By: Boaz Shapira
When we examine images of notable Shiite leaders and military commanders, we notice that each one wears a different ring. The most visible examples are Hassan Nasrallah, Qassem Soleimani, and Ayatollah Khamenei.
The ring worn by Qassem Soleimani, former commander of the Quds Force, who was killed in Iraq in January 2020, appears to be the most well-known. The ring, which Soleimani received as a gift from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, became most notorious after his death when it was one of the key indications that assisted in identifying his body in the hours following his death.
This ring has become a symbol for many in Iran and the Shi’ite world, and it has been designated as an Iranian national cultural heritage item by the Iranian authorities. Another ring Soleimani wore was inlaid with green glass from the windows of the tomb of Iran’s 8th Shi’ite Imam Ali al-Rida, buried in Tehran.
The wearing of rings holds a special significance in Shi’ite Islamic culture and history. On the one hand, it’s a religious issue with long-standing customs. On the other hand, it is a socio-cultural custom associated with Arab and Persian customs and heritage. The tradition can be traced back to Hadith literature, where Muhammad is mentioned several times wearing a ring on his hand. Some of these accounts provide a relatively thorough description, stating that it was a silver ring with an ‘Aqik stone placed in it and the inscription محمد رسول الله (Muhammad Rasul Allah – Muhammad the Messenger of God) carved on it. According to these traditions, Muhammad used this ring to seal numerous letters and documents.
These many traditions gained widespread acceptance within the Muslim population, and it is now acknowledged that Muhammad wore at least one ring. Other traditions mention the wearing of rings by various Imams and friends of the Prophet Muhammad. Despite the numerous traditions, wearing a ring is not a religious requirement but rather a custom that has developed over time and is viewed as having positive virtues.
These traditions and references can be found in both Shi’ite and Sunni traditions. Due to the disparity and rivalry between the factions (and sometimes even across schools of thought within the same faction), slightly different traditions have arisen and have developed over time to serve the religious perceptions of each faction. Differences and variety have also generated rifts, with each side relying on various traditions to back up its case. Thus, there are disagreements about the elements that can be used to make rings, how they should be designed, what kind of stones should be set, and even the words and sentences that should be engraved.
Another contentious issue is the hand, and even the finger, on which the ring must be worn. Thus, although most Sunna streams prefer to wear rings on the left hand, Shi’a prefers to wear rings on the right. Even in this situation, this is not an indisputable declaration, and renowned Shi’ite figures have also been spotted wearing rings on the left hand (typically only when there is already a ring on the right hand). On the other hand, there are some issues where everyone agrees. For example, the Sunna and Hadith traditions ban men from wearing gold rings (and gold jewelry in general), as well as the evident preference for wearing silver rings.
The inlaid gemstones are also very important. Quartz stones of various colors and rubies, agate, sapphires, turquoise, jade, and emeralds are frequently set. In Islamic traditions, certain stones are associated with various qualities and abilities like protection from demons and the evil eye, healing and avoiding diseases and injuries, relaxing the soul, preventing poverty, longevity, and more. Other traditions believe that praying while wearing an Aqik stone ring is better than a thousand ordinary prayers. Some stones are similar to performing the Hajj commandment, and just gazing at them is like gazing at Imam Ali. Furthermore, the provenance of the stones is important, and hence particular ‘Aqik stones from Yemen and Ethiopia are considered more prestigious than other ‘Aqik stones. However, from a theological point of view, it is forbidden to attribute beneficial or negative qualities and abilities to stones, as these abilities are reserved for Allah alone.
According to Hadith sources, Muhammad and his companions carved various names and messages on the stones in the rings they wore. Thus, although Muhammad’s ring carries the inscription محمد رسول الله (Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah), Shi’ite tradition holds that Ali’s ring bears the inscription الله الملك (Allah is the King/Ruler). Nowadays, it is common to engrave the Shahada, sentences honoring Allah, the names of notable figures from various schools of Islam, and so forth. It is traditional among Shiites, for example, to engrave the names of Imam Ali, his sons Hassan and Hussein, and other family members.
The wearing of rings is prominent today, mainly among Shiite leaders. Iran’s spiritual leaders, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Iranian Presidents Mohammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are among those who frequently wear rings, as well as Muqtada al-Sadr, Iraq’s Shi’ite leader. Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s military commander assassinated in 2008, Imad Mughniyeh, and others. As seen in the many photographs, these people have many rings studded with various stones. Wearing rings is less common among leaders of Sunni countries and organizations.
There is significance and status in bestowing gemstone-set rings. As a token of thanks, Ali Khamenei twice gifted Nasrallah with rings. Once following Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 and again after the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Another illustration of rings’ significance and prestige can be learned from the following story: Shortly after taking over as commander of the Quds Force (after Soleimani), Ismail Qaani traveled to Iraq to meet with the chiefs of the country’s Shiite militias. During the meeting, Qaani presented the militia leaders with replicas of Qassem Soleimani’s iconic ring as a token of respect and thanks on his part.
Soleimani’s original ring, which has become a symbol for many in Iran and the Shi’ite world, was presented to Soleimani’s family and recognized as an Iranian national cultural property item by Iranian officials.
 Hadith literature is a collection of various traditions, customs, sayings, and rules from the life of the Prophet Muhammad. Besides the Qur’an, these are the second most important religious aspect of Muslim life.
 Most likely quartz.
 Ali is Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, who is perceived by Shiites as having to be the leader of Islam after Muhammad