... As a new Muslim, it seems like I had fallen victim to the Salafis quite early. Only now do I realize the influence that they have on this ummah. I had been attracted to Islam through the amazing artistic traditions from various Muslim countries. After I embraced Islam 14 months ago, all of a sudden I was thrust into this world devoid of images. Any picture/art was seen as "Bad". Another thing I noticed was that I was discouraged from following any of the four madhabs. Is this a Salafi tactic?
But when it comes to Sufism, there is something that still bugs me. What is the position of going to the graves of Saints and praying to them? I seem to get conflicting answers. I know the Salafis say that excessive praise and love for the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon Him) or any righteous person or saint is haram. Also is it ok for me to have art on my walls? ...
Visiting the graves is a practice (Sunnah) of the Prophet. For instance, he used to visit the graves of the martyrs of the Battle of Badr, especially on the anniversary of their deaths or martyrdom and pray for them at their gravesides. He also used to visit the graves at the Medina cemetery (in the present time this is adjacent to the Prophet's mosque) after Friday prayers and he used to pray for the departed souls of dear ones who were buried there. What the Sufis and all Muslims do is to follow the Prophet's practice (Sunnah) in this respect. With regards to your question of "going to the graves of Saints and praying to them," we do not worship nor do we 'pray' to the saints or the people in the graves; what we do, for sure, is to pray to Allah, not to the saints or objects which are other than Allah. Period. However, those who have been slain 'in the way of Allah,' (commonly referred to as martyrs) i.e., while striving in the way of Truth and for the 'cause of Allah,' according to the Qur'an itself are not dead, but they are living, but we do not see/perceive them as such. [Qur'an 2:154, 3:169]
In this context it would be pertinent to discuss briefly another favourite point of the Salafi literalist scholars. In their literal interpretation or the text or terminology of the holy Qur'an or Hadith, such people do not seem to appreciate the simple fact that giving outlandishly simplistic superficial connotations to the meaning of those words, without taking into account the larger context in toto and the true spirit underlying those textual words or phrases, destroys the whole sense and its real meaning. Unfortunately, even the well recognized, essential literary devices and rules of rhetoric and good prose are completely discarded and therefore, more often than not, result in arriving at conclusions which are exactly the opposite of the real, true, and sensible meaning. In this connection, the main argument put forward by the literalist scholars is that it is "shirk" (polytheism or associating others with God) to seek help from anybody or anything other than God, on the grounds that the holy Qur'an commands in chapter 1:5:
For a better understanding of the underlying issues and related matters, it would be appropriate to reproduce here below, the translation of these verses from the Qur'an along with the commentary and footnotes by the translater/interpreter Abdul Yusuf Ali.
O ye who believe! seek help with patient perseverance and prayer; for Allah is with those who patiently persevere.Commentary/Footnote 158
And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah: "They are dead." Nay, they are living, though ye perceive (it) not.
The "patient perseverance and prayer" mentioned in the last verse, is not a mere passivity. It is active striving in the way of Truth, which is the way of God. Such striving is the spending of one's self in God's way, either through our property of through our own lives or the lives of those nearest and dearest to us, or it may be the loss of all the fruits of a lifetime's labour not only in material goods, but in some intellectual or moral gain, some position which seemed in our eyes to be eminently desirable in itself, but which we much cheerfully sacrifice if necessary for the Cause. With such sacrifice, our apparent laws may be our real gain; he loses his life may really gain it; and the rewards or 'fruits' that seem lost are mere impediments on our path to real inward progress. These extreme sacrifices must be made under the orders and instructions of a righteous Imam, who can see the whole field of spiritual and physical warfare and judge justly of their necessity. Otherwise, there is no inherent virtue in mere sacrifice as such or when exercised at the whim of an individual. Courage (the resistance to the test of Fear) and Self-denial (the resistance to the test of Hunger or Desire) are also, if they are to be virtues, subject to similar conditions.
Think not of those who are slain in Allah's way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord;A beautiful passage about the Martyrs in the cause of Truth. They are not dead -- they live -- and in a far higher and deeper sense than in the life they have left. Even those who have no faith in the Hereafter, honour those that die in their cause, with the crown of immortality in the minds and memories of a generation unborn. But in Faith, we see a higher, truer, and less relative immortality. Perhaps "immortality" is not the right word in this connection, as it implies a continuation of this life. In their case, through the gateway of death, they enter the true real life as opposed to its shadow here. Our carnal life is sustained with carnal food and its joys and pleasures at their best are those which are projected on the screen of this material world. Their real Life is sustained from the ineffable Presence and Nearness of God. cf ii. 154 and see how the idea is further developed here.3:1703:171
They rejoice in the bounty provided by Allah: And with regard to those left behind, who have not yet joined them (in their bliss), the (Martyrs) glory in the fact that on them is no fear, nor have they (cause to) grieve.
They glory in the Grace and the bounty from Allah, and in the fact that Allah suffereth not the reward of the Faithful to be lost (in the least).The Martyrs not only rejoice at the bliss they have themselves attained but the dear ones left behind are in their thoughts; it is part of their glory that they have saved their dear ones from fear, sorrow, humiliation, and grief, in this life even before they come to share in the glories of the Hereafter.
Note how the refrain, "on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve," comes in here with a new and appropriate meaning. Beside other things, it means that the dear ones have no cause to grieve at the death of the Martyrs; rather have they cause to rejoice.
The ridiculous nature and
the detrimental effect of such literal interpretations, for instance, flies
in the face of other Quranic verses. e.g. ch 2 v 153, which contains the
"O ye who believe! seek help with patient perseverance and prayer; for Allah is with those who patiently persevere. "
This verse, in fact, precedes immediately the verse about martyrdom. Such a literal interpretation also completely ignores the fundamental truth and the basic principle of tawhid (belief in the oneness/unity of God) that the Real Agent or the Source of all actions is ultimately none other than God alone and that all Power belongs to Him alone and that consequently all help comes from none other than God Himself. However, in the divine scheme of things, man has been given limited, delegated, power and authority by God. Within these parameters, as human beings, we all help each other and also seek help from, or even subjugate all kinds of forces of nature. In doing this, we always accept and remain conscious of the fact that all such help originates from God alone and that He alone is the real Source and the real Power behind it all. It saddens me to see that any person claiming to be a Muslim can possibly imagine that another person claiming to be a Muslim could bring himself to believe that he himself is the real source of power and authority or that the other person helping the first person believes that he alone has the real power and authority himself!
This being the case, obviously, we can address those who are honoured by the Grace of Allah to be included in the 'martyr' category and request the Auliya Allah /Friends of Allah (Saints) because of their high spiritual position in their piety (Taqwa) to pray to Allah for us on our behalf. Just as we are free to seek help from our fellow human beings who are still living and breathing in this phenomenal world. For a better understanding of the potential hazards of literal interpretations of Hadith literature (as well as Quranic texts) click here.
As to your question about art, Dr. Hamidullah (ch. 13) discusses this issue quite nicely. We suggest you read paragraphs 478 to the end (488).
Since images created by employing the techniques of modern photography do not involve "creating images of human beings or living creatures" directly with the human hand as would be the case if one were indulging in hand-drawn portraiture, pictures, paintings, sculptures of the animal or human form like in wood carvings, etc. Therefore, legally speaking, there should be no objection to photographic reproductions or the hanging of photographs of the animal or human form on walls etc.
The rationale for its lawfulness
lies in the fact that images that have been impressed upon photographic
film or plates are just like images one may see, for instance, in a mirror
or the surface of clear water or any other such shiny material. The only
difference between these reflective images and photographic images is that
the photographic image is 'frozen in time,' so to speak, whereas, reflections
on shiny surfaces are transitory in nature. Mind you, there are scholars,
particularly those who go for the literal interpretation of legal injunctions,
(e.g.. Wahhabis or Salafis) who may have a much different opinion about
this. Even so, in countries where Wahhabism or Salafism are known to be
commonly followed, photographs of people -- particularly kings, princes,
and other prominent people -- seem to be displayed in all manner and fashion,
like on posters, currency notes, magazines, journals, television, etc.