As mentioned earlier, Tawassul has a very wide scope and meaning. Often it is taken to mean seeking help of a human being to reach Allah. This is a misconception as we hope to show. However, before we go further, we need to ask ourselves how do we know whether using Wasilah to reach Allah is correct or not? One way of answering this question is to see whether:
1. Allah has used Wasilah to reach His Creatures. If He has then using Wasilah i.e. Tawassul, can never be Shirk because Allah would not go against His Own principles.
2. The Qur’an acknowledges positively or negatively the use of Wasilah
3. The Prophet (S) and the Imams of his house (‘a) approved of Wasilah, taught its use, encouraged it and used it themselves OR expressed a disapproval of it
These points will form the guiding principles through out the ensuing discussion and the conclusion will be based on these premises.
For the sake of our discussion we have classified Wasilah into 4 categories:
A. Downward wasilah:
This is the Wasilah that Allah (SWT) with His Infinite Wisdom Has used to reach His creatures. This can be further divided into 2 groups:
B. Upward wasilah:
This is the Wasilah that the creatures use to reach the Creator, which can be further grouped into:
a. Wasilah of Allah Himself
b. Wasilah of Deeds
c. Wasilah of Place and objects
d. Wasilah of Person / People
C. Special type of wasilah
D. Istighathah - asking for help from other than Allah. Each type will be dealt with separately
Allah (SWT), with His Infinite Wisdom and Mercy, has used several means to reach His creation and manage their affairs in spite of Being “kun fa ya kun” (Be and it becomes) and independent of means. This may be a confusing statement initially, but will become clearer as one reads on.
The entire creation is based on the principle of cause and effect. Allah is the Primary Cause of all causes and effects. He is the Originator and Creator of all the causes and gave each cause its effect. One action (cause) becomes the means (Wasilah) of a subsequent action (effect) and this happens in both the physical and spiritual realms.
We shall site a few examples to clarify this point.
The entire physical world is regulated by a set of laws based on the principle of cause and effect, action and reaction. These laws, be they physical, chemical, biological or social are the means used by Allah to reach His creatures and regulates their affairs. They also become the testing ground for their obedience.
Allah is by no means dependant on these laws. He can do without them and Has proved that He can do whatever He wills without using any means. The means He uses do not in any way become His partners in the creation because it is He Who creates the means. The following examples will suffice to prove our point:
• Surah Al Hujrat:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ مِنْ ذَكَرٍ وَأُنْثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا
“O Mankind, We have created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another…” (49:13)
Allah used the “Wasilah” of man and woman to populate the world. The parents thus become the Wasilah for the existence of their children. He could have created all of mankind without any biological means in just the same way He created the angels in a split of a moment. In fact, He did just that by creating Hazrat Adam and Hawa (‘a) without any parents and Hazrat Isa (‘a) without any male intervention:
• Surah Aal-Imran:
إِنَّ مَثَلَ عِيسَىٰ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ كَمَثَلِ آدَمَ خَلَقَهُ مِنْ تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ قَالَ لَهُ كُنْ فَيَكُونُ
“Surely the likeness of Isa is with Allah as the likeness of Adam; He created him from dust then said to him, Be and he was”. (3:59)
Allah uses the wasilah of parents to create us. Does this mean that parents are Allah’s partners in their children’s creation? Of course not! If we were to worship our parents, the Wasilah of our creation, then this would be committing Shirk.
Interestingly, we can use the Wasilah of parents to reach Allah. In well- known traditions the Prophet (S) said:
“Heaven is under the feet of your mothers”
“The pleasure of Allah lies in the pleasure of one’s parents and His wrath lies in their wrath”.
The Wasilah of parents is very powerful. Marhum Allamah Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi (May Allah raise his status in heaven) quotes the following hadith in his book “Karbala Shanasi” as follows:
Once a companion came to the Prophet (saww), saying that he had kept a vow to kiss the doorsteps of heaven and the heavenly ladies.
The Prophet (S) replied,
“Kiss your mother’s feet and your father’s forehead.”
The companion asked, “What if they are dead?”
The Prophet (S) replied,
“Kiss their graves.”
The companion asked, “What if I don’t know the location of the graves?”
The Prophet (S) replied,
“Draw two lines and assume they are your parents’ grave and kiss them, and don’t go against your vow”
• Surah Hud:
وَمَا مِنْ دَابَّةٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ إِلَّا عَلَى اللَّهِ رِزْقُهَا
“And there is no animal on earth but on Allah is the sustenance….” (11:6)
Provision of sustenance is an exclusive quality of Allah. However, sustenance does not come directly to the creature from the heavens though it is very much possible for the Almighty to make this happen:
• Surah Aal-Imran:
فَتَقَبَّلَهَا رَبُّهَا بِقَبُولٍ حَسَنٍ وَأَنْبَتَهَا نَبَاتًا حَسَنًا وَكَفَّلَهَا زَكَرِيَّا كُلَّمَا دَخَلَ عَلَيْهَا زَكَرِيَّا الْمِحْرَابَ وَجَدَ عِنْدَهَا رِزْقًا قَالَ يَا مَرْيَمُ أَنَّىٰ لَكِ هَٰذَا قَالَتْ هُوَ مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَرْزُقُ مَنْ يَشَاءُ بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ
“… Whenever Zakariya entered the sanctuary to see her he found with her food. He said “O Marium! From where does this come to you? She said: It is from Allah. Surely Allah gives to whom He pleases without measure” (3:37)
• Surah Al Ma’idah:
قَالَ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ اللَّهُمَّ رَبَّنَا أَنْزِلْ عَلَيْنَا مَائِدَةً مِنَ السَّمَاءِ تَكُونُ لَنَا عِيدًا لِأَوَّلِنَا وَآخِرِنَا وَآيَةً مِنْكَ ۖ وَارْزُقْنَا وَأَنْتَ خَيْرُ الرَّازِقِينَ
“Isa the son of Marium said: O Allah, our Lord! Send down to us food from heaven which should be to us an ever recurring happiness, to the first of us and to the last of us, and a sign from You, and grant us means of subsistence, and You are the best of providers.” (5:114)
قَالَ اللَّهُ إِنِّي مُنَزِّلُهَا عَلَيْكُمْ ۖ فَمَنْ يَكْفُرْ بَعْدُ مِنْكُمْ فَإِنِّي أُعَذِّبُهُ عَذَابًا لَا أُعَذِّبُهُ أَحَدًا مِنَ الْعَالَمِينَ
Allah said: Surely I will send it down to you, but whoever shall disbelieve afterwards from among you, surely I will chastise him with a chastisement with which I will not chastise anyone among the nations.” (5: 115)
• Surah Al Baqarah:
… وَأَنْزَلْنَا عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَنَّ وَالسَّلْوَىٰ…
“…. And We sent to you manna and salwa…” (2:57)
This refers to the heavenly food that was sent to Bani-Israel at the time of Hazrat Musa (‘a).
These verses prove that despite the fact that Allah can do otherwise, His plan for the general creation is to distribute rizq through different means and intermediaries. In the mother’s womb the embryo and fetus gets sustenance from the mother’s blood via the umbilical cord. The milk that flows from a mother’s breasts sustains the young infant. A growing child is fed by the hard work of the parents.
In all the instances it is the parents who are responsible for feeding and sustaining the offspring and this is seen across the earth in the higher forms of life. This does not mean that Allah has taken the parents as partners in His Quality of “The Sustainer”, rather He has used them as a “means” through which His Quality flows and through which He reaches His creatures.
In a friendly argument with a close associate who was objecting to the practice of asking the Imams (‘a) for one’s wishes, I asked him whether he had ever asked his father for some money and he promptly replied “Yes I have!”
I immediately said to him “Then on the basis of your argument you are a mushrik! Rizq comes from Allah and only He is the Raziq, how dare you ask from your father? Don’t you recite in Sura Al-Fatihah that “I only pray to You and only ask You for help”? The point here is that Allah uses the Wasilah of different agents to distribute rizq; the final control is in His Hands.
Healing the injured and curing the sick is one of the great qualities of Allah.
Consider the words of Hazrat Ibrahim Khalilullah (‘a), as recorded in the Qur’an:
وَإِذَا مَرِضْتُ فَهُوَ يَشْفِينِ
“and when I am sick, He cures/heals me” (26:80)
When one falls sick, the first things that come to mind are hospital, clinic, doctor and medicines, NOT the mosque. Why don’t people run to the mosque and start praying to The Healer for cure? Isn’t it shirk to go to a doctor and ask him/her to cure you? The answer obviously is NO!
Without a doubt Allah is the Healer and He has made medicines work against diseases, but one has to go to a medical practitioner for treatment. Allah uses the Wasilah of medical practitioner’s knowledge and medicines to cure the sick. The source of the cure and the ultimate Healer is Allah (SWT) but through agencies that He has set.
Interestingly, for His Own most beloved creature, the best in the Universe, the leader of all the prophets, Muhammad (S), Allah used “means”, in some instances, to reach him.
أَلَمْ يَجِدْكَ يَتِيمًا فَآوَىٰ
“Did He not find you an orphan and gave you shelter?” (93:6)
وَوَجَدَكَ ضَالًّا فَهَدَىٰ
“And found you lost, unrecognized by men, and guided them to you?”(93:7)
وَوَجَدَكَ عَائِلًا فَأَغْنَىٰ
“And found you in want and made you rich?” (93:8)
The Prophet (S) was under the patronage of Hazrat Abdul Muttalib (‘a) and then Hazrat Abu Talib (‘a) and became rich by Hazrat Khadija (‘a)’s property. Allah used the Wasilah of these great personalities to help His most perfect and beloved Prophet (S).
One could argue that all these are physical Wasilah and since we are ma- terial and physical beings it is natural for Allah to use physical means to reach us. Has Allah used spiritual or non-material Wasilah to reach us?
As we shall see below He has.
a. Surah An-Naziat:
“I swear by the angels who violently pull at the souls of the wicked”. (79:1)
“And I swear by those who gently thaw out the souls of the blessed”. (79:2)
“And by those who float in space.” (79:3)
“Then those who are foremost going ahead”. (79:4)
“Then those who regulate affairs”. (79:5)
The above events take place at a spiritual level and although under the command of Allah, it is brought into effect by angels i.e. Allah now uses the Wasilah of angels.
The entire event of the Laylatul Qadr takes place at a spiritual level in the physical world. Allah uses the Wasilah of the Spirit and angels to bring down His commands and the affairs to the living Imam (‘a).
b. Surah Al Baqarah:
قُلْ مَنْ كَانَ عَدُوًّا لِجِبْرِيلَ فَإِنَّهُ نَزَّلَهُ عَلَىٰ قَلْبِكَ بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ مُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ وَهُدًى وَبُشْرَىٰ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ
“Say; whoever is the enemy of Jibrael, for surely he revealed it to your heart by Allah’s command, verifying that which is before it and guidance and good news for the believers”. (2:97)
Jibrael becomes the Wasilah through which the Qur’an gets revealed to the Prophet (S). Allah could have by passed Jibrael as He did in Me’raj but decided, in His great Wisdom and for reasons known to Him alone, not to.
In a similar manner, He Has used the Wasilah of the Prophets, Imams and Awliya to guide His creatures. Many more examples can be cited here but it is left to the young reader to think and ponder on these for himself.
In conclusion therefore, we have proved in this chapter that, in principle, using Wasilah i.e. Tawassul, is neither Shirk nor is it wrong because Allah Himself uses it to reach His creatures and the entire creation.
We shall now turn towards the Upward Wasilah, the means that the humans use to reach Allah by His command.