The Imamzdehs in Iran
In Persian, the word "Imamzdeh" refers to the children or grandchildren of the twelve Shia Imams and by correlation the mausoleums built in their honor. Most of the Imamzdehs are in Iran and the remainder in Iraq and Afghanistan, or in other Shiite Muslim areas.
General presentation and geographical distribution of Imamzadehs in Iran
In Persian, the word "Imamzdeh" refers to the children or grandchildren of the twelve Shia Imams and by correlation the mausoleums built in their honor. Most of the Imamzdehs are in Iran and the remainder in Iraq and Afghanistan, or in other Shiite Muslim areas. Each year, they attract many pilgrims who come to perform the pilgrimage rituals called ziyārat in Shia culture. All Imamzdehs are managed by the Pious Endowments Organization or Sazeman-e Waqf. Information and statistics concerning the number and distribution of Imamzdehs (mausoleums) in Iran vary from source to source. The Department of Pious Endowments estimated their number in Iran in 1973 at about 1059. This is the most accurate recension that has ever been provided, although the actual number of Imamzdehs in Iran far exceeds this figure. This means that at least one Imamzdeh can be found in almost every village in the country, without exception, except those inhabited by Sunnis who are not necessarily registered in official repertoires. It must be emphasized, however, that even Sunnis have well-known mausoleums devoted to their Sufi or mystical guides. According to Iran's official statistics up to 2011, there were more than 10,500 Imamzdehs throughout the country. This shows that in a span of three and a half decades, the number of mausoleums has increased tenfold. In other words, every year we have been able to attend the application for the registration of three hundred new Imamzdehs, 8000 of whom have no genealogical evidence and no legal act of authentication.
Mir Hahem Moghaddam, an Iranian ethnologist and Iranologist, said during his interview with ISNA that among the 2,500 Imamzdehs, 220 belonged to Iran's great governors and spiritual leaders, and a hundred to Iran's scientific and literary figures. "sanctified" by the Iranians, given their spiritual rank and the importance of their contributions to the scientific and cultural advancement of the country. Of the other Imamzdehs, about four thousand are attributed to the descendants of Imam Musa Kazem.
According to the Organization of Pious Endowments or Sazeman-e Waqf, Imamzadehs are listed throughout Iran, nationally and provincially. The greatest number of Imamzdehs is first agglomerated in the province of Fars with 1456 Imamzdehs, then in Mazandaran with 1178 Imamzdehs, and finally in the region of Guilan with 899 Imamzdehs. Despite these figures, the director of the Organization of Pious Endowments announced that he did not have at his disposal the precise number of Imamzdehs in Iran. He explained the cause by the clandestinity in which lived many of the descendants of the Imams who entered Iran. To this is added the hypothesis that they died incognito and were buried without precise indication. On the other hand, Mir Hashem Moghadam announced that it was urgent to give a clear definition of the Imamzdehs, otherwise their numbers might increase steadily. According to this Iranian researcher, many Imamzdehs were built in honor of dervishes or respectable personalities of the region to whom death conferred an aura of sanctity.
The Imamzdehs occupy an important place not only in the religious culture of the Iranians but also for their historical significance and, concerning the sanctuary in itself, their architectural value. Most of them are regarded as authentic, not only the most important but also those located in the little-known regions of Iran. Historians point to several reasons for the arrival of the descendants of Shia Imams and their burial on Iranian soil. Among them, we can name the strong sense of security that reigned in Iran from the eighth century, particularly because of the distance between the said country and Baghdad, a place of persecution of Shiites, and which promised in a certain way protection to Shiite immigrants in Iran. The other reason, perhaps more importantly, lies in their popularity in Iran within the Shiite regions. They were thus given the opportunity to work towards a better dissemination of Shiism and theological questions relating to Islamic jurisprudence.
The immigration of the Imams' descendants to Iran coincides with the Shiite insurrections during the second half of the seventh century and the coming to power of the Umayyad dynasty at the Caliphate. Following repeated uprisings, the Umayyads began to arrest and torture the children and descendants of the Imams, particularly in Iraq and the Hejaz in Arabia. This prompted a large number of Shiites to visit neighboring countries, preferably where they would be safe from persecution. This is how the first Imamzdehs entered Iran and settled there. Like the latter, three other groups of Shiite immigrants arrived in Iran successively at the time of the caliphate of Imam Ali, then the Abbasids, and finally at the time of the domination of the Alawis in Masandaran.
Among the most famous and most revered Imamzadehs in Iran, we can name that of Ahmad ibn Moussa al-Kazem, better known under the name of Shah Cheragh, son of Imam Moussa Kazem and brother of Imam Reza. Following the exile of his brother Imam Reza by the Abbasid caliph Ma'moun to Mashhad, Shah Cheragh wanted to visit him with his son. Surprised on the way from Basra to Mashhad by Ma'mun's troops, he was killed in Shiraz and buried in that city. His mausoleum, now unique in its kind, especially because of the quality of its dome, was scrupulously enamelled by the master roofers. The interior is finely decorated with tiny colored mirrors embellished with Persian and Arabic calligraphy. It has a large front yard and a vast sanctuary at the back of the courtyard. The tomb of Shah Cheraghh, in solid silver, is located under the main dome of the mausoleum.
Hazrat-e Abdol-Azim is another well-known Imamzadeh in Iran. Born in 789 in Medina, he was the son of Abdullah ibn Ali, descendant of Imam Hassan al-Modthaba, the second Imam of the Shiites. He was one of the Shiite scholars of his time, highly respected and popular among people. He was also contemporary with four Shiite Imams, Imam Reza, Imam Jawad, Imam Mohammad Taqi and Imam Ali al-Naqi. Although in his day the Abbasids were doing everything to neutralize the slightest attempts to propagate Shi'ism, the presence of Hazrat Abdol-Azim comforted the Shiites and appeared as a guarantee of security and protection for this culture and religion. He is buried in Rey and his mausoleum hosts many pilgrims from all over Iran. His mausoleum has a splendid portal and the interior is decorated with a myriad of small pieces of mirrors. As for its golden dome, it gives the whole building a unique appearance. It also has two minarets nicely covered with tiles, as well as an arcade and a mosque. A fine inscription made on the brick sanctuary and previously covered with plaster was recently discovered, thus revealing the name of Majd-el Molk Baravestani Ghomi, its sponsor, who was the vizier of Saljouk Barkiarokh during the second half of the eleventh century. Its magnificent cenotaph in betel nut dates from 1325. It is also endowed with an old (almost) secret wooden door that leads to the tomb of Nassereddin Shah Qadjar. This door was manufactured between 1444 and 1445. It should also be noted that the wall decorations and the golden covering of the dome were made in the nineteenth century by order of kadjars kings.
The mausoleum of Imamzadeh Hossein ibn Moussa Kazem is also one of the important Imamzadehs of Iran. He was the last child of Imam Moussa Kazem. After his death in the late eighth century, his tomb became a place of pilgrimage. During his lifetime, he was a contemporary of the caliphs Haroun al-Rashid and Ma'moun. Like the other children of the seventh Imam, he was pursued by the Abbasids. When Imam Reza was exiled to Khorasan, he followed him to Iran but was later murdered in Tabas following a plot organized by the emissaries of the Abbasids, and was buried in the same city. This Imamzdeh is located about thirty kilometers northwest of the province of Tabas, near Yazd, on the road to Yazd-Mashhad. The building of the Imamzdeh was renovated and laid out in the eleventh century by order of Majd-ol-Molk As'ad ibn Moussa, Shiite minister of the Seljuk court. On an inscription on the wall below the dome, it can be read that the construction of the mausoleum of Imamzadeh Hossein ibn Moussa Kazem dates back to the year 1100 and that its renovation took place in 1790. In 1900, it was listed among Iran's historic buildings forming part of the country's national heritage.
Other Imamzdehs are well known and frequented by Iranian Shiite pilgrims in different provinces and cities of Iran.