Muslim Pilgrimage in the Modern World

By Babak Rahimi; Peyman Eshaghi | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
On Mediation and Magnetism:
Or, Why Destroy Saint Shrines?

EMILIO SPADOLA

As the studies in this volume attest, tombs and shrines of exemplary Muslims or saints (awliya’, or wali) have long been compelling centers of devotional pilgrimage (ziyara) and thus critical sites for the production and reproduction of Muslim authorities and communal norms. In implicit acknowledgment of their “spiritual magnetism,” episodic reformist movements have criticized such “non-Hajj pilgrimage” sites—and saint veneration more generally—as idolatrous threats to Islam’s fundamental monotheism.1 This chapter analyzes recent Muslim reformist movement challenges to shrine pilgrimage practices by examining the recent spread of highly publicized destruction of popular saints’ shrines. What, if anything, is historically specific to this current tactic?2 And what can shrine destruction tell us about contemporary Muslim piety and pilgrimage more broadly?


The Call of the Shrine

Shrine desecration and destruction are recognized political gestures. In medieval Islam’s complex of “shrine-centered sovereignty,” the destruction of old shrines or the building of new ones vividly demonstrated new claims to power.3 A strictly antishrine reformism emerged with the late medieval scholar Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, whose followers in Iraq and Arabia went so far as to demolish shrines of the Prophet’s family.4 A century later, colonialera Salafi modernists dismantled numerous popular Sufi shrines in North and West Africa and called fellow Muslims to reject local pilgrimage practices as doctrinally unsound and incompatible with new political logics of Muslim public life and piety.5

Since the turn of the millennium, acts of shrine destruction have taken a spectacular turn, addressed at times as much to non-Muslim as to Muslim audiences. For many Euro-American observers and regional allies, the Afghan Taliban’s televised demolition of the Bamiyan Buddha statues in 2001 epitomized the group’s failure to meet global standards of political civility. In similarly publicized and condemned acts, Islamic State militants destroyed

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