Tawassul

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Tawassul, (Arabic: توسّل) is one of the beliefs of Shi'a and most Muslims which means to resort to someone or something with a high position as an itermediary before God in order to become closer to Him so that He may fulfill one's requests. The concept of Tawassul is closely related to the concept of Shafa'a (intercession) and they are often mentioned together.

Resorting to the Prophet (s) and Imams (a) as an intermediary is among the prominent beliefs of Shi'a due to God's order to them in the Qur'an and many hadiths of the Ahl al-Bayt (a). It is mentioned in Shi'a supplications and ziyarah of the Infallible Ones (a), the most comprehensive one of which is Al-Tawassul Supplication.

In the contemporary period, following Ibn Taymiyya, Wahhabis have mentioned criticisms about Tawassul which have been rejected by all Shi'a and most Sunni scholars.

Meaning

Tawassul is an infinitive from the root of "w-s-l" meaning to do something in order to become close to someone or something. In the technical sense of the term, it means to benefit from the good and righteous people close to God in order for supplications to be fulfilled. Through resorting, upon supplication, one presents something before God that is the means of acceptance of his repentance and fulfillment of supplication. The object of resorting is the person or thing that is respectable before God; such as God's attributes or names, the name of the Holy Prophet (s), his supplication, the name of great friends of God and angels and the request can be a religious and spiritual issue or a material or worldly need.

"Wasila" (Arabic: وسیلة, means) is what or whom is benefited by one to become close to God.

Thus, as it is mentioned in Shi'a narrations, Wasila can refer to a wide range of means which can include religious obligations and recommended actions,[1] the supplications of the faithful and even the friends of God.

In the Qur'an

The concept of Tawassul and resorting to a means is adopted from the Qur'an. The clearest reference to Tawassul is mentioned in Sura al-Ma'ida where God clearly orders the faithful to benefit from the means in order to become close to God.

Also, in verse 64 of the Sura al-Nisa', sinners are advised that they come to the Prophet (s) and ask him to ask God for their forgiveness so that God forgive them.

Also, when prophet Joseph's (a) brothers became regretful, instead of asking God for forgiveness, asked their father's intercession and asked him to ask God for their forgiveness.[2]

Also, in another verse, servants are required to hold fast, all together, to Allah's cord.[3] In this verse, according to Shi'a narrations, by "Allah's cord", the Ahl al-Bayt (a) of the Prophet (s) are meant.[4]

In Hadiths

There are many hadiths about Tawassul, where the meaning of Tawassul, the examples of Wasila and its fruits are explained.

In a hadith from Lady Fatima (a), it is mentioned that, "Everything in the sky and on the earth seek a Wasila [means] through which they become close to God and we are God's means and intermediaries among His creation."[5]

Imam al-Sadiq (a) has said that, "We (Ahl al-Bayt (a)) are the Allah's cord about which God Almighty has said, "Hold fast, all together, to Allah's cord, and do not be divided [into sects]." (3:103)[6]

Also according to hadiths, after the Prophet Adam (a) was dismissed from the Paradise, he (a) was forgiven by God through resorting to the Prophet (s) and the Ahl al-Bayt (a).[7] Previous prophets (a) resorted to the position of the Prophet (s) as well.[8]

In a hadith, Imam 'Ali (a) has mentioned the examples of Wasila; among which are belief in God, Jihad in the way of God and doing the obligations, fasting, hajj and 'Umra.[9]

In addition to hadiths, Ziyarah texts [addresses given upon visiting shrines] and supplications received from the Prophet (s) and the Ahl al-Bayt (a) are full of the instances of Tawassul and swearing in the rights of the Prophet (s) and Imams (a) which are examples of Tawassul.[10]

Hadiths regarding permissibility of practicing Tawassul are not only narrated by Shi'a but also narrated by Sunnis; including the one in which, a blind man regained his sight through Tawassul to the Prophet (s),[11] or another hadith that Aisha has narrated from the Prophet (s) saying that "Imam Ali (a) is the closest Wasila to God."[12]

Conduct of Muslims

Conduct of Muslims of early Islam and the companions of the Prophet (s) show that resorting to the righteous and virtuous is an acceptable and desirable action. In this regard, some examples can be mentioned as below:

Kinds of Wasila

One cannot use any means to become close to God, e.g. for this purpose, using fire or idol is forbidden because Islam's permission to use fire as Wasila is not proved and also prohibition of using idols is proved in religion. However, to know what are considered as Wasila, one needs to refer to hadiths and traditions. Here, there can be a categorization of Tawassul to legitimate and illegitimate, since if one uses a Wasila which is not approved by God to become close to God, he suffers from illegitimate Tawassul; even when making Tawassul to other than idols cannot be considered as polytheism.[20]

Some of the issues which have been mentioned as Wasila to become close to God in narrations of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) are as follows:

  • Belief in One God and the Prophet (s)
  • Jihad in the way of God
  • Ikhlas (Sincerity)
  • Establishing the Prayer
  • Paying Zakat
  • Fasting the month of Ramadan
  • Hajj and 'Umra
  • Caring for one's kin
  • Giving charity, covertly and overtly
  • The Qur'an
  • God's names and attributes
  • Making Tawassul to the faithful's prayers and du'as
  • Making Tawassul to the Prophet's (s) du'as
  • Making Tawassul to the Prophet (s) himself, Infallible Imams (a) and the Ahl al-Bayt (a)
  • Good and righteous deeds

Wahhabi's Questions

Tawassul is approved by most Muslims, whether Shi'a or Sunni;[Note 1] Wahhabis have denied and criticized Tawassul;[21] some of their critics are as follow:

Tawassul and Tawhid

The first criticism Wahhabis make about Tawassul is that Tawassul contradicts the unity of God because the servant should only ask God for help and asking other than God is polytheism. To prove illegitimacy of Tawassul, Ibn Taymiyya has sometimes referred to verses of the Qur'an, including verses 56 and 57 of Sura al-Isra':[22]

and

However, looking carefully, one finds no relation between these verses and Tawassul, since they are about rejection of the lordship of the polytheists' gods and their incompetence for being worshiped and they have no relation with resorting to holy means in order to become close to God. Also, verse 5 of the Sura al-Fatiha rejects asking help from other than God, believing in the means independently, not rejecting asking God through the means; just like in the noble Qur'an, seeking helps from the prayer and other things are mentioned.[23]

Intellectually, making Tawassul never requires polytheism; since firstly, asking help from someone or something does not mean worshiping that person or thing. The system of creation is based on the mutual effects of things and means over each other and of course, they receive their effects from God and none of them can make any influence independently. Since, seeking help from material means and people is not polytheism as we do not believe in their independence, using non-material means, if we believe in their dependence, would not be polytheism. Believing in the unity of God requires that while one benefits from the means, he is aware about their origins and dependence to God of the world and this is the belief in the unity of God.[24]

In addition to above references, some other verses of the Qur'an have been referred to for justifying the impermissibility of Tawassul[25] including verse 3 of Sura al-Zumar:

And verse 37 of Sura al-Saba':

But the first verse (39:3), only rejects worshiping anything other than God, not becoming close to God through resorting to the righteous without being worshiped. About the second verse (34:37), resorting to the Prophets (a) and friends of God is mentioned among righteous deeds.[26]

Making Tawassul to the Prophet (s) after his Demise

Ibn Taymiyya said that benefiting from du'as of the Prophet (s) and the righteous is permissible only during their lifetimes and after they pass away, they cannot do anything and resoring to them is not permissible.

However, this idea of Ibn Taymiyya contradicts with the Islamic idea of life after death. The life of prophets (a) and the friends of God continues after they move on to the world of Barzakh (middle world). It is obvious that the prophets (a), who have higher positions than the martyrs, will continue their lives after this world.[27] Moreover, from the Islamic viewpoint, death is not the end and destruction of human being, but moving from one world to another.[28]

The same as one can ask the Prophet (s) to make du'a and ask God for the person's forgiveness during his lifetime, he (s) can be asked for the same request after he (a) has passed away; since, according to the Qur'an and traditions, connection between one living in this world and souls of the people in Barzakh is possible.

The dialogues between the two prophets Salih (a) and Shu'ayb (a) with their perished people,[29] the fact that God orders His Prophet (s) in the Qur'an to speak with the previous prophets (a),[30] and the conversation of the Prophet (s) and Imam 'Ali (a) with those who were killed in the battles of Badr and Jamal[31] are evidences for the above claim.

Tawassul and Bid'a

Considering Tawassul as Bid'a (impermissible innovation) is a claim of Ibn Taymiyya and Wahhabis.

From the viewpoint of the school of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) and with the many authentic hadiths, du'as and ziyarahs narrated from the Infallibles (a) about making Tawassul to the position of them, it is obvious that the claim of Wahhabis and Ibn Taymiyya is not plausible. Moreover, studying the conducts of Muslims and even non-Shi'ites proves that after the demise of the Prophet (s), they did make Tawassul to the noble Prophet (s) the same as they made Tawassul to his du'as during his lifetime; about which there are stories mentioned about Imam 'Ali (a) and Abu Bakr.

Accordingly, the following stories can be mentioned: 'Umar's resorting 'Abbas b. 'Abd al-Muttalib to perform the prayer for raining (Istisqa'),[32] the Prophet's (s) aunt, Safiyya's resorting to him by reciting some poems in his demise,[33] a man's resorting to the Prophet (s) at the time of 'Uthman's caliphate using 'Uthman b. Hunayf's advice[34] and Bilal b. Harith's resorting to the Prophet (s) to pray for raining.[35]

According to Zayni Dahlan,[36] studying du'as and prayers of Muslims in the past, shows many of their cases of Tawassul. Ibn Hajar al-Haythami has mentioned some poems of Shafi'i in which the Ahl al-Bayt (a) have clearly been mentioned as the means to become close to God.[37] According to a report, in a conversation between Malik b. Anas and al-Mansur al-Dawaniqi, Malik b. Anas taught al-Mansur how to visit the grave of the noble Prophet (s) and make Tawassul to him.[38]

Even if the authenticity of some Sunni narrations about Tawassul is not proved, many of them show that such practice of Tawassul has been common since the time of the Companions and later periods and has been regarded as an authentic principle. Al-Samhudi[39] tells different stories about those who made Tawassul to the Prophet (s) near his shrine and their requests were answered.[40]

Manner of Tawassul in Zyarahs and Du'as

Studying Tawassul and the literature used for it in du'as and Zyarahs narrated from the Imams (a) helps an authentic understanding of the permissible Tawassul. Making Tawassul to the Imams (a) and the friends of God exists almost in all Shi'a du'as and Ziyarahs of the Prophet (s) and the Imams (a). Also, especial prayers are mentioned to make Tawassul to the Prophet (s) or each of the Imams (a) in the books of supplications,[41] the most important one of which is al-Tawassul supplication, some phrases of which are as follows:[42]

O God, I ask You and turn towards You through Your Prophet (s) of mercy
O Prophet of Allah (s), … We turn to and ask for Shafa'a from God through you and place you before our requests, O the one, who is honored before God, Make Shafa'a for us before God!

To swear God in the rights of the Prophet (s) and Imams (a) and the righteous is one of the permissible ways of Tawassul; such as saying, "O Allah, I ask You in the position of Muhammad" or "O Allah, I surly ask You in the rights of all the faithful who praised him in it."

In Shi'a Culture

Although Tawassul is accepted among all Muslims, but due to its special position in Shi'a culture, special manners and rituals have been associated with it. Some of such rituals are: visiting the graves of Imams (a) and the righteous, spreading food tables in the name of Imams (a) such as the table of Imam Zayn al-'Abidin (a) or the table of Abu al-Fadl (a) when in a session, people are given food and they recite the Qur'an and du'as and present its rewards to that Imam (a) and make Tawassul to him.

Holding gatherings for reciting Du'a al-Tawassul in congregation is another common ritual among Shi'a which is usually held in the eve of Wednesdays in mosques, shrines of Imams (a) and even in houses.

Note

  1. Majlisī, Biḥār al-anwār, vol. 30, p. 43.
  2. Qurʾān, 12:97 .
  3. Qurʾān, 3:103 .
  4. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 3, p. 369.
  5. Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, Shrḥ Nahj al-Balāgha, vol. 16, p. 211; Jawharī al-Baṣrī, al-Saqīfa wa l-fadak, p. 99.
  6. Majlisī, Biḥār al-anwār, vol. 24, p. 84.
  7. Suyūṭī, al-Durar al-manthūr, vol. 1, p. 60-61.
  8. Shaykh al-Ṣadūq, al-Amālī, p. 128; Fattāl Niyshābūrī, Rawḍat al-wāʿiẓīn, vol. 2, p. 372.
  9. Nahj al-balāgha, sermon 110.
  10. For example refer to al-Zīyāra of the prophet (s), al-Zīyāra al-Jāmi'a al-Kabīra.
  11. Ibn Māja, Sunan Ibn Māja, vol. 1, p. 441; Ibn Ḥanbal, Musnad al-Imām Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, vol. 3, p. 21.
  12. Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, Shrḥ Nahj al-Balāgha, vol. 2, p. 267; Ibn al-Maghāzilī, Manāqib, vol. 1, p. 107.
  13. See: Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, vol. 2, p. 16; Ibn al-Athīr, Usd al-ghāba, vol. 3, p. 166; Ibn Ḥajar ʿAsqalānī, Fatḥ al-Bārī, vol. 2, p. 411-412.
  14. Ṭabarī, Dhakhāʾir al-ʿUqbā, p. 252; Haythamī, Majmaʿ al-zawāʾid, vol. 9, p. 39.
  15. See: Ṭabarānī, al-Muʿjam al-kabīr, vol. 9, 30.
  16. Daḥlān, al-Durar al-sanīyya, p. 31.
  17. Daḥlān, al-Durar al-sanīyya, p. 31.
  18. Daḥlān, al-Durar al-sanīyya, p. 180.
  19. Samhūdī, Wafāʾ al-wafā, vol. 4, p. 1376.
  20. Subḥānī, "Tawassul", vol. 8, p. 541.
  21. Subkī, Shifāʾ al-saqām, vol. 1, p. 245-320; Samhūdī, Wafāʾ al-wafā, vol. 4, p. 1371; Nabhānī, Shawāhid al-ḥaq, vol. 1, p. 386.
  22. Rafāʿī, al-Tawaṣṣul ilā ḥaqīqat al-tawassul, p. 12-14, 54.
  23. Qurʾān, 2:45 .
  24. See: Motahari, Majmūʿih āthār, vol. 2, p. 75.
  25. Rafāʿī, al-Tawaṣṣul ilā ḥaqīqat al-tawassul, p. 179.
  26. Subḥānī, al-Tawassul mafhūmuh wa aghsāmuh, p. 77-85.
  27. Qurʾān, 3:169-171 .
  28. See: Qurʾān, 32:10-11; 39:42 .
  29. Qurʾān, 6:78, 91-93.
  30. Qurʾān, 43:45 .
  31. Ibn Hishām, al-Sīra al-nabawīyya, vol. 2, p. 292; Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, vol. 5, p. 76; Mufīd, al-Jamal, p. 391-392.
  32. Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, vol. 2, p. 16; Ibn al-Athīr, Usd al-ghāba, vol. 3, p. 166; Ibn Ḥajar ʿAsqalānī, Fatḥ al-bārī, vol. 2, p. 411-412.
  33. Ibn Ḥajar ʿAsqalānī, Fatḥ al-bārī, vol. 2, p. 411-412; Ṭabarī, Dhakhāʾir al-ʿUqbā, p. 252.
  34. Haythamī, Majmaʿ al-zawāʾid, vol. 9, p. 39.
  35. Daḥlān, al-Durar al-sanīyya, p. 18.
  36. Daḥlān, al-Durar al-sanīyya, p. 31.
  37. Haythamī, Majmaʿ al-zawāʾid, vol. 9, p. 180.
  38. Samhūdī, Wafāʾ al-wafā, vol. 4, p. 1376.
  39. Samhūdī, Wafāʾ al-wafā, vol. 4, p. 1380-1387.
  40. Subḥānī, al-Tawassul mafhūmuh wa aghsāmuh, p. 59-66.
  41. Mafātīḥ al-janān, part of adʿīyya.
  42. Mafātīḥ al-janān, duʿāʾ al-tawassul.
  1. Some Sunni scholars who have discussed the permissibility or recommendation of tawassul are:
    • Taqi al-Din Sabki (d. 756 AH) among Shafi'i scholars. In Shifa' al-siqam, he said, "Entreaty and resorting to the noble Prophet (s) is permissible and recommended. Permission of this action is clear for every believer and it is among the actions the Prophets (a) have followed and it has been among the conducts of the righteous, scholars and common Muslims…".
    • Nur al-Din Samhudi (d. 911 AH): "Resorting to and entreaty of the Prophet (s) before God is among the actions of the prophets (a) and among the conducts of the righteous and has been practiced in different times; before creation and after the creation, during the life in this world and in Barzakh (Middle World)…".
    • Zayni Dahlan (d. 1304 AH), the leader of congregational prayer in Masjid al-Haram, "When resorting to good deeds is permissible, resorting to the noble Prophet (s) is primarily permissible because he (s) had the virtue of prophethood and other virtues, whether during his life and his death…".
    • Imam Muhammad Ghazzali, the famous Muslim scholar and mystic believed in tawassul in his writings. In one of his treatises, he has assigned a chapter to tawassul and has considered it permissible using religious justifications. 2. In his Dala'il al-nubuwwa, Hafiz Abu Bakr Bayhaqi has mentioned the stories of Adam and others' resorting. Also, this scholar has promised not to bring hadith of the topic in his book. 3. Imam Jalal al-Din Suyuti, a great scholar of Islamic history mentioned the resorting of Prophet Adam (a) in his al-Khasa'is al-kubra and some of his other books.
    • In al-Mustadrak on Sahihayn, Imam Hafiz Abu 'Abd Allah al-Hakim has mentioned the story of Prophet Adam's (a) resorting to the Prophet Muhammad (s).
    • In al-Shifa fi al-ta'rib bi huquq al-Mustafa (s), Imam Hafiz Qadi 'Ayad has mentioned many hadiths and issues related to tawassul in chapters Ziyarat and Fasl al-Nabi (s).
    • Imam Abu 'Abd Allah Qurtubi, the commentator of the Qur'an considered tawassul permissible in the interpretation of the verse (4:64) and has approved it. 7. In Nasim al-Riyad, a commentary on Shifa, 'Allama Ahmad Shihab al-Din Khafaji has mentioned many instances of tawassul.
    • In Maqsad Awwal of Mawahib al-daniyya, Imam Hafiz Qastalani has discussed it. 9. 'Allama Shaykh Muhammad 'Abd al-Baqi Zarqani in Sharh mawahib, vol. 1, p. 10 and p. 44, - Imam Shaykh al-Islam Abu Zakariyya Yahya Nuwi, in chapter 6, p. 498 of his book, Idah.
    • 'Allama Ibn Hajar Haytami Makki in marginal notes on Idah, p. 499 and also in an independent book called al-Jawhar al-munazzam.
    • Hafiz Shihab al-Din Muhammad b. Jazri Demashqi in his book called 'Iddat al-hisn al-hasin under the discussion of the merit of supplication.
    • 'Allama Imam uhammad b. Ali Shawkani in his book called Tuhfat al-dhakirin, p. 161.
    • 'Allama Imam Muhaddith Ali b. 'Abd al-Kafi al-Sabki in his book called Shifa al-suqam fi ziyarat khayr al-anam.
    • Shaykh Ahmad Sarhindi known as Imam Rabbani Mujaddad Alf Thani as a great scholar and guide of Sufis who was known for adhering to religion and known to all Sufis mentioned his belief in tawassul in Maktubat.
    • Hafiz Ibn Hajar 'Asqalani has mentioned the story of the Arabi man who visited the grave of the Prophet (s) and made entreaty to him and has considered its reference reliable in FAth al-bari, vol. 2, p. 495.
    • Imam Abu al-Qasim Qushayri, the distinguished commentator and author of Risala Qushayriyya.
    • Imam Fakhr Razi, among the greatest commentators of the Qur'an has mentioned the permissibility of tawassul in some parts of his works. Accurate study of his commentary clearly shows that.
    • In his book called al-Wafa', Hafiz Abu al-Faraj b. Jawzi has mentioned the hadith. 20. In the interpretation of the verse 4:64, Hafiz 'Imad al-Din b. Kathir has mentioned the story of conversation between 'Atabi and an Arab who visited the grave of the Prophet (s) and asked him for intercession and 'Atabi did not object to him. He has also mentioned the story of Adam's (a) resorting in his book called al-Bidaya wa al-nihaya, vol. 1, p. 80. Moreover in vol. 1, p. 91 of the same book, he has said that the references for the story of the resorting of the Arab man upon visiting the grave of the Prophet (s) are correct and has mentioned the slogan of "O Muhammadah" for Muslims in vol. 6, p. 324.
    • Shihab al-Din Ramli in many of his writings. He has mentioned his beliefs in many parts of his writings.
    • Imam Shaykh Nur al-Din Qari, known as Mulla Ali Qari has mentioned many cases in his commentary on Shifa.
    • Imam Nasafi, author of Sharh 'aqa'id Ahl al-Sunna which is among the most reliable books of beliefs in Sunni seminaries has mentioned his belief in tawassul in his books.

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