Tawassul (Intermediary Causes) according to the Shi'ite school of thought

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Tawassul (Intermediary Causes) according to the Shi'ite school of thought
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The life of man is constructed on the basis of making use of various intermediary means ( wasa'il, sing. wasila) and causes of nature, each of which has its own special features. When we are thirsty we drink water, when hungry we eat food. Fulfilling our needs by recourse to natural means-on condition that such means are not regarded as independent causes in their own right-is inherent in Tawhid.
There are some who hold that shirk means 'connecting oneself with, and resorting to, what is other than God'. Now this is true only on condition that such intermediary causes and means be given the status of independent and autonomous agency; if on the other hand, we take these factors as means with which-by the will and authority of God-we can attain certain ends, then the principle of Tawhid is not violated. In general, the life of man, from the day of his birth onwards, is founded on just such a basis; that is, he takes advantage of the extant ways and means at his disposal. Indeed, the progress of science and industry proceeds on this very principle.

There are some who hold that shirk means 'connecting oneself with, and resorting to, what is other than God'. Now this is true only on condition that such intermediary causes and means be given the status of independent and autonomous agency; if on the other hand, we take these factors as means with which-by the will and authority of God-we can attain certain ends, then the principle of Tawhid is not violated. In general, the life of man, from the day of his birth onwards, is founded on just such a basis; that is, he takes advantage of the extant ways and means at his disposal.

The legitimacy of making tawassul [i.e., resorting to intermediary causes and means] in respect of the means offered by nature is clearly indisputable; the question here pertains to causes that are beyond nature, causes which man can only come to know about through divine revelation. Every time something is introduced in the Qur'an or Hadith literature as a 'means' ( wasila), making use of that thing derives from the same authority that is the basis for tawassul in respect of natural causes. Therefore, there are times when we are allowed, given a proper religious motivation, to seek to take advantage of factors beyond the natural realm, while bearing in mind the following two points:
1. The factors in question must be clearly established, either in the Qur'an or the Hadith literature, as means that can lead to the attainment of goals in this life or the Hereafter.
2. The means and causes are not regarded in any fashion as having principial autonomy or independent status; rather, we must understand that their capacity to yield results is utterly contingent upon the authority and will of God.
The noble Qur'an invites us to benefit from various spiritual means:

O you who have believed, fear Allah and seek the means [of nearness] to Him and strive in His cause that you may succeed. (Sura al-Ma'ida, 5:35)

It should be noted that 'means' (wasila) does not mean the same thing as 'drawing near' (taqarrub); rather, it refers to anything that is a source of drawing near to God; struggling in the cause of God, as mentioned in the verse quoted above, is one among many such means of drawing close to the divine.[1]
it was mentioned that tawassul, in respect of causes of natural and supernatural provenance, pertains to true Tawhid (on condition that these causes are not given even a hint of independent authority). There is no doubt that carrying out the obligatory duties and recommended practices of religion¬ such as prayer, fasting, almsgiving, Jihad, and so on-are all so many means by which man can approach his goal, which is none other than attaining proximity to God. In the light of these practices, man grasps the reality of his slavehood, and in consequence, comes closer to God. But it must be noted that the means of supernatural provenance are not confined to the performance of acts of worship; for a whole series of means are made known in the Qur'an and Hadith literature, resort to which gives rise to the answering of one's prayers. Below, we mention some of these:

1. Resorting to the 'Most Beautiful Names and Qualities of God', as is said in the Qur'an:

Unto God belong the Most Beautiful Names, so supplicate Him by means of them. (Sura al-A'raf, 7:180)

Resorting to the Divine Names and Qualities is frequently encountered in the collections of Islamic personal supplications (du'a').

2. Resorting to the du'a' of righteous souls, the most lofty kind of such tawassul being in respect of the Prophets and saints: one asks them to pray for one in the divine presence.
[Regarding the second point], the Qur'an instructs those who have wronged their own souls (the sinners) to go to the Prophet and then ask for pardon from God themselves, and ask the Prophet also to seek forgiveness for them:

And if, when they wronged themselves, they had come to you, [O Muhammad], and asked forgiveness of Allah and the Messenger had asked forgiveness for them, they would have found Allah Accepting of repentance and Merciful. (Sura al-Nisa', 4: 64)

Resorting to the du'a' of righteous souls, the most lofty kind of such tawassul being in respect of the Prophets and saints: one asks them to pray for one in the divine presence. [Regarding the second point], the Qur'an instructs those who have wronged their own souls (the sinners) to go to the Prophet and then ask for pardon from God themselves, and ask the Prophet also to seek forgiveness for them...

In another verse, a complaint is made of the hypocrites who are called to come to the Prophet and seek his prayers:

And when it is said to them, "Come, the Messenger of Allah will ask forgiveness for you," they turn their heads aside and you see them evading while they are arrogant. (Sura al-Munafiqun, 63:5)

Other verses show that such a perspective prevailed in previous religious communities also. For example, the sons of Jacob asked their father to plead for forgiveness from God for their sins; and Jacob complied with their request:

They said, "O our father, ask for us forgiveness of our sins; indeed, we have been sinners."He said, "I will ask forgiveness for you from my Lord. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful." (Sura Yusuf, 12:97-98)

It might be asked: Tawassul, in the sense of seeking the prayers of the righteous, can be regarded as consistent with Tawhid ( or at least, efficacious) as long as the person whom we ask to pray for us is alive; but how can such requests be regarded as useful and consistent with Tawhid if those from whom one seeks assistance are dead? To answer this question, or this objection, we must bring the following two points to bear on the discussion:

1. Even if we suppose that the necessary condition for tawassul in respect of a Prophet or saint be that the person in question be alive, requesting prayers from them after their death will then only be an inoperative or ineffectual act, not a source of shirk; this point is for the most part forgotten in such discussions, and the question of whether a person be alive or dead comes to be regarded as a boundary separating Tawhid from shirk. If we were to accept the condition that the personage resorted to by others for prayers be alive, the question of whether the personage be alive or not becomes the criterion only of the efficacy of tawassul, not a means of determining whether the act expresses Tawhid or shirk.

As regards the efficacy of tawassul, this depends only upon two conditions: (a) the personage from whom prayers are sought must possess knowledge, wisdom and nearness to Allah; and (b) there must be an established relationship between those making the request for prayer and those to whom the request is made.

2. As regards the efficacy of tawassul, this depends only upon two conditions: (a) the personage from whom prayers are sought must possess knowledge, wisdom and nearness to Allah; and (b) there must be an established relationship between those making the request for prayer and those to whom the request is made.
In regard to making such requests from Prophets and saints who have passed away; both of these conditions are fulfilled, as can be clearly seen in the light of both intellectual ('aqli) and traditional ( naqli) evidence .
The reality of life in the realm of the Barzakh is well attested both in the Qur'an and the Hadith literature. Since, according to clear Qur'anic evidence, those martyred in the path of God are alive, it is obvious that the Prophets and the saints-many of whom were also martyrs-partake of an even greater degree of life.
As regards the relationship between us and the saints, there are many factors from which its reality can be adduced, amongst which we shall mention below the following:

1. All Muslims address the Prophet of Islam at the end 'of their salat prayers, by saying: 'May peace be with you, and the mercy of God and His blessings, O Prophet' ( al-Salamu 'alaykum ayyuha'l-nabiyyu wa rahmatu'llahi wa barakatuhu). Are they all merely paying lip-service by so doing; does the Prophet not hear or reply to all these greetings?

All Muslims address the Prophet of Islam at the end 'of their salat prayers, by saying: 'May peace be with you, and the mercy of God and His blessings, O Prophet' ( al-Salamu 'alaykum ayyuha'l-nabiyyu wa rahmatu'llahi wa barakatuhu). Are they all merely paying lip-service by so doing; does the Prophet not hear or reply to all these greetings?

2. The Prophet gave instructions at the Battle of Badr that all the bodies of the polytheists be cast into a well. Then he spoke to all of them. One of his companions asked him: 'Are you talking to the dead?'The Prophet replied:

'You are not better able to hear than they.' [2]

3. The Prophet frequently visited the Baqi' graveyard and addressed the souls of those buried there, saying: 'Peace be with the people of the homes of the believing men and the believing women.' In another narration he is reported to have said: 'Peace be with you, abode of believing folk.'[3]

4. It is narrated in Bukhari's sahih, that on the day that the Prophet died, Abu Bakr went to the house of 'A'isha. Then he went to the Prophet's body, took the cloth from his face, kissed him, cried, and then said: 'My father be your ransom, O Prophet of God, God has not decreed two deaths for you; the one that was decreed for you has come to pass.'[4] If the Prophet were not alive in the Barzakh, and there were consequently no possible relationship between us and him, how could Abu Bakr have addressed him thus?

When Imam 'Ali was washing the body of the Prophet, he said to him: 'My father and mother be your ransom, 0 Messenger of God! With your death something is brought to an end which is not brought to an end with the death of anyone else: the stream of prophecy, the revelation of heavenly knowledge and tidings ... remember us with your Lord and keep us close to your heart.'

5. When Imam 'Ali was washing the body of the Prophet, he said to him:

'My father and mother be your ransom, 0 Messenger of God! With your death something is brought to an end which is not brought to an end with the death of anyone else: the stream of prophecy, the revelation of heavenly knowledge and tidings ... remember us with your Lord and keep us close to your heart.' [5]

Finally, let us note that tawassul in respect of the Prophets and saints takes various forms, on which detailed commentaries can be found in theological treatises.

1. Raghib al-Isfahani in his Mufridat (under the Word 'wasala', 'means') writes: 'A "means" brings about the achievement of a desired object; and the reality of the "means" for reaching God is to scrupu¬lously follow His path, through knowledge - and worship 'of Him, while observing the noble principles of the Law.'
2. See al-Bukhari, Sahih, vol. 5 (ch. on 'The killing of Abu jahl'): and Ibn Hisham, Sira, vol. 2, p. 292, among other sources.
3. Muslim, Sahih,, vol. 2 (ch. on 'What is said when entering the grave').
4. al-Bukhari, Sahih, vol. 2 (ch on 'Funerals'), p. 17.
5. Nahj al-balagha, Sermon no. 235 .

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Daily Hadith
مَن شَرُفَت هِمَّتُهُ عَظُمَت قِيمَتُهُ.
He whose ambition is lofty his value is heightened.