Charles River Editors