Iii questions on tawassul

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III. QUESTIONS ON TAWASSUL

 

 


 

 

Is it true, as some people say, that tawassul or "seeking means" through the Prophet and the awliya', such as seeking their intercession, is not necessary nor a priority in Islam, because Allah says that He is near and answers whoever calls Him directly?

 

What about the statement in al-Wala' wal-Bara' According to the `Aqeedah of the Salaf that among the "ten actions that negate Islam" is "relying on an intermediary between oneself and Allah when seeking intercession"?

 

What about Albani's claims that tawassul is not through the person of the Prophet after his time, but through his du`a and only in his lifetime?

 

And what about those who compare tawassul and asking intercession to the Christian worship of Jesus and the saints, those who reject tabarruk bi al-athar -- getting blessings from the Prophet's relics -- as being outside Islam, and those who put limitations on invoking salawat -- blessings and peace -- on the Prophet?

 

Praise be to Allah, Lord of all the worlds, and blessings and peace of Allah upon His Prophet and Messenger Muhammad, his Family and all his Companions. There is not one single act of worship in Islam that is not a tawassul (seeking means to Allah), therefore it is inadmissible to say that tawassul is not an integral and central part of Islam.

 

Tawassul is the very heart of Islam, and the shahada contains a declaration of belief in tawassul, for one cannot be a Muslim unless one recognizes the messengership and prophethood of Muhammad, blessings and peace upon him, and of all Prophets, although the goal is Allah alone Who said: "I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me" (51:56). Therefore this is seeking an obligatory means to an obligatory end. The pillars of Islam similarly all consist in actions which are means before Allah for one who performs them.

 

Intercession is the greatest means as it will be only through intercession that the people of the Fire will enter Paradise, and Allah even called Himself "Intercessor" in the verse: "You have not, beside Him, a protecting friend or mediator" (32:4) and in the long hadith narrated by Muslim wherein the Prophet said:


 

Allah will say: "The angels have interceded. The Prophets have interceded. The believers have interceded. There does not remain except the Most Merciful of the merciful ones."1[1]

 

The Prophet also called the Qur'an an intercessor, declared that people were intercessors, and gave as an example the intercession of children for the parents who lost them in their infancy. We ask for the intercession of the dead person every time we pray janaza, when we say: allahumma la tuhrimna ajrahum which means "O Allah, do not prevent their benefit from reaching us." Allah declares that the best people are the Prophets, then those who are absolutely truthful (siddiqin) and these are the great saints, then the martyrs (shuhada), then the righteous (salihin), and the Prophet declared that every person will be making intercession on the Day of Resurrection, but with an order of priority among them, just as Allah gives precedence in this world to those who are closest to Him. All this is a great blessing of Allah to the worlds and the reason why we are greatly blessed on this earth despite our sins. For the earth is never empty of the true worshippers and there is still someone left saying "Allah." If you realize this, you will never harbor doubts about Muslims availing themselves of the blessings and guidance that Allah sends to them in the persons of the anbiya' and awliya'.


 

Nor do we believe that the friendship with Allah established in nubuwwa and wilaya stops with death. We strenuously reject the heresy of those who claim that the Prophet is dead and gone after delivering his message. Hasha, wa ta`ala Allahu `amma yasifun. He is alive and fed, our greetings reach him, our actions are shown to him, he intercedes for us, and the dust of his grave is the most blessed spot on earth for which no show of love and honor is too great. No-one who has love in their heart approaches it without adab. It is the responsibility of every Muslim to ascertain what is correct from what is wrong, and tawassul is correct, recommended, and one of the greatest means of drawing close to Allah, first and foremost through the Prophet. This is the position of the overwhelming majority of the scholars until our own time, opposed by a handful of dissenters.

 


Tawassul is not a luxury for the rich, and its validity is not determined by circumstance, analogy, or personal feelings but by solid, known legal proofs and the practice of the righteous early generations. It is not a matter of procedure and scholarship but one of sound belief. Dislike for asking for the Prophet's help displays arrogance against Allah's greatest mercy, dislike for the Prophet, and a diseased heart. May Allah protect us from it at all times, especially in our time which is the time of fear of declaring love for our Prophet and that of rampant disaffection towards him. As for tawassul with the saints, no one can claim that they know Allah better than the Prophet, just as no one can claim that they know the Prophet better than the Friends of Allah. What then is the status of one who would stop seeking their company and asking for their help and guidance?

THE PROOFS FOR INTERCESSION

(SHAFA`A) IN ISLAM

 

 



In Islam every action of a believer is an intercessor, and the Prophet has told us that the Qur'an also will intercede for us on the Day of Resurrection,2[2] while he himself is the greatest intercessor other than Allah. The position of the Prophet as the Intercessor between creation and the Creator is illustrated by his position as the one whom Allah consults with regard to his Community. This is established by the following authentic hadith narrated by Imam Ahmad in his Musnad:

 


  •          Hudhayfa said: The Prophet was absent and he did not come out until we thought that he would never come out anymore. When he did come out, he fell into such a long prostration that we thought that his soul had been taken back during that prostration. When he raised his head he said:

 

My Lord sought my advice (istasharani) concerning my Community, saying: "What shall I do with them?" I said: "What You will, my Lord, they are Your creation and Your servants!" Then He sought my advice again (fa istasharani al-thaniya), and I said to him the same thing, so He said: "We shall not put you to shame concerning your Community, O Muhammad."

 


Then He informed me that the first of my Community to enter Paradise will be seventy thousand, each thousand of whom will have seventy thousand with them [4,900,000,000], and none of them shall incur any accounting.

 

Then He sent me a messenger who said: "Supplicate and it will be answered to you. Ask and it will be given to you." I said to His messenger: "Will my Lord give me whatever I ask for?" He replied: "He did not send me to you except to give you you whatever you ask for."

 

And indeed my Lord has given me whatever I asked for, and I say this without pride: He has forgiven me my sins past or future while I am still alive and walking about; He has granted me that my Community shall not starve, and shall not be overcome. And He has given me al-Kawthar, a river of Paradise which flows into my Pond; and He has given me power and victory over my enemies, and terror running in their ranks at a month's distance from my Community; and He has granted me that I be first among the Prophets to enter Paradise; and He has made spoils of war lawful and good for me and my Community, and He has made lawful much of what He had forbidden those before us, nor did He take us to task for it."

 

Narrated by Imam Ahmad, and Haythami said in Majma` al-zawa'id (10:68) that its chain was fair (hasan).


 

According to Shari`a even the good action of the greatest apostate intercedes for him and profits him, as established by what is related in Bukhari whereby Abu Lahab freed his slave Thuwayba on the day the Prophet was born and that subsequently his punishment in the grave is diminished every Monday. Scholars have quoted this hadith to highlight the importance of praising the Prophet in that even non-believers benefit from the intercession of their own actions that denote his praise -- even unintentional. Two examples of such scholars are the hafiz of Syria and supporter of Ibn Taymiyya, Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr al-Qaysi, known as Nasir al-Din al-Dimashqi (777-842) in his several books on the praiseworthiness of Mawlid, among them Jami` al-athar fi mawlid al-nabi al-mukhtar (The compendium of reports concerning the birth of the Chosen Prophet), al-Lafz al-ra'iq fi mawlid khayr al-khala'iq (The shining expressions for the birth of the Best of Creation) and Mawrid al-sadi bi mawlid al-nabi al-hadi (The continuous spring: the birth of the Guiding Prophet) and the hafiz Shams al-Din al-Jazari in his book `Urf al-ta`rif bi al-mawlid al-sharif (The beneficient communication of the Noble Birth of the Prophet).

 


Another principle of that hadith is that the benefit of intercession takes place before Resurrection.

 

Whether persons other than the Prophet are intercessors as well the answer is: yes, since the Prophet has explicitly declared it in many sound hadiths which quote below, among them the following:



 

"More people than the collective tribes of Banu Tamim shall enter Paradise due to the intercession of one man from my Community." It was said: "O Messenger of Allah, is it other than you?" He said: "Other than me."3[3]

 

The belief in the Prophet's intercession and that of other than him is obligatory in Islam. It is stated clearly in the `Aqida tahawiyya of Imam al-Tahawi, in Ghazali's al-Iqtisad and the chapter on `aqida in his Ihya', in the works of al-Ash`ari, and even in the `Aqida wasitiyya of Ibn Taymiyya. These intercessors are a mercy from Allah and it is an obligation and an order for mankind to seek out Allah's mercy.


 

The seeking of intercession has two effects: one is immediate, in increasing the faith of the person and availing him all sorts of benefits in the world; the other is delayed until Resurrection.

 

About the statement in al-Wala' wa al-bara' that among the "ten actions that negate Islam" is "relying on an intermediary between oneself and Allah when seeking intercession,"4[4] then the deceptiveness of the statement is obvious, since the meaning of intercession is intermediary. How can one at the same time seek an intermediary and refrain from relying on him? This would not be the act of a believer but of a duplicitous person. Besides language and logic it is clear in the hadith of the Great Intercession in Bukhari and Muslim that the people will seek intercessors in vain among all the Prophets until they come to the Seal of Prophets seeking to rely upon him for intercession, and he confirms that he is able to fulfill their request. This is one of the matters which the Prophet boasted about in the hadith "I have been given five things..." What then is the import of reducing it to an "action that negates Islam" other than to reduce the status of the Prophet himself and of his intercession?


 

Allah has created intercession as He has created everything else, out of mercy; He also said: "My Mercy encompasses all things" (7:156). No doubt His greatest Mercy is the Prophet, concerning whom He said: "We did not send you save as a Mercy to the Worlds" (21:107). Belief in the Prophet's intercession is tied to the witnessing to the truth he brought and the recognition by the believers of his right as Allah's greatest Mercy. The angels intercede according to Qur'an, yet the Prophet is nearer to Allah than the nearest among them. No-one will speak on the Day of Judgment except those who have permission, and it is related in authentic hadith that Allah gave permission to the Prophet. The Prophet will not be saying "I and Myself" but will be saying "ummati, ummati (My Community)" and that is intercession which, unless it is reliable, cannot be hoped for nor looked forward to, as the "Salafis" try to suggest.

 

Allah said in Surat Yunus:



 

Is it a matter of wonderment to men that We have sent Our revelation to a man from among themselves? that he should warn mankind and give the glad tidings to the Believers that they have with their Lord a truthful foothold/forerunner. But the unbelievers say: This is an evident sorcerer. (10:2)

 

The following is one of the authoritative explanations for the expression "a truthful foothold/forerunner" (qadama sidqin):


 

"A truthful foothold/forerunner": Bukhari in his Sahih [book of Tafsir for Surat Yunus, ch. 1], Tabari in Jami` al-bayan, Qurtubi in al-Jami` li al-ahkam, Ibn `Uyayna in his Tafsir, Ibn Kathir in his Tafsir, Suyuti in al-Durr al-manthur and al-Riyad al-aniqa, Abu al-Fadl al-Maydani in Majma` al-amthal, Abu al-Shaykh, Ibn Mardawayh in his Tafsir, Ibn Abi Hatim in his Tafsir, and others said, on the authority of the Companions: `Ali ibn Abi Talib and Abu Sa`id al-Khudri, and the Tabi`in: al-Hasan, Qatada, Mujahid, Zayd ibn Aslam, Bakkar ibn Malik, and Muqatil: "It is Muhammad, blessings and peace upon him."

 

Qurtubi said: "It is Muhammad sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam, for he is an intercessor whom the people obey and who precedes them, just as he said: I will be your scout at the Pond (ana faratukum `ala al-hawd). And he was asked about its meaning and said: It is my intercession, for you to use me as a means to your Lord (hiya shafa`ati tawassaluna bi ila rabbikum)." Ibn Kathir mentioned the latter meaning in his Tafsir (2:406, 4:183) as well as al-Razi in his (8:242).


 

al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi said: "Allah gave him precedence (qaddamahu) with the Praiseworthy Station (al-maqam al-mahmud). Qurtubi mentioned it.

 

Suyuti said: "Ibn Jarir al-Tabari and Abu al-Shaykh narrated that al-Hasan said: It is Muhammad blessings and peace upon him, who is an intercessor for them on the Day of Rising; and Ibn Mardawayh narrated from `Ali ibn Abi Talib through al-Harith and from Abu Sa`id al-Khudri through `Atiyya: It is Muhammad blessings and peace upon him, he is an intercessor in truth on their behalf on the Day of Rising."



 

Intercession in no way diminishes the fact that everything is under Allah's sovereignty. However, Allah created secondary causes and means, and He has said: "Seek the means to Allah" (5:35). Intercession is but one of those means and not the smallest. The fact that the Prophet said that to utter la ilaha illallah from the heart guaranteed his intercession, implies that there is immense good in his intercession; what would we wish for in addition to the benefit brought by uttering the kalima, if it were not to be prized immensely?

 

That is why sincere love of the Prophet and of pious people is of a tremendous benefit, as one hopes thereby to be loved back. The Prophet said to the Arab who had prepared nothing for the Final Hour other than love for Allah and His Prophet: yuhshar al-mar' ma` man ahabb, "One is raised in the company of those he loves," and the Companions who were present said this was the happiest day of their lives for hearing this promise.5[5] All this implies reliance, and contradicts the assertion of the book al-Wala' wal-Bara' that "relying on an intermediary between oneself and Allah when seeking intercession negates Islam."


 

The asking of intercession from the intercessor, as the asking of du`a from a pious Muslim, in no way implies that the person who asks believes any good can come apart from Allah. In effect he is asking Allah, but he is using the means that Allah put at his disposal, including the intercession of those who may be closer than himself to Allah. To refuse to believe that other may be closer than us to Allah is the sin of Iblis.

 

Imam Ghazali said in the section on doctrine of his Ihya':


 

It is obligatory to believe in the intercession of first the prophets, then religious scholars, then martyrs, then other believers, the intercession of each one commensurate with his rank and position with Allah Most High.6[6]

 

A contemporary scholar wrote the following explanation of the meaning of intercession:



 

 

What is the meaning of Intercession?

 

 

al-shafa`a (intercession) is derived from al-shaf` which means "even" as opposed to odd, since the interceder adds his own recommendation to the plea of the petitioner; in this way the number of pleaders becomes even, and the weak plea of the petitioner is strengthened by the prestige of the intercessor. We are accustomed in our social and communal life to seek others' intercession and help for fulfilling our needs.


 

We resort to it to get an advantage or to ward off a disadvantage. Here we are not talking about an advantage or a disadvantage, a benefit or a harm that is caused by natural causes, like hunger and thirst, heat or cold, illness or health; because in such cases we get what we want through natural remedies, like eating and drinking, wearing clothes, getting treatment and so on. What we are talking here about is the benefit and harm, punishment and reward resulting from the social laws made by civil authorities.

 

From the nature of the relationship of mastership-and-servitude, and for that matter, between every ruler and ruled, rise some commandments, orders and prohibitions; one who follows and obeys them is praised and rewarded, and the one who disobeys is condemned and punished; that reward or punishment may be either material or spiritual. When a master orders his servant to do or not to do a thing, and the servant obeys him he gets its reward; and if he disobeys he is punished. Whenever a rule is made, the punishment for its infringement is laid down too. This is the foundation which all authorities are built upon.


 

When a man wants to get a material or spiritual benefit but is not suitably qualified for it; or when he desires to ward off a harm which is coming to him because of his disobedience, but has no shield to protect himself, then comes the time for intercession.

 

In other words, when he wants to get a reward without doing his task, or to save himself from punishment without performing his duty, then he looks for someone to intercede on his behalf. But intercession is effective only if the person for whom one intercedes is otherwise qualified to get the reward and has already established a relationship with the authority. If an ignorant person desires appointment to a prestigious academic post, no intercession can do him any good; nor can it avail in case of a rebellious traitor who shows no remorse for his misdeeds and does not submit to the lawful authorities. It clearly shows that intercession works as a supplement to the cause; it is not an independent cause.


 

The effect of an intercessor's words depends on one or the other factor which may have some influence upon the concerned authority; in other words, intercession must have a solid ground to stand upon.

 

The intercessor endeavours to find a way to the heart of the authority concerned, in order that the said authority may give the reward to, or waive the punishment of, the person who is the subject of intercession. An intercessor does not ask the master to nullify his mastership or to release the servant from his servitude; nor does he plead with him to refrain from laying down rules and regulations for his servants or to abrogate his commandments (either generally or especially in that one case), in order to save the wrong-doer from the due consequences; nor does he ask him to discard the canon of reward and punishment (either generally or in that particular case). In short, intercession can interfere with neither the institution of mastership and servantship nor the master's authority to lay down the rules; nor can it effect the system of reward and punishment. These three factors are beyond the jurisdiction of intercession.


 

What an intercessor does is this: he accepts the inviolability of the above mentioned three aspects. Then he looks at one or more of the following factors and builds his intercession on that basis:

 

He appeals to such attributes of the master as give rise to forgiveness, e.g., his nobility, magnanimity and generosity.



He draws attention to such characteristics of the servant as justify mercy and pardon, e.g., his wretchedness, poverty, low status and misery.

 

He puts at stake his own prestige and honour in the eyes of the master.



 

Thus, the import of intercession is like this: I cannot and do not say that you should forget your mastership over your servant or abrogate your commandment or nullify the system of reward and punishment. What I ask of you is to forgive this defaulting servant of yours because you are magnanimous and generous, and because no harm would come to you if you forgive his sins; and/or because your servant is a wretched creature of low status and steeped in misery; and it is befitting of a master like you to ignore the faults of a slave like him; and/or because you have bestowed on me a high prestige, and I implore you to forgive and pardon him in honour of my intercession.

 

The intercessor, in this way, bestows precedence on the factors of forgiveness and pardon over those of legislation and recompense. He removes the case from the latter's jurisdiction putting it under the former's influence. As a result of this shift, the consequences of legislation (reward and punishment) do not remain applicable. The effect of intercession is, therefore, based on shifting the case from the jurisdiction of reward and punishment to that of pardon and forgiveness; it is not a confrontation between one cause (divine legislation) and the other (intercession).


 

By now it should be clear that intercession too is one of the causes; it is the intermediate cause that connects a distant cause to its desired effect.

 

Allah is the ultimate Cause. This causality shows itself in two ways:


 

First: in creation: every cause begins from Him and ends up to Him; He is the first and the final Cause. He is the real Creator and Originator. All other causes are mere channels to carry His boundless mercy and limitless bounty to His creatures.

Second: in legislation: He, in His mercy, established a contact with His creatures; He laid down the religion, sent down His commandments, and prescribed suitable reward and appropriate punishment for His obedient and disobedient servants; He sent prophets and apostles to bring us good tidings and to warn us of the consequences of transgression. The prophets and apostles conveyed to us His message in the best possible way. Thus His proof over us was complete: "and the word of your Lord has been accomplished with truth and justice, there is none to change His words" (6:115).

 

Both aspects of causality of Allah may be, and in fact are, related to intercession:



 



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