Heavenly Scents in Ibn Qulawayh's The Complete Pilgrimage

When Imam Hussein, grandson of Prophet Muhammad and the third of the Twelve Imams of the Imami Shi‘i tradition, was killed during the Battle of Karbala in 680AD, he was buried where he fell. Almost immediately, his grave become a highly revered site of pilgrimage, and the ever-enlarging shrine now receives tens of millions of pilgrims every year. One of the earliest guides to pilgrimage for the followers of the Twelver Imams, who would later become the Shi‘a, written by cleric and scholar Ibn Qulawayh (d.978/9), is largely devoted to pilgrimage to Karbala. The guide is a key source for understanding pilgrimage practices in the formative period of Shi‘i Islam. The work includes chapters devoted to subjects such as: Signs and portents for the martyrdom of Imam Hussein; Rewards for crying for Imam Hussein; and Obligations for pilgrims to Imam Hussein. Throughout these chapters there are numerous statements discussing or outlining sensory aspects of pilgrimage to the shrine in Karbala. In particular, this paper will examine the role of scent and smell in the pilgrimage. We will explore the significance and uses of earth, or clay, from the area surrounding the shrine to Imam Hussein, and how it can be identified by its pleasant scent. Ibn Qulawayh provides a number of hadith (sayings of the Prophet or the Imams) which legitimise the ingestion of the clay, suggesting this was a part of the pilgrimage ritual at the time the guide was written.

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