Intercession at the door of the Court of Shari’a Law

Sawt Al Umma, Issue 111, 13 January 2003

Only a person in whom servitude dwells seeks freedom. A person who does not reflect on an allusion will not be guided by a clear statement. He who digresses from his subject loses his argument. He who speaks with precision should support it with facts or otherwise he will not overcome diversions and obstacles. Admiration is a veil. He who does not believe in fate is in denial. Whoever refers sins to Allah has become a libertine. Behind every Sufi statement are unlimited heavenly feelings and sensations so why do we take Allah’s words as if we are in a high-speed express train travelling faster than the wind and picking something up off the ground? This makes us accept something in its entirety or reject it outright; in both instances, we are denying one of the most important principles of Islam, which is moderation. What is even more astonishing is that even though we have completely failed to find solutions to the problems of this world, we insist on arguing about the problems of the next. The biggest evidence of this is the issue of ash-shafa’a (translated as ‘intercession’ or ‘mediation’) which has caught the attention of ordinary people and become a topic of discussion among religious scholars. What generally characterizes the discussions however is hastiness and lack of thought.

Some totally reject the concept of ‘intercession’ based on the words in the Quran which say “On that day shall no intercession avail” (Taha: 109), completely ignoring the second part of the verse which says “except of him whom the Beneficent Allah allows and whose word He is pleased with.” (Taha: 109). The meaning is clear. Intercession is beneficial only with Allah’s permission. Intercession is a fact but there are conditions. The Arabic word ash-shafa’a literally means ‘joining’ ‘adding’ or ‘associating’. Joining one thing to another….seconding another’s opinion… Joining forces… joining one love to another ….adding one number to another. More specifically it can mean supporting someone or interceding on their behalf in the sense that a defense attorney may be said to intercede or mediate on behalf of his client. Speaking of certain people, the Quran says “…the intercession of those who intercede will be of no benefit to them” (Al- Muddathir: 48). This infers that intercession will be of no benefit to some people but will be of benefit to others. Intercession is a fact. Elsewhere the Quran says’ “Who is he that can intercede with Him without His permission?” (Al-Baqara: 255). “Whoever joins himself (to another) in a good cause shall have a share of it, and whoever joins himself (to another) in an evil cause shall have the responsibility for it (Al-Nisaa: 85). There are thus two kinds of intercession – good and bad. In summary, intercession is a fact but it is not absolute. It is conditional upon permission to intercede being given by Allah who is the absolute judge of everything we do. Abu Huraira (r.a.a.) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (s.a.a.w.s.) said ‘I am the master of Adam’s offspring on the day of resurrection and the first to come out of the grave, the first to intercede and the first to grant intercession” (Sahih Muslim Part 4 pp 1782-3 # 2278)

The subject of intercession can be approached in different ways – either linguistically, or the ways in which it is traditionally understood or from the point of view of religious law. For example, in this life a person may voluntarily intercede or mediate on behalf of another person because the two people are compatible or because they share something in common. In the next life, there is no such thing as voluntary intercession. The reason for this is that in this life intercession or mediation may be either accepted or rejected. In the next life, intercession will never be rejected. The reason for this is that a person interceding for another has been given permission to do so by Allah. Allah’s prior knowledge requires this. Allah knows a particular person will be forgiven through the intercession of another.

Abu Huraira (r.a.a.) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (s.a.a.w.s) said “ Allah will bring out from hellfire on the day of resurrection a people who never did any good and will let them enter paradise through His mercy after the intercession of those who intercede” (Al Muajam Al Awsat Part 6 pp 237-8 # 5502)

By giving permission to a person to intercede on behalf of another, Allah is honoring the person given permission to intercede. This is not to be understood in any way as dictating to the supreme judge. It is like a judge in this life inviting a defense attorney to submit a plea of innocence because the judge knows in advance the defendant will be found innocent. The judge does this to honor the attorney. In this life we are free to choose whoever we want to intercede or mediate on our behalf. Their intercession or mediation may be accepted or refused. In the next life, it is Allah who chooses those who will intercede for others and it is therefore illogical their mediation would be rejected. In this life a judge will afford every opportunity to a defense attorney to present all the facts of a case, to uncover what may be unclear or unknown so he can ultimately arrive at a judgment with a clear conscience. This principle does not apply to Allah who is All-Knowing.

All this begs a question. As Allah is All-Knowing and knows in advance the defendant will be found innocent what is the point of intercession? There is a fundamental principle, which if properly understood, serves as a key to understanding many matters of religion. The principle is that: Allah may attach whatever He wills to the will of whoever He chooses from his servants, and Allah does whatever He wills.

The names of all the prophets and messengers were ‘recorded’ in the Preserved Tablet before the creation of Sayedena Adam. Why, then, did Sayedena Musa ask Allah to make his brother Harun a messenger? This is ash-shafa’a or mediation with Allah’s permission. Although Allah’s will is absolute He made the prophethood of Harun conditional upon the prayer of Musa. In the same way, we know Sayedena Yahya was chosen to be a prophet before Allah created the world and everything in it. Why, then, did Sayedena Zakariya ask Allah for a son with certain characteristics by saying: “My Lord, grant me from Thyself an heir, Who should inherit me and inherit from the children of Ya’qoub, and make him, my Lord, one in whom Thou art well pleased.” (Maryam: 5-6). Most people understand Allah delayed the appearance of Sayedena Yahya until his father-to-be was old and his mother-to-be was infertile. However, none of that is important…..neither Sayedena Zakariya’s advanced years nor his wife’s infertility. What delayed the appearance of Sayedena Yahya was the fact that Sayedena Zakariya had not asked for a successor. This is evidenced by the fact that when Sayedena Zakariya did ask for a successor his wife, who had been infertile, was miraculously able to conceive, Allah attached His will concerning the appearance of Sayedena Yahya to the will of Sayedena Zakariya

Sayeda Mariam, on the other hand, did not ask for a son. Moreover, the fact she was a virgin did not prevent her from conceiving. In this instance, Allah did not attach His will concerning the appearance of Sayedena ‘Isa to the will (prayer) of Sayeda Mariam. Allah does what He wills. He may attach His will to something or He may not. If Allah wants to attach a person’s forgiveness (innocence) to the prayer of an intercessor or mediator, this does not in any way infringe on Allah’s Absolute Power.

If the prayers of a father and mother for their children are shafa’a, the prayer of a person who has been treated unjustly against the person who has been unjust is the opposite of ash-shafa’a. Not every prayer is intended as intercession or mediation. That said, why does Allah allow intercession when He has power over everything and when no-one has any right to ask Him about His actions? The answer is that if Allah wishes to honor someone, He does so in the way He chooses…..and in no other. Allah wanted to honor the prophets among the peoples to whom they were sent. Each people followed the prophet sent to teach them about both their worldly and spiritual affairs. While it follows that Allah was confident in those He sent in order that people would follow them they were not in any way Allah’s associates. They interceded for their people only after being given permission to do so and not before. The Quran says: “And they say: The Beneficent Allah has taken to Himself a son!. Glory be to Him. Nay! they are honored servants, They do not precede Him in speech and (only) according to His commandment do they act.” (Al-Anbiyaa: 26-27).

Whoever imagines intercession can change what has already been decided by Allah, or that it represents some kind of objection or resistance to Allah’s will is missing the point. Intercession is only possible with Allah’s permission. Allah wants us to ask for His Mercy and His Blessings and gives permission to do so. The fact some people are superior to others is also a fact and no two people in their right mind would disagree about this. The Quran says: “We have made some of these messengers superior to others.’(Al-Baqara: 253). Another verse says: “We have made some prophets superior to others”, and “and certainly We have made some of the prophets to excel others”(Al-Israa: 55). Another says: “We have honored the sons of Adam and carried them over land and sea. We have sustained them with good things and We have made them superior to many of those We have created” (Al-Israa: 70). It is Allah who raises people’s degrees or stations above others. The Quran says: “We raise the degrees of whomsoever We please, and above every one possessed of knowledge is the All-knowing one.” (Yousuf: 76), and “and We have exalted some of them above others in degrees” (Al-Zukhruf: 32). Another verse says ‘We raised the degrees of some above others’ (Al-Ana’am:165).