According to the interpretations of Arab lexicologists and exegetes, the meaning of the word istighathah is to seek help. It expresses itself in two forms:
Appeal by word (istighathah bil-qawl)
Appeal by deed (istighathah bil-‘aml)
If a person, trapped in difficulties, appeals for help through words uttered by his tongue, it is called ‘appeal by word’, and if he appeals for help on the basis of his present condition or situation, it is called ‘appeal by deed’.
1. Appeal by word
The Qur’an enlists the example of appeal by word in reference to Musa’s experience:
And we directed Musa by inspiration (in the way) to strike his staff at the rock when his people asked him for water.
Islam is the religion of nature (din-ul-fitrah) and it is the religion of all prophets, from Adam (as) to the last Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). The concept of divine unity forms the matrix of their teachings. According to any shari‘ah, including the shari‘ah of Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم), there is no real helper except Allah while in this verse, his followers have appealed to Musa (as) for help. If it were a form of disbelief, the miracle that accompanied it would not have materialised, as there is no link between disbelief and a miracle because miracles have divine sanction behind them. History is a witness that whenever the prophets were asked to perform an act in violation of the divine unity, they stamped out the appeal firmly in order to pre-empt all forms of disbelief in future as any pussyfooting on this count could have weakened faith and entrenched evil. Therefore, they strictly forbade their followers to indulge in any such activity. On the other hand, in the verse Allah Himself is empowering Musa (as) to perform the miracle at the appeal of his followers. It means that the real helper is Allah Himself and He is delegating His powers to Musa (as) to perform the miraculous act. The verse also clearly illustrates the difference between real and delegated power. While Allah’s power is real, as it is self-activating, Musa’s power is delegated as it depends on, and draws its nourishment from, the divine will.
2. Appeal by deed
To appeal for help through some specific act or on the basis of one’s present plight and predicament without uttering a word is known as appeal by deed. The Qur’an records the miracle that happened to Allah’s beloved and venerable prophets to justify appeal by deed. Ya‘qub (as) had lost his eyesight on account of excessive crying when his son Yusuf (as) had been separated from him. When Yusuf (as) came to know about it, he sent his shirt to his father through his brothers as an appeal for assistance. He directed the brothers to touch the eyes of his father with the shirt, which would help him regain his eyesight. As a result of the act of touching, Ya‘qub (as) recovered his vision. Allah has referred to this incident in the holy Qur’an in these words:
Take this shirt of mine, then place it over my father’s face, (and) he will recover his vision.
When his brothers touched the eyes of Ya‘qub (as) with the shirt, he regained his eyesight through the divine will. The Qur’an says:
So when the bearer of the good news came, he cast the shirt over Ya‘qub’s face and forthwith he regained clear sight.
The auspicious act of Ya‘qub (as), through which he regained his vision, was practically made possible with the assistance of Qur’anic example of appeal by deed in which Yusuf’s shirt served as a means for the recovery of eyesight by the divine will.
. Qur’an (al-A‘raf, the Heights) 7:160.
. Qur’an (Yusuf, Joseph) 12:93.
. Qur’an (Yusuf, Joseph) 12:96.