Misconceptions: Intercession

For many centuries, Shias have been stereotyped as worshippers of stones and graves. They have also been attacked for believing in the Imamate of Imam Ali (AS). Join Rebecca Masterton in a series as she explores and sheds some light on the major misconceptions surrounding various topics in the Shia school.

Let's take a look at some of the sources in the Sunni Ahadith and the Holy Quran. It's narrated in Sahih Bukhari at the time of the battle of Badr, that the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him and his family, used to stay for three days wherever there was a battle.

And on the third day, he gathered the she-camels and his companions together. And the companions said, surely he's going for something important, let's see what he is going for. It so happened that there was a well that had already been dug in the desert and, according to these sources, the enemies of the Muslims at that time who had been slaughtered had been thrown into the well after they had been killed.

And the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him and his family, approached the well where the bodies had been thrown and his companions were accompanying him. And he looked into the well and he spoke to the bodies. And he said, addressing them by name. Ya so and so, Ya so and so, each one of them by name. And he said, don't you wish that you had testified to the oneness of Allah and to the apostle of Allah? Surely what Allah has promised has been shown to be true, for us, and surely for you.

And then one of the companions, Omar spoke up with a view that is very commonly propagated in this day and age in the Muslim world, which is that the dead cannot hear. So he objected to what the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him and his family said. He said, Ya Rasulallah, you're addressing the dead, you're speaking to the dead bodies? And the Holy Prophet peace be upon him and his family, said 'O Omar, the dead cannot hear any less than you, it is only that they cannot answer'.

We can look at another narration where the Holy Prophet peace be upon him and his family had passed away. And Omar didn't want to believe that he was dead, so he said surely he will be resurrected and he will go into battle again. But Abu Bakar, turned to the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him and his family, and he addressed him. He addressed the body of the Holy Prophet peace be upon him and his family. And he said, 'Ya Rasulallah, surely you are good in death as you are good in life.' And this is also in Sahih Bukhari.

And let's not forget the Ayah in the Holy Quran in Surah Baqarah, where it says, "Do not do not say that those who are slain in the way of God are dead, nay, they are alive. But you do not perceive" (2:154) that is in Surah Baqarah.

So how is it now that the Muslims today are claiming that those who are slain in the way of Allah (SWT) are dead, that they can't hear you, that addressing them is shirk? Where does this idea that addressing the dead is shirk come from when it is clear in the sources - in the Sunni Ahadith and the Holy Quran -that those who have died in the way of Allah are alive.

It is narrated by Ibn Taymiyyah and Qadi Shawkani in Tohfatul Zakireen that Abdullah ibn Masoud narrates from the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him and his family that if you find yourselves in an isolated place or a jungle and you are in need of help, then you call O servants of Allah, help me, may Allah have mercy on you.

This clearly shows from this narration from Abdullah ibn Masoud, a respected companion and recorded by Ibn Taymiyyah, who, as we know, is held as the father of the school of thought that denounces this very Tawassul, seeking intercession, they themselves have narrated this tradition where the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him and his family, is recommending to the Muslims to call upon the servants of Allah (SWT) to assist himself, even when he's an isolated place. He's therefore calling on someone who is absent from him, someone who is not present and this is not considered Shirk in these texts.

It is also narrated by Ibn Majah and Nassai, again in the Sunni collections, that the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him and his family, taught a particular du'a to his companions again when they were in need of help, which is "Oh Allah, I turn to you by your prophet, the prophet of mercy. Allahumma inni atawajjuhu ilaika binabiyyika nabiyyi al-rahmah.  This is also in the respected traditions of the Sunni school of thought where we can see that the Holy Prophet not only has permitted to seek help from Allah through the intercession of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him and his family, but also has instructed the Muslims to seek help through his intercession.

Let's take a look at the issue of Tawassul or intercession from the Shi'ite Imami perspective. The Holy Prophet, peace be upon him and his family, said in a famous narration that is recorded in all collections, "I leave for you two precious, weighty things. The Quran and my Ahlulbayt (AS). Hold to those two and you will never go astray". We, therefore, see that the Ahlulbayt (AS) have an importance that is the equivalent of the Holy Quran. It is not merely enough to claim to love the Ahlulbayt (AS).

There are many that do claim to love Ahlulbayt (AS), but actually they don't know their teachings. When we actually study the teachings of the Itra, the progeny of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him and his family, we can see that they actually spelled out very clear conditions for following them. The Quran is a waseela to Allah (SWT), the Ahlulbayt (AS) as the equivalent living walking Qurans are also a waseela. They are the interpreters of the Holy Quran.

If we do not have the correct interpreter of the Holy Quran, then it's open to interpretation by whoever wishes to manipulate its teachings for their worldly gain.

And we saw this issue with Mu'awiyah who used the verses from Holy Quran to wreak havoc across the Muslim world and enslave the Muslims.

So the Holy Quran and the Ahlulbayt (AS) are a waseela to Allah (SWT). We can see that the Mufasirs of the Shiite Imami  tradition have also cited the Ayat from Holy Quran, Chapter five thirty five (5:35) that actually commands the Muslims to seek a way to Allah (SWT).

And we see from this that the Holy Quran obviously is the way to Allah (SWT)  because it is in the Holy Quran that we find all the complete deen that is needed to reach Allah (SWT). And there is nothing outside of the Holy Quran and there is nothing outside the interpretation of the Holy Quran by the Ahlulbayt (AS). Now, the conditions for having the waseela of the Imams of Ahlulbayt (AS) have been spelled out by the imams of Ahlulbayt (AS) themselves.

There are narrations by Imam Ja'afar Sadiq (AS) in Bihar al Anwar  that say "Our intercession is not for those who take the prayer lightly". Many people may be mistaken in thinking that the Shias turn to the imams for help or for assistance when they ignore the Holy Quran or they ignore Sharia and that they have placed the level of the imams in an exaggerated position. But in fact, the imams of Ahlulbayt (AS) have made it clear that we are only worthy of their Waseela if we follow Sharia.

Also, the imams were the embodiments of Sharia. They taught Sharia. They were explicators of the Sharia as laid down by the Holy Prophet peace be upon him and his family. We can only seek nearness to the imams of Ahlulbayt (AS) if we are very scrupulous about also practicing the Sharia and following the teachings of the Holy Quran. There is this mistaken idea about tawassul that when we seek the intercession of a human being, particularly those human beings who have been selected by Allah (SWT) for that intercession, because as we know, there are verses in Holy Quran that say that none has Shifa'a except the one that Allah (SWT)wishes to have Shifa'a for the Muslims.

This very clearly states that Allah (SWT) has given intercession to particular people or figures that He chooses for us as a means to Him. When we call on a revered figure and we seek them as a means, as a door to Allah, Subhana Wa Ta'ala, we are not turning to that figure as something separate who has independent powers from Allah, Subhana Wa Ta'ala. We know that this holy figure cannot protect us from the decree of Allah, Subhana Wa Ta'ala. It cannot alter our destiny if Allah destines something for us.

This holy figure cannot prevent any calamities from happening to us. So we are merely seeking that assistance as we would a friend. Imam Ar Ridha (AS) very clearly outlined that the figure of the imam for the Muslim is like a friend who can assist us. In this life we seek friends to help us to be better people and to help us to be better Muslims. It is recommended in all the schools of Islam that we seek good company and that we shun bad company.

Why do we seek good company? it is so that we can have assistance from our fellow brothers and sisters to be better people in order to get closer to Allah, Subhana Wa Ta'ala. These brothers and sisters who are pious are an indirect Waseela. They are a way for us to improve ourselves, to improve our practice of Sharia and therefore to seek nearness to Allah, Subhana Wa Ta'ala. So we can see this at a very basic level how our practice of Islam and the company of our fellow Muslims is also a form of Waseela.

Now, one of the mufassirs, Allama Tabatabai, said regarding those who don't practice Sharia but who still seek Waseela, he said that the one who doesn't practice Sharia is like a disobedient slave, and this disobedient slave is then calling upon Allah, Subhana Wa Ta'ala to send Shafa'a for him, to send His assistance through the Haqq, the essence of his Master. How can we be disobedient or corrupt in our hearts?

We live a life of corruption. We have no respect for our deen. We make a mockery of our deen through the way that we live and practice and speak through our intentions. And then we turn around and we ask for Shafa'a. We ask for the intercession of a holy person to assist us.

This is not what Tawassul is. And there's a very famous narration where a man came to the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him and his family, and he said to him,' Ya Rasulullah! Please help me to get to Jannah,' and the Holy Prophet (SAWS) said "Certainly I will tell you how I can help you: if you do extra sajdah, you do nafila sajdah, you do nafila prayers, then I can help you to get to Jannah". It is only by us improving our practice as Muslims, it is only through that way that we can be worthy of asking for the assistance of a holy figure who is alive according to holy Quran.

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Rebecca Masterton
Rebecca Masterton
Rebecca Masterton