Like the Masjid Imam Ridha in Mashhad, the Shrine of Fatimah Al-Masumeh in Qom is revered as one of the two most important Shi’ite cities inside Iran, and the two are closely related in more ways then one. The shrine is home to the Tomb of Fatimah, the daughter of Musa the 7th Imam and the sister of Ali the 8th Imam who is buried in Mashhad. She was therefore also a direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad, and is honored among Shi’ites. More generally, the Tomb of Fatimah is possibly the most venerated holy place in Islam dedicated to a woman, with the exception only of the Tomb of Hagar in Mecca. Although not considered quite as sacred as Mashhad, Qom is nevertheless Iran’s most important religious center, and is home some of its most important schools as well as many of the highest-ranking Shi’ite officials.
At the time of the Islamic expansion into Central Persia, Qom was already one of the oldest, largest and most important cities of the region. It was conquered by Arab Muslims in 645 AD, and soon was the most important Islamic center in Persia. This was due in part to the considerable Jewish and Christian populations which, in that region at least, proved more adaptable to Islam than the coastal cities to the south. It would be many centuries before Qom was eclipsed by other major Iranian cities such as Isfahan and Teheran.
By the time of the Sunni-Shiite schism in the late 7th century, Qom was strongly in the Shi’ite camp, but not too far from Sunni territory. Because of this strategic positioning, Qom became a major stronghold of Shi’itism and within a century was the de-facto Shi’ite capital in all but name. The city received a significant boost to its religious reputation when Fatimah, the sister to the 8th Imam Ali ibn Musa, died here in 816 AD. A major mosque and shrine were erected over her gravesite and, like her brother’s tomb in Mashhad, it became a major pilgrimage destination for Persian Shi’ites.
Qom remained the religious and intellectual heart of the Shi’ite faith and one of its most important pilgrimage destinations for the next six hundred years or so. However, after weathering several major Mongol invasions during the 13th century, Qom’s importance began to decline. By the late 1400’s Qom had lost considerable political ground to Isfahan. However, Qom’s importance as a center for religious education and its superior trade location closer to the Silk Road kept it viable as a center of transportation, communication and pilgrimage.
Persia’s rivalry with the predominantly Sunni Ottoman Empire helped to boost the importance of Qom’s holy sites, as travel to Najaf and Karbala has rarely been easy for much of history. During the 17th century, Shah Abbas I rebuilt the Shrine of Fatimah Al-Masumeh on a grand scale, as well as making substantial improvements to Qom’s infrastructure. The mosque was further restored and embellished during the 19th century. For the last few hundred years, Qom, along with Mashhad, has been an important pilgrimage alternative for Shi’ites who often can’t visit the holy sites of Saudi Arabia or even Iraq. Because of the continued instability in the region in Iraq, it is not likely that Qom’s popularity will diminish anytime soon.
The history and architecture of the Shrine of Fatimah Al-Masumeh is strikingly similar to that of her brother’s shrine in Mashhad. The current complex as it exists today also dates back predominantly to the 17th century, with major renovations in the 19th century undertaken with the patronage of the same rulers and with work done by the same artisans. While much smaller, and with considerably less visible gold on the exterior, it is clearly the lesser of the two holy places. Still, its trio of impressive domes and quartet of towering minarets are the most awe-inspiring sites in Qom
Massive tiled archways lead to the interior of the shrine. Fatima, daughter of the 7th Imam, lies in a great mausoleum within. In addition to Fatima, a trio of other bodies lie within. These are the three daughters of Muhammad ibn Ali, the 9th Imam. Much of the exterior of the shrine is currently undergoing a substantial facelift, the first major renovation in several centuries.
The Shrine of Fatimah Al-Musemeh dominates the center of Qom, approximately 70 miles south of Teheran. It is open year-round for Muslims, and parts of the mosque may be accessible to non-Muslims at certain times. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.tourismiran.ir/en (official tourism website of Iran)
Qom spent the better part of eight centuries as the leading Shi’ite leading city. Because of this it bears a considerable cultural and architectural legacy. One of the most importance sites is the Hawzah Faydiyyah, the most important Shi’ite theological school in the world. In total Qom boasts more than fifty Islamic seminaries and a dozen universities.