It is an established fact that on account of the distinction Allāh has conferred on His favourites and the blessings He has showered upon them, it has been the practice of our religious leaders and scholars to rely on them to resolve their worldly problems, attain salvation in the Hereafter, make their graves and tombs the focus of their supplications and seek help and assistance from the chosen people of Allāh who are buried in them and seek their help for spiritual and inner benefits and blessings. These acts, which shaped the conduct and mode of living of the saints and the scholars in the past, are now the granite foundation of the concepts and beliefs of Ahl-us-Sunnah wal-Jamā‘ah. Moreover, they had not moulded their attitudes and deeds on a superficial, unconscious or sentimental basis. A great deal of reflection and reasoning laced these modes of conduct and were framed by comprehensive experimentation, observation and practical orientation. Therefore, on the basis of investigation, and not mere sentiment, it can be affirmed that their statements were sound and authentic and on account of their immunity from doubt and ambiguity, they furnish a cogent argument for all those believers who are blessed with sufficient wisdom and intelligence to appraise the depth and truth of these statements.
Religious scholars, enlightened saints and our spiritual leaders have pronounced the tombs of these favourites of Allāh as inexhaustible fountain-heads of light and blessing where our supplications are acknowledged and robed as destinies. Reliance on these sanctified persons opens the shuttered avenues of success. Their attention and response unravels the tangles of the Hereafter and their spiritual help serves as a source of salvation for our worries and all forms of distress. To cap it all, their statements are consistent with the criterion of experience and observation, which is the basis of the modern inductive method of all scientific progress. Therefore, they cannot be brushed under the carpet as mere hearsay and deserve our positive response as they are grounded in facts and proved by experience.
This world is inhabited by two sets of people. The first set of people are those who are rebellious and disobedient, and on account of their law-breaking tendencies, they form a coterie of persons who are hell-bent to protect and promote the interests of the devil and are a cause of constant torture for Allāh’s creatures. On the other hand, are those who are good-natured, pure, and well-behaved and with a positive outlook and are determined to promote the welfare of the people. Such noble persons and untainted souls form their own fraternity and come closer to one another through mutual interaction, following the axiomatic principle that “birds of a feather flock together.” These courageous, highly determined and spiritually motivated people, through sheer hard work and concentration, leave behind indelible tales of sincerity and honesty, patience and steadfastness, love and sacrifice that the readers are simply stunned by their exceptional nature.
These holy personages have graced every period of human history. Outwardly, they live on the sidelines but they are easily placed on account of their habits and manners, their character and mode of conversation. Their love and concern for the creatures of Allāh is so gushing that it cannot be contained like the perfume of flowers. The chain of their blessing is continuous, because it goes against the divine grain that His creatures are deprived of the benefit and blessing of His chosen people in any era of human history. Therefore, these favoured servants of Allāh are not only a source of blessing for the people in their manifest life but also benefit them after death; rather their blessings acquire greater frequency and intensity when they are transferred to another mode of existence after leaving this phenomenal world. They bless the seekers of their help as effectively as they did during their earthly sojourn. The one who seeks their help instinctively knows that he has been helped by them.
The secrets of the worlds of purgatory, angels and divinity are revealed to Allāh’s saints in a manner and style that is denied to the common run of people. Their opinion is authentic in all human and non-human fields of activity and it can neither be challenged nor any flaws found in its inherent cogency. Therefore, it is quite rational, and a recognition of human limitations, to believe in their opinions because their statements are not based on any inanity or triviality but have been derived through extraordinary observation and supported by the ballast of divine sanction, as no one can deny that “what is heard cannot equal what is seen.”
In the context of istighāthah and intermediation, we propose to cast a cursory glance at the conduct, experiences and observations of these righteous people who have provided glimmers of light and guidance to the creatures of Allāh groping in the amorphous shades of darkness and depression:
Imām Zayn-ul-‘Ābidīn supplicates to the Holy Prophet(صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) for help and intercession in these words:
O mercy of the worlds! You are the intercessor for the sinners. On account of your infinite generosity, mercy and magnanimity, intercede for us on the Day of Judgement.
O, who has come to all the worlds as a source of mercy, help Zayn-ul-‘Ābidīn! Who is caught in trials and tribulations by the party of the oppressors (and beseeches your help).
Imām Mālik’s prominence as one of the four jurists of Islam is well-established. Once Caliph Abū Ja‘far Mansūr visited Medina and he asked Imām Mālik: ‘while supplicating, should I turn my face to the prayer niche [and turn my back to the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم)] or should I turn my face to the Holy Prophet [(صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) and turn my back to the prayer niche]?’ On this interrogation, Imām Mālik replied: ‘(O caliph!) Why do you turn your face from the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم), as he is the means for you and for your ancestor Adam (عليه السلام) on the Day of Judgement? Rather you should (pray and supplicate by) turning towards the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) and seek his intercession so that he intercedes for you before Allāh on the Day of Judgement. Allāh has declared:
(O beloved!) And if they had come to you, when they had wronged their souls, and asked forgiveness of Allāh, and the Messenger also had asked forgiveness for them, they (on the basis of this means and intercession) would have surely found Allāh the Granter of repentance, extremely Merciful.’
This incident has been narrated by Qādī ‘Iyād in his ash-Shifā (2:596) with a sound chain of transmission. Besides, it has been related by a number of other traditionists of impeccable credibility. Subkī in Shifā’-us-siqām fī ziyārat khayr-il-anām, Samhūdī in Khulāsat-ul-wafā, Qastallānī in al-Mawāhib-ul-laduniyyah, Ibn Jamā‘ah in Hidāyat-us-sālik and Ibn Hajar Haythamī in al-Jawhar-ul-munazzam.
He has mentioned istighāthah in the interpretation of the verse 64 of sūrah an-Nisā’ in his al-Jāmi‘ li-ahkām-il-Qur’ān (5:265-6).
He has, in his book, ash-Shifā (2:596) narrated Imām Mālik’s statement to the Caliph Abū Ja‘far Mansūr, which we have mentioned before. He also narrated Adam’s intermediation through the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) with the help of sound and famous traditions in ash-Shifā (1:227-8). In addition, in the chapters on “visiting the Prophet’s grave,” “virtues and merits of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم)” and in many other chapters in his book he has referred to the qualities and attributes of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم).
He has discussed at length the question of istighāthah and intermediation in his book Shifā’-us-siqām fī ziyārat khayr-il-anām and has proved their relevance as vibrant concepts in Islam.
Imām Ibn Kathīr has commented on verse 64 of sūrah an-Nisā’ in his book Tafsīr-ul-Qur’ān al-‘azīm (1:519-20) and raised the issue of istighāthah. He has not levelled any objection against ‘Utbī’s tradition in which a bedouin supplicates at the Prophet’s tomb for his intercession. Imām Ibn Kathīr has related in al-Bidāyah wan-nihāyah (5:167) the episode of the man who visits the Prophet’s grave and calls him to pray for rain, and he has pronounced this tradition quite sound. In addition, he has also related in the same book (5:30) that during the battle of Yamāmah, the battle-cry of the Muslims was yā Muhammadāh (O Muhammad! Help us).
He has in his books al-Isābah fī tamyīz-is-sahābah (3:484) and Fath-ul-bārī (2:495-6) narrated the incident of the man who visited the Prophet’s grave for rain through his means and called him for help.
The qualities and accomplishments of a special group of saints are recorded in the traditions. The blessing of their supplication causes rain and brings victory and triumph to the Muslims. Qastallānī’s views about them are given below:
When ordinary people fall into trouble, first of all, the Heralds supplicate for them, then turn by turn the Nobility, Substitutes, the righteous and the ministers (supplicate for them). If their supplication is granted, well and good, otherwise, the saint of the highest rank — ghawth (who is all the time engrossed in Allāh’s worship) — supplicates for them, and before he winds it up, his prayer is granted. (This is Allāh’s special blessing on them.)
Ahmad Shihāb-ud-Dīn Ibn Hajar Haythamī Makkī, who possesses an eminent position among experts on Islamic jurisprudence and tradition, has proved on the basis of the experience and observation narrated by Abū ‘Abdullāh Qurayshī that Allāh’s favourites help people after death as they help them during life and the value of their benefit is not in the least reduced. Produced below is an incident attributed to Abū ‘Abdullāh Qurayshī:
A severe drought had enveloped Egypt in its grip and the people’s distress caused by hunger and thirst remained unrelieved in spite of their prayers and supplications:
So I journeyed towards Syria, when I reached near Allāh’s friend (Ibrāhīm’s) tomb, he met me on the way. I said to him: ‘O Messenger of Allāh! I have come as a guest. You should show your hospitality in the form of a supplication for the natives of Egypt.’ He prayed for them, so Allāh drove their famine away from them.
In this extraordinary reference, the description of the face-to-face meeting with Ibrāhīm (عليه السلام) has been commented upon by Imām Yāfi‘ī in these words:
The statement made by Abū ‘Abdullāh Qurayshī that he had a face-to-face meeting with the Friend is based on truth. Only an ignorant person can deny it who is unaware of the mode of living and status of the saints because these people observe the earth and the heavens and see the prophets in their living condition.
He has written an irrefutable book Shawāhid-ul-haqq fī al-istighāthah bi-sayyid-il-khalq and proved the validity of appeal to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) for help.
Commenting on the earlier verses of sūrah an-Nāzi‘āt, he explains in these words the justification of reliance on Allāh’s favourites and seeking help and support from them:
(In the introductory sentences of this sūrah,) the separation of the souls of pious persons from their bodies at the time of death is described and Allāh has sworn by these different states of the souls. These souls have to be wrenched out of the bodies because, on account of their long and deep association with their bodies, they are disinclined to leave them. The reason for this disinclination is that, in order to earn virtues, the body acts as a means of transport, and it is on this count that there is a greater possibility of adding to the score of one’s virtues. Then these souls fly to the world of angels and reach the sanctuary of purity, and on account of their force and nobility, they blend with the elements that help decide the destinies of the creatures, that is, they are included among the angels, or they acquire administrative capability. That is why it is said: ‘when you are invaded by troubles, you should seek help from the residents of the tombs, that is, from the favourites of Allāh who are embodiments of virtue and purity, and those who have left us.’ There is no doubt that a person who visits their tombs, receives spiritual help by virtue of their blessings, and on many occasions, the knots of difficulties unwind through the mediation of honour and reverence they enjoy.
(In these verses) Allāh has sworn by these good-natured people, who step into the field of virtue and sanctity and try to purify both the inner and the outer self through worship, persistent practice and a concerted confrontation with the evil and, as a result, are permeated with immediate divine consciousness. (These verses may be applied to these holy persons in the sense that) they control their own instinctive cravings and concentrate all their energies on the world where holiness prevails, and finally achieve perfection after passing through the evolutionary phases so that they can guide those who are stuck up in their flawed schedules and invest their lives with a sense of purpose and direction.
Shāh ‘Abd-ul-Haqq Muhaddith Dihlawī comments in his exegesis of Shaykh ‘Abd-ul-Qādir Jīlānī’s book Futūh-ul-ghayb that when the saints cross into the area of divine knowledge and consciousness, which is immune to the exigencies of mortality, they are blessed with a special power which enables them to perform acts unmediated through external causes, and they are transformed into embodiments of exceptional light and cognizance as they have arrived from the mortal world into the the world of immortality. In this way they achieve that level of perfection which the common believers will receive in Paradise.
He was one of those great saints who, on account of his God-given vision and divine knowledge, could see the inner reality with his naked eye and then proclaimed it publicly. He has written a matchless book Fuyūd-ul-haramayn based on observations. The gist of its ninth and tenth chapters is as follows. He says:
“We called at Medina, and we clearly saw with our own eyes the soul of the holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) and on that day this reality was revealed to us that the pure soul can also be seen like the body and the secret of the life of prophets after death was also disclosed to us.
“On the third day we called and sent salutations on the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم), and also visited the graves of Abū Bakr as-Siddīq and ‘Umar Fārūq.
“Then we humbly submitted: we have called on you with great expectations to receive your mercy and blessing. Have mercy on us.”
“The holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) expressed great joy and I felt that the sheet of his kindness had wrapped and covered me. Then he embraced me, and appeared before me, disclosed many secrets and personally informed me and briefly helped me and told me how I could seek his help for my needs.”
Mawlānā Ashraf ‘Alī Thānwī, commenting on the blessings of the holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) in his book Nashr-ut-tīb, writes: ‘it was transparently reflected from the foreheads of his ancestors. It was his universal light that persuaded Allāh to accept Adam’s repentance; again it was his light that salvaged Nūh (عليه السلام) from the tempestuous waves and transformed the glowing coals of fire into the blossoms of flowers for Ibrāhīm (عليه السلام).’
He has written a panegyric in which he besought the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) for help in his trials and tribulations and requested him to remove them. He stated:
O, the intercessor of the people, help me. You are the one whom I can trust in crisis.
I have no shelter except you. Help! My master, difficulties besieged me.
O Ibn ‘Abdullāh, public is against me. Be my supporter, because you are my helper.
I have no good deed or any submission. But I have your love in my heart.
O Messenger of Allāh! I have only your door (to knock at the time of necessity). The clouds of teething troubles never surround me.
Moreover he wrote another panegyric in which he discussed the theme of calling the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) for help.
Besides, Mawlānā Ashraf ‘Alī Thānwī, has named the thirty-eighth part of his book as “intermediation through the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) at the time of supplication.” In this part, after mentioning a tradition attributed to ‘Uthmān bin Hunayf, he writes, “It proves that just as intermediation through someone’s supplication is valid, similarly, reliance on someone in the supplication for intermediation is also valid.” When during the period of ‘Uthmān bin ‘Affān, ‘Uthmān bin Hunayf asked a petitioner to utter the same supplication which the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) has taught to the blind Companion, Mawlānā Ashraf ‘Alī Thānwī makes it the basis of establishing the validity of intermediation after death. In addition, he has proved the relevance of intermediation through someone other than a prophet (عليه السلام) by ‘Umar’s intermediation through ‘Abbās. Mawlānā Thānwī has also declared the act of intermediation through the Prophet’s grave during the time of ‘Ā’ishah as valid. Finally, after reproducing ‘Utbī’s tradition in which a bedouin had called on the Prophet’s grave for the repentance of his sins, as we have explained in reference to the 64th verse of sūrah an-Nisā’, he writes: ‘as it happened in the early days, and there is no contradiction of it, it has acquired the status of a proof.’
A Makkan jurist of Muslim law, Ahmad bin Zaynī Dahlān in his journal Fitnat-ul-Wahhābiyyah, has established the legality of beseeching the prophets and saints for help, intermediation and intercession, and he has cogently refuted the doubts and allegations of those who are opposed to these perfectly legal acts.
A well-known contemporary religious scholar posted at Makkah, Muhammad bin ‘Alawī al-Mālikī, in his book Mafāhīm yajib an tusahhah has conducted well-documented research on the concept of istighāthah.
He is a famous contemporary religious scholar and he has written a book, Encyclopedia of Islamic Doctrine, comprising seven volumes on the beliefs of Ahl-us-Sunnah wal-Jamā‘ah. In the fourth volume of his book he has justified the belief in istighāthah on the basis of a vast array of historical and rational arguments.
These are a few of the observations, experiences and sayings, which span centuries of human existence. They clearly prove that the graves and tombs of the chosen people of Allāh are a steady source of divine blessings and benefits for mankind. The discerning persons do not treat these spots of the saints as worthless or as mere heaps of mud and mortar; rather they believe that they are men of distinction and Allāh has specially rewarded them for their piety and human service. Some of these saints are looked upon as ultra-magnanimous. Therefore, no one should entertain any doubt or reservation about their purity and exceptional status.
A person, who himself is stripped of spiritual vision, has no right to misguide people about these favourites of Allāh. He has no right to say that these people are dead, lying inert and lifeless in their graves, and therefore, lack the power and the energy to help anyone. His statement is completely baseless and is justified neither by historical precedent nor by rational argument.
An important point to be noted in this context is that only those residents of the tombs deserve our reverence who had attained access to the nearness and the pleasure of Allāh and whose pious acts and virtuous deeds had made them popular during their lives. Only such persons are to be implored for help. This point has been clarified by Shāh ‘Abd-ul-‘Azīz Muhaddith Dihlawī in unmistakable terms. He said:
Help should be sought only from the famous saints.
as the public opinion is the litmus test of the popularity or unpopularity of a saint. He has also prescribed a method for discovering the stature of a saint and for seeking help from him. This can be looked up in Fatāwā ‘Azīzī.
. Qur’ān (an-Nisā’, Women) 4:64.
. Qastallānī, al-Māwāhib-ul-laduniyyah (2:726); Zurqānī, Commentary (7:487).
. Ibn Hajar Haythamī, al-Fatāwā al-hadīthiyyah (pp.255-6).
. Ibn Hajar Haythamī, al-Fatāwā al-hadīthiyyah (p.256).
. Ālūsī, Rūh-ul-ma‘ānī (30:27-8).
. Ālūsī, Rūh-ul-ma‘ānī (30:28).
. For details of the tradition see our book Islamic Concept of Intermediation.
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