THE DOCTRINE OF INTERCESSION

(SHAFAA'AH)

 

The Arabic word for intercession is SHAFA'A which means the making of a thing to be one of a pair; or the adjoining of a thing to its like. Hence SHAFA' signifies the adjoining of a man to another especially when a man of high rank and honour joins himself to a man of a lower position. In the Glorious Qur'an Allah (the Exalted) says that He alone is the "OWNER OF THE DAY OF JUDGEMENT." (Surah al-Fatihah : 3) and repeatedly says that no one can intercede with Allah except with His permission. Allah (the Exalted) says:

 

"AND (0 PROPHET) WARN HEREBY (WITH THE QUR'AN) THOSE WHO FEAR THAT THEY WILL BE GATHERED UNTO THEIR CREATOR WITH NONE BESIDES HIM TO PROTECT THEM FROM HIM OR TO INTERCEDE WITH HIM, SO THAT THEY MAY GUARD AGAINST EVIL." (Surah al-An'aam : 51)

 

In another verse of the Glorious Qur'an Allah (the Exalted) says:

 

"WHAT: DO THEY TAKE AS INTERCESSORS OTHERS BESIDES ALLAH? SAY (0 PROPHET) 'EVEN IF THEY HAVE NO POWER WHATSOEVER AND NO INTELLIGENCE?'. SAY: 'TO ALLAH BELONGS EXCLUSIVELY (THE RIGHT TO GRANT) INTERCESSION'". (Surah az-Zumar : 43-44).

 

In the Glorious Qur'an, INTERCESSION (Shafaa'ah) is also spoken of in connection with the Divine Control of things. Allah (the Exalted) says:

 

"IT IS ALLAH WHO CREATED THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH AND ALL BETWEEN THEM IN SIX DAYS, AND IS FIRMLY ESTABLISHED ON THE THRONE (OF AUTHORITY). YOU HAVE NONE BESIDES HIM TO PROTECT YOU OR TO INTERCEDE FOR YOU. WILL YOU THEN NOT THINK FOR YOURSELVES". (Surah as-Sajdah : 4).

 

Therefore, intercession (Shafaa'ah) according to the Qur'an, is really in the Hands of Allah, just as the control of all things in this Universe is really in His Power. It is for this very reason that the oft-repeated expression appears throughout the Qur'an viz. NONE CAN INTERCEDE WITH ALLAH EXCEPT WITH HIS PERMISSION. The assumption that intercessors who can act independently of Allah's permission is denied by the Glorious Qur'an. Allah (the Exalted) says:

 

"VERILY YOUR LORD IS ALLAH WHO CREATED THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH IN SIX DAYS AND IS FIRMLY ESTABLISHED ON THE THRONE (OF AUTHORITY) GOVERNING ALL THINGS THAT EXISTS. NO INTERCESSOR CAN PLEAD FOR ANYONE EXCEPT AFTER HIS PERMISSION (HAS BEEN GRANTED). THAT IS ALLAH, YOUR RABB. SO WORSHIP HIM". (Surah Yoonus : 3).

 

Commenting on this verse just quoted, Hazrath Abdullah ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) says that not even the closest angel or prophet of Allah can intercede for anyone except after Allah's permission has been granted. No prophet or angel of Allah is completely independent in doing anything he wishes including intercession, without the express permission of Allah. But instead, it is reported in many authentic traditions that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) will be in prostration (sajdah) for a long time in order to ask Allah permission for him to intercede for his ummah. Then Allah (the Exalted) will say: "Raise your head; intercede, your intercession will be granted; ask, you will be given". The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) will then ask for permission to intercede for his followers and Allah will grant him the permission to do so. But whether a specific person's intercession by the Holy Prophet is accepted or not by Allah is entirely in the Hands of Allah. Why? Because He alone is the OWNER OF THE DAY OF JUDGEMENT. He will forgive whoever He wishes and will punish whoever He wishes. No one can force Him to do otherwise. May Allah (the Exalted) grant and accept the intercession of our beloved Prophet on our behalf, and may Allah accept us as His true servants and grant us salvation on the Day of Judgement. Ameen.

From many authentic traditions like the one just mentioned, it is evident that even the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him), being the closest and beloved prophet of Allah, does not have complete power and authority to intercede for anyone he wishes. It must also be noted that those who believe that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) is completely independent in interceding for whoever he wishes is in real fact denying that Allah is the Owner (maalik) of the Day of Judgement.

 

Thus, Allah (the Exalted) will grant to His prophets, and specifically to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him), the permission to intercede. Allah will accept the intercession for such of the sinners who will have already achieved His redemptive acceptance (ridaa), by virtue of their repentance or basic goodness. Allah (the Exalted) says:

 

"ON THAT DAY, INTERCESSION SHALL NOT BENEFIT ANYONE EXCEPT HIM IN WHOSE CASE THE MOST GRACIOUS WILL HAVE GRANTED PERMISSION AND WHOSE WORD (OF FAITH) HE WILL HAVE ACCEPTED". (Surah Taahaa 109).

 

It is thus evident that the right of intercession which will be granted to the prophets and angels on the Day of Judgement will be but an expression of Allah's approval of some of the sinners, either by virtue of their repentance or, as commented by Abdullah ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him), by virtue of their firmness in the Word of Faith (i.e. Kalimah Tayyibah). Refer to the following verses of the Qur'an wherein Allah (the Exalted) says:

 

"HE (ALLAH) KNOWS WHAT IS BEFORE THEM AND WHAT IS BEHIND THEM, AND THEY (THE PROPHETS) OFFER NO INTERCESSION EXCEPT FOR THOSE WHO ARE ACCEPTABLE (TO ALLAH BY VIRTUE OF THEIR FIRM BELIEF IN TAWHEED), AND THEY (THE PROPHETS) STAND IN AWE AND REVERENCE OF HIS GLORY". (Surah al-Ambiya 28).

 

"SAY (0 PROPHET): 'CALL UPON OTHERS WHOM YOU FANCY BESIDES ALLAH. THEY HAVE NO POWER - NOT THE WEIGHT OF AN ATOM IN THE HEAVENS OR ON EARTH - NO SHARE HAVE THEY THEREIN, NOR IS THERE ANY OF THEM A HELPER TO HIM (ALLAH). NO INTERCESSION CAN AVAIL IN HIS PRESENCE EXCEPT FOR THOSE FOR WHOM HE HAS GRANTED PERMISSION'". (Surah Sabaa : 22-23).

 

"AND THOSE WHOM SOME INVOKE BESIDES ALLAH HAVE IT NOT IN THEIR POWER TO INTERCEDE (FOR ANYONE ON THE DAY OF JUDGEMENT) EXCEPT FOR HIM WHO HAS (IN HIS LIFETIME) BORNE WITNESS TO THE TRUTH AND HAVE BEEN AWARE (THAT ALLAH IS ONE AND UNIQUE)". (Surah Zukhruf 86).

 

According to Abdullah ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him), the clause HE WHO HAS BORNE WITNESS TO THE TRUTH in the verse just quoted above refers to those believers who had firm faith in Allah and were sincere in their deeds. A mere oral "bearing witness to the Truth" is useless if it is not the outcome of an inner awareness of Allah's oneness and uniqueness. Allah (the Exalted) also says:

 

"AND HOWEVER MANY ANGELS THERE BE IN THE HEAVENS, THEIR INTERCESSION CAN BE OF NO BENEFIT ( TO ANYONE ) - EXCEPT AFTER ALLAH HAS GIVEN PERMISSION (TO INTERCEDE) FOR WHOMSOEVER HE WILLS AND WITH WHOM HE IS WELL PLEASED". (Surah an-Najm : 26).

 

From the above-mentioned verses, it is evident that no one has any power whatsoever either in the heavens or on earth to influence either our spiritual life or our worldly life. To believe that they have some share or that they help Allah, even though Allah is Supreme, is false and blasphemous. Allah (the Exalted) is One and Supreme, without any partner, helper or equal. From the above verses, it is also evident that each soul is individually and personally responsible. If there is any intercession, it can only be by Allah's gracious permission for intercession for that person.

May Allah (the Exalted) grant our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) the permission to intercede for us on the Day of Judgement and may Allah accept his intercession for us and grant us salvation. Ameen.

 

In another verse of the Glorious Quran, Allah (the Exalted) says:

 

"(ON THE DAY OF JUDGEMENT) NONE WILL HAVE (THE BENEFIT OF) INTERCESSION EXCEPT HE WHO HAS (IN HIS LIFETIME) ENTERED INTO A BOND WITH THE MOST GRACIOUS". (Surah Maryam : 87)

 

According to most commentators of the Glorious Qur'an, including some of the most outstanding Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him), the BOND WITH THE MOST GRACIOUS in the above-mentioned verse denotes the realization of Allah's Oneness and Uniqueness with complete sincerity. This means that one should know Allah and His Attributes and accept His Attributes as unique and must not commit any form of polytheism (shir-k). Consequently, even great sinners may hope for Allah's forgiveness - as the result of the right of intercession which will be granted by Allah to our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) on the Day of Judgement - provided that during their life on earth they had firm faith in Allah's existence and in the uniqueness of His Attributes.

Thus, from the above verses of the Qur'an, it follows that no one can intercede with Allah except:

i. by Allah's permission; and

ii. for those who have prepared themselves by repentance and good deeds for Allah's acceptance.

Even in earthly courts, Advocacy is not permitted to any one. Firstly, the Advocate must be granted the position of an Advocate before he can plead before the Judge. Secondly, the plea for forgiveness or mercy can only be put forward on grounds recognized by equity and justice.

 

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) is reported in many authentic traditions to have said that he will be the first to seek permission for intercession from Allah (the Exalted) on the Day of Judgement and he will be the first to be permitted to do so. He is also reported to have said that his intercession will be for those people of his ummah who will have committed grave sins.

 

A famous report relating to intercession (Shafaa'ah), which is contained in both the Bukhari and Muslim collections, concludes with the following:

then Allah will say: 'The angels have interceded, the prophets have interceded and the believers have interceded and there now remains the Most Merciful of all merciful ones', and then Allah, out of His Grace and Mercy for His servants, will take a 'handful' out of the Fire of Hell and bring forth from it a people who have never done any good.". Allah's Greatness suggests that this 'handful' will be a very large number of people.

 

May Allah guide us on the path of Ahle Sunnah wal Jamaa'ah, and accept from us our sincere confession of the Oneness (Tawheed) of Allah and the Prophethood (Risaalah) of our beloved Prophet so that we too can be entitled for intercession on the Day of Judgement. Ameen.

 

Abdul Haq Abdul Qadir,

Umhlanga Rocks, KZN, South Africa.