Islamic Concept of Intermediation (Tawassul)

The Doctrine of Tawassul (In the Light of Qur’ān)

In the last chapter it was discussed that tawassul and wasīlah, semantically speaking, are a means of approach to something; they are also instrumental in achieving nearness to someone. Since the object of life of a believer is to attain the proximity and pleasure of Allah, He has guided them at many occasions in the Holy Qur’ān to gain access to Him; and in the process, not only to satisfy their quest for truth but also to seek His pleasure. The search for truth and Allah’s pleasure are interrelated. It obviously implies that the believer is not seeking the philosopher’s truth, which is more or less abstract and lacks personal involvement. The truth that a believer is seeking must reflect his emotional involvement. This is a precondition for any favourable divine response, and when this condition is fulfilled, his quest is positively rewarded. He achieves three targets in a single leap of faith; he comes closer to truth, he satisfies his own craze for truth and at the same time he is able to receive Allah’s pleasure, which is the ultimate aim of his life. Some of the Qur’ānic verses given below clearly prove how explicitly and without any ambiguity Allah has enjoined upon the believers to seek means of accessibility to Him for the fulfilment of their needs and desires and for leading a contented life on this earth.

Argument No. 1: Injunction for seeking means of approach

It is commanded by Almighty Allah as the holy Qur’ān states:

O believers! Fear Allah and seek means (of approach to) His (presence and to His nearness and accessibility) and strive in His way so that you may prosper.[1]

The Qur’ānic verse stresses four things:

  1. faith,
  2. piety,
  3. search for means of approach, and
  4. struggle for Allah’s sake.

First of all, the Qur’ān mentions faith. After faith it enjoins piety upon the believers because a heart laced with fear of Allah, is in fact a heart laced with His obedience. A man who possesses piety never disobeys Allah. Each moment of his life is spent in pleasing Him and, incidentally, all of his other concerns are pushed into the background. As a matter of fact, obeying the divine regulations becomes a part and parcel of his existence. Virtue and good deeds shape up as inseparable parts of his character and conduct. His desire to be close to Allah elevates him in His eyes. He is always engaged in acts that will earn him the pleasure of Allah and nearness to Him. The word ittaqū [derivative of taqwā (piety)] is a comprehensive word and it embodies all acts that save him from Allah’s displeasure and bring him closer to Him.

The third regulation stresses the search for means of approach. The Qur’ān says, “Seek means (of approach to) His (presence and to His nearness and accessibility).” Some of the religious scholars have interpreted wasīlah (the means of approach) mentioned in the Qur’ānic verse as faith and good deeds while others, who are in the majority, have explained the word as the prophets, the righteous and the favourites of Allah. They argue that the expression ittaqullāh subsumes faith, good deeds and all forms of worship. But the fact is that the verse enjoins upon the believers to search means of approach to Allah’s presence. As far as faith and virtuous acts are the means of drawing close to Allah, the prophets and His favourites are ranked above all others. Thus, Shāh Walī Allah Muhaddith Dihlawī has explained wasīlah as allegiance to the guide[2] while Shāh Ismā‘īl Dihlawī believes that wasīlah is the guide himself. He says:

It is almost impossible to receive (divine) guidance without the direction (provided) by the guide.[3]

Referring to the same situation, Mawlānā Rūm believes that he has attained nearness to Allah on account of the company of Shams Tabrīzī.[4]

The fourth regulation relates to jihad. Jihad also serves as a means to promote Islam, to strengthen and consolidate it and to implement divine injunctions. When, in the same Qur’ānic verse, faith, piety and struggle in the way of Allah are vested with legitimacy, the fourth regulation relating to wasīlah becomes automatically legitimate. Thus wasīlah does not amount to associating partners with Allah. Instead of encouraging polytheism among the believers, it rather reaffirms the Oneness of Allah. And, besides, when reliance on it is being confirmed by the Qur’ān itself, any objections or reservations against it are in fact a denial of the Qur’ānic truth.

Argument No. 2: Search for means of approach is a valid act

The holy Qur’ān has stated in another context:

Those, whom they worship (that is, the angels, jinn, ‘Īsā (عليه السلام) and ‘Uzayr (عليه السلام) etc., - they make their portraits and statues and worship them), they (themselves) seek nearness to their Lord, through those who among them are the nearest (to Allah’s presence), and they (themselves) hope for His mercy, and (themselves) fear His punishment. (Now you tell how can they deserve to be worshipped, they themselves are bowing before the truthful Lord.) Surely, the punishment of your Lord is a thing to be feared.[5]

During the era of ignorance, the non-believers used to worship the angels, the jinn, ‘Īsā (عليه السلام) and ‘Uzayr (عليه السلام) by making their statues and portraits. Before the advent of Islam, the jinn had spared no effort to misguide human beings. They entered the statues and played bizarre tricks. The simple and naive people worshipped the statues when they saw them moving and smiling. But when the light of Islam dawned, the jinn sought forgiveness of Allah for their deeds of deviance and embraced Islam. They discarded their false notions and practices and followed the right path. They turned into loyal and obedient followers of Allah and were constantly in search of finding means of access to Him.

‘Abdullāh bin Mas‘ūd comments that this Qur’ānic verse was specifically revealed in favour of an Arab community who worshipped a particular group of jinn. When these jinn converted to Islam and their worshippers were unaware of the fact of their conversion, Allah reminded them that those they used to worship were now prostrated before Him and were seeking means of approach to gain His nearness.[6]

This elaboration makes it clear that it is valid to rely on those who are near to Allah through their obedience and acts of virtue. And those who are near to Allah further rely on those who are even nearer to Him, and it is a continuous process because the quest for nearness to Allah is an unending process. This also clearly implies that there are different degrees of nearness to Allah, the nearest degree enjoyed by the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم).

This Qur’ānic verse clarifies beyond any particle of doubt that the gods worshipped by the non-believers and who called on them in their hour of distress are not in fact gods because they themselves are busy seeking the pleasure of Allah. If they had been gods themselves, as the non-believers ignorantly believed, they would not have been in need of worshipping someone else to seek his goodwill. In fact, they are as helpless as their worshippers and the obvious proof of their helplessness is their lack of self-reliance. The verse also clarifies the point that to seek access to Allah through those who have already attained nearness to Him is a valid act as this has also been the teaching and practice of these divine favourites. A question arises here how can those who themselves are seeking means of access to Allah possibly serve as means of approach to Him? A reflection on this Qur’ānic verse itself provides the answer: to worship anyone except Allah is forbidden but to rely on Allah’s favourites and to request them to pray to Him for the fulfilment of one’s needs is quite valid. It is a negation of worship, not a negation of means of approach to Allah. While it is valid only to worship Allah and no one else, it is also valid to seek the means of coming close to Him. Allah’s favourites serve only as the means; they are not substitutes for Him. Therefore, it is correct to believe that all favourites of Allah are only means of access to Him as it is Allah Alone Who is to be worshipped.

Argument No. 3: Intermediation through the holy Prophet (SAW)

There is another verse, which makes permissible to seek means of approach to Allah. As it is said:

(O beloved!) And if they had come to you, when they had wronged their souls, and asked forgiveness of Allah, and the Messenger also had asked forgiveness for them, they (on the basis of this means and intercession) would have found Allah the Granter of repentance, extremely Merciful.[7]

This Qur’ānic verse commands all the believers to rely on the mediation of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) in order to have their sins and lapses condoned by Allah. The relevance of this verse is not limited to his actual life on this earth but it also applies to his life after death. The exegetes and other leading scholars have also explained the meanings of the verse at length which will be dealt with elaborately in the third section of fifth chapter.

Argument No. 4: Relief from distress through the holy Prophet (SAW) on the Day of Judgement

The Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) is the dearest of Almighty Allah. That’s why He blesses him the most. As it is stated:

Soon your Lord shall appoint you to the highest station in Paradise (that is, that high place of intercession where the former and the latter ones will return to him and glorify him).[8]

Maqām mahmūd is the high and exalted place which is specified for the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) on the Day of Judgement as a divine acknowledgement of his glory and excellence. The purpose of his elevation to the high station is his intercession for the believers. It is proved by the Qur’ān and hadith that this form of intercession is the exclusive prerogative of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). On the Day of Judgement all the people, suffering from the agony of pain, will rally round the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). They will request him to plead their case before Allah in order to expedite the process of their accountability to relieve them of the agonizing punishment. The undoubted and authentic traditions support the view that Allah, for the sake of His Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم), will accelerate the act of accountability. Thus it is clear that even on the Day of Judgement all the people will make him as their intermediary to place their plea before Allah. This is the main object of his appointment to the specified high station in Paradise which is mentioned in this verse.

Argument No. 5: Steadfastness in guidance through the holy Prophet (SAW)

Allah says in surah Āl-i-‘Imrān:

And how would you (now) disbelieve while you are (among those fortunate) that to you are rehearsed the verses of Allah, and His Messenger (himself) is in your midst? And whoever holds fast to Allah’s (lap), is indeed guided towards the right path.[9]

This Qur’ānic verse also pleads for intermediation. When we reflect on the words wa fīkum rasūluh, we come to realize that the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) is such source of intermediation who is blessed by Allah Himself to intercede for the people. It is on account of his God-given stature that he can persuade Allah to draw people out of the darkness of disbelief and bless them with the light of guidance. Wa kayfa takfurūna makes it further clear that to refrain from returning to disbelief is also made possible through the Prophet’s mediation. The verse stresses two things, which are interlinked. People receive guidance through the mediation of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) and this guidance is strengthened and fortified again, through the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). That is, both the reception of guidance and its sustenance are possible through the mediation of the Prophet. Allah is All-Powerful and it is within His power to guide anyone directly if He likes. But when he Himself says that He will keep us steadfast in guidance through the means of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم), it is surely a clear proof of the fact that intermediation is a legitimate act.

Argument No. 6: Stalling of punishment through the mediation of the Prophet (SAW)

Allah says in the Qur’ān:

And (the fact of the matter is that) it is unbecoming of Allah to inflict punishment on them while (O exalted friend,) you are also (present) among them, nor will Allah punish them in a state while they are seeking forgiveness (from Him).[10]

In this Qur’ānic verse the divine punishment may be stalled for two reasons:

  1. The presence of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) among them.
  2. Seeking forgiveness from Allah.

First of all, Allah stresses the point that He does not want to punish them because the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) is present among them; and second, He withholds the punishment because they seek His forgiveness. What is to be noted here is the ordering of the two reasons. Allah gives priority to the presence of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). The verse clearly argues that as long as the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) is present among them, Allah would withhold the punishment, which would have surely gripped them in his absence. Here the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) is acting as an intermediary for his Ummah. Not only does Allah accept his mediation, but He also accords it primacy even over His Own forgiveness, and this is clearly supported by the way the two reasons for warding off punishment are arranged in this Qur’ānic verse. Some people, who interpret the word presence as mere physical presence, that is, his actual life-span on this earth, are quite mistaken. It is nothing but hair-splitting. Allah is not making any distinction between his life on this earth and his life after death. The word presence is in fact used in an inclusive sense. In the following pages I shall try to explain that this applied to his presence even before he was actually born into this world. Even before his birth, the Jews used to pray to God for their victory over the unbelieving Arabs through the mediation of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) as pointed out by Allah Himself:

Though before this they themselves (through the mediation of the last Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) and the Qur’ān that was revealed to him) offered (the prayer) for victory over the non-believers.[11]

This Qur’ānic verse illustrates a Jewish practice, which is endorsed by the Qur’ān and all the exegetes and experts on hadith have made it as a basis of their arguments.[12] It means that the fact has been collectively acknowledged that if the people in the past could rely on the mediation of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) for the fulfilment of their needs, it becomes not only valid, but even more strictly binding, for the Muslim community to continue a time-hallowed tradition.

Argument No. 7: Zakariyyā’s use of Maryam’s place of worship as means

Allah says:

And her supervision was given to Zakariyyā. Whenever Zakariyyā entered her place of worship, he found with her (the latest and freshest) items of food. He asked, “O Maryam, where do these things come to you from?” She said, “This (food) comes from Allah.” Surely, Allah gives to whomsoever He wishes without measure.[13]

In the next verse Allah has mentioned Zakariyyā’s prayer at this very spot:

At that very place Zakariyyā prayed to his Lord. He requested, “My Master! Give me from Yourself pure offspring. Surely You are the Hearer of prayer.”[14]

Rectification of an error

It may be assumed here that whenever Zakariyyā (عليه السلام) visited Maryam’s room to ask about her health, he found all kinds of out-of-season fruit and one day he just thought of praying, presuming that the Lord, who could send out-of-season fruit to Maryam, had also the power to bless him with the offspring in his old age, and as he thought of this, he there and then offered prayer. One can say he had prayed to Allah and it had nothing to do whatsoever with the spot at which he prayed. But this view appears to be unreasonable as it gives rise to a number of questions:

  1. Had Zakariyyā (عليه السلام) never prayed in the past?
  2. Why had Zakariyyā’s prayer been granted only then?
  3. Why had Zakariyyā (عليه السلام) chosen that particular spot for his prayer? Did he consider it more sacred than some other spots?
  4. Why did the Qur’ān stress praying at that very place?

Qur’ān itself has rectified the error and eliminated uncertainty by using the word hunālika (there). When we reflect on the words of the Qur’ānic verse, we realize that it was Zakariyyā’s routine that he woke up in the later part of the night and prayed to his Lord. According to his routine, even on that day he woke up to offer his prayer, but instead of praying at his usual place of worship, he chose specifically the chamber in which Maryam lived. If he had offered his prayer only by accident and not by design, the insertion of the word hunālika would have been superfluous and insignificant. Such an interpretation is not only a misreading of the Qur’ānic message but also a violation of its spirit, which discourages and condemns all forms of superfluity. Thus the choice of that particular spot is an act of intermediation and at the same time it is a confirmation of the fact that a sacred spot can also serve as a source of intermediation.

Immediate acceptance of prayer through mediation

Allah has described the acceptance of prayer through mediation in the following Qur’ānic verse:

He still stood praying in the chamber (or he was simply imploring the Lord) that the angels called to him: surely, Allah gives you glad tidings of (son) Yahyā.[15]

When Zakariyyā (عليه السلام) chose that sacred spot for his prayer, and then offered his prayer, his prayer was instantly granted. This fact clearly proves that Allah likes intermediation through his favourite servants and the proof of His appreciation appears in the form of the paryer’s acceptance. The stress is laid not only on acceptance, but also on the immediacy of acceptance. It means that the prayer through mediation is not only granted, but it is also immediately granted.

Argument No. 8: Return of Ya‘qūb’s eyesight through the mediation of Yūsuf’s shirt

Allah says in surah Yūsuf:

(Yūsuf said,) “Take my shirt and lay it on the face of my father (Ya‘qūb), he will regain his sight.”[16]

The Qur’ān has expressed the later development in these words:

When the bearer of glad tidings arrived, he laid the shirt on the face of Ya‘qūb and his sight returned immediately.[17]

This Qur’ānic verse clearly proves that intermediation through any object associated with the prophets and the saints does not negate the Islamic concept of divine unity. In this case the sender of the shirt is a prophet, the one who is benefiting from this act of intermediation is also a prophet and the one who is describing the act, are all parts of a sacred phenomenon authenticated by the Qur’ān itself. Therefore, to express any doubts and reservations about its authenticity is to deny the sanctity of an act which is being sanctified by no less an authority than the Qur’ān. This Qur’ānic verse actually stresses the following points:

  1. First, though from the point of view of jā’-al-bashīr, this form of intermediation is apparently without the direct involvement of a prophet, it actually takes place through the physical use of one of his relics, i.e. one of the objects associated with him.
  2. Second, since the bearer of glad tidings did not utter a word as he laid the shirt on the face of Ya‘qūb (عليه السلام), therefore, the return of the eyesight through the means of the shirt is a form of intermediation without words.
  3. Third, to rely on someone who is not a prophet is also one of the traditional practices of the prophets and to declare the practice of the prophets as a form of disbelief is nothing but a reflection of malice, ignorance and lack of understanding on the part of those who boastfully, and sometimes out of sheer flaunting arrogance, indulge in fabricating such false allegations. In the Qur’ānic verse Allah is expressing the form of intermediation practised by two great prophets, Ya‘qūb (عليه السلام) and Yūsuf (عليه السلام). No Muslim can deny the reality of intermediation in the presence of such a clearly described tradition. If there had been any ambiguity or semantic twist in its expression, they might have had some basis of doubt. But when the argument is so explicit, any doubt about its veracity is nothing but an ugly concoction. Besides, the most significant point stressed by the Qur’ānic verse is that one prophet, Yūsuf (عليه السلام), is issuing the injunction of intermediation and the other prophet, Ya‘qūb (عليه السلام), is receiving the benefit from this act of intermediation. It means the shirt here serves as the source of intermediation. Therefore, if it is valid to practice intermediation through a prophet’s shirt, its practice through the relics of the prophets and the saints is automatically validated.

Real meaning of supernatural causes

It means that if an act takes place without the factors or causes which are necessary for its manifestation or occurrence, it is called a supernatural act, for example, the birth of ‘Īsā (عليه السلام), because the birth of a person is caused by a number of factors. If these factors are absent, the question of birth does not arise. But in the case of the birth of ‘Īsā (عليه السلام), these factors are glaringly absent, i.e. the fact of birth without the presence of the opposite gender and, therefore, it can be explained only as a result of supernatural causes.

It is generally said that mediation for supernatural acts is disbelief while it is permissible in the case of natural acts. This concept derives from the ignorance of people about the true definition of supernatural causes. These people are guided only by a superficial definition, which suggests that any phenomenon that is not adequately explained by the world of causes is supernatural and that which falls within its scope is natural. In order to understand its true nature the example of the return of Ya‘qūb’s eyesight seems to be quite apt. If the restoration of vision comes about as a result of medical treatment or surgical operation, it will fall within the ambit of the causes and if the rehabilitation of eyesight takes place as a result of merely placing the shirt on the face, it will fall beyond the influence of causes which is generally described as a supernatural phenomenon. This brief discussion proves that:

  1. If an effect occurs without causes, it is a supernatural effect.
  2. Intermediation through the supernatural causes is endorsed by the Qur’ān and proved by the practice of the prophets.
  3. Idhhabū bi-qamīsī does not rely on any kind of supplication nor on any medicine; it only records the recovery of eyesight through the physical application of the shirt. Therefore, it provides an illustration of intermediation through the supernatural causes. If this kind of intermediation were a negation of beliefs the Qur’ān would never have permitted it because it condemns all kinds of disbelief.

Here another point is clamouring for our attention, and that is to declare valid an act of intermediation which is engineered by natural cause and to declare it invalid because it is brought about by supernatural causes is in itself a kind of self-invented classification, which is supported neither by the Qur’ānic verses nor by the authentic traditions of the prophets. The correct Islamic belief is that the real cause and helper is Allah Himself. No one shares His qualities and attributes because, in view of His uniqueness, any effort to associate partners with Him is not only impracticable but also inconceivable. Disbelief is disbelief at any place and in any context of situation. Whether you sugar-coat it or present it as an ambiguous temptation, it remains disbelief.

Natural and supernatural causes operate on entirely different planes: while natural causes relate to outward effects, supernatural causes relate to inner and spiritual effects. There are a large number of issues in our lives, which are resolved through natural causes, but there are some issues, which are resolved internally and spiritually without any recourse to outer and material causes. The fact is that no effect is without a cause; only in some cases the cause is manifest while in other cases it remains hidden and it is revealed only to persons with gifted insight. If an act happens without any apparent reliance on visible causes, it is also really not without a cause; only the cause remains generally invisible.

The gist of the discussion is that if we condemn intermediation as a form of disbelief in supernatural matters, it would be a direct violation of the Qur’ānic injunctions and the traditional practices of the prophets. For example, when Jibrīl (عليه السلام) at Allah’s behest, appeared before Maryam in human guise in connection with the birth of ‘Īsā (عليه السلام), he addressed her in these words:

I have been only sent by your Lord. (I have come because) I should bless you with a pure son.[18]

In this Qur’ānic verse Jibrīl (عليه السلام) is attributing to himself the blessing of the son which is absolutely unsupported by external causes, i.e. to bless her with a son without the presence of a father with just a puff of air is only a supernatural act. But in this dialogue, one of Allah’s superior angels is performing the act of intermediation. Therefore, Qur’ānic verses cannot be falsified on the basis of a self-coined belief. Intermediation is a Qur’ānic fact and it is a legal act.

Argument No. 9: Self-humiliation and helplessness as a form of means

Extreme self-humiliation, self-deflation, modesty and helplessness are recommended means to crush one’s ego. If someone prays to Allah in a state of self-laceration, his emotional and mental state serves as a means to gain access to Allah Who is deeply moved by the purity and intensity of his prayer and grants his request.

The prayers of the Companions and the saints were invariably effective because in their prayers they demeaned themselves, lowered their egos and approached Allah in an absolutely humble frame of mind. They shed all their pretensions and placed themselves completely at the will and mercy of their Lord. The prayers of Abū Bakr, ‘Alī, Zayn-ul-‘Ābidīn and ‘Abd-ul-Qādir Jīlānī gush out of a similar state of humility and self-lashing.

The same philosophy forms the basis of intermediation. Something is offered to Allah in one’s prayer as a support to enhance its chances of acceptance, rather it persuades Allah to grant it even when He is disinclined to do so. It awakens His mercy and He softens towards the prayee and fulfils his desire. Anything which acts as means must either be a sacred deed or some righteous person who enjoys Allah’s blessings. It is on account of his personal sanctity as an intermediary that Allah is moved to accept the prayer, as Allah befriends those who seek His pleasure and He never lets them down. So the granting of the prayer through such an intermediary is an indirect acknowledgement of his virtue and piety. Therefore, those who try to raise these agents of intermediation to the level of divine partners are the victims of rational purblindness. How can a person, who himself is a humble servant of the Lord, and whose very survival and integrity depends on His pleasure, ever imagine to excel Him? This is only a malicious disfigurement of reality.

It is recorded in the Qur’ān that when Adam (عليه السلام) committed the error, he besought Allah, stressing his helplessness and his lowly state:

O our Lord! We have committed excess against our lives. If You did not forgive us and (did not) take mercy on us, we will surely be among the losers.[19]

In this prayer, Adam (عليه السلام) has offered his own helplessness and his utter sense of alienation as a source of intermediation and asked for Allah’s mercy and forgiveness. The authentic traditions also indicate that Adam (عليه السلام) also offered the mediation of the holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) for the acceptance of his prayer and, as a result, he was blessed with Allah’s forgiveness.

Argument No. 10: Prayer for the entire Ummah as a source of intermediation

If one does not pray only for oneself as expressed in the words ‘O Allah, have mercy on me,’ but prays for the entire community as expressed in the words ‘O Allah, have mercy on us – the entire community,’ this mode of prayer in itself becomes a source of intermediation. It is stated in the holy Qur’ān:

O our Lord! Now forgive our sins and efface our mistakes (from our recorded deeds) and give us death in the company of virtuous people.[20]

Argument No. 11: Addition of the word Rabb to the names of the righteous as a form of means

The prayer proves effective if the word Rabb is added to the name of a righteous person. For example, if one addresses Allah as Muhammad's Lord or as the Lord of some saint or virtuous person, the prayer gains in effectiveness and itself becomes an agent of intermediation. The Qur’ān says:

And, through your mercy, make me among the righteous who are close to You.[21]

Allah says in regard to those who have attained His pleasure through noble acts and pious deeds and, therefore, have achieved a level of self-contentment rarely available to human beings on this earth. These are the people who remain unruffled and unhinged even when the winds blow harshly, the heat wave is sizzlingly inhospitable and the cold is biting. As the Qur’ān states:

O contented self! Return to your Lord in such a state that you should seek His pleasure as well as be the object of His pleasure (as if you desire His pleasure and He desires your pleasure). So join My tested servants and enter My Paradise (of nearness and presence).[22]

This Qur’ānic verse relates to a person who is about to hear the glad tidings of Allah’s mercy, kindness and nearness. Allah is proud of his obedience. He actually gloats over his perseverance and sincerity in His service. This man does not indulge his desires, rather he sacrifices them for the collective happiness of the people. Each moment of his life is focused on seeking Allah’s pleasure. He crushes all those desires which tend to deflect his concentration from righteous and pious deeds. Each phase of his life is a confirmation of his faith in Allah, not a deviation from it. He is not under the thumb of his self, rather his self is under his thumb and even the devil is scared of seducing him because he knows that all his efforts to derail him from the track of virtue are doomed to failure. He sacrifices his comforts to win Allah’s pleasure. He is totally in the infinite goodness of his Lord and this immersion in virtue becomes a guarantee of his survival and a source of that self-renewing contentment which brings him increasingly closer to Allah. He achieves a level of self-satisfaction which is denied to the common run of people and he presents a perfect model of submission to the will of the Lord. His own desires, which are usually self-seeking, are pushed into the background and his leading light is the will and pleasure of Allah. He is, in reality, one of those honoured and exalted persons with whom Allah is totally pleased. As a result, there is no dividing line between such a person and the Lord Himself. When he speaks, it seems as if the Lord is speaking through him; when he talks, it sounds as if the Lord is talking through him; when he walks, it appears as if the Lord Himself is walking; even his hearing turns into a divine act of hearing. In short, there is complete identity between him and the Lord because a person who has achieved this level of self-control shall never indulge in an act that can clash with the will and pleasure of the Lord. He has been tested and retested by Allah; as a result of his stresses and tribulations Allah has vested him with such a high status. Therefore, if one approaches Allah through people like him and say, “O Lord of the righteous,” His mercy bubbles over and grants the prayee’s wish. At that time He is not concerned about the status of the petitioner; He is rather concerned about the status of His own loyal servants who have attained His pleasure. Therefore, to approach Allah through the righteous people is also one of the practices of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). After the Fajr prayer, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) used to pray:

O Lord of Jibrīl, and Mīkā’īl, and Isrāfīl and Muhammad! I seek Your protection from the fire of Hell.[23]

Shaykh Muhammad bin ‘Alawī al-Mālikī said, “Its specific mention in his du‘ā’ is understood as tawassul (توسل), as if he were saying, “O Allah, I ask You and I seek Jibrīl (Gabriel), Isrāfīl, Mikā’īl (Michael) and Muhammad the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) as means to You.”[24]

Argument No. 12: Intermediation through remembering the Lord

Allah says:

And (such) are these people that when they commit a foul deed or wrong their own lives, remember Allah and implore forgiveness for their sins. And who can forgive sins except Allah?[25]

This Qur’ānic verse proves that when a man commits sins and his life is soiled with smutty deeds, then intermediation through the remembrance of Allah can serve as a source of forgiveness of his sins.

Argument No. 13: Intermediation through remembering the prophets and the saints

To remember people whom Allah loves and who are very close to Him on account of their virtuous acts is also a form of intermediation. Surah al-Fātihah has listed a number of righteous persons who can serve as intermediaries for Allah’s blessings because these are the people whom He has rewarded with special gifts – they are, in fact, the prized ones in the divine estimation. The Qur’ān states:

The path of those on whom You bestowed blessings.[26]

At another occasion, the holy Qur’ān describes the details of the people on whom His blessings have been bestowed:

And whoso obeys Allah and Messenger (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) shall be among those (on the Day of Judgement) upon whom Allah has bestowed His (special) blessings – the prophets, the truthful, the martyrs and the righteous – and they are an excellent company.[27]

Surah al-Fātihah contains all forms of intermediation. As a matter of fact, the entire surah is an act of intermediation as it is the essence of the Qur’ān. It encourages the followers to approach Allah through the divine unity, Prophethood and other pious persons. But, here, in this verse, intermediation through the righteous people is recommended because these are the ones with whom Allah is pleased.

Argument No. 14: Intermediation through Allah’s blessings

Allah says:

And remember Allah’s that blessing on you. When you were (each other’s) enemies but He created love in your hearts and you became brothers on account of His blessing.[28]

And another occasion, He says:

And if you wish to count Allah’s blessings, you won’t be able to count them completely. Surely, Allah is infinitely Forgiving, extremely Merciful.[29]

You should remember Allah’s blessings and after remembering these blessings seek His forgiveness and you will find Him infinitely Forgiving. The Qur’ānic verse elucidates the fact that the remembrance of Allah’s blessings activates His attribute of mercy. A prayer, therefore, which is based on recalling His blessings and His kindness, can serve as an agent of intermediation by offering itself as the petitioner’s expression of gratitude for the inexhaustible kindnesses of the Lord and is finally granted by Him. The Qur’ān itself bears witness to its effectiveness:

If you are grateful, then I will increase (blessings) on you.[30]

Argument No. 15: Intermediation through the Lord’s promise

Allah has made a number of promises to the followers of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). If these promises are remembered in a mood of concentration and offered as means while praying, the prayer will be granted by Allah. The holy Qur’ān states:

O our Lord! Bless us with all that which You have promised through Your messengers, and do not humiliate us on the Day of Judgement. Surely You do not go back on Your promise.[31]

The petitioner in his prayer addresses the Lord. He has committed many sins and perpetrated a number of foul deeds but he is now conscious of his sullied career and in a spirit of total humility surrenders himself to the overflowing mercy of the Lord saying: O Allah! Our deeds are not such that we deserve Your mercy and forgiveness, therefore, we pray to You through Your messengers that may You keep us safe from the gruelling and scorching heat and horrors of the Day of Judgement. We are holding fast to your exalted prophets, we are following in their footsteps and we are following the faith they have taught us. Your prophets have also taught us that keeping on to our faith is a means of our salvation and we believe in it sincerely. Therefore, show us Your promise as daylight because You always fulfil Your promises.

[1]. Qur’ān (al-Baqarah) 2:186.

[1]. Qur’ān ( al-Mā’idah) 5:35.

[2]. Shāh Walī Allah Muhaddith Dihlawī, al-Qawl-ul-jamīl (p.34).

[3]. Ismā‘īl Dihlawī, Sirāt mustaqīm (p.58).

[4]. Mawlānā Rūm, Mathnawī ma‘nawī.

[5]. Qur’ān (al-Isrā’) 17:57.

[6]. Bukhārī narrated it in his as-Sahīh, b. of tafsīr (interpretation of the Qur’ān) ch.205 (4:1747-8#4437-8); Muslim in as-Sahīh, b. of tafsīr, ch.4 (4:2321#3030); Hākim in al-Mustadrak (2:362); and Baghawī cites it in tafsīr of 17:57 in Ma‘ālim-ut-tanzīl (3:120).

[7]. Qur’ān (an-Nisā’) 4:64.

[8]. Qur’ān (al-Isrā’) 17:79.

[9]. Qur’ān (Āl-i-‘Imrān) 3:101.

[10]. Qur’ān (al-Anfāl) 8:33.

[11]. Qur’ān (al-Baqarah) 2:89.

[12]. Complete discussion on the topic is in chapter 5, section 1.

[13]. Qur’ān (Āl-i-‘Imrān) 3:37.

[14]. Qur’ān (Āl-i-‘Imrān) 3:38.

[15]. Qur’ān (Āl-i-‘Imrān) 3:39.

[16]. Qur’ān (Yūsuf) 12:93.

[17]. Qur’ān (Yūsuf) 12:96.

[18]. Qur’ān (Maryam) 19:19.

[19]. Qur’ān (al-A‘rāf) 7:23.

[20]. Qur’ān (Āl-i-‘Imrān) 3:193.

[21]. Qur’ān (an-Naml) 27:19.

[22]. Qur’ān (al-Fajr) 89:27-30.

[23]. Hākim narrated it in al-Mustadrak (3:622) through Usāmah bin ‘Umayr; Tabarānī in al-Mu‘jam-ul-kabīr (1:195#520); and Haythamī in Majma‘-uz-zawā’id (2:219). Nasā’ī also narrated it with a few different words through ‘Ā’ishah in his Sunan (8:278); Ahmad bin Hambal in Musnad (6:61); and Haythamī in Majma‘-uz-zawā’id (10:104, 110).

[24]. Muhammad bin ‘Alawī al-Mālikī, Mafāhīm yajib an tusahhah (p.153).

[25]. Qur’ān (Āl-i-‘Imrān) 3:135.

[26]. Qur’ān (al-Fātihah) 1:6.

[27]. Qur’ān (an-Nisā’) 4:69.

[28]. Qur’ān (Āl-i-‘Imrān) 3:103.

[29]. Qur’ān (an-Nahl) 16:18.

[30]. Qur’ān (Ibrāhīm) 14:7.

[31]. Qur’ān (Āl-i-‘Imrān) 3:194.

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