Intercession – Tawassul

About the statement in al-Wala’ wal-Bara’ whereby among the “ten actions that negate Islam” is “relying on an intermediary between oneself and Allah when seeking intercession” then the speciousness of the statement is obvious, since the meaning of intercessis intermediary. How can one at the same time seek an intermediary and refrain from relying on him? This would not be the act of a believer but of a duplicitous person. Besides language and logic it is clear in the hadith of the Great Intercession that the people seek intercessors among the Prophets until they come to the Seal of Prophets seeking to rely upon him for intercession, and he confirms to them that he is able to fulfill their request. This is one of the matters which the Prophet boasted about in the hadith “I have been given five things…” What then is the import of reducing it to an “action that negates Islam” other than to reduce the status of the Prophet himself and of his intercession?

Allah has created intercession as He has created everything else: out of mercy; He also said: “My Mercy encompasses all things” (7:156). No doubt His greatest Mercy is the Prophet, concerning whom He said “We did not send you save as a Mercy to the Worlds” (21:107). Belief in the Prophet’s intercession is tied into the witnessing to the truth he brought and the recognition by the believers of his right as Allah’s greatest mercy. The angels intercede according to Qur’an, yet the Prophet is nearer to Allah than the nearest among them. No-one will speak on the Day of Judgment except those who have permission, and it has come in authentic hadith that Allah gave permission to the Prophet. The Prophet will not be saying “I and Myself” but will be saying: ummati, ummati “My Community!” and that is intercession which, unless it is reliable, cannot be hoped for nor looked forward to. Is this not what “Salafis” try to suggest?

Intercession in no way diminishes the fact that everything is under Allah’s sovereignty. However, Allah created secondary causes and means, and He has said: “Seek the means to Allah.” Intercession is but one of those means and not the smallest. The fact that the Prophet said that to utter la ilaha illallah from the heart guaranteed his intercession, implies that there is immense good in his intercession, for what would we wish for in addition to the benefit brought by uttering the kalima, if such addition were not to be prized immensely?

That is why sincere love of the Prophet and of pious people is of a tremendous benefit, as one hopes thereby to be loved back, and the Prophet said to the Arab who had prepared nothing for the Final Hour other than love for Allah and His Prophet: yuhshar al-mar’ ma` man ahabb, “One is raised in the company of those he loves,” and the Companions who were present said this was the happiest day of their lives for hearing this promise. All this implies reliance, and contradicts the assertion of the book al-Wala’ wal-Bara’ whereby “relying on an intermediary between oneself and Allah when seeking intercession negates Islam.”

The asking of intercession from the intercessor, as the asking of du`a from a pious Muslim, in no way implies that the person who asks believes any good can come apart from Allah. In effect he is asking Allah, but he is using the means that Allah put at his disposal, including the intercession of those who may be closer than him to Allah. To refuse to believe that other than us may be closer than us to Allah is the sin of Iblis.

Imam Ghazali said in the section on doctrine of his Ihya’:

It is obligatory to believe in the intercession of first the prophets, then religious scholars, then martyrs, then other believers, the intercession of each one commensurate with his rank and position with Allah Most High.

The Shi`i scholar al-Tabata’i wrote the following on the meaning of intercession in his Commentary on Qur’an:

What is the meaning of Intercession?

al-shafa`a (intercession) is derived from al-shaf` which means “even” as opposed to odd, since the interceder adds his own recommendation to the plea of the petitioner; in this way the number of pleaders becomes even, and the weak plea of the petitioner is strengthened by the prestige of the intercessor. We are accustomed in our social and communal life to seek others’ intercession and help for fulf1lling our needs.

We resort to it to get an advantage or to ward off a disadvantage. Here we are not talking about an advantage or a disadvantage, a benefit or a harm that is caused by natural causes, like hunger and thirst, heat or cold, illness or health; because in such cases we get what we want through natural remedies, like eating and drinking, wearing clothes, getting treatment and so on. What we are talking here about is the benefit and harm, punishment and reward resulting from the social laws made by civil authorities.

From the nature of the relationship of mastership-and-servitude, and for that matter, between every ruler and ruled, rise some commandments, orders and prohibitions; one who follows and obeys them is praised and rewarded, and the one who disobeys is condemned and punished; that reward or punishment may be either material or spiritual. When a master orders his servant to do or not to do a thing, and the servant obeys him he gets its reward; and if he disobeyes he is punished. Whenever a rule is made, the punishment for its infringement is laid down too. This is the foundation which all authorities are built upon.

When a man wants to get a material or spiritual benefit but is not suitably qualified for it; or when he desires to ward off a harm which is coming to him because of his disobedience, but has no shield to protect himself, then comes the time for intercession.

In other words, when he wants to get a reward without doing his task, or to save himself from punishment without performing his duty, then he looks for someone to intercede on his behalf. But intercession is effective only if the person for whom one intercedes is otherwise qualified to get the reward and has already established a relationship with the authority. If an ignorant person desires appointment to a prestigious academic post, no intercession can do him any good; nor can it avail in case of a rebellious traitor who shows no remorse for his misdeeds and does not submit to the lawful authorities. It clearly shows that intercession works as a supplement to the cause; it is not an independent cause.

The effect of an intercessor’s words depends on one or the other factor which may have some influence upon the concerned authority; in other words, intercession must have a solid ground to stand upon. The intercessor endeavours to find a way to the heart of the authority concerned, in order that the said authority may give the reward to, or waive the punishment of, the person who is the subject of intercession. An intercessor does not ask the master to nullify his mastership or to release the servant from his servitude; nor does he plead with him to refrain from laying down rules and regulations for his servants or to abrogate his commandments (either generally or especially in that one case), in order to save the wrong-doer from the due consequences; nor does he ask him to discard the canon of reward and punishment, (either generally or in that particular case). In short, intercession can interfere with neither the institution of mastership and servantship nor the master’s authority to lay down the rules; nor can it effect the system of reward and punishment. These three factors are beyond the jurisdiction of intercession.

What an intercessor does is this: He accepts the inviolability of the above mentioned three aspects. Then he looks at one or more of the following factors and builds his intercession on that basis:

He appeals to such attributes of the master as give rise to forgiveness, e.g., his nobility, magnanimity and generosity.

He draws attention to such characteristics of the servant as justify mercy and pardon, e.g., his wretchedness, poverty, low status and misery.

He puts at stake his own prestige and honour in the eyes of the master.

Thus, the import of intercession is like this: I cannot and do not say that you should forget your mastership over your servant or abrogate your commandment or nullify the sysof reward and punishment. What I ask of you is to forgive this defaulting servant of yours because you are magnanimous and generous, and because no harm would come to you if you forgive his sins; and/or because your servant is a wretched creature of low status and steeped in misery; and it is befitting of a master like you to ignore the faults of a slave like him; and/or because you have bestowed on me a high prestige, and I implore you to forgive and pardon him in honour of my intercession.

The intercessor, in this way, bestows precedence on the factors of forgiveness and pardon over those of legislation and recompense. He removes the case from the latter’s jurisdiction putting it under former’s influence. As a result of this shift, the consequences of legislation (reward and punishment) do not remain applicable. The effect of intercession is, therefore, based on shifting the case from the jurisdiction of reward and punishment to that of pardon and forgiveness; it is not a confrontation between one cause (divine legislation) and the other (intercession).

By now it should be clear that intercession too is one of the causes; it is the intermediate cause that connects a distant cause to its desired effect.

Allah is the ultimate Cause. This causality shows itself in two ways:

First: In creation: Every cause begins from Him and ends up to Him; He is the first and the final Cause. He is the real Creator and Originator. All other causes are mere channels to carry His boundless mercy and limitless bounty to His creatures.

Second: In legislation: He, in His mercy, established a contact with His creatures; He laid down the religion, sent down His commandments, and prescribed suitable reward and appropriate punishment for His obedient and disobedient servants; He sent prophets and apostles to bring us good tidings and to warn us of the consequences of transgression. The prophets and apostles conveyed to us His message in the best possible way. Thus His proof over us was complete: “and the word of your Lord has been accomplished with truth and justice, there is none to change His words” (6:115).

Both aspects of causality of Allah may be, and in fact are, related to intercession:

  1. Intercession in creation: Quite obviously the intermediary causes of creation are the conduits that bring the divine mercy, life, sustenance and other bounties to the creatures; and as such they are intercessors between the Creator and the created. Some Qur’anic verses too are based on this very theme: whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His; who is he that can intercede with Him but by His permission (2:255); Surely your Lord is Allah, who created the heavens and the earth in six periods, and He is firmly established on throne, regulating the affair; there is no intercessor except after His permission (10:3). Intercession in the sphere of creation is only the intermediation of causes between the Creator and the created thing and effect in bringing it into being and regulating its affairs.
  2. Intercession in legislation: Intercession, as analysed earlier, is effective in this sphere too. It is in this context that Allah says: On-that day shall no intercession avail except of him whom the Beneficent God allows and whose word He is pleased with (20:109); And intercession will not avail aught with Him save of him whom He permits (34:23); And how many an angel is there in the heavens whose intercession does not avail at all except after Allah has given permission to whom He pleases and chooses (53:26); … and they do not intercede except for him whom He approves … (21:28); And those whom they call upon besides Him have no authority for intercession, but he who bears witness of the truth and they know (him) (43:86).

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