Seeking the Means

Is it not “Shirk” (polytheism) to ask the real interceders to intercede?

In Tawassul on July 26, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Question Twelve

Is it not “Shirk” (polytheism) to ask the real interceders to intercede?


The argument in support of the above question holds that intercession is Allah’s exclusive right, as stated in the Holy Qur’an. “Say Allah’s is the intercession altogether” (39:42). Therefore, asking others to intercede is not in accord with the principle of worshipping only the One God.


The polytheism referred to above is certainly different from the specific ones, such as dualism and associating someone with Allah in creating the world and managing it. The above mentioned shirk or polytheism signifies worshiping something or someone other than Allah.

No doubt, what “worship” means should first be precisely defined so as to clarify the issue at hand.

1) We are not authorized to interpret any homage paid to creatures as an act of worship, nor are we allowed to consider any request made from a servant of God as such. According to the clear text of the Qur’an, the angels prostrated before Adam: “When I have shaped him, and breathed My spirit in him, fall you down, bowing before him. (38:72-73)” The prostration that was done upon God’s command had had, in reality, no connotation of worshipping Adam; otherwise, God would not have ordered it. On the other hand, Jacob’s sons and even Jacob himself prostrated before Joseph: “And he raised his parents upon the throne and they fell down in prostration before him” (12:100). If such humbleness that they showed could have meant worshipping Joseph, then Jacob, the noble Prophet, who had been divinely protected against error, would not have conceded to it, nor would he have agreed with his sons’ performing it, while it is obvious that prostration is unequalled by any other form of humbleness that one shows.

We should, therefore, differentiate between the issue of paying homage to someone and invoking his aid on the one hand, and worshipping him on the other.

Worshipping, in reality, signifies taking someone as God and adoring him, or taking a phenomenon – which is created by God – as having been invested with the ability of performing what is specifically God’s, such as managing the affairs of the world and forgiving the sins. However, if we humble ourselves before someone without considering him to be God or conceiving him as having been entrusted with Godly acts, then such respect or humbleness is none but similar to that rendered by the angels to Adam or that of Jacob’s sons before Joseph.

Now, concerning the above question, if we suppose that right to intercede has been entrusted upon real interceders in such a way that they can intercede uncategorically and forgive sins, such a belief can then equate polytheism or shirk because we have asked for a Godly act from someone other than God Himself.

However, if we assume that a number of pious servants of God do not possess the station of intercession but have the right to ask forgiveness for the sinners under certain conditions – the most important of which is God’s permission – such an assumption, then, cannot entail polytheism, nor does it entail that God’s actions are entrusted to them. Rather, it is asking someone for something which he is entitled to be asked.

During the Holy Prophet’s life, sinners used to go to him, so he would ask God for their sins to be pardoned. The Noble Prophet did not call them polytheists. In his Sunan, Ibn Majah quotes the Prophet as having said,

“Do you know what options God has given me tonight?”

“God and His messenger know better,” we said.

“God permitted me to choose between His admission of half of my people into Paradise and (my having) the right to intercede and I choose intercession.”

We said, “O Messenger of Allah, call on Allah that we may be worthy of enjoying intercession.”

He said, “Intercession embraces every Muslim,”[1]

This narration clearly states that the holy Prophet’s companions used to ask the Prophet himself for intercession by saying, “Call on Allah….” We read in the Holy Qur’an, “… and had they, when they were unjust to themselves, come to you and asked forgiveness of Allah and the Apostle (also) asked forgiveness for them, they would have found Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” 4:64

Elsewhere, quoting Jacob’s sons, the holy Qur’an says “O Our father! Ask forgiveness for our faults, as surely we are sinners” (12:97). Prophet Jacob also promised them to ask forgiveness but never accused them of polytheism. He said, “I will ask for your forgiveness from my Lord; surely He is Forgiving, and Merciful” (12:98)


[1] Sunan Ibn Majah, vol. 2, the chapter “On Mentioning Intercession” P. 586.

The Shi’ite Apologetics

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