Mosques to visit after the coronavirus lets up (Chapter 7): Imam Reza shrine

Holy shrine of Imam Reza, Iran Mashhad
People at the entrance to the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad © Atosan | Dreamstime.com

It seems difficult to imagine, having already spent so much time enclosed, that the quarantine may last for months. The more sociable nations are quite apparently losing their last bits of patience. Needless to say, secluded from the numerous distractions that crowd our everyday lives, we have been given the chance to delve into the discovery and understanding of ourselves.

Self improvement is an extremely important aspect of life, especially if it is carefully accompanied by bettering yourself as a Muslim. Certainly, both are possible to accomplish to an extent while staying at home, however once the locks drop from our doors, nothing will stand between you and the possibility of developing both of these via an exciting trip to Iran’s phenomenal Imam Reza shrine.

Prior to the advent of Islam, a general’s fortress could be found in its place, in the former village of Sanabad (now Mashhad). In 809CE, after the deceased fifth Caliph was buried in its walls, it became known as the Mausoleum Haruniyyeh. At the time, the inner structure was actively being used as a place of worship by the Zoroastrians. The seventh Caliph Al-Mam’un later razed this polytheistic shrine to re-raised a relatively humbly temple, surrounding it with a lesser wall.

The Mausoleum only started becoming a popular place for pilgrimage for both Shias and Sunnis after 818, following the burial of the famous Imam Ali al-Ridha (Reza in Persian), great spiritual leader and descendant of our Prophet Mohammed (SAW), who is believed to have been killed by the Caliph himself due to political complexities.

Towards the end of the 9th century, a large dome and several adjustments were added to to the facade of the newly named Mashhad al-Rida, which soon attracted busy bazaars and bustling markets to fill up its perimeter.

Destroyed and reconstructed multiple times since, the mausoleum slowly but methodically acquired good esteem as the city grew. Throughout its chronological changes in power, Mashhad has has seen its most glorious days under the rule of Shahrukh Mirza, son of Tamerlane in the early-mid 15th century. 

Under the guidance of his wife, a mosque adjacent to the shrine was built called the Goharshad Mosque, the beauty and grandeur of which would deserve an ulterior description all in itself.

Throughout the next century, the city was no longer at the prime of its developmental life, as it was constantly under siege by neighbouring Khan’s and Sultans. The mosque on the other hand began attracting so many visitors that it quickly became on of the most frequented sites for pilgrimage.

An important part of today’s decorations, embellishments and adornments were only added under the rule of Nadir Shah Afshar (1736-1747), one of Iran’s most prominent rulers of all time, who, poised to underline the glory of the complex, took up some major redesigning projects.

By expanding the courtyards, refurbishing the insides with gold and mirrors and building another minaret at the north entrance, the site took on a completely different form, ever-more opulent and elegant.

In our day, the shrine has the largest area among all the holy complexes of Islam and is frequently visited by Sunni and Shia believers alike. The site also contains a library, a museum, four seminaries and a university of Islamic sciences which are all quite fascinating to visit on your tour around the legendary Imam Reza shrine.