Beseeching for Help (Istighathah)


For almost twelve uninterrupted centuries the Muslims ruled the world in glory and splendour. Their rule was embedded in a rare sense of egalitarianism the world had never witnessed before. The driving force behind the just dispensation was their oven-warm, unalloyed faith in divine unity and the inspiration they had drawn from the life and the teachings of the holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). There was absolutely no chasm between their words and deeds. What they professed, they implemented. The people they subjugated and ruled were impressed even overawed, by the impregnable consistency of their behaviour. The Muslim rulers were not autocratic because they strongly believed that their power did not flow from the barrel of the gun, but it emanated as a blessing of the omnipotent Lord. And it was on account of the sincerity of the rulers in particular and the Muslim masses in general, that the infidels and people belonging to other creeds, flocked to the fold of Islam. In their heyday, the Muslims amply proved that Islam had not spread at the point of the sword. What really gave it wildfire popularity were its concept of justice and its absolute lack of discrimination between human beings. During the Muslim centuries, the notion of justice was stripped out of its conceptual garbs and was presented to mankind as a fleshed-out reality. The people at large had never experienced it before and so they were immediately attracted to it.

But when the Muslim world fell prey to decadence by disowning the intellectual tradition and the ceaseless struggle that had ensured its success in the past, its inviolate unity broke into innumerable splinters and the Muslims were humiliated in almost every field of human activity. The Muslim community that had aspired to outdazzle the stars and outsmart the universe turned into a rolling stone, unanchored and unprotected. Its identity crumbled into the dust of uncertainty, the violent winds of change upset its apple-cart and, unlike the progressive nations of the world, well set on the road to growth and prosperity, it skidded off the track and immersed itself in peripheral issues --- the proverbial fate of all decadent communities.

As a result, we have embroiled ourselves in marginal disputes, allowing plenty of opportunity to the world to pooh-pooh our drifting condition. While the world at large is a gainer, the Muslims are the losers and the loss is more pathetic than tragic: on the one hand, the people of the world are cashing in on the fruits of our intellectual efforts and unparalleled scientific investigations; and on the other hand, they have made Islam and its followers the butt of their indiscriminate ridicule. The Muslims are stuck in their narrow, unenlightened grooves and the irony is compounded when we realise that they are not even adequately aware of their crumbling condition. Some of them are reconciled to the inevitability of their decline --- a dangerous condition as it discourages any attempt at recovery and recuperation. Consequently, disgrace and humiliation seems our immediate destiny.

We have strayed away from our real goal and are hopelessly trapped in the cobwebs of irrelevance. The people who were supposed to lead the world by breaking through the crust of stale ideas have become a hostage to these ideas. Muslim community has lost its bounce and its élan to spearhead a world whose moral fibre is in tatters because it is itself morally shattered. Its cultural heritage is a heap of cinders; its towering designs are a fuel of inaction and impracticality, its ideals are a pile of ash. The Muslim community is splitting hair while the wolves of capitalism are honking the world. There is no doubt that we do not discriminate against people and treat them on the plane of equality, but our present lack of vision has made us squint-eyed and as a result, we are setting Muslims against one another. We are embarked upon a dangerous course as we are measuring Muslims against un-Islamic criteria, and those who do not come pat to these self-styled standards, we chuck them out as non-Muslims. The reason is that we are locked in a vicious circle of mental slavery, which has estranged us from the real problems of life by shuttering us up in frivolous issues. And this has become our second nature.

The blatant irony is that the western nations have taken over the leading role, and the nation that was supposed to lead is now imprisoned in its own false egoism. It has sacrificed its unity to self-fabricated differences authenticated neither by history nor by the central message of Islamic faith. While the western nations, on account of the inherent compatibility between the Islamic teachings and modern scientific investigations, are drawing closer to the religion of nature, the Muslims are drifting away from their religion through spurious self-incrimination. Superficial differences have split the Muslim Ummah into vested groups who are engaged more in promoting group interests rather than the interests of their faith. Insulated from the core message of Islam, they thrive on mutual intolerance; their incremental wrangles have edged out the substance of their faith.

Istighathah --- beseeching for help --- has grown into a highly controversial issue. The Muslims have complicated it unnecessarily and undesirably. It has diverted attention from the substance of Islam and engaged the minds of the younger generation in an unpalatable debate. In their opinion, it has become the measuring rod of faith. They dub those who believe in it as disbelievers even though their hostile labelling goes against the very grain of human nature, and since Islam is the closest to human nature, their view clashes with the spirit of Islamic faith. They are in fact flying in the face of reality. Islam, being a religion of humanity, encourages mutual cooperation among human beings as the progress and development of human society depends on this kind of coordination. Therefore, to equate this kind of innocuous activity with a breach of faith is nothing but perversity, it is to emphasise the shell at the expense of the kernel; for them the husk matters more than the grain, the wrapping more than the gift, the skin of the orange more than the juice. Thus their attitude is symptomatic of a deeper malaise --- their increasingly strident disaffiliation from the true spirit of their faith.

Man by nature is not a hermit or a recluse. He is a social animal and likes to huddle with other human beings in small settlements or large towns. A feeling of security and cooperation motivates the fact of living together as no man is an island. He loves to seek help from others and to extend help to others. This is ingrained in his nature, which cannot be changed by the petty intellectual squabbles of some skewered zealots. Even a blunt-headed student of history and sociology knows that interdependence and coordination are the basic facts of human life. The newborn child cannot support himself; he needs someone to feed him. A young man draws on the experiences of seasoned people to educate himself and to discriminate between good and evil. In old age children support their parents. Thus in every phase of life a person depends on others and also serves as a prop for others and it is this fact of interdependence, which sustains the fabric of society. During disease, war, accidents and other natural calamities, human beings help and console one another. The patient needs a doctor’s medicine, the student needs knowledge from a teacher, the labourer seeks wages from his employer, the neighbours expect help from each other, the child craves milk from its mother and the old man seeks the support of his young children. In short, all human beings need someone’s help in different phases of their lives. The beauty of human culture lies in fortifying mutual relations. It is beyond doubt that the true helper and supporter is only Allah whose generosity knows no bounds and whose magnanimity is limitless, but in our daily routine we help people and seek help from them in scores of assorted matters. Thus the mutual help we extend to each other is not a negation of divine unity but a fulfilment of the divine command. To seek help from the prophets, the righteous and the saints is not a violation of Islamic principles; on the contrary, it is quite compatible with the teachings of Islam. We seek help from others on the assumption that their power is only borrowed, as Allah alone possesses absolute power. This division of power into "absolute" and "relative" has prompted some mischievous minds to create unnecessary and unwarranted complications in basic Islamic concepts, including the concept of istighathah. Such an attitude tends to split the Muslim community into groups and sects and therefore, needs to be discouraged in the strongest possible terms.

Historically speaking, the proof of human gregariousness is found in the most primitive communities. Centuries before the dawn of the era of stone and metal when man still lived in jungles and caves, when the invention of the wheel was a remote possibility, when the concept of society and state was only an extra-conceptual fiction, and the notion of kingship had only a nebulous existence, the only kind of awareness that swept over human consciousness was the distinct reality of cooperation among human beings. The tradition of human relations based on a mutual sharing of the experiences of pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy, agony and ecstasy wove them into an exceptional unity. Chest-beating over the death of a fellow being still mirrored human identity as a natural reaction, mutual help and assistance was still the stirling currency of those dark times, sharing mutual pain and sorrow, and calling one another for help in moments of duress and distress is part of human nature. The same human tendency served as an incentive in creating human settlements and living in groups. Man is born to share the pain of others and those who are indifferent to it are hardly human.

Time is free from all kinds of chains and shackles; it keeps marching on in complete defiance of happenings and surroundings. Settlements appear, society takes shape, man sets out on his cultural life, rules and regulations are framed, new interpretations of the divine revelation are made, innovations and self-cooked explanations deface revelatory teachings, and Islamic message is exposed to philosophical hair-splitting. The chasm of difference and misunderstanding widens when we try to wipe out the distinction between the real and the metaphorical and rely on self-coined arguments and interpretations to hammer home the truth of our own contentions. A literal translation of the universal teachings of Islam by wrenching them from their context and without relating them to the Qur'anic mode of narration and understanding, sometimes jostles a person into those blind alleys of misguidance which block all the return exits and blend every possibility of reinhaling fresh air into the dust of doubt and suspicion.

The first effort to make a dent in the unity of Islam was made by the British imperialists through the Qadiyani movement. They patronised a number of other mischiefs to disillusion Muslims of the subcontinent. This imperialist conspiracy to strip the starving Muslims of the last drop of love for Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) continues unabated. Rajpal’s sacrilegious book on the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) was part of the Mephistophelean design.

Dr Qadri’s book unravels new possibilities of speculation and research, but at the same time it is marked by exceptional clarity in illuminating the issue. He has discussed its various aspects by extensively drawing on evidence from the Qur'an and the sunnah. An effort has been made to stamp out the possible doubts in the minds of the reader on rational and intellectual grounds and not through rhetorical bulldozing. This makes Dr Qadri’s exposition an exercise in sanity and a compulsory reading for all those Muslims whose minds are a swinging pendulum between clarity and woolliness on the issue so painstakingly elaborated in the book.

Dr Qadri has resolved the complication relating to the issue of "beseeching for help" by drawing a clear distinction between "absolute power" and "derivative power". While Allah’s power is absolute, the power of all other creatures, including the prophets, the saints and the righteous is derivative as it derives from the power of Allah. By this distinction Dr Qadri has totally eliminated the possibility of disbelief, as it is only Allah’s prerogative to grant or reject an appeal for help. His favourites can only beseech Him for help. Similarly, a petitioner can only beseech one of His favourites for help but he is convinced that the favourite lacks the power to grant his petition, it has to be granted by Allah alone. Without this conviction, he is automatically expelled from the fold of Islam.

The actual position is clearly and succinctly summed up in the words of Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri: "To hold the holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) and the saints and pious people of Allah in reverence and to beseech them for help is quite compatible with the basic principles of Islamic faith. But sometimes the petitioners, while addressing these favourites of Allah, employ words, which are reserved only for Allah and, therefore, according to some religious scholars, commit disbelief. This conclusion is based on a fundamental misconception as these scholars fail to draw the vital distinction between the literal and figurative sense of these words. They interpret these modes of address or the vocative forms in a literal sense and thus wring a perverse conclusion from them. It is an admitted fact that these modes of address are used only for Allah in their absolute sense, therefore, to use them for any other creature is obviously disbelief and for a Muslim it is simply inconceivable. Thus a basic distinction must be drawn between their literal and figurative meaning. The literal sense applies to Allah alone and no creature, whether he is a prophet or a saint, can arrogate to himself the exclusive divine prerogative. Therefore, the petitioner is using the words only figuratively and it is in this sense alone that they are generally interpreted. The allegation of disbelief against these people is quite misplaced; it reflects rather the twisted consciousness of those who hurl such malicious allegations against them. The petitioners are, in fact, immune to disbelief."

Dr Qadri strikes a different note in an environment that is choked with interpretative rigmarole. His approach is both conceptual and contextual. He does not examine a concept in isolation but relates it to its specific context. This is the reason his speeches and books enjoy a hot-muffin popularity especially among Muslims who like to arrive at a rational understanding of the fundamentals of their faith. Istighathah and its legal aspect, is highly readable as it appeals to one’s critical as well as aesthetic sense; and it should be read by Muslims of every stripe to come to grips with a basic issue that is both delicate in substance and tantalising in appeal. Dr Qadri deserves our most sincere compliments for his scholarly and lucid exposition.

In the end I specifically appreciate the sincere and painstaking endeavours of M. Farooq Rana (Minhajian) who assisted me in the compilation of the book and helped me colour its mosaic with the tile of meticulous care.

Prof Iftikhar A. Sheikh
Jamadi al-Awwal, 1422 AH.

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