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Friday, November 16, 2012

First objection: tawassul (توسل) is not valid through another person

First objection: tawassul (توسل) is not valid through another person

Some people deny the valid status of intermediation through the holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) by suggesting that it is not an act performed by the petitioner himself. It is invalid because it is not based on a personal act. These people believe that only a personal good deed can act as a source of intermediation. They cite the following Qur’anic verses to justify the invalidity of intermediation through another person:
Each man gets what he strives for.[1]
And anyone who bears a burden shall not bear the burden of another man.[2]
It is rewarded for whatever good it earned and it is punished for whatever sin it earned.[3]

Correct Stand on tawassul (توسل) through another person

This is based on the valid premise that in addition to the petitioner, another’s act can also serve as a source of intermediation. The Qur’anic verses which are marshalled as arguments against the reality of intermediation are all related to deeds and the reward or punishment for those deeds. They are not related to prayer, the acceptance of prayer and struggle to attain the nearness of Allah by seeking means of approach to Him. In the case of intermediation, a beloved object or a sacred person is offered as a means for the fulfilment of one’s need. But these Qur’anic verses are not even marginally concerned with the theme of intermediation. Therefore, to quote them as a justification for the irrelevance of intermediation is both a logical and a semantic error. Besides, their transposition from one context to the other also leads to their contextual distortion, which amounts to disrespect and sacrilege. In fact, to fit a Qur’anic verse into a preconceived slot is the height of perversity and is not becoming of any well-meaning Muslim.
The verse mentioned first simply means that whatever man receives is a consequence of what he has done. It is a reward or punishment for his actions, it does not involve any other person as it revolves around the acts of a single individual. No other individual, whether he is a relative or a stranger, is associated with these acts. Their commission and their consequences, whether they are favourable or unfavourable, exclusively apply to the individual concerned. While, in a discussion of intermediation, the act and its implications of reward and punishment do not come into the picture at all: it is only related to prayer; and at the time of prayer seeking someone else for its acceptance constitutes an act of intermediation.
Similarly, the second mentioned verse relates to the burden of sin. It highlights the theme of accountability. It means that we all bear burdens but these burdens are our own. They relate to our own selves, to our own errors, and to our own sins, and we cannot bear the burden of others. They are accountable for their sins while we are accountable for our sins. The two kinds of burden are not interchangeable; they are mutually exclusive. Thus the Qur’anic verse transparently applies the process of accountability, which will be based on a comprehensive evaluation of our acts. It has nothing to do whatsoever with the act of intermediation. Therefore, to spin it out unnecessarily and to fit it into the straitjacket of intermediation with which it is not even remotely related, is to disfigure its application, which comes close to a form of heresy.
The third verse relates to commission and consequence. This brief explanation makes it clear that all these Qur’anic verses, from the thematic as well as the semantic point of view, are extraneous to the discussion of intermediation. The following tradition is an irrefutable argument in support of the act of intermediation:
It is attributed to Abū Hurayrah that Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) said: When a person dies, his acts are disconnected but three acts are not disconnected: continuing charity, knowledge that benefits mankind and pious children who pray for him.[4]
From the point of view of the tradition, even death cannot terminate these three human acts and man will continue to receive their reward and recompense even after his death:
  1. The first of these acts is the continuing act of charity. For example, someone constructs a mosque or an educational institution or a road or hospital; or finances a campaign or an organization for the dissemination and resurgence of Islamic faith; or funds a struggle for the welfare of the poor and the needy, he will continue to receive their reward as long as they survive.
  2. Similarly, beneficial knowledge. For example, a scholar teaches someone and he continues to teach others, or he writes a book on religion or some branch of knowledge or does research for any useful work for Allah’s pleasure. As long as his ideas are transmitted to mankind through his pupils and work, and human beings benefit from them or that book remains a part of the syllabi of various universities in the world and the people find it positively rewarding, he will continue to reap the reward of his efforts.
  3. There is an agreement on the continuing act of charity, and beneficial knowledge that they can act as sources of intermediation but the tradition also refers to pious children. They can also serve as an act of continuing charity for their parents. Their good deeds are a source of benefit to the parents even after death. As a matter of fact, the acts of the pious children constitute an act performed by someone else but they serve as a source of intermediation for the parents.
It should be noted here that good deeds are being performed by the children but they are serving as a means of salvation for the parents after their death. This example proves that the act of one man benefits another man. The act of continuing charity was his personal act, which will continue to benefit him as long as the act continues. Similarly, through his knowledge and research, he disseminated virtue and guidance. This was also his personal act and he will continue to receive its reward, both in this world and the next. But the good deeds of his children are not his deeds, and yet he is garnering their reward. Those pious deeds are now serving as the means of the parents’ redemption. Thus, this tradition proves the fact that one’s own good deeds are not the only means of intermediation but the deeds of others can also play this role and benefit the other person.

[1]. Qur’an (an-Najm) 53:39.
[2]. Qur’an (al-An‘ām) 6:164.
[3]. Qur’an (al-Baqarah) 2:286.
[4]. Muslim narrated it in his as-Sahīh, b. of wasiyyah (will) ch.3 (3:1255#1631); Abū Dāwūd in Sunan, b. of wasāyā (wills and testaments), 3:117 (#2880); Nasā’ī in Sunan, b. of wasāyā (6:251); Tirmidhī in al-Jāmi‘-us-sahīh, b. of akhām (judgements) ch.36 (3:660#1376) and graded it hasan (fair) and sahīh (sound); Ahmad bin Hambal in Musnad (2:372); Bayhaqī in as-Sunan-ul-kubrā (6:278); Baghawī in Sharh-us-sunnah (1:300#139) and declared it sahīh; and Muhammad Khatīb Tabrīzī in Mishkāt-ul-masābīh, b. of ‘ilm (knowledge), 1:104 (#203).