Islamic Concept of Intermediation (Tawassul)

Intermediation through the holy Prophet (SAW) before his birth

1. Adam’s intermediation through the holy Prophet (SAW)

The process of intermediation through the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) is a continuous process and changes in fashion have never been able to hobble its popularity and effectiveness among the Muslims. It existed before his creation and during his physical life and it has continued to exist after his death and will continue to be popular and effective in future. It was Adam’s practice to offer the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) as intermediary to Allah for the forgiveness of his lapses. When he chose the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) as his intermediator, Allah condoned his act of disobedience. What could be a greater example of the immediate effectiveness of mediation when it is channelized through the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم)?

Tabarānī, Bayhaqī, Ibn-ul-Mundhir and Suyūtī narrated this tradition through ‘Umar bin al-Khattāb and ‘Alī that the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) said, “Adam was just about to repent for his act of disobedience that he suddenly recalled in his state of anxiety that he had seen lā ilāha illallāhu Muhammad-ur-rasūlullāh (there is no god but Allah, Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger) inscribed on the Throne at the time of his birth.” It obviously meant that the distinction the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) possesses is denied to others. That is the reason his name was inscribed along with Allah’s Own name. At this, he added these words of intermediation to his prayer for divine forgiveness:

(O Allah,) I beg Your forgiveness through the mediation of Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم).

The tradition related by Ibn-ul-Mundhir has the following words:

O Allah, I beg Your forgiveness through Your beloved and most honoured servant Muhammad and through his distinction You have blessed him with.[1]

By the addition of these words of intermediation, the prophet Adam’s repentance was accepted immediately. Allah said, “In fact, Muhammad is the most beloved of all My creatures. Since you have intermediated your petition through him, I have granted it. And were it not for Muhammad, I would not have created you.” Tabarānī further adds that Allah said, “He is the Last Prophet among your children.”

Imam Hākim has phrased the tradition in these words:

Narrated by ‘Umar bin al-Khattāb: Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) said: When Adam committed the error, he submitted (to Allah): O Lord, I beg You to forgive me through the mediation of Muhammad. Then Allah said: O Adam! How did you recognize Muhammad as I have not created him yet? He replied: O Lord, when You created me with Your divine hand and breathed Your soul into me, I raised my head and saw ‘lā ilāha illallāhu Muhammad-ur-rasūlullāh (there is no god but Allah, Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger)’ inscribed on each pillar of the Throne. I discovered that with Your name, the name of only such a person can be associated who is Your most beloved of all the creatures. At this Allah said: O Adam, you have said it correctly. Of all the creatures I love him the most. Now when you offered your prayer through his mediation, I forgave you. And if Muhammad were not there, I would not have created even you.[2]

The tradition was transmitted through many chains and was related by Bayhaqī in Dalā’il-un-nubuwwah (5:489); Tabarānī in al-Mu‘jam-ul-awsat (7:259#6498) and al-Mu‘jam-us-saghīr (2:82-3) with another chain containing sub-narrators unknown to Haythamī as he stated it in Majma‘-uz-zawā’id (8:253); Ibn ‘Asākir in Tahdhīb tārīkh Dimashq al-kabīr generally known as Tārīkh/Tahdhīb Ibn ‘Asākir (2:359-60); Ibn Kathīr, al-Bidāyah wan-nihāyah (1:131; 2:291-2); and Ibn Hajar Haythamī in al-Jawhar-ul-muazzam (p.61);.

This tradition is declared sahīh (sound) by Imam Hākim, though he acknowledges ‘Abd-ur-Rahmān bin Zayd bin Aslam, one of its sub-narrators, as weak. However, when he mentions it he says, “Its chain is sound, and it is the first hadith of ‘Abd-ur-Rahmān bin Zayd bin Aslam which I mention in this book.” Imam Bulqīnī also declares this tradition sound in his Fatāwā. Subkī confirms Hākim’s authentication in Shifā’-us-siqām fī ziyārat khayr-il-anam (pp.120-1) although Ibn Taymiyyah’s rejection and criticism was known to him and he rejects it.

Similarly a large number of hadith-experts have related in their books the event of Adam’s prayer and his reliance on the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) as a form of intermediation. It may be noted that there is no inconsistency or contradiction between the words cited earlier and the words contained in these books because these words are the incremental part of the same prayer. This proves the fact that prayer through the mediation of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) is, first of all, the practice of Adam (عليه السلام), and this is undeniably the holiest means for the acceptance of prayer.

Qastallānī has established in his al-Mawāhib-ul-laduniyyah (1:81-2; 4:594) with the help of various traditions the principle of prayer through the mediation of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). Imam Zurqānī also confirms it in his Commentary (1:118-20; 12:220-1).

Hadith-expert, Ibn-ul-Jawzī cites this tradition in the first chapter of his book, al-Wafā bi-ahwāl-il-Mustafā (1:33) and considers it sahīh (sound). In the introduction of the book he says, “In this book I do not mix the sound hadith with the false.” He also mentions the version of Maysarah on the same page whereby the holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) says, “When Satan deceived Adam and Eve, and they repented and sought intercession from Allah with my name.” Ibn-ul-Jawzī also says in the chapter concerning “the Prophet’s superiority over the other prophets” in the same book (1:359), “Part of the exposition of his superiority to other prophets is (the fact) that Adam (عليه السلام) asked his Lord through the sanctity (hurmah) of Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) that He relent towards him, as we have already mentioned.”

Mawlānā Ashraf ‘Alī Thānwī has initiated the discussion in the second section (fasl) of his Nashr-ut-tīb (p.20) with a reference to these traditions.

Even at the time of Adam’s marriage with Eve, Adam (عليه السلام) was commanded to send blessings on the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) and use them as a form of intermediation in his marriage contract. This has been recorded in Salāt-ul-ahzān by Ibn-ul-Jawzī. And Imam Ahmad as-Sāwī says in Hāshiyah on Tafsīr-ul-Jalālayn (1:23):

And that (divine) command was expressly given to introduce Adam (عليه السلام) to the glory and distinction of Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) at the very beginning, that is, if he were not created, he would never have been blessed with a wife. So he is the real force for every form of intermediation, even for Adam’s act of intermediation.

Mawlānā Ashraf ‘Alī Thānwī related this tradition in Nashr-ut-tīb (p.21).

The tradition of Adam’s intermediation through the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) is also included by Qādī ‘Iyād among the “sound and famous narrations” in ash-Shifā (1:227-8). He says that Abū Muhammad al-Makkī and Abū Layth as-Samarqandī mentioned it. He also cites another very similar version through Ājurrī[3] (d.360), about whom Mullā ‘Alī Qārī said, “al-Halabī said: This seems to be the Imam and spiritual guide Abū Bakr Muhammad bin Husayn bin ‘Abdullāh al-Baghdādī, the compiler of the books ash-Sharī‘ah fis-sunnah, al-Arba‘ūn, and others.”[4] This is also confirmed by Ibn Taymiyyah: ‘it is related by Shaykh Abū Bakr al-Ājurrī, in his book ash-Sharī‘ah.’[5]

Imam Suyūtī cites this hadith in his Qur’ānic interpretation ad-Durr-ul-manthūr (1:58) and in al-Khasā’is-ul-kubrā (1:6) and in ar-Riyād-ul-anīqah fī sharh asmā’ khayr al-khalīqah (pp.48-9), where he says that Bayhaqī considers it sound.

In addition to these scholars of impeccable credibility, the narration of this tradition by experts in the field of compilation and transmission of tradition argues strongly in favour of the authenticity and validity of this tradition. As Bayhaqī said in the introduction to Dalā’il-un-nubuwwah that he only included sound narrations in his book.

The contemporary Makkan hadith-scholar Muhammad bin ‘Alawī al-Mālikī quotes Dhahabī’s unrestrained endorsement of the traditions in Bayhaqī’s Dalā’il-un-nubuwwah with his words, “You must take what is in it (Dalā’il-un-nubuwwah), for it consists entirely of guidance and light.”[6]

Zurqānī also transmitted Dhahabī’s statement about Bayhaqī’s Dalā’il-un-nubuwwah in his Commentary (1:120).

Similarly its inclusion by Ibn Taymiyyah in his Fatāwā (2:150) is also a clear proof of its strength and soundness, though he is generally regarded as a controversial scholar. As he quotes this version and another through Maysarah and says, “These two are like the elucidation of the authentic hadiths (concerning the same topic).” About this statement Muhammad bin ‘Alawī al-Mālikī said, “This indicates that Ibn Taymiyyah found the narration credible enough to be considered a witness for other narrations, because mawdū‘ (forged) and bātil (false) are not taken as witness by the people of hadith.[7]

In this holy tradition, when Adam (عليه السلام) uses the words as’aluka bi-haqqi Muhammad (I ask You through the mediation of Muhammad), and asks for the forgiveness of his error, Allah’s mercy gushes out, and in this state of swinging upsurge, He conveys to him the glad tidings of his forgiveness by using the words qad ghafartu laka (I forgave you). Through this act, Adam (عليه السلام) has driven this message home to his progeny that in case they have committed a sin they should not be overburdened by a sense of guilt and sin and keep sulking in corners; on the contrary, they should pray to Allah through the mediation of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) in their prayer and Allah shall forgive them. Adam (عليه السلام) is not making this statement as an abstraction as it is based on his own experience. A prayer is instantly granted by Allah whenever the name of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) is invoked in it. The Qur’ān says about it:

(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 surely found Allah the Granter of repentance, extremely Merciful.[8]

2. The Prophet (SAW) as a source of intermediation for Jews

Before the birth of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم), the Jews offered in their prayers his means in order to gain victory over the rival Arab disbelievers and as a result of their prayer, they were rewarded with victory. The Qur’ān is a witness to this phenomenon. Allah says:

And when there came to them the Book from Allah (the Qur’ān) fulfilling the book (Torah in the real sense) which was with them, and before that they themselves had (prayed) for victory (through the mediation of the last Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) and the Book revealed to him) over the disbelievers. So when there came to them the same Prophet (Muhammad) with the Book revealed to him) whom they (already) knew, they rejected it.[9]

The Qur’ānic verse explains that the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم), through whom the Jews used to pray to gain victory over the Arab disbelievers, they rejected him when he physically appeared among them. They rejected him on the basis of prejudice and enmity though they possessed complete knowledge of his identity from the signs of his arrival. Since their rejection of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) was based on deliberate arrogance, Allah cursed them as an instant expression of the divine displeasure:

So there is Allah’s curse on those who (intentionally) disbelieve.[10]

Allah flared up and cursed them because their rejection virtually amounted to the rejection of the Prophet’s distinction as His last Prophet and Messenger (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). It is an exceptional divine reaction. Though the disbelievers are mentioned in the Qur’ān in a variety of contexts, the express divine curse is not related to all these situations. It finds expression only in situations where the divine wrath is sparked by an unpardonable sin. The frequency and the intensity with which the disbelievers have been condemned and cursed by Allah in surah al-Baqarah and al-Anfāl is quite exceptional. If we study the context and background of these Qur’ānic verses, we will come to realize that the divine wrath is triggered on occasions where the disbelievers have denied the Prophet’s glory and distinction, expressed their disapproval of his high status and relied on prejudice and jealousy in remembering him.

From the earliest times to the present-day, the meaning of this Qur’ānic verse favoured by the majority of interpreters has actually been attributed to Ibn ‘Abbās. He narrated it in the tafsīr of 2:89 in Tanwīr-ul-miqbās (p.13). This verse refers to the prayer offered by the people of the Book themselves before the arrival of the last Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). They used him as a source of intermediation in their prayer to secure victory against the Arab disbelievers during wars. The words of their prayer are as follows:

O Allah, award us victory (over these disbelievers) through the mediation of the last Prophet whose glory and distinction we see in the Torah.[11]

In some traditions, the Qur’ān is also associated with the name of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). The Jews are being particularly condemned for their self-contradictory attitude, which borders on sheer hypocrisy. They used to offer prayers of victory over the disbelievers through the mediation of the holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) before his Prophethood, but when he physically arrived among them, they denied him and rejected his distinction as the last Prophet. Some of the traditions related to the issue are given below.

1. Imam Qurtubī

Imam Qurtubī related the tradition through Ibn ‘Abbās:

The Jews of Khaybar were often at war with the Ghatafān (tribe). When they confronted each other (in battle) the Jews were defeated. They attacked again, offering this prayer, “(O Lord,) we beg You through the mediation of the Unlettered Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) about whom You have promised us that you will send him to us at the end of time. Please help us against them.” Ibn ‘Abbās adds: whenever they faced the enemy, they offered this prayer and defeated the Ghatafān (tribe). But when the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) was sent, they denied (him). So Allah the Exalted revealed the verse: “And before that they themselves had (prayed) for victory (through the mediation of the last Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) and the Book revealed to him) over the disbelievers,” that is, through your mediation, O Muhammad.[12]

2. Mahmūd Ālūsī

He said:

This (verse) was revealed about Banū Qurayzah and Banū Nadīr who used to pray for victory over Aws and Khazraj before Allah’s Messenger’s Prophethood. Ibn ‘Abbās and Qatādah have given expression to the same reality. It means that they prayed to Allah through his mediation for victory over the polytheists as also stated by as-Suddiyy: when the war raged between them and the polytheists, they opened the Torah and placed their hand on the spot where the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) was mentioned and prayed, “O Allah, we pray to You through the mediation of Your Prophet You have promised with us to send him at the end of time; today grant us victory over our enemies.” So (by the blessing of this prayer) they were made victorious.[13]

3. Imam Rāzī

He states while interpreting the verse (2:89):

Before the Prophethood of Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) and the revelation of the Qur’ān, the Jews prayed for victory, i.e. they asked victory and help (through their mediation) and they used these words: “O Allah, grant us victory through the Unlettered Prophet.”[14]

4. Imam Jalāl-ud-Dīn Mahallī and Imam Jalāl-ud-Dīn Suyūtī

They write the Jews used to pray in these words:

O Allah, grant us victory through the mediation of the Prophet who is to appear at the end of time.[15]

5. Qādī Thanā’ullāh Pānī Patī

He says that the Jews prayed for victory over disbelievers:

That is, they prayed for victory over the Arab polytheists and they used to say: O Allah, give us victory over them through the mediation of the last Prophet whom we find mentioned in our Book Torah.[16]

6. Imam Ibn Kathīr

He says:

The Jews used to pray for victory over the Arab polytheists through the mediation of Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم).[17]

7. Imam Suyūtī

He narrates two traditions on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbās in this context as follows:

The Jews of Banū Qurayzah and Banū Nadīr used to pray for victory over the disbelievers and the infidels before the Prophethood of Muhammad. They said: O Allah, bless us with victory through the mediation of the Unlettered Prophet, and they were blessed with victory.[18]

The Jews of Medina, before the arrival of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم), in their war against the (tribes of) Arab disbelievers – Asad, Ghatafān, Juhaynah and ‘Udhrah – prayed for victory over them and sought help by invoking the name of Allah’s Messenger. They said: O Allah, our Lord, grant us victory over them through the name of Your Prophet and through Your Book to be revealed to him whose Prophethood You have promised us at the end of time.[19]

Similar traditions are narrated by:

  1. ‘Abdullāh bin Muslim bin Qutaybah, Tafsir gharīb-il-Qur'ān (p.58).
  2. Ibn Jarīr Tabarī, Jāmi‘-ul-bayān fī tafsīr-il-Qur’ān (1:325).
  3. Baghawī, Ma‘ālim-ut-tanzīl (1:93).
  4. Abū al-Fadl al-Mībadī, Kashf-ul-asrār wa ‘uddat-ul-abrār (1:272).
  5. Ibn-ul-Jawzī, Zād-ul-masīr fī ‘ilm-it-tafsīr (1:114).
  6. Mujāhid bin Jubayr, Tafsīr (1:83).
  7. Baydāwī, Tafsīr (1:122).
  8. Nasafī, al-Madārik (1:61).
  9. Khāzin, Lubāb-ut-ta’wīl fī ma‘ānī at-tanzīl (1:65).
  10. Muhammad bin Yūsuf Abū Hayyān Andalusī, Tafsīr-ul-bahr-il-muhīt (1:303).
  11. Ibrāhīm bin ‘Umar Biqā‘ī, Nazm-ud-darar fī tanāsub-il-āyāt was-suwar (2:36-7).
  12. Muhammad bin ‘Abd-ur-Rahmān Hasanī Husaynī, Jāmi‘-ul-bayān fī tafsīr-il-Qur’ān (1:23).
  13. Abū Sa‘ūd ‘Amādī, Irshād-ul-‘aql-is-salīm ilā mazāyā al-Qur’ān al-karīm (1:128).
  14. Ismā‘īl Haqqī, Tafsīr rūh-ul-bayān (1:179).
  15. Sulayman bin ‘Umar, al-Futūhāt-ul-ālihiyyah (1:77-8).
  16. Shawkānī, Fath-ul-qadīr (1:112).
  17. Muhammad Rashīd Radā, Tafsīr-ul-manār (1:381).
  18. Ibn Juzayy, Kitāb-ul-tashīl li-‘ulūm-it-tanzīl (1:53).
  19. Khatīb Shurbīnī, as-Sirāj-ul-munīr (1:76).
  20. Wahbah Zuhaylī, at-Tafsīr-ul-munīr (1:219-20).
  21. Tantāwī Jawharī, al-Jawāhir fī tafsīr-il-Qur’ān al-karīm (1:96).

Following traditionists and biographers also narrated the same tradition:

  1. Hakim in al-Mustadrak (2:263).
  2. Ājurrī in ash-Sharī‘ah (pp.446-8).
  3. Bayhaqī in Dalā’il-un-nubuwwah (2:76-7).
  4. Abū Nu‘aym in Dalā’il-un-nubuwwah (pp.44-5).
  5. Ibn Kathīr in al-Bidāyah wan-nihāyah (2:274-5).

All these traditions show that, even before his Prophethood, the people of the Book offered his name to Allah as mediation. Since these traditions have been reproduced and recorded by scholars of spotless repute and integrity, they also serve to remove any doubt about their lack of authenticity or inferiority because any tradition that is generally accepted for detailed interpretation also claims general acceptance, and this tradition has been reproduced by all the exegetes who have lived during the last thousand years; some of them under the title ‘interpretation of Qur’ān through Qur’ān, while others under the title ‘interpretation of Qur’ān through hadith.’ The consensus of these scholars on its textual authenticity and semantic compatibility in different periods of time is a reflection of its significance and soundness. Those who are reluctant to accept them on the basis that they are drawn from the Jewish source should remember that there is no harm in drawing the truth from the Jewish sources. It is reported that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) said:

Accept the traditions from Banī Israel, there is no harm in it.[20]

Justification for intermediation through the Prophet (SAW) after his death

Just as this Qur’ānic verse is a proof of intermediation through the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) before his birth, similarly it is a proof of continuing intermediation even after his death. One may naturally ask how do we prove the fact of his mediation after death from this verse. The answer is simple and rational: if intermediation through him is valid before his birth, it is equally valid even after his death.

The Jews who offered his mediation before his birth were not disbelievers. They believed in Allah and fought wars under the leadership of prophets and righteous people. They turned disbelievers only when the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) graced the earth with his illuminating presence. In the past, those people of the Book themselves trumpeted his arrival and propagated his exceptional qualities. They talked about him endlessly to their own children, praised and glorified him immeasurably and eagerly awaited his arrival. But what happened? At the arrival of the same Prophet of truth they had waited for years, and had talked about day and night and through whose mediation had prayed for victory, they turned against him despite their knowledge of his truthfulness and rejected his Messengership.

To sum up, the reliance of the Jews on his mediation in their prayers predates his arrival as the last Prophet on this earth. Therefore, the same logic that justified his mediation in the days preceding his birth, also justifies it in the days that follow his departure from this fugitive world. This is the only rational conclusion we can draw from the traditions I have cited about the relevance of the Prophet’s name and person as a source of mediation.

[1]. Suyūtī cites in ad-Durr-ul-manthūr (1:60).

[2]. Related by Hākim in al-Mustadrak (2:615).

[3]. Ājurrī narrated it in his ash-Sharī‘ah (p.427).

[4]. Mullā ‘Alī Qārī stated this in his Commentary on ash-Shifā (1:375-6).

[5]. Ibn Taymiyyah, Qā‘idah jalīlah fit-tawassul wal-wasīlah (pp.84-5).

[6]. Muhammad bin ‘Alawī al-Mālikī, Mafāhīm yajib an tusahhah (p.127).

[7]. Muhammad bin ‘Alawī al-Mālikī, Mafāhīm yajib an tusahhah (p.122).

[8]. Qur’ān (an-Nisā’) 4:64.

[9]. Qur’ān (al-Baqarah) 2:89.

[10]. Qur’ān (al-Baqarah) 2:89.

[11]. Zamakhsharī, al-Kashshāf ‘an haqā’iq ghawāmid-it-tanzīl, 1:123.

[12]. Qurtubī, al-Jāmi‘ li-ahkām-il-Qur’ān, 2:27.

[13]. Mahmūd Alūsī, Rūh-ul-ma‘ānī (1:320).

[14]. Rāzī, at-Tafsīr-ur-kabīr (3:180).

[15]. Mahallī and Suyūtī, Tafsīr-ul-jalālayn (p.14).

[16]. Qādī Thanā’ullāh Pānī Patī, at-Tafsīr-ul-mazharī, 1:94.

[17]. Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr-ul-Qur’ān al-‘azīm (1:124).

[18]. Suyūtī, ad-Durr-ul-manthūr (1:88).

[19]. Suyūtī, ad-Durr-ul-manthūr (1:88).

[20]. Bukhārī, as-Sahīh, b. of ambiyā’ (prophets) ch.51 (3:1275#3274); Abū Dāwūd, Sunan, b. of ‘ilm (knowledge) 3:322 (#3662); Tirmidhī, al-Jāmi‘-us-sahīh, b. of ‘ilm (5:40#2669); Ahmad bin Hambal, Musnad (2:159,202,474,502; 3:56); Ibn Hajar ‘Asqalānī, al-Matālib-ul-‘āliyah (1:192#688;3:280#3478); Ibn Abū Shaybah, al-Musannaf, 9:62 (#6536); and Haythamī, Majma‘-uz-zawā’id (1:151).

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