Seeking the Means

Does calling on others (Du`a’) necessarily mean

In Tawassul on July 26, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Question Fourteen

Does calling on others (Du`a’) necessarily mean worshipping them (`Ibadah) and is it therefore a kind of polytheism?


This question has been raised because some verses of the Holy Qur’an, such as the following ones, outwardly prohibit requesting anyone but God:

And that the Mosques are Allah’s, therefore call not upon anyone besides Allah.” 72:18

And do not call besides Allah on that which can neither benefit you nor harm you.” 10:106

Some people, sticking to such verses as a pretext, take calling on God’s saints-after their deaths – as polytheism.

Let us first explain the meaning of Du`a’ and `Ibadah in order to clarify the answer to the question.

There is no doubt that the word “Du`a’” in Arabic means ‘invocation’ and the word `Ibadah means worshipping. So we can never consider these two words as synonyms; neither can we say that any kind of calling upon someone equals worshipping him for the following reasons:

a) The word “Du`a’” has been used in the Holy Qur’an in some contexts such as Chapter 71; we can never claim that it denotes worshipping:

He said: my Lord! I have called unto my people night and day.” 71:5

Can one claim that Noah meant he had been worshipping his people night and day? Thus, we cannot say that Du`a’ (calling) and `Ibadah (worshipping) are synonymous and that if one calls a prophet or a saint, he has necessarily worshipped them just because these words (may) entail worship.

b) The word Du`a’ –calling – as used in the above verses conveys the concept of worshipping because these verses actually refer to the idolaters who took their idols as gods. The humbleness the idolaters showed, the prayer they performed and the humble entreaty they made were doubtlessly all directed to the idols that they considered as the ones with the right to intercede and to forgive and with the power to act freely in the affairs which are related to this world and the next. It is self-evident that any calling upon these beings equals worshipping them. The clearest example to this assertion comes from the verse of the Qur’an which reads: “And their gods on whom they called besides Allah availed them naught.” 11:101

Thus, the verses mentioned (at the beginning of the chapter) are unrelated to the topic in question, which is the issue of a servant of God requesting another one while the former considers the latter neither a god or a lord nor one who can act freely and bring about changes in the affairs of the world or of the hereafter, but believes him to be a dear and honorable servant of God chosen by Him to the position of Prophethood and Imamate, one whose prayers God has promised to answer, as stated in the following verse:

And if, then they wronged themselves, they had but come unto thee and asked forgiveness of Allah, and asked forgiveness of the messenger, they would have found Allah forgiving and Merciful.” 4:64

c) The verses themselves contain clear evidence of the fact that the “calling” referred to above, is not a general, ordinary request for the needs to be fulfilled; rather, it is related to worshipping. This is why the word “worship” – service – follows the word “calling” in the following verse:

And your Lord says: Call upon me, and I will answer your prayer; surely those who are too proud for My service shall soon enter hell abased.”

This clearly means that the calling made (by polytheists) was an invocation to creatures credited with God’s attributes.

Following the three preliminary arguments just outlined, we can safely conclude that the Qur’an’s principal aim in these verses is to prohibit the idolaters from calling upon their idols, whom they considered as God’s partners, prudent and able to intercede. If the idolaters showed humbleness, lamented, implored and begged for intercession or prayed for what they needed, it was because they believed their idols to be small gods responsible for Godly deeds. They assumed that the Lord has transferred the responsibility for some terrestrial and celestial tasks to the idols. How can these Verses have reference to asking a pure soul who, in the caller’s opinion, has gone no further that complete devotion and is indeed a beloved and honored servant of God?

When the Qur’an declares: “and that the mosques are Allah’s, therefore call not upon any one with Allah”, it is addressing the pagan Arabs who worshipped idols, celestial bodies, angels and the Jinn. This verse and the like speak of calling upon a person or a thing while considering him or it a deity, and no doubt, such a calling upon these creatures by someone with such beliefs is equal to worshipping them. But what do these verses have to do with asking for the help and blessings of a person when the caller does not attribute Godly position, prudence or devotion to the addressee but is just imploring a worthy and beloved servant of God?

Some may think that we can only call upon saints while they are still alive and if we do so when they are not, it is polytheism.

In answer to this problem it suffices to say that firstly we call upon the pure spirits of the righteous servants of God like our Prophet and the Imams who, according to the Holy Qur’an are alive in the Barzakh – the intermediate state between death and Resurrection – in a horizon above the martyrs. We are not calling upon the bodies buried in the earth. If we call upon them at their shrines, it is because this makes us more conscious of and connected with the Saintly spirits. Furthermore, according to certain traditions, prayers are answered in these precincts. Secondly, the question of life or death of the saints can hardly be a criterion for the issue of monotheism or polytheism.

The Shi’ite Apologetics

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