In Islam, ziyarah or is a form of pilgrimage to sites associated with Prophet Muhammad, his family members and descendants, his companions and other venerated figures in Islam such as the prophets, Saints and Islamic scholars. Sites of pilgrimage include mosques, graves, battlefields, mountains, and caves.
There are many reasons for which the Shia partake in the performance of Ziyarah, none of which include the worship of the people buried within the tombs – Ayatullah Borujerdi and Ayatullah Khomeini have both said:
“It is haram (forbidden) to prostrate to anyone except Allah. If the act of prostration in front of the shrines of the Infallible Imams (‘a.s.) is a form of thanksgiving to God, there is no objection, otherwise it is haram.”
The Shia do however perform Ziyarah, believing that the entombed figures bear great status in the eyes of God, and seek to have their prayers answered through these people (a form of Tawassul) – Sayyid Muhammad Hasan Musawi writes:
“They (the holy figures) are being requested to supplicate to Allah, to deliver the person in need from his affliction, since the supplication of these saintly figures is accepted by Allah.”
In this regard, Ibn Shu’ba al-Harrani also narrates a hadith from the tenth Imam of the Twelver Shias (PBUH):
“God has some areas where he likes to be supplicated in, and the prayer of the supplicator is accepted (in those areas); the sanctuary of Husayn (a.s.) is one of these.”
The Ziyarah of the Imams is also done by the Shia, not only as a means of greeting and saluting their masters who lived long before they were born, but also as a means of seeking nearness to God and more of His blessings (barakah).
The Shia do not consider the hadith collected by al-Bukhari to be authentic, and argue that if things such as Ziyarah and Tawassul were innovations and shirk, Muhammad himself would have prohibited people as a precaution, from visiting graves, or seeking blessings through kissing the sacred black stone at the Ka‘bah. Some Sunni scholars such as Ibn Taymiyyah, have also rejected the notion that such things are innovations (bid‘ah).