Historically, throughout the Islamic
world from Andalusia, North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa to Historic Syria,
Iraq, Persia, and India the common veneration of the ‘traces’ (i.e. footprints
and handprints) of the prophets and other holy persons became widespread.
Moreover, talismanic objects were an essential feature of medieval Islamic
villages, towns, and cities and many sites containing portable objects and
talismanic designs associated with the Holy Ka'aba, prophets and holy men
existed at places of worship, city gates, near sacred trees and springs.
Teaching colleges for the religious sciences (madrasas) and mosques became
repositories for sacred objects. Furthermore, the appearance of relics and
relic replicas in mosques had caused a revival in these places of worship
because crowds wanted to view the relic.
Relics are receptacles mainly
receptacles for baraka but also serve the individual and collective
memory. Muslim devotees yearn to preserve the memory of holy persons in objects
which symbolized a tangible link between them and the holy person. Through the
mere act of remembrance of holy persons and their miracles and memorializing
the past, memory becomes a lived and shared experience.
Of course, in Islam, the exemplar par excellence of sanctity is the Prophet Muhammad whom Muslims seek to emulate in their daily lives and objects associated with him were imbued with and came to embody the sacrality of his person. Prophet Muhammad became the object of veneration precisely because his teachings, sayings and silent affirmations were meticulously preserved by his Companions and transmitted to subsequent generations, who preserved and employed his relics seeking to derive blessings (baraka) from them even after his death.
The following are some narrations on Islamic relics:
The Umayyad caliph Muawiya (r. 41/661–60/680) who acquired the Prophet’s nail parings, said: 'The Prophet once clothed me with a shirt, which I put away, and one day when he pared his nails I took the parings and placed them in a bottle. When I die, clothe me in that shirt, and chop up and pulverize the parings; sprinkle them over my eyes and into my mouth, on the chance that God may have mercy on me through their baraka.'
Ibn Sirin said: ‘I said to Ubida [as-Salmani], ‘‘I have some of the hair of the Prophet, may peace be upon him, which I got from Anas or Anas’s family’’.’ He replied, ‘If I had a single one of those hairs, it would be dearer to me than this world and everything in it.'
Thumama related that Anas said, ‘Umm Sulaym used to spread a leather mat for the Prophet, peace be upon him, and he would have a midday nap on that mat at her home’. He said, ‘When he slept, [Umm Sulaym] would collect some of his sweat and hair and put it in a bottle and added it to perfume (sukk).’ [Thumama] said, ‘When Anas ibn Malik was dying, he told me to put some of that perfume in his embalming scent (hanut), and that was done.’
Abu Jafar Ahmad b. Abd al-Majid said: I cut the pattern [of the Prophets sandal] for one of my students. [He came to me one day] and said: ‘Yesterday I saw a wonder from the baraka of this sandal. My wife was suffering from a pain which almost took her life. I placed the [image of the] sandal on the spot of her pain and said: O God, show me the blessing (baraka) of the owner of this sandal. God cured her instantly.