How to Visit the Imam Reza Shrine as a Non Muslim – Iran
The Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad Iran is the largest mosque in the world by area. Inside is the shrine of the eighth Imam of the Twelver Shiites, Imam Reza. Reasons to visit the Imam Reza Shrine as a non muslim include;
Experience a different culture
Admire the Islamic Persian Architecture
Meet a Shia Clergyman
Imam Reza Complex Underground
Second biggest Islamic Pilgrim Site
Largest Mosque in the World
I recommend you book a hotel in advance due to the high number of pilgrims in Mashhad.
Who was Imam Reza?
I’m presuming as a non muslim like myself you know nothing about Islam. For this reason, I will keep this as basic as possible. Firstly, there are different types of Islamic religion, namely Sunni and Shia. However, if you read into the different types of Islam, it’s much more complex than this. The Shia muslims, in particular, the Twelver Shia muslims strongly believe in The Twelve Imams. Of course, all muslims believe in the Prophet Mohammed but it’s what happened after the prophet which is different. The Twelver Shias believe Ali, who was the cousin and brother in law of the Prophet Mohammed to be the first Imam. Continuing this, the son of Ali became the second Imam. The son of each Imam became the next Imam until we reach the twelfth who Twelver Shia muslims believe is living in The Occultation. Imam Reza was the eighth Imam.
Imam Reza Shrine Facts
The shrine receives over 20 million visitors per year. To put this into perspective, that’s more visitors than Istanbul, Antalya, Barcelona, Milan, AmsterdamVienna or Rome. Moreover, the Imam Reza Shrine is the largest mosque in the world by area. Pilgrims who visit the shrine become known as Mashtee. As one of the holiest Shia shrines in the world, followers try to visit at least once in their lifetime. Lastly, there are thousands of Persian rugs put out daily for pilgrims to sit on.
Entry to the Imam Reza Complex
If you’re a non Muslim you must be with a guide to enter the Imam Reza Complex. Furthermore, your guide needs to ask for special permission at the gate. Once special permission is granted, an Imam Reza Complex volunteer will also accompany you throughout your visit. The volunteer will speak English and may ask you which specific parts of the huge complex you wish to explore. Finally, you’re not permitted to take bags into the shrine but there is a free locker facility. However, you can take your mobile phone in with you. Women will be given a veil, men must wear pants and a t shirt.
Jame’ Razavi Courtyard
After you successfully pass through security you’ll enter the Jame’ Razavi Courtyard. This is a huge courtyard surrounded by detailed Islamic Persian architecture. As a matter of fact, you could spend hours in this courtyard alone simply admiring the architecture and observing the pilgrims. Imagine what it’s like here when there are hundreds of thousands of pilgrims!
Qods Courtyard and the Courtyard of Goharshad Mosque
You start to feel the enormity of the Imam Reza Shrine as you move through the Qods Courtyard and the Courtyard of Goharshad Mosque. In addition, you begin to see how much Islamic Persian architecture and artwork there is.
Shia Clergy Welcome to Foreigners
All foreigners / non muslims will be welcomed to the Imam Reza Shrine by a Shia Clergy. As you’ll be with a Imam Reza volunteer they’ll bring you here without the need to ask. The Shia Clergy will not only welcome you to Iran but will also sit with you and answer any questions you have about the Imam Reza Shrine or religion. Maybe you don’t have any questions on these subjects? Don’t worry, he’s happy to talk to you about any subject from family to food. Lastly, Imam Reza himself became known for his discussions with people of all religions and backgrounds.
Holy Burial Chamber
Of course, all the pilgrims will visit the Holy Burial Chamber. However, non muslims and tourists are not permitted to enter. Nonetheless, when you meet the Shia Clergy, he will show you a video of the Holy Burial Chamber interior.
Jomhoori Islami Courtyard – Golden Porch
The Jomhoori Islami Courtyard feature the Golden Porch, a sundial as well as a Water Fountain. Pilgrims become more serious as you become closer to the shrine.
The Inqilab Courtyard is perhaps the most significant in the complex. It’s the closest courtyard to the shrine and you’ll see many pilgrims here simply sitting on Persian rugs. They’ve probably traveled a long way and will only visit once. As a result, they’re appreciating the moment. I imagine this courtyard is always full, even late at night.
Holy Burial Chamber Exterior
I mentioned that tourists are not permitted to enter the Holy Burial Chamber. The closest you can get is the view from the Inqilab Courtyard. Not only does the dome signify where the Holy Burial Chamber is but it’s also the symbol of Mashhad.
Photography at the Imam Reza Shrine
Firstly, you cannot bring your camera into the Imam Reza Complex. On the contrary, you can bring your mobile phone. For this reason, feel free to photograph anywhere you want. As you explore Imam Reza Shrine you’ll see the pilgrims taking pictures and selfies themselves. Remember, it’s one of the most important events of their lives. Lastly, a popular photo spot for both pilgrims and tourists alike is adjacent to the golden dome.
Imam Reza Shrine Underground
There’s a beautifully decorated underground walkway which runs under the Inqilab Courtyard. As well as ornate chandeliers, there are impressive silver decorations. You’ll see pilgrims sat in this area as well as walking through it.
The Azadi Courtyard features perhaps the most beautiful water feature of the whole Imam Reza Complex. Again, it’s surrounded by grand Islamic Persian architecture.
The Quran Museum features hundreds of holy Qurans. You’ll not only see miniature Qurans but also huge Qurans. In addition, there are articles donated to the shrine from around the world. Where are you from? Has your country donated something? It’s interesting to see which country has donated what.
The Carpet Museum features one of Iran’s most famous exports, the Persian rug. There are 2 floors of historic Persian rugs on display. Additionally, there are also examples of the different types of rugs from Nomadic to the more modern designs.
Vakil Mosque Persian Rug
As well as the traditional Persian rugs on display, there are also some specialist ones. One which caught my eye was the Vakil Mosque Persian rug. The Vakil Mosque is of course an important religious site in Shiraz.
Islamic Persian Architecture
The Imam Reza Shrine is a photographers paradise. Forget about Isfahan and Shiraz, this is where you’ll find the most grand examples of Islamic Persian architecture. The only downside is that you cannot bring your professional camera in with you. However, with mobile phone camera technology today, you’ll be greatly rewarded for making the trip to Mashhad, Iran.
Enjoy your Imam Reza Shrine Visit
Firstly and most importantly, you must visit with an official guide. Secondly, the guide must ask for special permission at the entrance. It’s free to enter and you can enter as many times as you want. A shrine visit is truly once in a lifetime experience not only for pilgrims but for tourists alike. Remember to respect the religious rules, be friendly and you’ll come away with good memories. Enjoy!