Located in Qom, this holy shrine is considered the second-holiest site in Shi’a Islam and is a magnet for pilgrims from all over the world. It is dedicated to Fatemeh Maasoume, an ancient noblewoman who was a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammad.
Fatemeh Maasoume was born in Medina in 790 and died in Qom 26 years later. In a way, the moment she was born, Fatemeh was already at the center of a daunting prophecy.
Fatemeh (her name in Arabic is “Fātimah bint Mūsā al-Kādhim,” and there are a bewildering number of spelling variations of both versions) was the daughter of Musa al-Kadhim, the seventh Imam, and sister of Imam Reza, the eighth Imam. Ja’far al-Sadiq, the sixth Imam, is said to have predicted that “A lady from my children whose name will be Fatima, daughter of Mūsā, will die in Qum. On the Day of Judgement this lady will intercede for all my Shi’a to enter Heaven.”
Fatemeh was one of Musa al-Kadhim’s 37 children, but she had an especially close relationship with her brother Ali (later to become Imam Reza). In 815, due to a difficult political impasse, Imam Reza was coaxed to travel to Marw to become Crown Prince of Khorasan (a state that comprised of northeast Iran, part of Afghanistan, and part of Turkmenistan). Fatemeh stayed put in Medina, but after one year apart, she decided to join him.
Unfortunately, the caravan she was traveling with was attacked by an Abbasid contingent. Fatemeh was taken prisoner and poisoned shortly afterward. As her health deteriorated, she requested to be taken to Qom, where she died. Fatemeh’s noble lineage would have sufficed to make her a saint, but she is now mostly remembered and respected as a learned scholar of the sciences, and for her knowledge of Islamic tradition and her pious life.
After her death, the Fatemeh Maasoume Shrine soon became a prime destination for Shi’a Muslims wishing to honor her. Later imams claimed that visiting the shrine would ensure access to heaven, and several miracles have been reported to take place at the shrine. Fatemeh Maasoume Shrine is first and foremost a pilgrimage site, and as such, it attracts throngs of devout Muslims. It is not uncommon to witness people sobbing profusely upon hearing a particularly moving religious passage, people inflicting physical punishment on themselves, or people collapsing of exhaustion under the weight of elaborate banners adorned with symbolic effigies.
The complex where the shrine is located consists of a large open court where pilgrims and visitors congregate. Along the perimeter of the court are several beautifully adorned mosques and tomb chambers of eminent religious figures, but the centerpiece is the actual shrine, with its golden dome, colorful minarets, and intricate patterns decorating its vaults.