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The Middle East As Net Exporter of Religion

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Mosque and Shrine of Shah ‘Abd al-‘Azim

Mosque and Shrine of Shah ĎAbd al-ĎAzim

About 15% of the world’s Muslims belong the Shi‘ite denomination; they believe that political and religious leadership among Muslims is only legitimate if exercised by a descendent of the 4th caliph, ‘Ali (d. 661 CE). The Shi‘ite saint Shah ‘Abd al-‘Azim, a descendant of ‘Ali, died in the 9th century in Rayy, Iran—today a southern suburb of Tehran. His shrine complex there includes a mosque and tomb. The present buildings of the shrine, with their gilded dome and sumptuous tilework, were constructed under the Safavid dynasty, which ruled from 1501 until 1722, and established Shi‘ite Islam as the official and majority religion in Iran. The basin in the courtyard shown in the picture enables worshippers wishing to perform ritual prayer to complete the ablutions required before prayer (mentioned in the Koran)—basically, washing the hands and feet and wiping water over the head, etc. Such basins, or in some cases water spigots, are provided for this purpose in all Muslim mosques, whether in Sunni or Shi‘ite communities. Shi‘ites have numerous shrines dedicated to other saints; some, like the shrines at Karbala in Iraq and Mashhad in Iran, are important pilgrimage centers for Shi‘ites; others are mainly local pilgrimage sites.

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