Third objection: Beseeching someone other than God for help smacks of his invisible power
Beseeching someone other than God is a form of disbelief because to seek help from a remote distance falls under supernatural causes, and this is the third reason in their armoury of arguments. Since the person whose help is being implored appears to be at an invisible distance, we invest him with supernatural power, which is only Allāh’s prerogative. Through this act, we also invest him with absolute power. Since only Allāh possesses absolute power, it is a form of disbelief to invest not-God with such power. This, in fact, amounts to creating partners for Allāh, which is a glaring negation of divine unity and therefore, in conflict with the most fundamental article of our faith which proclaims divine indivisibility.
Rebuttal of the self-concocted belief
Self-concocted theories make the confusion worse confounded and therefore, ask for their instant elimination. This is entirely wrong that such persons possess power of the unseen. It is, in fact, a kind of spiritual quality, which Allāh confers on His chosen creatures. To call this spiritual power, which Allāh Himself has given to His special people, absolute is to create discord among the believers. Besides, even the non-believers seem to possess this kind of power and this does not transform them into godheads. If the non-believers can claim this virtue, why should the believers be deprived of its benefit who have a greater claim on Allāh’s favours. The reference to internet, which is the latest symbol of modern scientific progress, seems to be the most appropriate way to illustrate our point. In this scientific world of material progress, where the human concept of a global village has now become a reality, distances have shrunk in the computer world. The internet has reduced the world to the level of a grain of rye. The state of progress allows man to sit in a closed room and to be in touch with the latest developments in the outside world. The question arises: ‘do the internet and the computers linked with it possess the power of the unseen?’ This reveals the fundamental contradiction in their line of reasoning. They do not label the computers and their mode of work as a form of disbelief, but it is difficult for them to swallow the operations of the spiritual power, which Allāh has given to His favourite people, and they dub it unashamedly as a form of disbelief. If the outcome of scientific progress has made the impossible as possible and given birth to instant communication where an event happening in one corner of the world is instantly splashed across the whole world, and it does not clash with the concept of divine unity, then how can an expression and manifestation of spiritual causes be tagged as a kind of disbelief. If the inventions of the disbelievers and the infidels, and the invisible powers they seem to project, do not amount to disbelief, then why should the spiritual powers enjoyed through divine consent by the prophets, the pious and the saints be equated with disbelief. This, in fact, is the highest form of perversion. We do not denigrate the modern inventions and the power with which they have invested mankind, but they are no match for the spiritual power and enlightenment with which Allāh has blessed His own favourites; the prophets, the saints and the righteous. This spiritual power has been expressed by Shaykh ‘Abd-ul-Qādir Jīlānī in these words:
I see all the countries of Allāh simultaneously as if they are like a grain of rye on my palm (in my eye).
Some people suffer from the doubt that when we call someone from a distance, it means that the one who is being called knows who the caller is, that is, he, in fact, knows the caller very well. On this basis, he seems to possess knowledge of the unseen, and since knowledge of the unseen also implies absolute power, therefore, on account of these two ingredients, it is a kind of disbelief as well as an illegal act. The answer to this perverse reasoning is quite simple. In this age of scientific progress, both these aspects are present in the human knowledge derived from modern inventions, while Qur’ān, the Word of God, has already anticipated and confirmed it, but being divine in origin, it is free from all pollution. The Qur’ān carries information about remote knowledge and the power over acts and phenomena. Sulaymān (عليه السلام) said during the dialogue with his courtiers:
You chiefs! Which of you can bring me her throne before they come to me in submission.
The throne of queen Balqīs was at a distance of 900 miles from Sulaymān’s court which none of the courtiers had seen. In spite of it, none of them asked him: ‘O Prophet, the throne is at a distance of hundreds of miles, placed behind an invisible curtain and you are demanding that it should be brought to you immediately. Do you entertain the belief on our behalf that we, sitting here, possess knowledge of remote objects?’
Can creatures have remote knowledge?
If Sulaymān (عليه السلام) had believed that his courtiers had no knowledge of the location of the throne placed at a distance of 900 miles and of carrying it over such a vast distance, he would never have asked who would bring it. On the contrary, he would have implored Allāh: ‘O Allāh! Send to me the throne of queen Balqīs because You are the only one who possesses absolute power.’
In short, we learn from the Qur’ān that knowledge of distant objects does not constitute disbelief. Sulaymān(عليه السلام) did not commit disbelief because he was exercising the invisible powers delegated to him by Allāh Himself. Similarly, if the present-day Muslims adopt the belief that ‘Alī Hujwīrī, ‘Abd-ul-Qādir Jīlānī, Sultān Bāhū and the other saints and virtuous people know us and possess the God-given power to help us out of our problems, they cannot be guilty of perpetrating an act of disbelief and are not out of the fold of Islam. Just as it was not disbelief in the case of Sulaymān (عليه السلام), similarly, it is absolutely valid in their case, because the saints are as divinely inspired as were the courtiers of Sulaymān(عليه السلام), more particularly Āsif bin Barakhyā. In both cases, these special people are blessed by Allāh to possess these powers, and the exercise of these powers is divinely sanctioned. When Allāh alone has the absolute power, His laws are eternal and cannot be modified by the vagaries of time and space or selectively applied on the basis of individual fluctuation or change in circumstances. If they were applied in the past, they can be applied even now. If they did not constitute disbelief during the time of Sulaymān (عليه السلام), how can they do so in the modern times? Human power wavers but God’s power is absolute.
‘Umar Fārūq’s inspiration
The unknown is revealed to the chosen people of Allāh whom He has invested with special spiritual powers. It was a proof of these spiritual benefits that the Companions directly groomed by the holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) himself could issue instructions directly to their commanders in the battlefield over a distance of thousands of miles without using material means. Once, the Islamic army was arrayed in battle against their enemies under the command of Sāriyah bin Jabal. The enemy made a clever tactical move and the Islamic forces were completely besieged by them. Precisely at that time, ‘Umar Fārūq was delivering the Friday sermon from the pulpit at Medina. On account of his spiritual concentration, the battle scenario was right before his eyes. During the sermon, he proclaimed loudly:
O Sāriyah! Go behind the mountain!
After saying this, he resumed delivering the sermon. He was performing two acts simultaneously: he was delivering the Friday sermon at the Prophet’s Mosque, and at the same time he was directly issuing instructions to his commander at the battlefield. He neither possessed the radar system nor the mobile phone, which could inform him about the events at the battlefield. It was a miracle of the spiritual power Allāh had blessed him with, which helped his inner eye to survey all that was happening at such a vast distance. Sāriyah bin Jabal actually received the message from ‘Umar Fārūq and immediately led his force behind the mountain and achieved victory over the enemy. The enemy attack fizzled out, and when the Islamic forces hit back, the enemy was trounced.
Difference between spiritual inspiration and knowledge of the unseen
Another misconception needs to be removed which tends to confuse inspiration with invisible knowledge. The two phenomena are, in fact, poles apart. As opposed to knowledge of the unseen, divine inspiration is a kind of revelation; it means to unravel something that is concealed; it is a curtain-raiser as it lifts the curtain on something that is hidden, and it applies only to the creatures. Allāh transcends these reservations as He embodies in Himself the knowledge of the unseen. Since nothing is hidden from Him, the question of raising the curtain or lifting the veil does not arise in His case. It is the prerogative of the saints of Allāh, which He Himself has awarded to them. It is by virtue of this power that the secrets of hidden things are revealed to them and this knowledge does not amount to disbelief because it comes about in exercise of the power conferred on them by Allāh Himself. The curtain is raised on hidden things for the saints and Allāh lifts their veils and this strikes the saints with the force of revelation. Here the two powers merge: the direct and original power of Allāh and the indirect and reflected power of the saint, but the merger cannot be willed by the saint as it can be sanctioned by Allāh alone. This is what the concept of divine unity boils down to. The allegation of disbelief can be justified only if we arrogate the attributes of Allāh to not-Allāh. There is nothing in the depths of the earth and the immensities of the heavens that is hidden to Allāh. He knows everything that is unknown to His creatures, and He knows all that is revealed to them too. The Lord says:
Surely, there is nothing on the earth and in the heavens that is hidden to Allāh!
This Qur’ānic verse expressly states that to attribute inspiration to Allāh who is the source of all inspiration is to limit the divine powers and to confine knowledge of the unseen within narrow grooves, which certainly violates the concept of divine unity because kashf means to unravel what is hidden while nothing is hidden to Allāh. Since things are concealed to human beings, Allāh conferred on His chosen people, as a mark of their distinction, the power of inspiration, which revealed to them the near and distant objects. [For a detailed study of the unseen, please refer to our Urdu book ‘Aqīdah ‘ilm ghayb (Doctrine of the Knowledge of the Unseen).]
The Prophet’s question is an argument for the power of the questioned
In the event related in the holy Qur’ān, Sulaymān (عليه السلام) had conveyed his wish to the courtiers to bring to him the throne of queen Balqīs, and qualified it by the condition “before they come to me in submission.” Queen Balqīs and a number of other people along with her had already set out to visit Sulaymān’s court with a view to embracing Islam, but he was insisting that the throne must be brought to him before their arrival.
If Sulaymān (عليه السلام) had not possessed the belief in the knowledge of distant things for not-Allāh and the requisite power to transform this knowledge into reality, he would never have asked such a question. The courtiers would also have spoken out: ‘O Prophet! How is it possible for the creatures to perform such an act? You turn to Allāh and beseech Him for help as He alone has the power over this supernatural matter.’ But none of the courtiers dared ask the question, but in response to the question, one of the jinns stood up and said:
I can bring it to you before you rise from your place and indeed I am powerful (to bring) it (and) I am trustworthy.
It may also be noted here, how can something that is valid for the jinns, turn into an article of disbelief for the favourite people of Allāh who constantly bow before Him. Disbelief is actually predicated on those attributes and qualities specifically associated with Allāh and are not available to others. It will be disbelief only if they attribute to themselves these specific divine qualities which is obviously inconceivable for a true believer because it is equivalent to a negation of their faith.
Sulaymān (عليه السلام) did not accept the offer made by that jinn. Then one among the men stood up who possessed knowledge of the Book. He was among the knowledgeable and the spiritualists. He said to Sulaymān (عليه السلام) while standing:
I can bring it to you before your eye returns to you (this is, in the twinkling of an eye), then when (Sulaymān) found that (throne) placed before him, he said: ‘this is by the grace of my Lord.’
The denigrators say that Sulaymān (عليه السلام) was the person who brought the throne. While the celebrated and well-known view is that it was his writer or minister who brought the throne to Sulaymān (عليه السلام) and his name was Āsif bin Barakhyā.
Imām Qurtubī writes:
Most exegetes agree upon it that surely the person who had the knowledge of the Book was Āsif bin Barakhyā, and he was truthful. He knew Allāh’s ism-ul-a‘zam (exalted name) that whenever he was asked for something he gave through it and whenever he was called he answered through it. And ‘Ā’ishah narrated: the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) said, “Ism-ul-a‘zam of Almighty Allāh through which Āsif bin Barakhyā prayd is yā hayy (O, the Living!) yā qayyūm (O, the Self-Subsistent!).”
Imām Ibn Kathīr, while commenting on the verse (27:40) writes:
Ibn ‘Abbās said, “And he was Āsif, the writer of Sulaymān (عليه السلام).” And similarly Muhammad bin Ishāq narrated through Yazīd bin Rūmān, “Certainly he was Āsif bin Barakhyā, and he was truthful and knew ism-ul-a‘zam.” And Qatādah said, “He was a believer from human beings and his name was Āsif.” Similarly, Abū Sālih, Dahhāk, and Qatādah said that he was a human being. Qatādah added that he belonged to Banī Israel. Mujāhid said, “His name was Ustūm.” And Qatādah said in another tradition that his name was Balīkhā. And Zuhayr bin Muhammad said, “He was a man from human being and called Dhū an-Nūr.” And ‘Abdullāh bin Lahī‘ah supposes that he was Khadir (عليه السلام) but this (assumption) is extremely unfamiliar.
Ibn Kathīr mentioned the topic in his al-Bidāyah wan-nihāyah (1:472) and said:
“The well-known fact is that he was Āsif bin Barakhyā and he was the cousin of Sulaymān (عليه السلام). And it is also said that he was a jinn believer as it is said about him that he knew ism-ul-a‘zam. And it is said that he was a scholarly man from Banī Israel and it is also said that he was Sulaymān (عليه السلام), but this is extremely unfamiliar. And Suhaylī weakened this statement because it is not according to the context.”
Ibn ‘Abbās narrated the same point in Tanwīr-ul-miqbās (p.318).
The Qur’ānic verse furnishes a contrastive study of two kinds of creatures: on the one hand are the jinns who pride in their extraordinary power, on the basis of which he expresses his sense of determination to bring to him the throne placed at a distance of hundreds of miles before the rising of the council; and on the other hand is being described the glory and nature of the man of Allāh who possesses the power to perform this job in the blinking of an eye. In this situation, Sulaymān (عليه السلام) speaks up:
So that He should test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful, and whosoever expressed gratitude (to Allāh), so he offers gratitude for his personal benefit, and whosoever was ungrateful, then my Lord is All-Transcending, Merciful.
Their goony explanation of the unseen sometimes takes on a different configuration. They say that it is not valid to demand from a creature the performance of an act which is beyond his creaturely status. In order to justify their contention they suggest that to demand from the prophets, the saints and the pious something, which is not in their control and which is only in Allāh’s control is an expression of disbelief. The answer to this question has already been provided at length. The fact is that this mode of reasoning is based on a misunderstanding of the meaning of the word istighāthah. No Muslim, when he is beseeching the prophets and the saints for help, believes in his heart that our helpers (the prophets and the saints) will help us on their own, but we believe that they will serve only as a means of fulfilling our needs before Allāh, as has been explained in the case of the blind Companion and the request for rain. The Companions in these traditions had based their appeal for help on the absolute power of Allāh and mediated it through the qualities and attributes of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم). And as a result, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) who was, better groomed in the secrets of divine unity, did not discourage them by saying that in this way they were committing disbelief but prayed for them and, Allāh in response to his supplication, fulfilled their needs. If beseeching help from not-Allāh had been disbelief, then,
first, the Companions would never have implored the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) to perform this act,
second, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) would have discouraged them by telling them it was disbelief, and would have forbidden them to press him with such imploring,
third, Allāh would have forbidden His beloved to help them and protected him against committing disbelief.
The Companions, beseeching the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) for help, the act of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) and Allāh’s approval of the act ¾ all these three factors collectively prove that istighāthah is not only valid, but is a practice of the Companions and popular with Allāh. Demand for miracles also falls in this category. When the non-believers and the infidels demanded from the holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) a miraculous expression of his power, he did not call it disbelief. Instead, he performed the required miracles with his hand (splitting the moon etc). If these supernatural acts had been disbelief, how could the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) have possibly perpetrated them? When the act of the Prophet(صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم) does not amount to disbelief (even to think of it expels one from the fold of Islam), then how can the act of Ummah, in conformity to the practice of the Companions, be declared a form of shirk (polytheism).
The Muslims only expect mediation for help from the saints and the prophets, and not their help because Allāh is the only true Helper. They can only recommend us to Allāh, they can’t help themselves. When they do help, it is only with divine sanction behind it and God has given power to His favourites over supplication and recommendation, though this power is only derivatively used, as Allāh says in the holy Qur’ān:
Pure is He Who has created couples of everything which the earth causes to grow.
Allāh Himself in the Qur’ān has attributed the growth of grass to the earth although to cause the grass to grow is not in earth’s power because in this act of growth it serves only as an instrument and a means. This Qur’ānic verse proves that there is no harm in referring to the means or instrument of mediation as subject because it cannot lead to any misunderstanding or confusion as both the Qur’ān and the traditions contain countless references to the difference between real and derivative power. Statements made by the Muslims in this sense are as devoid of disbelief as are the holy Qur’ān and the traditions of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم).
. Shaykh ‘Abd-ul-Qādir Jīlānī, Qasīdah ghawthiyyah.
. Qur’ān (an-Naml, the Ants) 27:38.
. Abū Nu‘aym narrated it in Dalā’il-un-nubuwwah (p.507); Khatīb Tabrīzī, Mishkāt-ul-masābīh, b. of fadā’il (virtues) ch.8 (3:318#5954); Ibn ‘Asākir in Tahdhīb tārīkh Dimashq al-kabīr generally known as Tārīkh/Tahdhīb Ibn ‘Asākir; Ibn Kathīr in al-Bidāyah wan-nihāyah (5:210-1) and declared its chain of authorities as excellent and fair (jayyid hasan); ‘Asqalānī graded its chain of transmission hasan (fair) in al-Isābah fī tamyīz-is-sahābah (2:3); ‘Alī al-Hindī, Kanz-ul-‘ummāl (12:571,572,573 #35788-91); ‘Ajlawnī, Kashf-ul-khifā’ wa muzīl-ul-ilbās (2:514#3172); and Albānī in Silsilat-ul-ahādīth-is-sahīhah (#1110).
. Qur’ān (Āl ‘Imrān, the Family of ‘Imrān) 3:5.
. Qur’ān (an-Naml, the Ants) 27:39.
. Qur’ān (an-Naml, the Ants) 27:40.
. Qurtubī, al-Jāmi‘ li-ahkām-il-Qur’ān (13:204).
. Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr-ul-Qur’ān al-‘azīm (3:364).
. The following scholars also narrated that Āsif bin Barakhyā had the knowledge of the Book and he brought the throne of Queen Balqīs to Sulaymān (عليه السلام):
bn Abī Hātim Rāzī, Tafsīr-ul-Qur’ān al-‘azīm (9:2885-6#16376-16381).
Ibn Jarīr Tabarī, Jāmi‘-ul-bayān fī tafsīr-il-Qur’ān (19:103).
Ibn-ul-Jawzī, Zād-ul-masīr fī ‘ilm-it-tafsīr (6:174).
Baydāwī, Tafsīr (3:280).
Rāzī, at-Tafsīr-ul-kabīr (24:197).
Tha‘ālabī, Jawāhir-ul-hisān fī tafsīr-il-Qur’ān (3:162).
Nasafī, al-Madārik (3:213).
Khāzin, Lubāb-ut-ta’wīl fī ma‘ānī at-tanzīl (3:385-6).
Abū Hayyān Andalusī, Tafsīr-ul-bahr-il-muhīt (7:75).
Mahallī, Tafsīr-ul-jalālayn (p.320).
Suyūtī, ad-Durr-ul-manthūr (5:109).
Sābūnī, Qabas min-nūr-il-Qur’ān al-karīm (9:176).
Ibrāhīm bin ‘Umar Biqā‘ī, Nazm-ud-Durar fī tanāsub-il-āyāt was-suwar (14:164-5).
Abū Sa‘ūd ‘Amādī, Irshād-ul-‘aql-is-salīm ilā mazāyā al- Qur’ān al-karīm (6:287).
Ismā‘īl Haqqī, Tafsīr rūh-ul-bayān (6:349).
Shawkānī, Fath-ul-qadīr (4:139).
Qadī Thanā’ullāh Pānīpatī, at-Tafsīr-ul-mazharī (7:117).
Zamakhsharī, al-Kashshāf ‘an haqā’iq ghawāmid-it-tanzīl (3:289).
Khatīb Shurbīnī, as-Sirāj-ul-munīr (3:60).
Ālūsī, Rūh-ul-ma‘ānī (19:203).
. Qur’ān (an-Naml, the Ants) 27:40.
. Qur’ān (Yāsīn, Yāsīn) 36:36.