Answered by Sidi Abdullah Anik Misra
Question: Is it praiseworthy to ask to die in Madina and to be buried in Jannatul-Baqi? What is the significance of being buried in a place like Jannatul Baqi?
Answer: In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful,
Wa alaikum salaam wa rahmatullahi wa baraktuh,
This is an excellent question, and one that has more to do with living than with dying, as we will see later in this answer inshaAllah.
The short answer is, yes, it is praiseworthy to ask Allah Ta’ala for a death in the city of His Final Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace), the illuminated Madinah. There is also a great significance in being buried in the al-Baqi’ graveyard.
Affectionately called “Jannatul-Baqi'” by some, Baqi’ al-Gharqad is the proper name of the graveyard of Madinah, which is the sole resting place for the city’s Muslim inhabitants since the time of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Imam Malik is reported to have held that 10,000 Companions are buried in al-Baqi’, including most of the wives of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), his son Ibrahim, and many senior Companions such as ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, Ibn Masud and others, may Allah be pleased with them all.
Along with this best generation, descendants of the Ahl al-Bait, pious scholars and saints, and countless devoted pilgrims have been buried there over the centuries till this day. As the graves of each true believer are “gardens from the gardens of Paradise”, this blessed company alone, of course after the fact that one is a neighbor of the Best of Creation Allah bless him and grant him peace) who rests not far away, immediately tells us there is good reason to ask to be buried there. Still, we can explore further why Madinah has been singled out for this distinction.
The Status of Madinah
In order to understand the significance of dying and being buried in Madinah, one must understand the city’s status. Although the virtues of Madinah cannot be done justice to in such a short space, it would do us well to recount some of its distinctions to give us a sense of its importance.
Madinah is the city (formerly known as Yathrib) that is said to have been “conquered by the Qur’an”, as most of its inhabitants accepted the message of Islam through the beauty and truth of the Qur’an before the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) even set foot there. As a safe haven for the Muslims from persecution in Makkah, the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and the Makkan believers were ordered to migrate to Madinah to preserve their religion. The migration (hijrah) to Madinah was so significant as a turning point in the survival of the nascent Muslim community, that the Islamic dating system begins in that year rather than the year in which revelation began or when Makkah was re-opened to the Muslims
Madinah is where the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) built his own mosque, in which one prayer is worth one thousand times more than a prayer in other than it, except for the Noble Sanctuary in Makkah and the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Imam Ghazali said that this implies the multiplying of rewards for any good deed, not just prayer, in all of the Sanctuary that is Madinah, not just the mosque. [al-Ghazali, Ihyaa’] The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:
“Indeed, I make inviolable and sacred [the land] which is between the two lava plains [on either end of] of Madinah…” and he said [regarding those people who leave the city to live elsewhere], “Madinah was better for them, if they only knew; no one leaves it [Madinah] desiring some other place except that Allah replaces in it someone better than them, and no one bears the hardships and strain [of living there], except that I would be a intercessor, or a witness, for them on the Day of Judgment.” [Muslim, Sahih]
The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) prayed for Madinah to be blessed in every way, as well as for his new home to be more beloved to him than Makkah, when he said “Oh Allah, make Madinah beloved to us, like our love for Makkah or even stronger, and make [Madinah] healthy, and bless us in its weights and measures [for trade and food], and transfer away its fever and send it into al-Juhfa.” [al-Bukhari, Muslim]
Also, the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “Oh Allah, put in Madinah double what you have put in Makkah in terms of blessings and increase.” [al-Bukhari, Muslim]
Of course, the biggest means of blessings for Madinah was not the prayers for its increase, or the inviolability of its earth, but rather the presence of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) himself. That state of overflowing blessings was “when he (Allah bless him and grant him peace) was on the surface of Madinah, so what about after he was laid to rest in its earth?…thus it is impossible to encompass the virtue of that, and measure its worth.” [Ibn al-Haaj, al-Madkhal]
There are many more things that can be mentioned to emphasize that Madinah is one of the two most blessed cities in the world, but we will proceed to examining why a death in Madinah specifically is more desirable than a death even in Makkah, regardless of the differences of opinion that the scholars (and even Companions) had over which of the two cities was the holier one overall.
To Die in Madinah
A clear, authentic and decisive narration that establishes the virtue of wanting to die in Madinah states that the son of `Umar (may Allah be pleased with them) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:
“Whosoever is able to die in Madinah, then let him die there, for indeed, I will intercede for the one who dies there.” (Ahmad, Musnad; Tirmidhi, Sunan)
Another narration which supports this, though not as strong in authentication, narrates that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said,
“One who intentionally visits me [in his life] will be beside me on the Day of Judgment, and one who settles in Madinah and bears with its trials, I will be a witness, or intercede, for him on the Day of Judgment, and one who dies in one of the two Holy Sanctuaries (Makkah or Madina), Allah will resurrect him amongst those granted safety on the Day of Judgment.” [al-Bayhaqi, Shu’ab al-Iman]
Not only did the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) tell others to try to achieve their last moments of life in Madinah, but he had the same desire for himself.. Imam Malik, in his Muwatta, narrates on the authority of the successor (tabi`i) Yahya ibn Sa’eed that:
“The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) was sitting by a grave as it was being dug in Madinah [in al-Baqi’], when a man looked inside the grave and remarked, ‘What a wretched final resting place for a believer!’ So the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) replied, ‘What a wretched thing you’ve said [because a believer’s grave is a garden from the gardens of Paradise]!’ So the man said, ‘I didn’t mean that [about the grave itself]… I only meant a death in the way of God [far away from home, is better].’ So the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: ‘There is nothing like dying in the way of God, but there is not, on the face of this earth, a piece of land more beloved to me that my grave should be in, than this [Madinah].’ [He repeated that] three times.” [Malik, al-Muwatta]
Repeating the desire to be buried in Madinah three times, and to use the words “beloved to me”, is to convey its unimaginable significance to the listener, since, as Ibn al-Haaj says, “he (Allah bless him and grant him peace) used to prefer things commensurate to how much Allah Most High preferred them, and that itself is enough of an exhortation.” [Ibn al-Haaj, al-Madkhal]
It is also a clear refutation to the one who tries to downplay a Muslim’s desire to be buried in Madinah. In the early days of Islam when the critical battles like Badr, Uhud and al-Ahzab were occurring, many Companions considered it shameful or un-manly to die in the comfort of one’s home rather than outside in battle. This is why the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) acknowledged the reward of their sacrifice, but then through demonstrating his own love, showed his preference and corrected any misconception that people may have had.
This is also why the second Caliph of Islam, `Umar ibn Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him), is reported by al-Bukhari to have made a supplication (du`a) that encompassed both of those virtues when he said: “Oh Allah, make me a martyr in your path, and grant me a death in the city of your Prophet.” [al-Bukhari, Sahih]
It is among his divinely-granted miracles (karamat) that both of these seemingly contradictory prayers were answered, as he was assassinated by a Magian slave in Madinah, giving him the status of one wrongfully killed, which is martyrdom, and then buried in Madinah beside the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him).
Ibn al-Haaj says, “…By his interment (Allah bless him and grant him peace) into the land, his blessings (baraka) diffused to all of those buried in it, and those who were not buried in it, and so his blessings (baraka) upon the living is well known, and likewise, upon the dead.” [al-Haaj, al-Madkhal]
Since anyone who dies in Madinah aside from those three is buried in al-Baqi’, except for ‘Isa (peace be upon him) when he returns to the world and dies, we will next examine some of the narrations concerning the significance of al-Baqi’.
Baqi’ al-Gharqad: Resting Place of the Believers
Before Islam, the residents of Yathrib used to bury their dead in various places around Madinah. After the 5th year of Hijrah, the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) buried the first companions in al-Baqi’: Uthman ibn Ma’dhun (may Allah be pleased with him). The area, which was known for its many boxthorn trees, was cleared and thereafter the area became the graveyard of Madinah.
The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) would often rise in the last part of the night, and slip out in the darkness, leaving his wife and home, to go visit the people of al-Baqi’ and make supplication specifically for them.
‘Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that whenever it was her turn for Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) to spend the night with her, he would go out towards the end of the night to al-Baqi’ and say: “Peace be upon you, abode of a people who are believers! What you were promised will come to pass tomorrow at a fixed time; and God willing we shall join you. Oh Allah, grant forgiveness to the inhabitants of Baqi’ al-Gharqad!” (Muslim, Saheeh)
In fact, we learn from another narration that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) was actually ordered by Allah to go to visit them, and make supplication for them:
A’isha (may Allah be pleased with her) said, “…I did not say anything to him until morning, and then I mentioned it to him and he explained, ‘I was sent out to the people of al-Baqi to pray for them.'” [Malik, al-Muwatta]
Aisha also narrated: “… So he [Gabriel] said in the middle of the night to the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), ‘Indeed, your Lord orders you to go to the people of al-Baqi’ to seek forgiveness for them.’ She said, ‘I asked, ‘What should I say to them, Oh Messenger of Allah?’, so he said, ‘Say: Peace be upon the people of these abodes from amongst the Believers and Muslims, may Allah have mercy on the ones who have gone ahead of us, and those who will go after us, and we are, inshaAllah, following right behind you.'” [Muslim, Sahih]
This last narration establishes that the prayers for the deceased apply to all of the believers buried in the graveyard, whether before or after the lifetime of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace).
The significance of being buried in al-Baqi’ is not only that the deceased is included in the Prophet’s Allah bless him and grant him peace) special supplication. In a narration in Tirmidhi, the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:
“I am the first for whom the Earth will burst open [on the Day of Judgment], then Abu Bakr, and then ‘Umar. I shall then come to those who are buried in al-Baqi’ and they will be gathered along with me. After that I shall wait for the people of Makkah so as to be gathered among the inhabitants of the two sacred cities.” [al-Tirmidh, Sunan]
What an enormous blessing, to be gathered with the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and so many of the pious believers on that day. However, the significance does not end at that.
It is narrated from Umm Qays bint Mihsan, an early female companion (may Allah be well pleased with her), that she said: “If you had only seen me and the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) [as he led me] through some of the side-streets of Madinah and the dwellings therein, until we reached up to Baqi’ al-Gharqad. Then he said, ‘Oh Umm Qays!’ I answered, “At your service and good pleasure, Oh Messenger of Allah!’ ‘Do you see this graveyard?’ he asked. ‘Yes, Oh Messenger of Allah,’ I replied.
So the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, ‘Seventy thousand people will be resurrected from it, their faces [shining] like the full moon at night- they will enter Paradise without any reckoning.’ So a man [‘Ukasha, Umm Qays’s brother] got up and said, ‘Oh Messenger of Allah, and me too?’ He said, ‘And you.’ Then another man got up and said, ‘And me, Oh Messenger of Allah?’ He answered (Allah bless him and grant him peace), ”Ukasha beat you to it.'” [Tabarani, Mu’jam al Kabir; al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak]
Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani mentions this narration as evidence while commenting on similar but stronger narrations that mention the 70,000 without indicating where they will come from, and he states that, “the seventy thousand are from those who will be assembled from the graveyard of al-Baqi’ in Madinah, and that is another special distinction…. and it is a great privilege for the people of Madinah.” Also, Ibn Hajar mentions that the second man in the narration was a hypocrite and as such was denied this honor. [Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari]
It’s About Living, Not Dying
After all of these virtues and exhortations about dying in Madinah and being buried in al-Baqi’, one may be wondering how difficult it must be for those who live elsewhere to time their death to coincide with their presence in Madinah to achieve these merits.
The answer is that these narrations are not just telling us to die in Madinah, but to live there and experience its blessings- to frequently visit it, to spend time in it, and to move to it if one can.
In commenting on the aforementioned narration “whoever of you is able to die in Madinah”, al-Zabidi interprets the Prophetic encouragement “to die” in Madinah to actually mean “to take up residence there till death overtakes one”, and that the narration rhetorically mentions the resulting effect, namely eventual death there, while actually intending the means that one must take to reasonably ensure the desired result. His proof is that, “Allah Ta’ala says, ‘And do not die except that you are Muslims'”, meaning one should live their whole life as a Muslim, and it does not mean to simply accept Islam at the time of death, because no one knows when death will come. [al-Zabidi, Sharh Ihyaa ‘Ulum al-Din]
Mulla ‘Ali al-Qari, commenting on the same narration which mentions intercession for those who achieve a death in Madinah, says that, “the intercession here is for the wiping out of bad deeds for the sinful, and the raising of degrees for the obedient, and the meaning of ‘intercession’ here is specific to its people [separate from the general intercession for all Muslims], and is not meant for those who do not die in [Madinah]…
…and because of that, it is said that the best thing for the one who reaches old age, or one whose end becomes apparent through spiritual unveilings and the like regarding the nearing of his appointed time, that he settles in Madinah so that he can die in it. Evidence for this is the supplication of ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with him) [for a death in Madinah]… and that is because of the superiority of the land of al-Baqi’ over al-Hajun (the graveyard of Makkah), either for its being the grave of most of the noble Companions, or due to its nearness to one who is lying there (Allah bless him and grant him peace).” [‘Ali al-Qari, Mirqat ‘ala al-Miskhat]
Look at the Neighbor before the House
Although we have read about the many blessings and rewards for those who make Madinah their home in life and after death, the primary motivating factor that makes Madinah so special to be in is not the land itself, or even the blessings of increase or the benefits promised after death.
Rather, it is the fact that it is the home and resting place of our beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), the best of creation, one glance of whom is worth more than one’s wealth and family and all the universe contains. Our love for him should make us want to be near him; indeed the scholars say that the actual earth that contains his blessed body is the holiest place in the heavens and the earth simply because of his presence.
However, even to get to the point where one desires and strives for a death in Madinah for this purpose, we must first develop our love for the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), through things such as learning his life, following his sunnah, and sending blessings upon him. We ask Allah Most High to increase us in love for His Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), and to grant us his company in this world and in the Hereafter.
Abdullah Anik Misra
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani