The Meaning of Tawassul
Tawassul means: the use of a waseela (means). So you are using something as a means to get your du’a accepted, or as a means of receiving mercy or blessings from Allah, etc.
In the case of the waseela being a person, this could be by asking Allah to answer one’s dua for the sake of the high rank of the waseela in the sight of Allah, in which case the waseela is only mentioned as a means of drawing the mercy, love and acceptance of Allah.
Or it could be by asking the waseela to actively intercede or make a dua for your sake.
Or it could be a combination of both.
The Chapter on Tawassul in al-Seera al-Nabawiyya al-Muhammadiyya of Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari, also known as al-Mawlid al-Ja’fari.
It begins by stating that there is a consensus among the scholars, both those of the earliest generations (salaf) and the later ones (khalaf) on the permissibility of tawassul by the Prophet (salla Allahu alayhi wa alihi wa sallam). That is: making him a means of the obtaining of a benefit or the answer of a du’a.
The Prophet as a Means (Waseela) in the Qur’an:
* “You guide to a straight path. The path of Allah.” (42:52-53)
The Prophet ( salla Allahu alayhi wa alihi wa sallam) is therefore a means of Divine guidance.
* “Those who swear allegiance to you do but swear allegiance to Allah” (48:10)
He (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam) is therefore the means of swearing allegiance to Allah.
* “That you may make clear to men what has been revealed to them” (16:44)
He (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam) is the means of the clarification and understanding of the Divine revelation.
* “But Allah – and His Messenger – has more right that they should please Him.” (9:62)
So the pleasure of the Prophet (salla Allahu alayhi wa alihi wa sallam) is a means for he who wants the pleasure and mercy of Allah.
* “If they had only, when they were unjust to themselves, come unto thee and asked Allah’s forgiveness, and the Messenger had asked forgiveness for them, they would have found Allah indeed Oft-returning, Most Merciful.” (4:64)
This shows the Prophet (salla Allahu alayhi wa alihi wa sallam) as a means in the acceptance of one’s repentance and in the descent of of Allah’s mercy. And this happens in more than one way:
1) “If they had only come unto thee and asked Allah’s forgiveness:” Here, the person seeking forgiveness is actively making an effort, not the Prophet, but he comes to make this effort in the presence of the Prophet, and so the very nearness of the person to the Prophet is a cause of increased blessing and the acceptance of the du’a. But this requires no action from the Prophet himself.
2) “And the Messenger had asked forgiveness for them:” Here the Prophet is an active means: He asks Allah Most Great to forgive the person. So the person is being forgiven for the sake of the Prophet’s dua.
* For one’s Islam to be accepted, they must say in their Shahada: “And I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”
Therefore the Prophet is a means of the acceptance of one’s Islam, and will remain so until the Day of Rising.
* “Send blessings upon him and salute him by invoking peace upon him.” (33:56)
The authentic hadith in Sahih Muslim tells us that for every blessing (salaat) that we send upon the Prophet, Allah the Most Great will send ten blessings in return for it upon us. Therefore, the Prophet (salla Allahu alayhi wa alihi wa sallam) is the means for us receiving those salawat (blessings) from Allah, and if it were not for him, Allah would not send us those blessings.
* “And We have not sent you but as a mercy to the worlds.” (21:107)
He (salla Allahu alayhi wa alihi wa sallam) is a means for the descent of the general mercy to all creatures, those in the Earthly and Heavenly realms. Even the angel Jibreel (alayhi assalam) received a portion of this mercy.
* “But Allah would not punish them while you are among them.” (8:33)
The Presence of the Prophet (salla Allahu alayhi wa alihi wa sallam) among the people of his generation, and his continued presence on this Earth (by the presence of his noble body in Madina, and his soul’s connection to that body), is the means of the lifting of Allah’s punishment from the creations until the Day of Rising. If it were not for him (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam) the Earth would have been overturned, and violent storms and deadly winds would have come to destroy the inhabitants of the Earth. But because of him, the punishment was lifted.
* “He sent down the Sakinah (Tranquility) upon them.” (48:18)
The Sakinah came down upon the people who gave allegiance to the Prophet (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam) under the tree. Had it not been for him, this never would have happened.
The Prophet as a Means (Waseela) in the Sunna:
* The Hadith of the Blind Man
A blind man came to the Prophet and said: “Ask Allah to cure me. ” He replied: “If you wish I will delay this, and it would be better for you, and if you wish I will invoke Allah the Exalted for you.” He said: “Ask Him.” The Prophet said to him: ”Go and make an ablution, pray two rak’at, then say: “O Allah, I am asking you and turning to you by means of your Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet of mercy; O Muhammad (ya Muhammad), I am turning by means of you to my Lord regarding my present need so that He will fulfill my need (or as in another version: I am asking my Lord with your intercession concerning the return of my sight); O Allah, allow him to intercede with you for me .”
– Narrated by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, at-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, an-Nasa’i, al-Hakim, and at-Tabarani. And authenticated by: At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Hibban, Ibn Khuzaymah, al-Hakim, at-Tabarani, Abu Nu’aym, al-Bayhaqi, al-Mundhiri, an-Nawawi, Ibn Hajar, al-Haythami, as-Suyuti, adh-Dhahabi, ash-Shawkani, Ibn Taymiyyah, and others.
And in another hadith we learn that in the age of the Caliphate of Uthman ibn Affan, may Allah be pleased with him, a man was trying to have a need fulfilled by sayyidna Uthman ibn Affan, but was having a difficult time getting to him and telling him of his need. So he complained of that to Uthman ibn Hunayf who taught him the hadith of the blind man. When this man acted upon it, he was finally able to gain access to Uthman ibn Affan and have his matter heard by him.
This hadith of Uthman ibn Hunayf was narrated by at-Tabarani and authenticated by him, and also authenticated by al-Mundhiri, al-Bayhaqi, Abu Nu’aym, and al-Haythami.
In the case of the blind man: he made his tawassul and asked the Prophet to intercede for him even though he was not in the Prophet’s presence. In the case of the other man, he made that dua of tawassul after the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam had left the life of the dunya.
Tawassul by the Prophet in all Times:
* “They are different ranks/levels/degrees in the sight of Allah”. (Q 3: 163)
Tawassul by the Prophet is something that is encouraged and liked in all times, during the Prophet’s life and after his passing from the life of the dunya, because it is based on his rank in the sight of Allah. If it were not for their rank, Allah would not accept the du’a of someone asking him a du’a.
Did the Prophet’s rank decrease after his death? Anyone who believes that is a kafir. No, it is known that he is alive with his Lord Most High a life greater and higher than the first life.
* “Oh Allah, we used to do tawassul with you by way of your Prophet (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam)” – Dua of Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, as related by al-Bukhari.
It means: we used to seek rain from you through him, because of his high rank in Your sight.
But when he died and could no longer lead the performance of the prayer for rain, Umar made the Prophet’s uncle al-Abbas lead the prayer, and that is because of his nearness to the Prophet in blood relations. It is therefore clearly a tawassul by the Prophet still, because al-Abbas was only chosen to lead the salaat for his closeness to the Prophet, and that’s why Umar said: “Now we are requesting intercession through the uncle of our Prophet, to be granted rain.”
This, as we said, was related by al-Bukhari. And Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani said in his commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari that Zubayr ibn Bakaar narrated with his isnad that al-Abbas said in that Salaat: “The people have turned to You by way of me, because of my nearness to Your Prophet.”
The Prophet’s rank remained in both cases the waseela, but in his lifetime he could lead the prayer, and after he died, someone else had to lead the prayer, so they chose the one nearest to the Prophet, in order to preserve him, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, as the waseela for which the rain would come down.
* “Ask Allah for what you need, doing tawassul to Him by His Prophet (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam).” – Ahmad ibn Hanbal to his student al-Marwazi, as written in his Mansak.
“And it is narrated that the Salaf (the righteous predecessors) used to make supplication with this dua (of the blind man) and with the likes of it, and al-Marwazi narrated about Ahmad Ibn Hanbal that he used to do tawassul in his du’a.” – Ibn Taymiyyah in his work: Al-Tawassul wal-Waseela
The great muhaddith Shaykh Muhammad Habib Allah ash-Shinqiti said: this narration by Ibn Taymiyyah from Ahmad ibn Hanbal is authentic without doubt.
It should be noted that Ibn Taymiyyah’s objection to the tawassul (as described in the above-mentioned work) is because he believed it to be like “qasam upon Allah” (swearing upon Allah to do something), As if one is saying: “Oh Allah I swear upon you that you must answer my request, for I have asked You by the Prophet.” But that is Ibn Taymiyyah’s understanding, and it goes against the understanding of the Salaf, including Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Thus he is clearly going against the way of the Salaf, and not accepting their understanding of the hadith, but forming his own understanding of its meaning and implication.
This despite the fact that there are many authentic hadiths that there are people who, even if they swear upon Allah to do something, He will accept their dua. And this despite the famous hadith that one should make firm his request from Allah and should not say: “Answer my du’a if you wish” because Allah Most Majestic cannot be forced to answer the du’a anyway, so one might as well request it firmly. And this despite the obvious fact that every Muslim knows that even if he does tawassul by the Prophet, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, his dua will not necessarily be accepted. So how can Ibn Taymiyyah’s understanding be warranted in any way? Especially when it contradicts the understanding of the Salaf, as he himself admitted.
* “I ask You by the right of Muhammad to forgive me!” – The Prophet Adam (alayhi assalam)
This tawassul by our father Adam (alayhi assalam) in his asking of forgiveness for his sin, was narrated by al-Hakim in the Mustadrak, who declared it authentic, as well as at-Tabarani, al-Bayhaqi, and Ibn Asakir.
Likewise the Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam) himself made tawassul by his own rank, and by the rank of the Prophets who had died before him. This happened when he buried Fatima bint Asad, the mother of Ali ibn Abi Talib, who raised him (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam) as her own child. When the digging of her grave was complete, he (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam) went inside and lay down in it, and made the following supplication:
“O Allah, who brings to life and takes away life, and He is ever-living and does not die, forgive my mother Fatima bint Asad, and help her answer properly at the time of questioning, and expand her grave for her. I ask You this by the right of Your Prophet, and the Prophets who came before me, for You are the most merciful of all who show mercy!”
It was narrated by imam al-Tabarani in his two collections al-Kabir and al-Awsat on the authority of Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him). All of its narrators are the ones from the Sahih Collections, except one who has a light weakness according to some, but who Ibn Hibban and al-Hakim deem fully trustworthy and without weakness. The hadith master al-Ghumari said: “This hadith is at least in the degree of Hasan, and in fact is Sahih according to the criteria of Ibn Hibban.” The hadith master Mahmud Said Mamduh also graded it as Hasan. It was quoted by Nur al-Din al-Haythami in Majma’ al-zawa’id. It was also narrated by Ibn Abd al-Barr on the authority of Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) and Ibn Abi Shaybah on the authority of Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him). Finally, it is enough that all of these great hadith scholars quoted it in their books to show that tawassul is perfectly acceptable to them.
* There are many other proofs of tawassul compiled by al-qadi Yusef an-Nabahani in his books, and by Ibn al-Haj al-Maliki in his book al-Madkhal, who is famous for his writings against all innovations.
* The Hadith of Intercession on the Day of Rising
Which is narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim, in which all the people will run to the Prophets asking them to intercede with Allah, but they all decline, except the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, who will intercede, and his intercession will be accepted. This is tawassul by him: using him as a means to lift the horrors of the waiting and heat of that day, and for the Judgment to begin quicker. How great is his rank, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam!
Oh Allah! We turn to you by way of Your Prophet, our Master Muhammad, the Prophet of Mercy.
Ya Sayyidna ya Muhammad Ya Rasool Allah! (x3)
We turn by means of you to our Lord, so that He may fulfill our needs and give us what we ask for and what we desire!
Oh Allah! Allow him to intercede for us in this, an intercession that is pleasing to You and accepted by You! And intercession whose benefit reaches us in our life and our death, and wherever we go, by Your bounty, oh Allah!
Intercede for us, Rasool Allah, for your intercession is accepted!
And your great rank with Allah, without doubt, is of great benefit!