Is there an intermediary between Allah and His slaves?

Sawt Al-Umma, Issue #98
October 14th, 2002

If the question is wrong, then so too is the answer If we ask the question ‘Who made us? The mother or the father?’ it is not possible to receive a correct answer. If we say the mother only or the father only, the answer is wrong. The same is true of a question such as ‘which hand claps?’ or ‘which eye sees?’ or ‘which part of our mouth eats?’ It is also true of the question ‘which of the two parts of the profession of belief [Ar: ash-shahada] ‘la ilaha ill-Allah’ or ‘Mohamadun rasul Allah‘ – admits a person into Islam?’ There are some questions that do not lend themselves to a single unequivocal answer. One such question being asked by muslims today is whether or not at-tawassul which may be translated in a religious context as ‘intercession’ is allowed by Allah and His Messenger [s.a.a.w.s.] [Ar: halal] or or whether it is prohibited by Allah and His Messenger [s.a.a.w.s.] [Ar: haram] If we say at-tawassul is halal, our answer is wrong and if we say it is haram it is also wrong. The correct answer is both. But how can something be halal and haram at the same time?

We should begin by offering a more general definition of at-tawassul which means ‘to use something as a means to an end’. This broader definition does not necessarily have anything to do with religion. The eyes for example are a means of seeing and used by believers and non-believers alike. All people use their tongues to speak no matter what they believe. The question ‘what is religion’s view of eyesight?’ is entirely inappropriate as it would be with similar questions about speech, smell or hearing. Muslims and non-muslims alike use these sensory organs as a means to an end. The definition of at-tawassul should therefore be expanded to mean ‘to use something as a means to an end as a natural necessity’. By nature, as human beings, we use our eyes, tongues and ears as a means to an end and religion has no direct bearing on this. However, what Islam does teach is that we should use them properly. We should not, for example, listen in on the conversations of others. We should not look at what is haram. The Quran says: ‘Say to the men who believe they should lower their gaze and guard their private parts. That is purer for them and Allah knows what they do. And say to the women who believe they should lower their gaze and guard their private parts’ [Al-Nour:30-31]

The use of the eyes is therefore not absolutely haram nor is it absolutely halal. What determines whether or not the use of the eyes is haram or halal is the end to which the means is used. If what we are looking at is halal then the use of the eyes is halal. And the opposite is true. To take account of this moral aspect, the definition of at-tawassul should be expanded once again to mean ‘to use something as a means to an end as a natural necessity. The means is halal if the end to which the means is used is halal and haram if the end to which the means is used is haram’. To argue at-tawassul is absolutely haram is to argue against nature as if we were to tell someone to keep their eyes permanently closed. To argue at-tawassul is absolutely halal is also wrong from a moral standpoint as if we were telling someone he can look at anything he likes including what is haram. A knife can be used to slice an apple and to use it is halal because the end is halal. But if the same knife is used to kill someone its use is haram because the end is haram. We cannot and should not make absolute judgments about whether at-tawassul is halal or haram. The Quran says: “It is not fitting for a believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His messenger, to have any option about their decision” [Al-Ahzab:36] This means that if Allah or His prophet [s.a.a.w.s] order something, a believer should obey. Just as there are certain obligations in religion which we must accept and obey without question there are means to an end which we are free to use as we like but for which we are just as accountable.

It is against this background that we can perhaps enter into a rational discussion about whether or not there are intermediaries or go-betweens between man and his Creator. Many, perhaps most muslims today will tell you categorically there are no intermediaries. They will also tell you that at-tawassul or intercession is haram. First, no-one in their right mind would deny our Creator has the power to speak and act directly with each of us. The Quran says: “If Allah willed he would guide each of you.’ [Al-Sajdah: 13] However, we should also ask ourselves why prophets and messengers were sent to deliver His message or why the angel Jibril was chosen to act as an intermediary between Allah and His prophet. Allah had the power to speak directly to His prophet [s.a.a.w.s] just as He did to Sayedena Musa [a.s.] – ‘And Allah spoke to Musa directly’ [Al-Nisaa:164] Why, then, did He use Jibril as an intermediary and not speak directly to Sayedna Mohamed [s.a.a.w.s.] especially since Sayedna Mohamed’s rank and station is greater than that of Sayedena Musa’s? The nature and the mission of Sayedena Mohamed [s.a.a.w.s] was to deliver Allah’s message to humanity. The Quran says:’ To make clear to people what has been revealed to them’ [Al-Nahl: 44] Whoever argues there are no intermediaries or that at-tawassul is absolutely haram is missing the point. The Quran says:’ Say: Are you teaching Allah your religion?’ [Al-Hujurat:16]

In its broadest meaning the word messenger [Ar: rasul] implies an intermediary or a go-between. The postal authority acts as an intermediary between the sender and the recipient while the postman is an intermediary between the postal authority and the recipient. The profession of belief that there is no god except Allah and that Mohamed is Allah’s Messenger admits a person into Islam. But what is the import of ‘Mohamed is Allah’s Messenger’? It means Allah used Sayedena Mohamed [s.a.a.w.s] as a means of delivering His message to humanity even though He had no need of an intermediary. The Quran says: “O people, I am Allah’s Messenger to you.’ [Al-Aa’raf:158] To insist the means to an end is absolutely haram is not only missing the point it begs a serious question. If Sayedena Mohamed [s.a.a.w.s] was not a means to an end then what was he? If we deny that he was a means to an end are we then saying he was the source of the message and not the one delivering it? The word rasul in Arabic, a language in which single words often convey several and diverse meanings, means wasita [go-between] wasila [means] or wasit [intermediary]. It should therefore be clearly understood Sayedena Mohamed [s.a.a.w.s] was not the source of the message but the one chosen by Allah to deliver the message to those to whom the message was directed.

The existence of at-tawassul and the conditions under which it is permissible may only be properly understood by understanding it is inextricably linked with the end or the objective for which it is used. The prevailing wisdom that the end always justifies the means or that the end never justifies the means is incorrect. The truth is the end justifies or does not justify the means. ‘Mohamed is Allah’s Messenger’ infers the prophet [s.a.a.w.s] is not Allah, that he is not the source of the message and that he is not His son His associate or His partner. Allah chose him, without needing to, as an instrument to deliver His message to humanity. In the same way, Allah used Sayedena Jibril [a.s.] also without needing to, as an intermediary between Himself and His prophet. On the night of the prophet’s ascension to heaven Sayedena Jibril was unable to go beyond a particular point. – ‘Each of us knows his limit’ – while the prophet continued his ascension into heaven alone. The permissibility or non-permissibility of at-tawassul is therefore never absolute. At one stage of the night journey Sayedena Jibril acted as the prophet’s guide. At another stage he didn’t. To acknowledge there is wisdom in everything Allah does even when we can’t see it is incumbent on us all. ‘Do you have more knowledge than Allah?’ [Al-Baqara: 40]

The means is an instrument to an end. Sayedna Abu Huraira [a.s.] narrated that the prophet [s.a.a.w.s] said: ‘And Allah takes care of His slave as long as the slave cares for his brother’ [Sahih Muslim, Part 4, Page 2074, 38, No. 2699] If someone is unwell, he should visit a doctor. The doctor is a means to an end which in this case is a cure. If we consider the doctor to be other than a means to an end, then we are effectively saying he is the healer which is not the case. Allah is the Healer. Allah uses the doctor, without needing to, as a means to an end. To say ‘Mohamed is Allah’s Messenger’ and at the same time deny the existence of at-tawassul renders the profession of belief superficial in so far as it is said on the tongue not in the heart. The prophet is a wasila and whoever denies this denies that ‘Mohamed is Allah’s Messenger’ The Quran says of such people ‘They say on their tongues what is not in their hearts.’ They do not really believe in their hearts the prophet is a wasila.

Some muslim clerics reluctantly concede certain powers to the living but not to the dead. This also misses the point because it suggests the living have powers which they lose when they die.  Allah is the prime mover of everything and has the power to use both the living and the dead as a means to an end. Although the meat and fish we eat are dead, they are nevertheless a source of nourishment. They give us life. In and of themselves they are useless. It is Allah who makes them of benefit. This is Allah’s wisdom in His creation. He uses the rich to support the poor [the living by the living] and He uses the dead to sustain the living. If we understand it is only Allah who acts, then there is no difference between the living and the dead because neither the living nor the dead have any power without Allah.

Allah may choose to act through a person who is absolutely powerless in and of himself and He may give His permission to that person to act  Allah gave Sayedena Issa [a.s.] permission to create the form of a bird from clay and to breathe life into it so it became a living creature. He also gave him permission to heal the blind and the deaf and to bring the dead to life. It is only Allah who has the power to act and to give permission to act. He gave Sayedena Issa [a.s.] permission to bring the dead to life but not to cause the living to die. On the Day of Resurrection permission will be given to Sayedena Israfil [a.s.] to blow into a horn causing every living thing to lose consciousness. About this event the Quran says: ‘He will blow the horn and all those in the heavens and all those in the earth will lose consciousness except those whom Allah wills.’ [Al-Zumar: 68] Sayedena Israfil [a.s.] will then be given permission to blow again into the same horn ‘Then he will blow into it again causing them to regain consciousness and to look around them’. [Al-Zumar: 68]  It is not the horn that will cause them to lose and then regain consciousness but Allah acting through Sayedena Israfil [a.s.]  It was Allah who divided the sea when Sayedena Musa [a.s.] was ordered to strike it with his staff. “Strike the sea with your staff and so it divided and each channel was like a great towering mountain.’ [Al-Shua’raa:63]

Nothing happens in existence without Allah’s permission, will, command and power. Allah gives permission and Allah withholds it or takes it away. The Quran says: ‘Say: Allah, You are the Owner of the Kingdom. You give the Kingdom to whom You will and You take the Kingdom from whom You will. You honor whom You will and You humble whom You will. In Your hand is all that is good and You have power over everything’.  [Al-Imran: 26] While those who reject at-tawassul say we should not put an intermediary between ourself and Allah, it is not we who created the intermediary. It is Allah who created an intermediary, the prophet [s.a.a.w.s] between Himself and mankind. The Quran says: ‘The messenger’s duty is to deliver the message’ [Al-Maida:99 & Al-A’nkabut:18]

Those who reject at-tawassul say they are afraid of confusing the intermediary with the source and thereby losing their way. Elsewhere, however, the Quran says: ‘And if they commit sins and come to you and ask Allah for forgiveness and the Messenger asks Allah to forgive them they will find Allah Forgiving and Merciful.’ [Al-Nisaa: 64]  If this verse were to be put in the form of a mathematical formula it would read: ‘come to you’ + ‘ask Allah for forgiveness’ + ‘the messenger asks Allah to forgive them’ = ‘they will find Allah Forgiving and Merciful’. If any one of the three conditions in the first part of the formula is missing, then it will not work. Those who sin must first come to the prophet. They must ask Allah for forgiveness and the Messenger must also ask Allah to forgive them. If these three conditions are fulfilled, they will find Allah Forgiving and Merciful. The hypocrites refused to go to the prophet. Instead of going to a ‘man like themselves’ they decided they would ask Allah for forgiveness directly without an intermediary. They imagined they could achieve the same result i.e. ’they will find Allah Forgiving and Merciful.’ Although the prophet in his mercy was willing to ask Allah to forgive them even if they didn’t come to him this wasn’t acceptable to Allah. The Quran says: ‘And when it was said to them to come to Allah’s Messenger to ask for forgiveness for them, they turned their heads away and you saw their aloofness. Whether you ask forgiveness for them or you don’t ask forgiveness for them Allah will not forgive them. Allah does not guide sinful people’ [Al-Munafikoun:5-6]  Sinful people is a translation of the Arabic word fasiqin which comes from the word fisq meaning sin. In this instance it is the sin of pride in front of the prophet and the rejection of the divine gift of at-tawassul or intercession by the prophet [s.a.a.w.s] .

Those who reject at-tawassul also quote the verse in the Quran which says: ‘If My slaves ask you about Me, I am near. I answer the prayer of the one who asks if he asks.’ [Al-Baqara: 186] This verse, they argue, proves the prophet does not intercede for us with Allah. In fact the very opposite is true. The verse says ‘If my slaves ask you about me’. It doesn’t’ say “If my slaves are looking for me’ In other words to come to the prophet to ask him about Allah is a condition of Allah’s proximity and also a condition of a prayer being answered.

Only Allah preserves from error and gives strength to do right.