If we make an offering not in the name of Allah, but for someone
else, whether he be dead or alive, or if we include him with the
name of Allah, even if he is an Imam or his son, the offering
is not valid. If this is done deliberately and knowingly then
it is evident polytheism, as is clear from the verse, "...and
not join anyone in the service of his Lord." (18:110) Shia
jurists agree that to make an offering in the name of any person,
including Prophets or Imams, is wrong. If it is done intentionally,
it is polytheism. An offering must be made in the name of Allah,
although we are authorized to do it whenever we like. For instance,
if someone in the name of Allah takes a goat to a particular house
or place of worship or to the tomb of an Imam or son of an Imam
and sacrifices it, there is no harm in it. Also, if he pledges
and gives money or clothes in the name of Allah to a certain Seyyed,
a descendant of the Prophet, or gives alms to an orphan or beggar,
there is no harm in it. Of course, if he pledges to make an offering
simply for the sake of the Prophet or an Imam, a son of an Imam,
or for some other person, it is forbidden. If done intentionally,
it is polytheism. It is the duty of every prophet or religious
authority to admonish people as the Holy Qur'an says, "Say:
Obey Allah and obey the Apostle; but if you turn back, then on
him rests that which is imposed on him and on you rests that which
is imposed on you...." (24:54)
It is people's duty to hear what the Prophet of Allah says and
to act upon it. If, however, someone does not care to follow divine
precepts and does not act on them, it does not harm the faith
or the principles in which the faith is founded.
The second kind of polytheism is hidden polytheism, such as making
a display of our prayers or other forms of obedience to Allah.
The difference between this polytheism and polytheism in prayers
is that in the case of polytheism in prayers we associate some
other thing or being with Allah. If someone directs his attention
towards anything other than Allah, in the ritual prayer, or if,
by the suggestion of shaitan, he has a picture of a false deity
in his mind, or if his guide is the center of his attention, then
he is a polytheist. Nothing except Allah, should be the object
of attention in our worship. The Prophet said that if someone
does a good deed and makes someone else a partner with Allah in
it, then his whole deed is for the partner. Allah hates that action
as well as its doer. It has also been reported that the Holy Prophet
said that if someone offers the ritual prayer, observes a fast,
or performs the Pilgrimage and has the idea that by his doing
so the people will praise him, "then verily, he has made
a partner with Allah in his action."
It has also been reported from Imam Ja'far Sadiq that if someone
performs an action for fear of Allah, or for the recompense in
the hereafter, and includes in it the pleasure of a human being,
then the doer of that action is a polytheist.
One kind of polytheism is that which relates to causation since
most people base their hopes and fears on secondary causes. This
is also polytheism, but it is pardonable. Polytheism means to
think that power lies intrinsically in secondary causes. For instance,
the sun nourishes many things in the world, but if one considers
this power to be inherent in the sun, then this is polytheism.
However, if we believe that the power of the sun is given to it
by Allah, and that the sun is only a secondary means of His munificence,
then this is never polytheism. It is rather a form of worship
since to pay attention to the signs of Allah is a prelude to attending
to Allah. A reference has been made in the verses of the Holy
Qur'an to the fact that we should ponder the signs of Allah since
this leads the attention toward Allah. In the same way, reliance
on secondary causes (a tradesman's attention to trade, or a farmer's
attention to his farm) make one a polytheist if he thereby diverts
his attention from Allah.
Based on the above explanation of polytheism, which of the examples
cited do you consider to be applicable to Shias? In what way,
from the point of view of prayer, faith, or the Shia traditions
that you have seen, can they be charged with polytheism?
Hafiz: I admit that all you
have said is correct, but if you would just take the trouble to
think for a moment, you will agree that to rely on the imams is
polytheism. Since we should not seek any human means of approach
to Allah, we should invoke Allah directly for help.
Well-Wisher: It is strange that
you ignore what I have been saying here all along. Is it polytheism
to make requests of other people for the fulfillment of our desires?
If this were true, the whole of humanity is polytheistic. If to
seek help from others is polytheism, why did the Prophet seek
help from people? You should study the verses of the Holy Qur'an
so that you may know what is true and correct. The following verses
are worth attention: "He said: 'O chiefs which of you can
bring to me her throne before they come to me in submission?'
One audacious among the Jinn said: 'I will bring it to you before
you rise up from your place; and most surely I am strong (and)
trusty for it.' One who had the knowledge of the Book said: 'I
will bring it to you in the twinkling of an eye.' Then when he
saw it settled beside him, he said: 'This is of the grace of my
The bringing of the throne of Bilqis (Queen of Sheba) to Solomon
was impossible for every creature. Admittedly, it was unusual,
and the Prophet Solomon, despite his knowing that it required
divine power, did not ask Almighty Allah to bring the throne but
asked mere creatures to help him. This fact shows that seeking
others' help is not polytheism. Allah, the first cause, is the
Creator of the causes of this world. Polytheism is a matter of
the heart. If a man asks for someone's help and does not consider
him Allah or His partner, it is not forbidden. This situation
is common everywhere. People go to the houses of others and ask
them for help without taking the name of Allah. If I go to a physician
and ask him to cure me, am I a polytheist? Again, if a man is
drowning, and he cries for help, is he a polytheist? So please
be fair and do not misconstrue facts. The whole Shia community
believes that if anyone considers the descendants of the Prophet
as being Allah or partners in His Self, he is surely a polytheist.
You might have heard Shias in trouble crying, "O Ali, help
me!" "O Husain, help me!" This does not mean that
they are saying "O Allah Ali, help me!" "O Allah
Husain, help me!" But the fact is that since the world is
a house of secondary causes, we consider them the means of deliverance
from troubles. We seek the help of Allah through them.
Hafiz: Instead of invoking Allah
directly, why do you invoke the means?
Well-Wisher: Our permanent attention
regarding our desires, distresses, and anguish is fixed upon Allah,
the Absolute. But the Holy Qur'an says that we should reach Almighty
Allah, through some means of approach. "O you who believe!
Do your duty to Allah and seek the means of approach to Him."
We Shias do not regard the descendants of the Prophet as the solution
to all our problems. We regard them as the most pious of the servants
of Allah and as a means of divine bounty. We attach ourselves
to that exalted family according to the injunction of the Prophet.
Hafiz: Why do you say that the
words "means of approach" in the above verse refer to
the descendants of the Holy Prophet?
Well-Wisher: In many hadith,
the Prophet recommended to us that in our troubles we invoke his
descendants as a means of approach to Allah. Many of your ulema,
like Hafiz Abu Nu'aim Isfahani, in his Nuzulu'l-Qur'an fi Ali
(Revelations in the Qur'an about Ali), Hafiz Abu Bakr Shirazi
in his Ma Nazala mina'l-Qur'an fi Ali and Imam Ahmad Tha'labi
in his Tafsir (Commentary) say that wasilat (means of approach)
in the above verse means the descendants of the Prophet. This
reference has been apparent from many hadith of the Prophet. Ibn
Abi'l-Hadid Mu'tazali, one of your respected ulema, says in his
Sharhe Nahju'l-Balagha, Volume IV, page 79, that Bibi Fatima Zahra
referred to the meaning of this verse in the presence of the Muhajirs
and Ansars, while delivering her address in connection with the
usurpation of her estate of Fadak, in these words:
"I praise Allah for Whose Dignity and Light the residents
of the skies and the earth seek means of approach towards Him.
Among His creation we are the means of approach."