Growing up, my summers were filled with annual trips to Iran to visit my family and experience this culture I was born into, but for as long as I could remember, the memories surrounding my visits to the shrine of Imam Ridha (as) in Mashad were faint. I knew I had been there frequently, yet almost shamefully, the most I could remember were the fun hotels we would stay at when we visited with my grandparents. Those memories now don’t compare to my most recent visitation of the beloved and revered Imam Ridha (as).
Today, it has been just over a year since my prior visit to the beloved Imam (as) last summer, and while my memories aren’t fading this time, the peace I felt when I was near him (as) escapes me at times. At that time, it had been nearly six years since we had taken a trip to Iran, and while it was the first for my brother-in-law, I felt like a novice just like him. Everything just took my breath away, and I finally understood what everyone meant by referring to this place as heaven on earth. The worldly affairs and stresses that occupied my mind were instantly forgotten the moment the Imam’s (as) shrine came into view. I felt like a child running into the embrace of a beloved relative. Suddenly, Imam (as) went from being a historical figure in Islam that we often heard about to someone who pulled my spirituality miles and miles closer to Islam – something no one in this world had been able to do for me yet. The Imam (as) at that moment became real for me.
The sun was even positioned in such a way that I was blinded if I tried to even look past the walls of the shrine. I had my camera out to try to capture the moment, but in a frustrating yet poetic way, it wasn’t possible to capture the noor (light) radiating from the Imam (as). All I felt were the arms of Imam Ridha (as) protecting me. Everything I felt overwhelmed moments before was washed away by the flow of tears streaming down my face. At the time, I looked down almost trying to hide my uncontrollable emotions, when I noticed everyone in my family – from my awestruck siblings to my father who grew up just hours away from the shrine and my mother were all in tears – and none of us could explain why. Sometimes, I’m afraid the feeling was all a mirage or a dream that I have become desperate in making a reality because no matter the blessings I have, nothing has ever come as close to that feeling since then.
During the time I began truly studying Islam and focusing on my spirituality. I often heard lots of criticism for how the followers of the AhlulBayt (s) turn to the Imams (as) for intercession rather than turning to Allah (swt) directly, and at times I wondered myself if we blurred the lines. However, in that moment, standing in the center of the giant courtyard of the shrine, it dawned on me how insignificant I truly was in the grand scheme of Allah’s (swt) world. If I felt so small standing in the presence of Imam Ridha (as), how could I be so arrogant to think I could stand in front of Allah (swt) in the current state that I was? I spent the next 24 hours praying non-stop for relief of my worldly stresses through Imam Ridha (as); asking him to intercede for me and forgive my sins; and most importantly at that time in my life, for guidance on all of the decisions I had laying in front of me. And for the next 24 hours, I was in complete paradise.
My paradise was short-lived. Life’s problems did not go away the moment I was back in this world, but even in my lowest moments, I could never even become angry toward my beloved Imam (as) or Allah (swt) because the fear of how much worse it could have been without His guidance was very real and very strong in me. If I hadn’t experienced that fleeting but blissful taste of paradise, my spirituality may have fallen apart all together in the following months when I felt the challenges and obstacles of this world weigh most heavily on my shoulders.
There are a myriad of reasons as to why someone would take the time to visit Imam Ridha (as), including one of the more common prayers for help with medical challenges. With Allah’s (swt) blessing, I walked in and out of the shrine without any physical ailments, but there were many others who overcame much more to experience the peace granted by the Imam (as). Some came in wheelchairs, others with medical challenges that weren’t so visible, and I’ll never know if their physical handicaps were ever cured. However, the raw emotions visible on their faces reaffirmed to me that it didn’t matter. Whether they were looking for physical miracles or remedies for ailments of their heart, their spirituality and faith in Allah (swt) was that much stronger, and cured or not, the warm embrace of Imam Ridha (as) reminded us that everything would be okay.