Islamic Concept of Intermediation (Tawassul)


Islam is a comprehensive religion as it covers all aspects of human life. It is a religion of balance and moderation; it avoids extremes. Other religions overplay one aspect of human life and underplay the other, and are, therefore, lopsided. For example, in some religions the spiritual component of life is overstressed and man is raised to the level of a mere abstraction; in other religions, the physical and the palpable aspect is overemphasized and man is reduced to the level of an animal or a machine. Their extremistic attitude not only creates imbalance but also encourages a variety of splits and contradictions, which not only disillusion their more sensitive followers but also give rise to a sense of general apathy, even revulsion, towards their high-sounding claims. Islam acknowledges the relevance of both aspects of human life, the physical and the spiritual. But it does not dissociate them from each other; rather it weaves them into a higher form of unity. Islam acknowledges the pressure of physical compulsions but it does not give them a free ride. On the other hand, it frames a set of definite rules to channelize them into more positive outlets; similarly, it acknowledges man’s spiritual yearnings and tries to cast them into a mould that is compatible with practical realities. Thus, by blending man’s basic aspirations and needs into a practicable framework of action and contemplation, it caters most comprehensively to the undeniable reality of human existence.

The springboard of Islamic faith is the concept of divine unity, belief in the oneness of Allah. All other values flow from this basic belief. Allah is the Supreme Creator. He has engendered no one nor has He been engendered by anyone. Anyone who denies divine unity commits the most heinous sin and this sin is unpardonable. All other sins may be condoned by Him but the sin of associating partners with Him cannot be redeemed. Thus, in our present chaotic world, Islam is a message of hope and salvation as it gives a shape and a binding to the sprawling diversity of natural and human phenomena. People without faith are overawed by this apparent lack of focus and connection but the people of faith are convinced that man’s drifting condition is propelled by a sense of direction, and the first step in that direction is to acknowledge the oneness of the Supreme Creator. Those who deny the reality of this ultimate source spend their lives floundering in the dark of confusion and uncertainty. But those who embrace it as the blood jet of their lives find it a source of continuous physical and spiritual nourishment. The need for belief in divine unity is far more urgent in the present time. With all technological progress, modern man is still a moral cipher. He is a slave to his greed and lust for material objects. This has induced in him a sense of rampant selfishness, which in fact is a denigration of the very purpose of his creation. In this murky scenario, Islam is the only religion that provides them a glimmer of salvation; it practically demonstrates to them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that every cloud has a silver lining.

Belief in divine unity gives human life a sense of purpose and direction, and this sense of purpose inculcates in man a sense of responsibility and accountability. His actions spring from the belief that he will be ultimately judged by the Supreme Creator on the day fixed by Him. This is the day when his evil acts will be punished and his virtuous acts will be rewarded. And, in the light of this basic belief, Islam has framed a set of rules and laws to help human beings steer themselves towards the right direction and eschew the path of evil. Those who perform good deeds will earn great dividends and those who do evil on this earth will be appropriately penalized. And the beauty of Islamic faith is that it has not clamped these prescriptions on its followers in a rigid conceptual frame. While devising rules, Islam has generously provided with a set of exemptions and relief. For example, the holy Qur’ān has prepared a limited inventory of forbidden acts and declared all other acts as categorically lawful or observed discreet silence about them. This reflects the deepest divine wisdom and His sharp insight into human psychology. By not mechanically restricting lawful acts, it has provided man with an almost unrestricted range of valid options and, instead of curtailing his freedom; it has blessed him with unprecedented latitude of expression and mobility of action. This is in express contrast with other religions where human freedom is drastically slashed and human beings are reduced to mere puppets without any possibility of choice.

Allah, being the Supreme Creator, has tailored divine laws to human expectations and aspirations. It is this aspect of Islam, which brings it closest to human nature. Allah knows that man is genetically weak; his willpower and resistance break down in trying circumstances. Therefore, to make things easier for man, He has, in His infinite mercy and magnanimity, consciously narrowed down the list of prescriptions and has showered countless concessions and choices on man. So Islam is not a straitjacket religion; it does not enjoin upon its followers to lead a pressure cooker existence; rather it expects its adherents to live creatively to explore the universe and to make maximum contribution to the welfare of humanity.

Allah also knows that, in the absence of strong faith, man feels insecure. Therefore, He has allowed him means to fortify his faith in different ways. One of these ways is to rely on the support and mediation of His own favourites, people who live for His pleasure alone and who have resolved the dichotomy between intentions and deeds and are on the right track. Their close proximity to Allah is a consequence of their love for Allah and His Messenger (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم), which they have persistently strengthened and steeled by their noble acts. Knowing that man is not only impatient but is also unable to sustain the requisite level of concentration which is a prerequisite for the acceptance of his supplications, Allah has allowed him to rely on the means of His pious people for the fulfilment of his needs and the alleviation of his troubles. This act is called the act of intermediation. It means that a needy person or the petitioner can process his supplication or prayer through these favourites of Allah. The rationale behind this mediation is that Allah holds His favourites so dear that, while He can turn down the petition of an ordinary creature, He will never turn down the request of His favourite. And since His most favourite and beloved friend is the holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم), any supplication processed through him carries the divine guarantee of its acceptance. The sanity and propriety of this mode of dependence is corroborated by evidence exuding from every pore and joint of the phenomenal world in which we live.

The reality of intermediation as a valid and permissible act has been established by the holy Qur’ān and the practice of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم), the Companions, the Successors and the righteous people. In the presence of the evidence of such an overwhelming and authentic nature, there is hardly any scope left for doubting its validity and sanctity. But there are people among the Muslims who do not hesitate to condemn it as an invalid act. To buttress their negative interpretation, they rely on Qur’ānic evidence and traditions. But their interpretation is motivated by misunderstanding and perversity. They tend to decontextualize the Qur’ānic verses and clamp on interpretation on them that suits their own preconceptions and prejudices. For example, the verses that are intended to be applied to the non-believers, they apply to the believers and therefore, misunderstand their genesis and rationale. And they parade their misunderstanding as enlightened inference or deduction which in itself amounts to perversion. Then they twist the meaning of the Qur’ānic verses out of shape maliciously or out of sheer ignorance and try to generate confusion among the common run of Muslims. For example, no Muslim denies that Allah is Supreme and that it is His will that prevails in all conditions and circumstances. No human being, no matter has elevated or superior he is, has the power to dictate to Allah. Thus they conclude that since no one except Allah has the power to grant our wishes or fulfill our needs, therefore, to rely on non-Allah or any other human being for the realization of our wishes and needs is an unlawful act and therefore, must be condemned in the strongest terms. They start from the right premises but draw a wrong inference from it. They confuse the perception of reality with the reality, the sizzle with the steak and the flame with the fire. While Allah has absolute power, the power of His creatures is derivative; they derive their power from Allah; therefore, no creature, no matter has hallowed, can claim to be as powerful as Allah. Any Muslim who thinks so is committing disbelief and is therefore, not a believer. What the act of intermediation seems to indicate and prove is not a denial of the absolute power of Allah, it only affirms the derivative or reflective power of His creatures and again this power is conferred on them by Allah Himself.

A true believer knows that this world of material interaction is a watered-down reflection of the world of spiritual interaction, and relations in both worlds are governed by a system of graded hierarchies. In this world, man has to rely on other men not only for day-to-day functioning, but also for his security and survival. There are men who are more influential, more powerful, more qualified and knowledgeable. He needs their help on many occasions. Suppose a man applied for a fancy car permit, which is sanctioned by the government of the day in very special cases. The chances are that his application will be shelved or pigeonholed. But if he knows someone powerful or influential in the ministry that sanctions these permits, his application through him is most likely to be processed immediately and it is quite possible that he will get the permit within a few days of applying for it. On the other hand, a man without clout and contacts stands an extremely remote chance of realizing his dream. From the peon to the president and from the clerk to the chief secretary, this system of favours and concessions operates, sometimes in a subtle manner and sometimes in a flagrant manner. If the application had not been mediated through the powerful man, it would have remained on the back burner for a long long time and might eventually have been turned down altogether. The same applies to the world of spiritual values though here the network of relations does not operate on a material basis; it is geared by one’s deep attachment with the person whose mediation is being sought. When a believer mediates his request or petition through a prophet or a righteous person, he is doing so out of his love for that holy person and so his petition is granted through the mediation of that person. But it should be kept in mind that it is Allah Alone Who grants the petition. The prophet or the righteous person only expedites it and serves as the means of its acceptance because Allah does not like to turn down the supplications and prayers of His favourites.

Thus the book Islamic Concept of Intermediation through exhaustive research and extensive marshalling of details, arguments and proofs, drawn from the Qur’ān, the hadiths, and the practice of the Companions, has conclusively proved the reality and validity of intermediation. Those who deny its legitimacy and legality are only driven by their ignorance, lack of understanding or sheer perversity. Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri deserves a lot of praise for his keen insight into the subtleties and nuances of the religion of Islam, as this is the only book of its kind available in English language, both in terms of the quantity and the quality of its contents.

In the end, I highly acknowledge the matchless efforts of M. Farooq Rana who assisted me in the editing of the book with enthusiastic spirit.

Prof Iftikhar A. Sheikh
Rabī‘-ul-Awwal, 1421 AH.

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