Some of the enduring features of the Islamic religious landscape along the Silk Road are mazar, or ziyarat, the sacred sites that are believed to be the resting places of saints, kings, or prominent religious and intellectual figures. As the destination of localised pilgrimages, the physical representation of a mazar can range from a majestic complex of a mosque, madrasah, courtyard, garden and mausoleum, to a dirt mound or even just an erected pole. Mazar visitation features rituals related to veneration and prayers for a specific purpose such as fertility, a cure for a disease, or collective calls to avert a natural disaster. Other aspects of the pilgrimage may include singing, dancing, socialising, entertainment, market, and preparation and mass consumption of the memorial feasts at the site. Some mazars’ sacred standing is so prominent that they are visited multiple times in lieu of the Hajj Pilgrimage to Mecca, especially by those who do not have the physical or financial means to fulfil this pillar of Islam—one of five including profession of faith, prayer, alms-giving, fasting and pilgrimage. These prominent shrines are characterised by prayer flags, ribbons, ram horns, and sometimes oil lamps. Such symbolisms are also a testimony to the composite and hybrid nature of people’s Islamic practices along the Silk Road, as they assimilated elements from other religions such as Shamanism, Zoroastrianism, Manicheanism, and Buddhism.
All photo credits to Silk Roads@UNSW unless specified otherwise.