Over the last few centuries, the Muslims have been wracked by severe discord and hostility over the issue of tawassul (beseeching or supplicating) to Prophet Muhammad (saws), the Ahl al-Bayt (as), the Saints and the Pious, to the extent that those who reject this concept have accused its supporters of shirk or polytheism, while the upholders of tawassul have charged its opponents with enmity and aversion towards the Prophet (saws) and his Infallible Household (as).
The result has led to increasing bigotry on both sides to the benefit of their common enemies who have increased their domination of Muslim lands. This article is an attempt to examine and critically study the issue of tawassul.
The lexical meaning of tawassul is 'nearness' or a 'means' through which to reach a certain goal. For instance, when it is said wa wassala ila Allah, it means to perform a certain act for gaining proximity to God. Accordingly wasil here means being 'desirous of God'.1
According to the prominent Sunni scholar, Sayyid Muhammad Alusi al-Baghdadi, wasilah is a means of imploring in order to gain nearness to God through good deeds and abstaining from sins. For example when it is said “wasala ila kadha,” it means a thing through which nearness is gained.
As is clear from the wordings of ayah 35 of Surah al-Ma'idah, which we quoted at the beginning of the article, “fear Allah” is a commandment to abstain from sin, while “seek an approach unto Him” is an order to perform worship and acts of devotion.22
Both Raghib Isfahani and 'Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i opine that al-wasilah means to reach a certain goal through desire, inclination or willingness, and in fact wasilah towards God means observance of His path with knowledge and worship through adherence to the Shari'ah. In other words wasilah is a means of communication and spiritual link between mankind and God.
According to a narration al-wasilah is a position in paradise which is reserved for only one person, and Prophet Muhammad (saws) has asked the ummah to pray that this status be granted to him.3
In the opinion of the founder of the Wahhabi sect, Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, and other likeminded 'ulama' of the past, it is permissible to seek help from fellow humans, as during wars and other affairs, if the person or the group who is being asked or entreated has the power and ability to help.44
Alusi believes that appealing to people, making them a wasilah or means and requesting them to supplicate to God is permissible without the least doubt, provided that the one who is being requested is alive, whether or not the one who is petitioned is superior than the petitioner, since the Prophet (saws) used to say to some of his companions “O brother do not forget us in your supplications to Allah.”
However, Alusi is of the opinion that if the one who is being petitioned is not alive, it is not permissible to request him for supplication. But Alusi adds that it is permissible to supplicate at the shrine of the Prophet (saws), since the companions of the Prophet (saws) used to stand beside his shrine and supplicate with face towards the Qiblah.
The 'ulama' are divided whether or not it is permissible after the death of the Prophet (saws) to make him the means of supplication with such phrases as Allahumma inni asaluka bi-Nabiyyika (O Allah! I beseech You through Your Prophet), or bi-jahi Nabiyyika (by the dignity of Your Prophet), or still bi-Haqqi Nabiyyika (for the sake of Your Prophet). We come across three different opinions in this regard.
All jurists including Imami, Shafi'i, Maliki, and later day Hanafi scholars as well as others such as the Hanbalis, are unanimous on the permissibility of this way of supplication, whether it was in the lifetime of the Prophet (saws), or whether it is after his passing away.55
The Abbasid caliph, Mansur al-Dawaniqi, once asked Malik ibn Anas the founder of the Maliki School of jurisprudence whether he should turn towards the shrine of the Prophet (saws) or face the Qiblah for supplication?
Malik answered him, why do you want to turn away from the Prophet (saws) when he (Prophet Muhammad (saws)) is the wasilah (means) for you and for your father Adam, towards Allah on the Day of Resurrection. Turn to him (the Prophet) and seek his intercession (shafa'at)6.
The Sunni scholar al-Nawawi in describing the manners and etiquette of making pilgrimage to the shrine of Prophet Muhammad (saws), writes. The pilgrim should face the shrine of the Messenger of Allah (saws), make him a means (tawassul) towards reaching God and seek his wasilah as intercession (shafa'at), in the same manner as the Bedouin who visited the Prophet's shrine and standing beside it said “Peace unto you O Messenger of Allah”, I have heard Allah has said
“...Had they, when they had wronged themselves, come to you and asked Allah's forgiveness and the Apostle had asked forgiveness for them, they would certainly have found Allah Most-Propitious, Most-Merciful.” (4: 64).
Therefore, I have come to you for forgiveness of my sins and seeking your intercession with Allah.77
Ibn Qudamah Hanbali, defining the manner of pilgrimage to the shrine of the Prophet (saws), writes in the book al-Mughni, Stand beside the tomb of the Prophet (saws), and say “I have come to you for forgiveness of my sins and to seek your intercession with Allah”.8
The Shafi'ite scholar Ghazzali has allotted a special section in his book Ihya' 'Ulum al-Din concerning the manners of pilgrimage to the shrine of the Prophet (saws) in order to repent and seek forgiveness from Allah. He writes:
“The Prophet should be made the means (wasilah) and the intercessor (shafi'), and with face turned towards the tomb, the pilgrim should implore Allah for the sake and position of the Prophet with the words: “O Allah, indeed You have said, Had they, who had wronged themselves, come to you and asked Allah's forgiveness and the Apostle had asked forgiveness for them, they would have certainly found Allah Most-Propitious, Most-Merciful” (4:64)
O Allah, surely we have heard your words and we obey your command, by coming to Your Prophet(saws) to seek his intercession with You for our sins, how burdensome and heavy (are sins) on our backs! We repent of slipperiness, we confess our wrongs and our faults, accept our repentance for his sake, make Your Prophet intercessor for us, and exalt us for the sake of his position and his rights with you.”
Al-Ghazzali adds It is recommended the pilgrim should go daily to the Baqi' Cemetery and after saluting the Prophet (saws), make pilgrimage to the tombs of Imam Hasan ibn 'Ali (as), Imam 'Ali ibn al-Husayn (as), Imam Muhammad ibn 'Ali (as) and Imam Ja'far ibn Muhammad (as) Allah be pleased with them, and also perform the Salat in the Mosque of Fatimah (Allah be pleased with her)9
The jurist Abu Yusuf relates from his teacher Abu Hanifah that it is not right for anyone to call Allah except through (the Names and Attributes) Allah, since He says
“And to Allah belong the beautiful Names, so call on Him thereby.” (7:180).
Abu Hanifah, Abu Yusuf and Muhammad Shaybani also feel averse in invoking God by means (tawassul) of the Prophet (saws) and his position, on the assumption that the creatures have no right on the Almighty Creator, and He showers His mercy on whomever He likes.
Ibn 'Abidin, however, says in this regard True, the creatures have no right whatsoever upon the Creator, but the Creator through His favours has given rights to mankind. On this basis, he relates a hadith concerning the manners of supplication and Tawassul “Allahumma inni asaluka bi-haqqi al-sa'ilina 'alayk” (O Allah! I beseech you for the rights that seekers have upon you).10
Except for this narration of Ibn 'Abidin, we find no opinion or view from either Abu Hanifah or his friend Abu Yusuf in the books of Hanafi scholars concerning tawassul to God through the wasilah (means) of the Prophet (saws).1111
Here, we will study the legal opinions (fatwa) of contemporary Hanafi scholars on permissibility of tawassul to the Prophet (saws).Alusi al-Baghdadi quotes Ibn 'Abd al-Salam as saying that it is permissible to invoke Allah for the sake of the Prophet (saws),
Since Prophet Muhammad (saws) is the leader of the children of Adam. Alusi bases his reasoning on the hadith (hasan and sahih) related by both Tirmidhi and Ahmad ibn Hanbal on the authority of 'Uthman bin Hunayf, which says that , Once when a blind man asked the Prophet (saws) to pray to Allah to grant him eyesight, he was told to make wudu' and recite the following supplication.
“O Allah! I request you and I have turned to you through Your Prophet, the Prophet of Mercy, O Messenger of Allah! I have turned to you as a means towards My God for fulfillment of this wish of mine O Allah! Accept his (Prophet's) intercession (shafa'at) for me”.
Alusi thus believes that there is no objection in making tawassul to God by means of the dignity (jah) and prime position of the Prophet (saws), whether it is in his lifetime or after his death, since dignity here refers to an attribute which is one of the attributes of Almighty Allah. Alusi also says that tawassul by means of dignity of a person other than the Prophet (saws) is also permissible, provided that the one who is being considered a wasilah has a station and position of dignity in the sight of Allah.12
The famous Sunni scholar of India, Shaykh Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri in his book al-Muhannad 'ala al-Mufannid has collected the fatwa or legal opinions of 75 leading Sunni scholars from different parts of the Islamic world on the permissibility of tawassul to the shrine of Prophet Muhammad (saws).
He writes in our opinion and that of our teachers, pilgrimage to the shrine of the Master of Messengers (my soul be sacrificed for him) is the most exalted of proximities, the most important of blessings, and the greatest of means (wasilah) for attaining lofty ranks. It could be said that it is an enjoinment almost to the degree of obligations, even if it requires the trouble of a journey to perform it and there is no other option other than to make efforts with life and wealth.
Tawassul to the Prophets, saints, pious persons, martyrs and the righteous during supplications, whether in their lifetime or after their death, is permissible in the following manner.
Allahumma inni atawassalu ilayka bi-fulan an tujiba da'wati wa taqdia hajati (O Allah! I beseech you by means of so and so a person, accept my supplication and grant my request).1313
According to such prominent Imami 'ulama' as Shaykh al-Ta'ifah Tusi, Shaykh Amin al-Islam Tabrisi, 'Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i, Sayyid Ruhullah Khumayni and others, wasilah means faith, love and reverence for the Prophet (saws) and obedience to him.
'Allamah Tabataba'i writes in his monumental exegesis on the Holy Qur'an that the word al-wasilah or 'approach' as used in the Ayah
“and seek an approach unto Him” (5:35)
confirms the reality of worship and means turning submissively and supplicatingly to God, with knowledge and practice serving as the requisite instrument for this connection.14
Furthermore, elaborating on the narration found in the Tafsir of 'Ali bin Ibrahim Qummi that the Ayah “and seek an approach unto Him” means seeking Allah's proximity through the Infallible Imam (as), 'Allamah Tabataba'i, says that this refers to obedience or adhering to the path of the Imam (as) in order to reach Allah.1515
It is evident that the Prophet (saws) and the Infallible Imams (as) who are considered the practical models of divine law and the finest exemplars of morals and etiquette, are the wasilah, since it is through obedience to them and adherence to their path that one can attain proximity to God.
Likewise, as stated by prominent Imami or Shia jurists, the laws of the Shari'ah are the wasilah, on the basis of adherence to which, proximity of Almighty Allah is attained. Accordingly, some prominent Imami jurisprudents like Shaykh Hurr al-'Amili, Ayatullah Abu al-Hasan Isfahani and Sayyid Khumayni have used the title wasilah for their jurisprudential treatises such as Wasa'il al-Shia, Wasilah al-Najat and Tahrir al-Wasilah, respectively. Wasilah al-Najat or the 'Means of Salvation' is the title of over 40 scientific treatises written by Shia 'ulama'.1616
Thus, as ascertained by Imami scholars, the Prophet (saws) is the wasilah towards God for Muslims since he is the best exemplar and is in fact the 'Practical Qur'an'. So also is the Prophet's (saws) infallible progeny (as), who along with the Book of Allah (Holy Qur'an), is the immortal legacy of the Prophet and continuation of his path as borne out by the Hadith al-Thaqalayn which is unanimously confirmed by both Shia and Sunni 'ulama'.
Muslims, through the wasilah of these two, hold fast to divine laws and strive to attain Allah's proximity, since good deeds, obedience and adherence to the Qur'an, the Prophet (saws) and his Infallible Ahl al-Bayt (as) are the basis of shafa'at.
This is better explained by 'Allamah Tabataba'i in his exegesis , Persons who lack any ability to attain the required perfection are like the illiterate who wants to become the doyen of scholars merely through recommendation, since he neither has any basic learning nor has he the required connection with the one who could intercede.
Or they could be compared to a slave who is disobedient to his master, but without coming out of this state of insubordination and disobedience wants to be forgiven through intercession (shafa'at). In none of these two cases intercession is beneficial, since shafa'at is the wasilah or means for accomplishment of a cause and is not a cause in itself to make him a doyen of scholars in the first case, and in the second case to avail forgiveness from the master in the state of disobedience.1717
Therefore, as it has been clearly mentioned in the Holy Qur'an, if a person does not fulfill his obligations and adherence to the path of the Prophet (saws) and the Infallible Imams (as), he will not be considered worthy of shafa'at, even if the Prophet (saws) were to intercede on his behalf.
“Alike it is for them whether you seek forgiveness for them or seek not forgiveness for them never will God forgive them...” (63:6)
In the opinion of Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyyah and later Hanbali scholars tawassul to the person of the Prophet (saws) himself is not permissible. Tawassul has three concepts, of which two are deemed correct, and according to Ibn Taymiyyah, whoever rejects these two concepts of tawassul is either an infidel or an apostate.
1) Tawassul to the Prophet (saws) to reach God is indicative of faith and love for the Prophet (saws). For example, when it is said Allahumma asaluka bi-Nabiyyika Muhammad (O Allah! I beseech you for the sake of your Prophet, Muhammad (saws)), it means I seek from you on the basis of the faith and love which I have for Your Prophet.
The Ayah “and seek an approach unto Him”, is a means of approaching Allah by obedience to Him and His Messenger, as it is said Whoever obeys the Prophet has indeed obeyed Allah.
This concept of tawassul is permissible in the opinion of all 'ulama'. Ibn Taymiyyah has considered it a pious act and has supported his views by citing reports from certain companions of the Prophets, the first generation of Muslims (tabi'in) and jurists such as Ahmad Ibn Hanbal.18
2) The concept of tawassul as supplication or intercession (shafa'at) of the Prophet (saws), like the supplication of the second caliph, which reads: “O Allah! Whenever drought afflicted us we made tawassul to you through our Prophet (tawassalna ilayka bi-Nabiyyina), and now we make tawassul to you through the uncle of our Prophet, Send down rain for us.”
3) The concept of tawassul as making an oath or invoking Allah by the right of the Prophet (saws). According to Ibn Taymiyyah this form of tawassul was neither done during the lifetime of the Prophet nor after him by his companions. In this regard contemporary scholars opposed to tawassul have quoted Abu Hanifah as saying: Do not say asaluka bi-haqqi anbiya'ika (I invoke you by the right of Your Prophets).19
1. The claim that the companions of the Prophet (saws) never supplicated in this manner is the understanding and deduction of Ibn Taymiyyah. How do we know that when the second caliph says “we make tawassul to you through our Prophet” does not mean “for the right of our Prophet (bi-haqqi nabiyyina)”, or is not addressed to the Prophet himself? Most Sunni 'ulama' have given the latter meaning and from the wording of the sentence itself the Prophet is being called upon.
2. Suppose none of the companions had made tawassul by the right of any of the divine Prophets, it does not mean tawassul is Haram even if some of the companions were to explicitly prohibit such an act. The opinion of the companions of the Prophet (saws) is not binding on the Muslim ummah, except perhaps for a few jurisprudents, unless it is related from Prophet Muhammad (saws) himself.
Ibn Taymiyyah in Qa'idah Jalilah, Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab in Kashf al-Shubahat and Muhammad Rashid Rida in Tafsir al-Manar, opine that although during the life of Prophet Muhammad (saws), his companions would address him for their needs, after his death they never approached his tomb for their needs. They even forbade those who intended to supplicate beside the Prophet's (saws) tomb.
It is interesting to note that a review and analysis of these opinions brings out different historical facts. First of all, the predecessors, whether the companions or the first and second generation of Muslims, never denied tawassul to the Prophet (saws), either during his lifetime or after his passing away. It has been mentioned in the narrations of the Ahl al-Sunnah even the first created man, Adam, implored Allah for forgiveness through tawassul to Prophet Muhammad (saws) with the words: “O Allah! For the sake of Muhammad (saws) I beseech you to forgive my faults.” 2020
Secondly, prominent Sunni scholars such as Bayhaqi and Ibn Abi Shaybah as well as Ahmad bin Zayni Dahlan in his Khulasah al-Kalam, have cited a sahih (authentic) hadith, that during the caliphate of 'Umar ibn Khattab when a severe famine occurred, Bilal bin Harth approached the Prophet's (saws) tomb and said: “O Messenger of Allah, pray to God to send rains for your ummah, since we are all facing annihilation.” The Prophet then appeared in Bilal's dream and gave him the tidings of rains.
Similarly during the caliphate of 'Uthman ibn 'Affan, a needy person approached the Caliph and told him of his needs. 'Uthman asked him to make wudu, offer prayer in the mosque and then supplicate in the following manner O Lord! Through the wasilah of our Prophet Muhammad (saws), the Messenger of Mercy, I turn my face to you. O Muhammad (saws)! Through your wasilah I am facing Your Lord and I request you to grant me my wish. The person attained his goal.21
Ibn Taymiyyah says that taking an oath or invoking by virtue of the creatures is haram according to the creed (madhhab) of Abu Hanifah.22 .Abu Hanifah, the founder of the Hanafi sect, also opines that istidlal (rational proof) and tamassuk (bond, holding fast) are matters of doubt or anxiety because of two aspects.
Abu Yusuf quoting his teacher Abu Hanifah says “It is not right for someone to call upon Allah through any other means than Allah. He (Abu Hanifah) was averse to saying bi-haqqi fulan (by the right of so and so)”.
First, Abu Hanifah has approached this issue with aversion and a purely personal opinion, as is clear from the inclusion of istidlal and tamassuk in Bab al-Karahah of Abu al-Hasan Qaduri's Sharh Karkhi. Abu Yusuf quoting his teacher Abu Hanifah says:
It is not right for someone to call upon God through any other means than God. He was averse to saying for the sake of so and so.
Secondly, a closer look at Abu Hanifah's reasoning reveals that he himself has tried to resort to rational argumentation in this regard when he says: “Since the creatures have no rights on the Creator.”2323
However, Abu Hanifah's analogy falls short of clear proofs, and does not mean the total negation of any right, since God Himself has considered the right of the Prophets and that of the righteous believers as binding upon Him, as is clear from the following Ayah of the Holy Qur'an.
Ultimately we deliver Our Apostles and those who believe, even so it is binding upon us that We deliver the believers. (10:103)
The Hanafis such as Ibn 'Abidin accept this right, but they say that the creatures have no obligatory right on the Creator. 24 This viewpoint, even if it is considered general, is confined to the followers of Abu Hanifah and cannot be imposed on all schools of Islam.
Another reason put forward by the Salafiyyah such as Muhammad Rashid Rida on non-permissibility of tawassul to the Prophet (saws) after his death is that any wasilah for proximity to God should be a thing which God has determined for mankind such as faith, action and supplication.
It was in the middle ages that tawassul to the person of the Prophets and pious men became widespread and they were considered wasa'il ila Allah (means to Allah) by people who would invoke God by their names and would supplicate to them at their tombs for their needs, when supplication is a form of worship as God says in the Holy Qur'an:
“So call you not anyone with Allah.” (72:18)
“Surely, those whom you call other than Allah are subservient (to Allah) like unto your own selves...” (7:194)
In answer to this objection it should be said that every supplication is not a form of worship or even the spirit of worship, since the root of du'a' (supplication) is da'wat, a word which along with its derivatives occurs frequently in the Holy Qur'an. For instance,
“let us call (nad'u) our sons (3:61)”
“Make you not the addressing (du'a') of the Prophet among you like your addressing one another” (24:63)
As could be discerned, in most of the 'Ayas the word du'a' means to call or address. Accordingly neither every nida' (call) is du'a' nor every du'a' is 'ibadat (worship). In other words du'a' (supplication) becomes 'ibadat when the rules of worship such as servitude and submissiveness to Allah are observed with acknowledgement of the over lordship of the Almighty Creator. What connection does this have with tawassul and tabarruk to the Prophet (saws) and the Infallible Imams (as) and requesting them for help and succour?
Thus, the narration al-du'a' huwa al-'ibadah (supplication is among the acts of worship), does not necessarily mean that every supplication is a form of worship.25
The Salafiyyah also resort to the following Ayah of the Holy Qur'an as part of their attempt to discourage tawassul
And those whom you call upon other than Him, own not (even) a straw. If you call on them they shall hear not your call; and even if they hear they shall answer you not; and on the Day of Judgement they will deny your associating them (with Allah); and none can (ever) inform you as the All-Aware. (35:13- 14)
This Ayah refers to the polytheists who worship idols instead of the One and Only God and supplicate to these man-made objects in their hour of need. Allah says here that these idols do not own even a straw, so how can they grant anything to those who worship and prostrate before them? No matter how fervently these idols are called upon, they do not listen since they are inanimate objects, and suppose even if they were to listen, they cannot answer since they do not have the tongues.2626
As is crystal clear for any discerning person, it has no connection whatsoever concerning tawassul to the Prophet (saws) and the Infallible Imams (as) or saints. First and foremost, it is a gross mistake to place those who seek tawassul in the same category as the polytheists, since idolaters seek their needs from idols and not from the Almighty Creator.
But those who make tawassul beseech Allah for their needs and regard Prophet Muhammad (saws) as a wasilah or means for the acceptance of their supplications, since he is the Messenger of Allah. To quote Rashid Rida himself, those who seek tawassul are like guests who approach the host for some of their needs, and at times request the members of the household or friends of the hosts who have been appointed to serve the guests, since they consider everything to be the favour of the host.2727
Secondly, it is a manifest error to equate with idols the Prophet (saws) who has been sent by Allah as a divine sign and is called Habib-Allah (Friend of God) by all Muslims. Even Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab maintains that Prophet Muhammad (saws) is alive in his grave and his life in the intermediary world (barzakh) is superior to the life of the martyrs, since he hears the voices of those who send blessings upon him.2828
The fifth reason that the Salafiyyah such as Ibn Taymiyyah, Muhammad Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab and Muhammad Rashid Rida have cited as non-permissibility of tawassul to the Prophet (saws) after his death, is the following Ayah of the Holy Qur'an
“Surely, those whom you call other than Allah are subservient (to Allah) like unto your own selves...” (7:194)
All exegetes of the Holy Qur'an have unanimously stated that this Ayah refers to the idol-worshippers who associate man-made objects with God in creation and in administering the affairs of the world. In contrast, tawassul is made by those who never regard the Prophets as partners of Allah in creation and in running world affairs, and neither do they worship the Last Prophet (saws).
Since every day several times they bear testimony that Prophet Muhammad (saws) is the servant and Messenger of Allah (ash-hadu anna Muhammadan 'abduhu wa rasuluh). As the Holy Qur'an says, Prophet Muhammad (saws) has been sent as mercy to the entire creation (21:107) and is a means of acceptance of supplications, so it is natural for us to request him to supplicate and intercede (shafa'at) with Allah for us.
The Chief Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Shaykh 'Abd al-'Aziz bin Baz, in his exchange of letters with Iran's Ayatullah Muhammad Wa'iz-Zadeh Khurasani, has remarked,The polytheists also testified to the Oneness of Allah but as the Holy Qur'an states, they tried to justify their worshipping of idols by saying:
“we worship them not but (in order) that they make us near to God” (39:3).
This is similar to the actions of those who make tawassul to those in the graves in order to seek proximity to Allah29.
'Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i responding to such a reasoning says that according to the books of religions and the testimony of idol-worshippers, hundreds of millions of whom live in India, China and Japan, idolatry is based on the theory that the creation of the universe and even the deities which are worshipped, have as their source the same Almighty God.
But since He is beyond comprehension there is no other choice but to worship some of His closest servants such as angels, genies and saints so that they make intercession (shafa'at) and people may reach the proximity of God through them. In the opinion of the polytheists, angels are like the builder to whom the owner of the house has entrusted the building and hence intercession (shafa'at) is according to His discretion.
But, adds 'Allamah Tabataba'i, in the Holy Qur'an tawassul to the Prophets is in the manner of an intermediary and is not something independent, and for this reason it has not been considered as shirk or polytheism. Similarly, the polytheists have been reproached in the Holy Qur'an not because of seeking intercession (shafa'at) but because of worshipping other than God.3030
Shaykh Bin Baz in his answers to Ayatullah Wa'iz-Zadeh has also cited the following Ayah of the Holy Qur'an as another instance of non-permissibility of tawassul, saying that in his opinion Muslims who uphold tawassul to the Prophet (saws) are like idolaters who seek intercession from objects which are of no use:
“And they worship beside Allah which can neither hurt them nor profit them, and they say: these are our intercessors with Allah...” (10:18)
First, this Ayah has no connection with Muslims since they do not worship any thing or object except Allah.
Secondly, as said earlier, addressing the Prophet is not meant to worship him but to request him for supplication and intercession.
Thirdly, it is a matter of surprise to compare the Prophet to those whom the Holy Qur'an says “can neither hurt them nor profit them,” since the fact cannot be denied that obedience to the Prophet is to the benefit of Muslims and disobedience to him, whether during his lifetime or after his death, is certainly detrimental to them.
Similarly, the supplication and intercession of the Prophet for those who are eligible, whether in worldly life or in the Hereafter, are profitable for the Muslims as unanimously confirmed by the 'ulama'.
Fourthly, it is a grave error to equate the belief of the Muslims that Prophet Muhammad (saws) is the intercessor, with the belief of the polytheists “these (idols) are our intercessors with Allah,” since God has explicitly rejected their claim as lies.
“Those who take guardians besides Him, (say) we worship them not but (in order) that they make us near to Allah; surely Allah will judge between them about what they differ; surely Allah does not guide the one who is a liar and an ingrate.” (39:3)
As is clear from the wordings of the Holy Qur'an the polytheists who make such claims are liars. They are not conscious of God, neither do they worship Him or prostrate to Him nor have they any faith in their Unseen Creator.
“And when it is said to them prostrate you in obeisance to the Rahman (the Beneficent God), they say: Who is Rahman? Shall we prostrate in obeisance unto what you bid us? And it (only) adds to their flight (from the truth).” (25:60)
Another claim put forward by the Salafiyyah is that, on the basis of evidences tawassul to Prophet Muhammad (s) during his lifetime is acceptable but after his death there is lack of evidence to support the view that tawassul was ever made to him.31
The contemporary Sunni scholar Dr. Ramadan Buti of the University of Damascus, rejects this viewpoint of the Wahhabiyyah sect. He says tawassul to Prophet Muhammad (saws) and things pertaining to him is permissible, whether during his lifetime or after his death, since things or items related to him are not necessarily linked to his lifetime such as tabarruk (sacred relics) or tawassul, as is confirmed by Sahih al-Bukhari, Chapter on the hair of the Prophet (saws)
No Muslim would ever attribute to other than the One and Only God the effect of anything related to the person of the Prophet (saws) during his life or after his death. If a person were to hold the opposite view that this effect is independent in itself, he would be considered an infidel.
Accordingly, the tabarruk of the Prophet (saws) and tawassul to him and to things related to him, does not mean attributing the blessed effect to his personal influence independent of God, but is an indication of the fact that as the Last Divine-Sent Messenger he is the 'Best of Creation' and is the 'Mercy of Allah' for the entire creation.
Therefore tawassul to him is a means of gaining proximity to Allah and His infinite Mercy for mankind. It was in this sense that the companions sought tawassul to the Prophet and things related to him. Likewise, it is recommended to seek intercession (shafa'at) through the pious persons such as the Ahl al-Bayt (as) of the Prophet (saws).
Sunni authorities including Shawkani, Ibn Qudamah Hanbali, San'ani and others are unanimous on this issue as was made clear concerning the request for rain. In view of these facts, Dr. Buti calls it a strange confusion by the Wahhabiyyah to make difference between the lifetime of the Prophet and after his death.3232
To quote Professor Hasan bin 'Ali al-Saqqaf, polytheism (shirk) is polytheism either in this world or in the next, whether or not the person through whom people are seeking tawassul to God, is alive. But, he adds, without the least doubt tawassul to Prophet Muhammad (saws) is supported by the general rules of permissibility, and includes both his lifetime and after his death as well as in the Hereafter.3333
Muhammad bin 'Abd al-Wahhab writes: Tawassul to a person who is alive has no objection, but tawassul to the dead is to address the non-existent and is an absurd, ugly and despised act.
1. This statement is a clear violation of Allah's words in the Holy Qur'an
“Reckon not those who are slain in the way of Allah, to be dead nay! They are alive and are being sustained by their Lord.” (3:169)
2. It is also in contradiction to the saying of Prophet Muhammad (s) as recorded in Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim and all other authoritative (Sihah) Sunni works. After the Battle of Badr the Prophet (s) stood near the well of the same name and addressed the dead with ayah 46 of Surah al-A'raf. When some of his companions objected that how could the dead hear him, the Prophet (s) replied: “You are not more hearing than them.”34
3. It is in opposition to the statements of Islamic intellectuals such as al-Ghazzali who writes in Ihya' 'Ulum al-Din: “Some people think death as extinction and state of non-existent, and those who hold such beliefs have no faith and actually mean to deny Allah and the Hereafter.”
Hafiz al-Nawawi in al-Majmu' fi Sharh al-Muhadhdhab which says that while standing beside the tombs of Prophets, especially the shrine of Prophet Muhammad (saws), it is recommended to request them to supplicate to God for our needs, since they are alive and as the Holy Qur'an says:
“are being sustained by their Lord.” (3:169)35
Shaykh Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri who states his fatwa and that of 75 'ulama' of different Islamic lands as follows: In our view, Prophet Muhammad (s) is alive in his holy tomb and his life is similar to worldly life but without its duties.
'Allamah Jalal al-Din Suyuti writes in his book Anba' al-Azkiya' bi-Hayat al-Anbiya' on the authority of Shaykh Taqi al-Din Subki that the proof of the life of Prophets and martyrs in their graves is the prayer offered by Prophet Moses in his own tomb as mentioned in a hadith. In this regard Shaykh Shams al-Islam Muhammad Qasim has written a booklet titled Ab-i Hayat 36.
4. Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab in answer to Shaykh Ja'far Najafi said that seeking help from the dead is an absurd act. But how could this be called shirk since there is no connection between absurdity and polytheism? And if tawassul with fellow humans is considered shirk, then how could the difference between tawassul to the living and tawassul to the dead, be ascertained?
5. Here Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab has contradicted his own opinion, since as we saw earlier in this article he believed that Prophet Muhammad (saws) is alive in his tomb and said that this state of life of the Prophet (saws) is superior than the life of the martyrs. Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab also said that the Prophet (saws) hears the voice of those who send blessings on him. 3737
6. Farid Wajdi mentions in his encyclopedia, In our era God has opened two of the windows of knowledge for us and the proof of this two windows confirms beyond an iota of doubt that man has a soul which without the need of the physical body can lead its own independent life. 38
From the 19th century onwards the science of spiritism or contacts with the souls of the departed has been discovered and developed upon by the world's researchers after precise study and experiments in this regard. In the US and Europe, the summoning of the souls of the departed is part of the world of science. 3939
The information which modern scientists have discovered after witnessing the summoning of souls, is yet another instance of the fact that the human being has an independent soul outside the physical body that does not perish with death. The connection of the souls of the departed with the living is the finest proof of the independence and immortality of the soul, and most of its capability concerning many works is with the permission of Almighty God. 4040
The souls of the righteous and pious persons which have been released from the mortal world have acquired superior perception and consciousness and in their ascendant journey are free of the limits of time and space. They penetrate with ease the skies and the depths of the oceans to observe the grandeur of God's creation.
Some of the Wahhabi 'ulama' such as Dr. Muhammad bin Sa'd Suway'ir who is one of the deputies of Shaykh Bin Baz, say that tawassul and tabarruk are permissible for 'ulama' who are cognizant of the essence of faith, but this is forbidden for the common people, who are prone to drift towards polytheism and who might gradually start believing in the personal influence of the Prophet (saws) and saints in the granting of boons and prevention of the detrimental things. Therefore, it is obligatory to stop them from tawassul and tabarruk in the name of Blocking of Means.
Ayatullah Wa'iz-Zadeh rejecting the Wahhabi theory against tawassul says, when the permissibility or recommendation for this act has been confirmed with rational proof, it is not permissible to prohibit Tawassul for such unfounded fears that the ignorant might give it the colour of polytheism.
If such was the case, the Prophet (saws) himself would have prohibited people as a precaution from seeking blessing, visiting the graves or kissing the sacred black stone (Hajar al-Aswad) at the holy Ka'bah. On the contrary, a judicious measure for checking possible deviation is for the 'ulama' to exercise greater control.4141
Ibn Taymiyyah, despite his extreme and biased approach for prohibiting tawassul, has admitted, this is a controversial issue and to accuse of heresy those who make tawassul is haram and is a sinful act, since no one has said that a person making tawassul to the Prophet (saws) after his death is a kafir.
This is an ambiguous issue and there are no certain proofs in this regard. Kufr is confirmed when a person rejects any of the tenets of faith deliberately and being fully aware. Therefore, those who accuse a person of heresy for making Tawassul deserve the most severe punishment.4242
It is unfortunate that the blind prejudice which the colonial powers had skillfully exploited to create differences among Sunni Muslims as a result of the Wahhabiyyah opposition to the issue of tawassul, has been widened to sow discord between Sunni and Shia Muslims and to label the Shia as kafir (infidel) or mushrik (polytheist) on the allegation that they seek their requests from other than God.
To quote Ayatullah Wa'iz-Zadeh, those who do not permit tawassul and tabarruk are only a fraction of a minority among the 'ulama' of the Muslim world, and despite their efforts over the past seven centuries, have not been able to convince the upholders of tawassul. 4343
Thus, as should be clear, according to the statement of Ibn Taymiyyah the issue of Tawassul is a moral one and does not concern the principles of faith, since a kafir is the one who rejects any of the tenets of Islam.
It is a common sight in many countries to see the Ahl al-Sunnah approaches the graves of pious persons to pray and supplicate for their needs. In Egypt, Iraq and Turkey, and many other lands India, Pakistan, Syria, Central Asia, North Africa it is an accepted practice by the masses to visit the tombs of saints and holy personages to make Tawassul and seek blessings.
Dr. Mustafa Mahmud writes that people in Egypt flock to the tomb of Rifa'i and Ibrahim Dasuqi and cry loudly with such phrases as Madad Ya Rifa'i (help me O Rifa'i), Shifa' bi-Yadika Ya Sayyidi Ibrahim Dasuqi (In your hands lie the remedy, O my Lord Ibrahim Dasuqi).44
The Egyptians also visit the tomb of Shafi'i, the founder of the Shafi'ite sect, for Tawassul, while in Baghdad, the Hanafis do the same at the tomb of Abu Hanifah. In Turkey, the people seek their needs at the tomb of the Prophet's eminent companion Abu Ayyub Ansari.
It is also a habit among people in Egypt and other places to send written petitions to the tomb of Shafi'i, and wail and cry at the graves of pious persons for things which none except the Almighty God has the power to grant. When Wahhabi 'ulama' come across such scenes among the Ahl al-Sunnah they brand these Muslims as polytheists and follow the same assumption against the Shi'ah, concerning whom they have little or no information, and sometimes go to extreme by labelling them apostates who should be killed.
The prayers and acts of worship among the Shia have the purest form of monotheism derived from the guidelines of Prophet Muhammad (saws) and the Ahl al-Bayt (as). For instance, Shia do not put their forehead during prostration on carpet, cloth, plastic or synthetic material.
Since Imam Ja'far al-sadiq (as) has said, Worldly people are slaves of victuals and clothing, hence it is not right for a person who is in the act of offering his prayer to Allah to place his forehead on the deity of the worshippers of the world.45
Likewise, Shi'ah Muslims recite the supplications taught by the Prophet (s) and his Ahl al-Bayt ('a) in which all requests are directed to Almighty Allah. The Infallible Imams ('a) have also dissuaded people from being distracted by external appearances and losing sight of the reality and substance of the supplications.
Shi'ah 'ulama' have strived to preserve the path of the Prophet (saws) and his Ahl al-Bayt (as). Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Husayn Burujirdi was averse to prostration being made on a clay tablet having the outlines of a dome or structure.
In their jurisprudential manuals, both Ayatullah Burujirdi and Sayyid Khumayni have the following to say concerning prostration at holy shrines, it is haram to prostrate to anyone except Allah. If the act of prostration in front of the shrines of the Infallible Imams (as) is a form of thanksgiving to God, there is no objection, otherwise it is haram. 4646
As acknowledged by the prominent Sunni scholar Mahmud Alusi in his exegesis on the Holy Qur'an, in none of the supplications that have been taught by the Ahl al-Bayt (as), there is Tawassul to the person of the Prophet.(saws) 47
If we go through the books of supplications of the Shia such as Mafatih al-Jinan, we find that all supplications of the Infallible Imams (as) are directed solely at God, and all addresses begin with Allahumma, Ya Allah, Ya Rabb, and other attributes of God such as Ya Rahman, Ya Rahim, Ya Dhu al-Jalal wa al-Ikram, etc.
Sayyid Muhammad Hasan Musawi, writing on the famous Du'a' Tawassul which is directed at the Prophet (saws) and the Infallible Imams (as), says The purpose of Tawassul to the pious believers is that they are being requested to supplicate to Allah to deliver the person in need from his affliction, since the supplication of these saintly figures is accepted by Allah.48
The Du'a' Tawassul which is found in Mafatih al-Jinan is the same supplication of tawassul which all Sunni narrators of hadith unanimously regard as sahih (authentic) and relate that the Prophet taught it to a blind man who recovered his eyesight by reciting it.4949
Therefore, in conclusion we can state with authority the following points, since Tawassul is an accepted principle in the life of a sincere and God fearing Muslim, and whatever disputes that have been fanned are due to bigotry and lack of proper understanding of Islam.
1. Controversy over the issue of Tawassul is not a matter of discord between Shia and Sunni Muslims, but it is a difference of opinion between the Salafiyyah sect and the rest of Muslims.
2.Most of the differences of the Salafiyyah Wahhabis are with the extremist Sufis who believe in reincarnation, and with the Sunni masses who often make emotional tawassul at graves and seek their needs from the departed such as Abu Hanifah (and 'Abd al-Qadir Gilani) in Baghdad, Shafi'i, Rifa'i, Dasuqi and others in Egypt, Idris in Morocco and Abu Ayyub Ansari in Turkey - as well as Khawajah Mu'in al-Din Chishti and numerous others in India, and Data Ganj Bakhsh and Sufi saints in Pakistan.
3. In fact, the Salafiyyah and the Wahhabis have the least differences with Shia Muslims since Shia recite the supplications of the Ahl al-Bayt (as) which contain the purest form of monotheism. However, because of their non-familiarity with the Shia they accuse them of polytheism and in their ignorance brand them infidels.
4. In all the supplications of the Ahl al-Bayt (as) the addressee is Almighty Allah alone, even in the famous Du'a' Tawassul, which the Sunnis say with unanimity was taught by Prophet Muhammad (saws) to a blind person who subsequently regained his eyesight.
5. Du'a' tawassul, where devotion is expressed to the Prophet (saws) and his Infallible Ahl al-Bayt (as), is not exclusively meant for the Shia but was widely popular among the Sunnis until Ibn Taymiyyah and later Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab came on the scene with their weird interpretation.
For instance, the poetical composition of tawassul to the 14 Infallibles found in the works of prominent poets of the Ahl al-Sunnah such as the Persian poet Shaykh Sa'di and the Sufi Khalid Naqhsbandi as well as the famous Spanish Muslim gnostic and philosopher Shaykh Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-'Arabi.
6. As part of their misinformation campaign against tawassul, the Salafiyyah attempt to exploit certain Ayahs of the Holy Qur'an which refer to the polytheists who worship idols instead of the One and Only God and who seek their wants from these lifeless man-made objects. However, it is clear that equating those who seek Tawassul to the Prophet (saws) with the polytheists and infidels is an erroneous idea, since Tawassul-seekers, unlike the idolators, address the Almighty Creator and seek their needs from Him by making the Prophet (saws) a wasilah for acceptance of prayer.
On the other hand, the idols have no connection with God and are nothing more than inanimate objects made by man, while Prophet Muhammad (saws) is the manifest sign of Allah, the Messenger of Allah and Mercy to the creation. Allah has also given him power, both in this world and in the next, to supplicate and intercede for his true followers. The Wahhabi contention of the period of Barzakh of the Prophet (saws) lacks any rational explanation and is against the view of the 'ulama' of all other sects of the Ahl al-Sunnah.
7. Those who wish to make the Prophet (saws) the intercessor without being obedient to the Holy Qur'an and the Ahl al-Bayt (as) have been likened by Shi'ah 'ulama' such as 'Allamah Tabataba'i, to a wishful person who wants to become the sage of the age without learning or studying anything.
- 1. Refer to the Arabic lexicons Lisan al-'Arab, Asas al-Balaghah and Tartib al-Qamus al-Muhit for meaning of wasala.
- 2. Alusi, Ruh al-Ma'ani, vol. 6, p. 124-128.
- 3. Tabrisi, Majma' al-Bayan, vol. 6, p. 86; Sahih Muslim, vol. 1, p. 289.
- 4. Nida'-i Wahdat, Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's treatise to Shaykh Ja'far Najafi.
- 5. Sharh al-Mawahib, vol. 8, p. 304; al-Majmu', vol. 8, p. 274; Ibn 'Abidin, vol. 5, p.254; al-Fatawa al-Hindiyyah, vol. 1, p. 266 and vol. 5, 318; Fath al-Qadir, vol. 8, p. 297, 298 and al-Futuhat al-Rabbaniyyah 'ala al-Azkar al-Nabawiyyah, vol. 5, p. 36
- 6. Sharh al-Mawahib, vol. 8, p. 304-5; Wafa' al-Wafad, vol. 4, p. 1371; al-Qawanin al-Fiqhiyyah, p. 148; and Sharh Ibn al-Hasan 'ala al-Risalah al-Qirwani, vol. 12, p. 478).
- 7. Al-Majmu', vol. 8, p. 274; Fayd al-Qadir, vol. 2, p. 134; I'anah al-Talibiyyin, p. 315.
- 8. Al-Mughni ma' al-Sharh, vol. 3, p. 588; al-Sharh al-Kabir ma' al-Mughni, vol. 3, p. 494.
- 9. Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazzali', Ihya' 'Ulum al-Din, vol. 1, pp. 258-261.
- 10. Al-Mausu'ah al-Fiqhiyyah, section 14, p. 160.
- 11. Ibid.
- 12. Tafsir Ruh al-Ma'ani, vol. 6, 128
- 13. Shaykh Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri, 'Aqa'id Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama'ah fi radd al-Wahhabiyyah wa al-Bid'ah, translated into Persian by 'Abd al-Rahman Sarbazi, p. 86.
- 14. Al-Mizan fi Tafsir al-Qur'an, vol. 6, p. 328-332
- 15. Ibid.
- 16. Refer to Shaykh Aqa Buzurg Tehrani, al-Dhari'ah ila Tasanif al-Shi'ah, vol. 25, p. 69-92.
- 17. Tafsir al-Mizan, vol. 11, p. 15 (Dar al-'Alami print, Beirut).
- 18. Ibn Taymiyyah, Qa'idah Jalilah fi al-Tawassul wa al-Wasilah, pp. 63, 64 & 95, as cited in al-Mausu'ah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaitiyyah.
- 19. Muhammad Rashid Rida, al-Manar, vol. 6, pp. 369-377.
- 20. Bayhaqi, Dala'il al-Nabuwwah, vol. 5, p. 489 (Dar al-Kitab al-'Ilmiyyah print, Beirut), cited from al-Mausu'ah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaitiyyah, vol. 24; al-Mustadrak, vol. 2, p. 615, Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Fatawa, vol. 1, p. 150, Jalal al-Din Suyuti, Tafsir Durr al-Manthur, vol. 1, pp. 142-149 (Dar al-Fikr print, Beirut, 1983).
Translator's note: Suyuti is more elaborate when on p. 147, he says Adam supplicated to Allah by the right of Prophet Muhammad and his progeny (Allahumma bi-haqqi Muhammad wa Al-i Muhammad) He further quotes the Prophet (s) on the authority of 'Abdullah Ibn 'Abbas as saying that the words taught to Adam by God to seek forgiveness were: By the right of Muhammad, and 'Ali, and Fatimah, and Hasan and Husayn).
- 21. Al-Tabarani, al-Mu'jam al-saghir, vol. 1, p. 183, (Maktabah al-Salafiyyah print) cited in al-Mausu'ah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaitiyyah, vol. 24
- 22. Al-Mausu'ah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaitiyyah, vol. 7, p. 263, Qa'idah Jalilah, p. 51.
- 23. 'Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Hasan Musawi, Nida' Wahdat, pp. 260-261.
- 24. Al-Mausu'ah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaitiyyah, vol. 14, p. 160
- 25. Manawi, al-Fayd, vol. 3, p. 540; Hasan bin 'Ali Saqqaf, al-Tandid bi-man Addada al-Tawhid, pp. 30-40.
- 26. Tafsir al-Jalalayn; Baydawi, Anwar al-Tanzil, vol. 2, 270
- 27. Tafsir al-Manar, vol. 1, p. 59.
- 28. Ibn ''Abd al-Wahhab, Risalah Kashf al-Shubahat, cited in al-Rasul Yad'ukum, p. 295
- 29. Risalatan Bayn al-Shaykhayn al-Ustadh Muhammad Wa'iz-Zadeh Khurasani wa al-Ustadh 'Abd al-'Aziz bin 'Abdullah bin Baz, pp. 32-33.
- 30. 'Allamah Tabataba'i, Majmu'ah-yi Maqalat, pp. 313-317
- 31. Risalatan Bayn al-Shaykhayn, p. 41.
- 32. Dr Buti, Ramadan, Fiqh al-Sunnah, tenth edition, p. 355.
- 33. Hasan bin 'Ali al-Saqqaf, al-Ta'liq 'ala Risalatayn, Risalah at-Taqrib Quarterly, No. 17, 1418 AH, p. 69
- 34. Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 14, p. 111, Dar Ihya' al-Turath, Beirut; Sahih al-Muslim, chapter 51, pp. 76-77; Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, vol. 1, p. 26 & vol. 2, pp. 31 & 131; Musnad Tiyalisi, hadith 403.
- 35. Al-Majmu', vol. 8, p. 274, chapter on manners of pilgrimage.
- 36. Shaykh Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri, 'Aqa'id Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama'ah fi radd al-Wahhabiyyah wa al-Bid'ah, translated into Persian by 'Abd al-Rahman Sarbazi, pp. 82-88.
- 37. Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, Risalah Kashf al-Shubahat, cited in al-Rasul Yad'ukum, p. 295.
- 38. Da'irah al-Ma'arif Qarn al-'Ishrin (20th Century Encyclopaedia), under the topic of 'Ruh' (Soul), vol. 14, p. 365
- 39. Refer for details to Leone Danny's “World After Death”, pp. 78-82.
- 40. Dr. Bi-Azar Shirazi, 'Abd al-Karim, Gozashteh va Ayandeh-ye Jahan, pp. 96-101
- 41. Risalatan Bayn al-Shaykhayn, p. 17
- 42. Majmu'ah Fatawa Ibn Taymiyyah, vol. 1, p. 106, as cited in al-Mausu'ah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaitiyyah, vol. 14, pp. 163-164.
- 43. Risalatan Bayn al-Shaykhayn, pp. 17-18.
- 44. Mustafa Mahmud, Asrar al-Qur'an, Dar al-Ma'arif, second edition, p. 77.
- 45. Shaykh Hurr al-'Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi'ah, vol. 3, p. 591.
- 46. Ayatullah Burujirdi, Tawdih al-Masa'il, p. 172, Imam Khumayni, Tahrir al-Wasilah, vol. 1, p. 150, and also in Risalah-ye Novin, vol. 1, p. 148
- 47. Ruh al-Ma'ani, vol. 6, p. 128.
- 48. Sayyid Muhammad Hasan Musawi, Risalah dar Kitab wa Sunnat, Majmu'ah Maqalat, Kitab Nida'-e Wahdat, Tehran, Chehel-Sutun Publishers, p. 259.
- 49. Sunan Tirmidhi, vol. 5, p. 569, Matba'ah al-Halabi, Egypt, cited in al-Mausu'ah.