There are several verses in the Holy Quran that establish the legality of seeking medium (waseelah) to gain divine proximity. These verses clearly reject the belief of the skeptics who reject all waseelah and term Tawassul as Shirk
1) In Surah Maaedah (5): 35, Allah orders:
‘O you who believe! Be careful (of your duty to) Allah and seek means of nearness to Him and strive hard in His way that you may be successful.’
According to this verse every believer is duty bound to seek a medium for attaining proximity to Allah without which achieving the station is impossible. It is notable that the tone and tenor is that of a command and not a recommendation.
Who are the media that the believers should seek to gain divine proximity? As we will see they are none other than the divinely ordained entities. Seeking divine proximity and pleasure through these entities is not Shirk; else the blame for Shirk would lie with Allah.
2) In Surah Nisa (4): 64, Allah declares:
…and had they, when they were unjust to themselves, come to you and asked forgiveness of Allah and the Apostle had (also) asked forgiveness for them, they would have found Allah Oft-returning (to mercy), Merciful.
There is more than one point in this verse that needs highlighting:
The Quranic injunction to obey the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and refer him (s.a.w.a.) in disputes is not restricted to his lifetime and is a command for believers across eras and none can raise an objection that obeying and referring to a ‘dead’ prophet is not possible or that it is tantamount to Shirk. Likewise ‘coming to the Prophet’ for seeking forgiveness of sins is a command applicable to Muslims of all eras and it does not lead to Shirk.
Those who reject a dead prophet and condemn seeking one’s demands and forgiveness of sins from him would do well to refer to the exegesis of reputed scholars of the Ahle Sunnah under 64th verse of Surah Nisa:
I have come to you seeking forgiveness for my sins and intercession (for my desires) towards my Lord.
Thereafter, the Arab recited a poem:
‘O, the most exalted among the buried people who improved the worth of the plains and the hillocks. May I sacrifice my life for this grave which is made radiant by you, (the Prophet,) the one who is (an embodiment) of mercy and forgiveness.’
Al-Utbaa narrates – I fell asleep and saw the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) in my sleep. He addressed me – O Utbaa, the Arab was right (in his approach). Give him glad tidings that certainly Allah has forgiven his sins.
3) In Surah Yusuf (12): Verse 97-98:
The sons of Hazrat Yaqoob (a.s.) on regretting their evil deeds approached him and requested him to seek forgiveness from Allah. Allah recounts the incident thus in Surah Yusuf (12): Verse 97
‘They said: O our father! Ask forgiveness of our faults for us, surely we were sinners.
Hazrat Yaqoob (a.s.) accepted their request (Surah Yusuf (12): Verse 98)
He said: I will ask for forgiveness from my Lord, surely He is the Forgiving, the Merciful.’
Hazrat Yaqoob’s (a.s.) sons could have sought forgiveness of Allah on their own without any intervention but chose to approach their father because of his stature. This is another example of the people of a nation approaching their prophet for forgiveness of sins.
4) In Surah Baqarah (2): Verse 37:
Then Adam received (some) words from his Lord, so He turned to him mercifully; surely He is Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful.
What are the words that Adam (a.s.) received from his Lord through the medium of which he was granted forgiveness? Why were these words necessary? Being a prophet, was it not possible for him to get forgiven without the mediation of the words? Does seeking divine proximity and forgiveness through the words amount to Shirk more so for a prophet who knows the definition of Shirk better than us?
The answer to these questions can be found in the first verse of the article (Surah Maaedah (5): Verse 35). Anyone who takes a waseelah ordained by Allah is not guilty of Shirk. Rather he is eligible for a great reward. Shirk is when you take a medium that/who is not divinely ordained.
Under the exegesis of this verse Jalaal al-Deen Abd al-Rahman Ibn Abu Bakr al-Suyuti in al-Durr al-Manthoor has recorded two traditions that are particularly noteworthy.
i) The very first tradition that Suyuti has recorded under this verse (vol 1 pg 58) is on the authority of Umar b. Khattaab, who narrates from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.):
After Adam had sinned he raised his head towards the sky and said: (O Allah), I beseech You that you forgive me for the sake of Muhammad (s.a.w.a.).
Allah: Who is Muhammad?
Adam: When you created me I raised my head towards Your Arsh and saw written – There is no God save Allah and Muhammad is Messenger of Allah. I understood that there was none greater in esteem than Muhammad so much so that you ascribed his name alongside Your Name.
Allah revealed to Adam: O Adam he is the last Prophet from your progeny. Had it not been for him I would not have created you.
This tradition is also recorded by Al-Tabaraani in Al-Mo’jam al-Sagheer, Haakem Neshapuri, Abu Noaim Isfahani, Al-Baihaqi and Ibne Asaakir.
Suyuti records another tradition on page 60 of vol 1 under this verse:
ii) ‘….O Allah I ask you for the sake of Muhammad, Your Servant and his noble position near You that you forgive my sin….Armies of angels greeted Adam (on being forgiven) and said – Greetings to you on Allah’s Forgiveness O Father of Muhammad!.’
5) In Surah Baqarah (2): Verse 89 Allah declares regarding the Jews
And when there came to them a Book from Allah verifying that which they have, and aforetime they used to pray for victory against those who disbelieve, but when there came to them (Prophet) that which they did not recognize, they disbelieved in him; so Allah’s curse is on the unbelievers.
This verse refers to the Jews of Hijaz. Before the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) advent, the Jews faced persecution from the infidels of Mecca. The Jews were followers of divine prophets (a.s.) and the infidels were idolaters. The ideological differences heightened the tension between the two groups and affected the Jews in particular as they were heavily outnumbered. To counter the aggression of the infidels, the Jews took the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), whose advent they were eagerly awaiting, as a waseelah and prayed to Allah to grant them victory against their enemies in battle.
The following Sunni scholars have documented this in their books under the exegesis of the aforementioned verse:
b) Tafsir-e-Ibne Kathir – Ibne Kathir was a student of Ibne Taymiyyah)
c) Tafsir-e-Fath al-Qadeer of Imam Shawkaani who was of Salafi disposition
d) Hidayah a- Hayara by Hafiz Ibn-e-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, the student and contemporary of Ibne Taymiyyah
The skeptics might yet argue that that was an act of the Jews and hence cannot be used as evidence for Muslims. To this there are several replies:
i. The action of the Jews is not an aberration or an innovation in light of similar tawassul of Hazrat Adam (a.s.) through the waseelah of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.).
ii. If the action of the Jews was an innovation and impermissible first and foremost Allah or the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) or the companions or the other Salaf or finally the Salafi and Sunni scholars who have documented this in their books should have reprimanded the Jews for their tawassul. Since none has objected to it and only a bunch of skeptics find it objectionable, we can only conclude that tawassul is permissible in Islam and cannot be outlawed, rather the skeptics need to change their definition of Tauheed in line with the views of the Noble Quran, Prophet (s.a.w.a.), companions and the Salaf and the renowned Salafi and Sunni scholars.
The traditions under the exegesis of Surah Baqarah (2): 37 and Surah Baqarah (2): Verse 89 bring forth several important points:
a) Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) is Allah’s highest ranking creature, higher than the humans, jinn, angels and every other creation. Those who claim that the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) being an ordinary mortal was just like us or only marginally superior to us have erred. He was like us only in the sense that he ate, drank, worked, married, frequented the markets and finally died like us. These so-called flagbearers of Islam and Tauheed are in fact advancing the argument of the apostates of Mecca who rejected the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) because he was just like any other mortal instead of being an angel. Allah replies to the apostates as also Muslims with similar beliefs that even if He had sent forth an angel for man’s guidance he would have sent him in the shape of a mortal.
b) Given his stature near Allah, Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) was a natural waseelah for the prophets and for the People of the Book before the advent of Islam and for all those who Allah had inspired regarding the stature of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.a.). Obviously this does not amount to Shirk as prophets cannot be guilty of such an action and more importantly Allah would have reprimanded them instead of forgiving them.
c) Taking Prophet (s.a.w.a.) as a waseelah before his birth was highly recommended. Taking him as a waseelah during his life time was of course most commendable. It is not clear why taking him as a waseelah after his demise becomes Shirk. Muslims who take Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) as a waseelah are only following the footsteps of the past prophets (s.a.w.a.). They have recognized the fact that the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) is Allah’s highest ranking creature and can more than anyone else rescue them from the devastating effects of their sins. Just like Adam (a.s.) did not know or care whether Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) was an angel or a mortal, dead or alive, at the time of seeking waseelah and was more concerned about getting his sin forgiven, those who are anxious for the forgiveness of their sins take the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) as a waseelah and it does not matter that the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) has passed away.