Unpicking the concept of wasilah – can you visit shrines or ask people to pray for you?
O you who have believed, fear Allah and seek waseela the means [of nearness] to Him and strive in His cause that you may succeed. (5:35)
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَابْتَغُوا إِلَيْهِ الْوَسِيلَةَ وَجَاهِدُوا فِي سَبِيلِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
yaaa aiyuhal lazeena aamanut taqul laaha wabtaghooo ilaihil waseelata wa jaahidoo fee sabeelihee la’allakum tuflihoon
Seeking the means of nearness is called tawassul. (Seeking wasilah).
We gain wasilah by striving in the way of Allah (jihad), which is not just physical jihad on the battlefield, but spiritual jihad, as it has two dimensions. Thus if you strive for the sake of Allah, you will be among those who succeed. The ayah is directing the believers to practice taqwa, (which is to do His commands and avoid His prohibitions).
Tawassul through the obligations
Tawassul seeking nearness to Allah Almighty comes through performing the obligations, for instance the salah, zakat, siyyam and hajj. These are the obligations and they pull us close to him.
As per the famous Hadith Qudsi Allah Almighty says
On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
Allah (mighty and sublime be He) said: Whosoever shows enmity to someone devoted to Me, I shall be at war with him. My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it. I do not hesitate about anything as much as I hesitate about [seizing] the soul of My faithful servant: he hates death and I hate hurting him. (Bukhari)
This means that we do not get closer to Allah than by continually doing the obligations, and then by adding the sunnah and the nawafil. Through that we will reach the level of His love.
Can you seek nearness to Allah through an intermediary
Seeking tawassul from any one other than the Prophet (peace be on him) is a matter of discussion among scholars. It is not a straightforward topic. Ibn Taymiyya wrote a book of around 500 pages on at Tawassul al Wasilah.
In the story of the stone which blocked the entrance of the cave, the trapped men begged Allah to move the rock for the deeds they had done for Allah’s sake. Each time the rock moved a little bit, but not enough for them to leave, until the third one’s deeds were added. The core of this story is that they were seeking nearness to Allah through their good deeds. [i]
It is therefore agreed and clear that we draw close to Allah through our own personal actions.
What is wasilah?
Wasilah is the highest and best rank and a station in Jannah, which only accommodates one person, under the throne of Allah Almighty.
In Sahih Muslim, Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin al ‘As (may Allah be pleased with him) said when you hear the adhan, ask Allah to grant the Prophet (peace be on him) the wasilah, a high rank in Jannah fitting for only one of Allah’s servants and he hoped that it would be him.
‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin Al-‘As (may Allah be pleased with them) reported that he heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) saying:
When you hear the Adhan, repeat what the mu’adhdhin says. Then ask Allah to exalt my mention because everyone who does so will receive in return ten rewards from Allah. Then beseech Allah to grant me al wasilah, which is a high rank in Jannah, fitting for only one of Allah’s slaves; and I hope that I will be that man. If any one asks al wasilah for me, it becomes incumbent upon me to intercede for him. (Muslim)
What to say when hearing the adhan (call to prayer)
The Sunnah recommends that while the adhan is being called, one should repeat every line silently after the Mu’adhdhin (the one who calls the adhan), but when he says ‘Hayya ‘alas-Salah’ and ‘Hayya ‘ala-l-falah’ ‘حَيَّ عَلَى الصَّلاَةِ وَحَيَّ عَلَى الْفَلَاحِ’ one should say: ‘There is no might or power except with Allah’. La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah
لا حولا ولا قوّة إلّا باللّه
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
When you hear the adhan, repeat what the Mu’adhdhin says. (Imam Malik – Muwatta)
‘Some of my companions told me that Hisham had said’, ‘When the Mu’adhdhin said, ‘Haiya alas-salah (come for the prayer).’ Muawiya said, ‘La hawla wala quwata illa billah’ and added, ‘We heard your Prophet (peace be upon him) saying the same.’ (Sahih Bukhari)
After the adhan, it is recommended to say the following dua (supplication):
Allahumma rabba hadhihi-d-da‘awati-t-tammati wa-s-Salati-l-qa’imati, ati Muhammadan il-wasilata wa-l-fadilata (wa-d-darajata-r-rafî‘ati) wa-b‘ath-hu maqamam mahmudan illadhi wa‘adtahu (innaka la tukhliful mi’ad)
0 Allah, Lord of this most perfect call, and of the Prayer that is about to be established, grant to Muhammad the favour of nearness (to You) and excellence and a place of distinction, and exalt him to a position of glory that You have promised him.
Whoever asks for wasilah for the Prophet (peace be on him) will get his shafa (intercession).
Therefore, by asking Allah for this we will be included in his intercession inshAllah. This is the easy bit. Everyone agrees on it.
Asking others to make dua for you
The Prophet (peace be on him) said is it possible to seek nearness to Allah through other people, for instance if you believe someone is a righteous person, you can ask them to make dua for you.
We often say, ‘Keep me in your dua’ or ‘I’m making dua for you’ Saying this is fine. As Prophet (peace be on him) himself did this when he asked Omar (may Allah be pleased with him) to pray for him.
When he was going to umrah he said to Omar, ‘Ya ukhay (my brother), don’t forget me in your dua.’ Omar (may Allah be pleased with him) was so pleased at being called him his brother.
The Prophet (peace be on him) when he said whoever prays for his wasilah gave us the proof the permissibility to ask others to pray for us.
It is forbidden to ask the deceased to make dua for you, including the Prophet (peace be on him)
Omar (may Allah be pleased with him) used to make a special supplication when they had drought, called salatul istisqa. (Sukya is rain). Omar used to say:
‘Oh Allah we used to do tawassul to you through your Prophet (peace be on him) and after his death we seek nearness to You through his uncle, Abbas, so give us the rain, ya Allah’.
There is disagreement about the interpretation hadith. Some say that during the life of the Prophet (peace be on him) they were not asking Allah through the Prophet (peace be on him) but through his duas. After he passed away he couldn’t make dua for them, so they asked Allah for nearness to him through the dua of Abbas. This is why it is not allowed to ask anyone who is dead to make dua for you.
There can be no third person between us and Allah
It was narrated from ‘Uthman bin Hunaif that a blind man came to the Prophet (ﷺ) and said:
‘Pray to Allah to cure me.’ He said: ‘If you wish to store your reward for the Hereafter, that is better, or if you wish, I will supplicate for you.’ He said: ‘Supplicate.’ So the Prophet (peace be on him) told him to make dua perfectly and to recite the dua:
‘Allahumma inni as’aluka wa atawajjahu ilaika bimuhammadin nabiyyir-rahmah. Ya Muhammadu inni qad tawajjahtu bika ila rabbi fi hajati hadhihi lituqda. Allahumma fashaffi’hu fiya
O Allah, I ask of You and I turn my face towards You by virtue of the intercession of Muhammad the Prophet of mercy. O Muhammad, I have turned to my Lord by virtue of your intercession concerning this need of mine so that it may be met. O Allah, accept his intercession concerning me. (ibn Majah)
There is a lot of debate about this narration. The bottom line is that we have different views. It is definitely not allowed for there to be a third person between us and Allah Almighty. In jahililya they used idols as a means of getting nearness to Allah. In surah Zumar, Allah says:
Unquestionably, for Allah is the pure religion. And those who take protectors besides Him [say], ‘We only worship them that they may bring us nearer to Allah in position.’ Indeed, Allah will judge between them concerning that over which they differ. Indeed, Allah does not guide he who is a liar and [confirmed] disbeliever. (39:3)
Those people said they were not worshipping Allah but using their idols to become close to Allah. This is where the core problem is. Even the Prophet (peace be on him) can’t be a third person between us and Allah. This is where shirk creeps in.
Salafis and Sufis
We find two extreme attitudes on this topic. The hardcore Salafis tend to be very harsh when deterring people from shirk, which is not in line with the prophetic approach; they often tar everyone with a sweeping stroke of the brush. However everyone is not the same, so the approach needs to less aggressive when dealing with issues of disagreement in the community.
Nevertheless without doubt we want to keep the tawheed (oneness) of Allah and prophetic guidance, without going to either extreme or creating more harm to the community through harshness and looseness.
The salafis say such narrations are weak and unreliable. However, the critics of hadith verified these narrations and said they are authentic. Therefore it is permissible to do tawassul (seek someone’s dua) with conditions, knowing that it is only Allah who grants the dua. Then why seek the dua of a third person?
Why ask someone to make dua for you
We know we have many mistakes and shortcomings, and that there are people who are closer to Allah than us. Indeed, children are purer than us, so some scholars would ask children to make dua for them, because children have no sins and no takleef (accountability), they are close to Allah.
Our dua should be direct to Allah
We rely on Allah for repentance and provision and protection, however because the Prophet (peace be on him) made tawassul (seeking the dua of others) permissible we can do this. However we have to be very clear that we do not believe any person other than Allah Almighty has the power to increase our provisions or protect us etc.
Asking others to fulfil your dua is impermissible
It is very common to find people visiting the shrines of saints and the graves of awliya (pious people who were close to Allah) and we see plenty of impermissible practices. People visit imams, or shuyukh or walis and ask them to grant their duas. This is absolutely unacceptable.
Advising with gentleness
Though it is wrong to be bowing down at shrines, tying knots and requests, and all the myriad practices people do expecting the deceased to answer their duas, we have to educate them with kindness, and be careful not to tar them all with the same brush. We shouldn’t pronounce people who visit graves kufaar (non believers), as some people do and at the same time we do not say what they are doing is ok. We should educate them and tell them they are not allowed to do this. The one who is answering relieving and curing is Allah.
A salafi speaker at an event we were both speaking at, said the people of Sham are grave worshippers. This is not true. If people go to graves and make dua to Allah to forgive them, protect them and give them relief that is fine, as long as they are very clear that they are not worshipping the grave, or asking the deceased to answer their dua. We do not worship the wali, and we are not approving the haram practices like prostrating in front of the grave or putting the dust of the graves on their eyes, this is biddah (innovation) and not allowed at all.
Can we visit graves
Allah Almighty sent the Prophet (peace be on him) to liberate us from shirk and such practices. There is a heavy disagreement among scholars whether you can get closeness to Allah by going to the grave of the wali.
The position which is in the middle of the dispute is that all the shirk is forbidden. If someone wishes to visit the grave of pious person, with the intention that they are good people based on their reputation and biography, then they may visit the grave and make dua for that person, and their own dua to Allah. The person in the grave does not boost their dua. Though we can ask a pious person who is alive to make dua for us.
Is it permissible to feed people on behalf of the deceased
It is permissible to give charity such as feeding people on behalf of the deceased, as sadaqa. The deceased may be your relative or friend or an awliya (person close to Allah) from the past.
For instance you want to give charity on behalf of your father, this charity will be in his record.
Is it recommended to visit graves
The Prophet (peace be on him) said in a hadith that visiting graveyards is a good reminder of the akhirah.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
Visit the graves, for they remind you of the Hereafter. (Muslim)
You are reminded of your mortality and reality. This does not mean that you travel the world for the sake of vising graves, this is not what our shariah promotes. Instead, it is better to make the intention to visit the Prophet’s grave (peace be on him), his masjid and Makkah. But if you happen to be in the vicinity, then you can visit the graves of people like Abu Hanifa and Imam al Awzai (may Allah be pleased with them) as their maqam (place of burial) is very well known. You may recite fatiha and make dua. It is permissible. And if you wish recite Quran but that’s it.
There is barakah in the area a person is buried when they are pious, because barakah does not leave with the soul when a person leaves dunya. The soul lived in that body and as the body is in that place, that place has barakah. In the hadith the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
Verily, Allah has forbidden the earth to consume the bodies of the Prophets. (Sunan Abi Dawoud, Nasai, ibn Majah)
In another narration, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
The Prophets are alive in their graves, and pray… On the night of the Isra (Night Journey), I passed by Musa (who was) standing in his grave and praying. (Muslim)
There is a point of disagreement whether among whether the bodies of pious people also do not decompose.
Is it permissible to visit the shrines fo saints?
All over the world there are big Sufi mazaars (shrines), but they are in fact a money-making machines. They have odd practices which pollute people’s minds.
Some people do tawaf around the mazaar (shrine). This is shirk if they do it understanding what they are doing, and intending it as a form of ‘ibadah. We need to educate them and tell them not to do this.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the other extreme. For example, in Libya, there was a big mosque, which I prayed in on my first visit. A few years later after Ghadafi passed away, I visited Tripoli again but found the mosque, had been turned to rubble. A bulldozer demolished the mosque because in one corner there was a pious person’s grave. It was not in the path of the qibla, and no one was doing tawaf around, and it was not disturbing anyone.
The Sufi position and karama
The Sufi position tends to exaggerate the blessings of the sites where pious people are buried and what pious people can do, such as be present with you all the time, or when you say his name.
The awliya (those close to Allah) do not perform miracles (mujiza) however they can be blessed with extraordinary gifts in dunya, which are called karama (not mujiza). These can be quite remarkable, for instance, the karama for Muryam is described in the Quran that she was gifted food from the ghayb (unseen):
Whenever Zakariyya entered the sanctuary to (see) her, he found with her food. He said,’ O Maryam! Whence comes this to you? She said, It is from Allah. Surely Allah gives to whom He pleases without measure.’ (3:37)
In the story of the throne of Bilqis which was transported in the blink of an eye during the time of Suleman the man who performed this extraordinary act, was Asif bin Barkhiya, the scribe of Suleman, a truthful believer who knew the greatest name of Allah. (There has been much written on which of Allah’s names is the greatest, and there is an opinion that it is Allah itself).
There are also many instances of karama that occurred with the companions. No one who genuinely receives karama advertises this fact. No one in this position sticks a flag on their house.
There are plenty of exaggerations and confusions not in line with shariah. We need to understand the basics in shariah. Otherwise you end up living in an illusory bubble. We need to be careful not to deny karama and not to exaggerate them either. Be balanced
In conclusion, there are certain points of agreement regarding tawassul. But we have to avoid the two extremes of the Sufi and the Salafi position. We all want to keep the tawheed of Allah but not by harming the community by being harsh or loose.
Delivered on 25th March 2020 at the Wednesday Ladies Tafseer Class.
[i] Three men of a people before you, were on a journey when they were overtaken by a storm and therefore they took shelter in a cave. A rock slipped down from the mountain and blocked the exit from cave. One of them said:
“The only way for deliverance left is to beseech Allah in the name of some virtuous deed.”
Thereupon one of them supplicated:
Story of 3 Men Trapped in a Cave
“O Lord, my parents were very old, and I used to offer them their nightly drink of milk before my children and the other members of the family.
One day I went astray far away in search of green trees and could return only after my parent had gone to sleep. When I had milked the animals and brought their nightly drink to them. They were fast asleep, but I did not like to disturb them, nor would give any part of the milk to my children and other members of the family till after my parents had their drink.
Thus, with the vessel in hand, I awaited their awakening till the flush of dawn, while the children cried out of hunger at my feet. When they woke up, they had their drink. O Lord, if I did this thing seeking only your pleasure, then do relieve us of the distress wrought upon us by this rock.”
Thereupon, the rock moved a little but not enough to let them pass out.
Thereupon the second man supplicated:
“O Lord, I had a cousin that I loved more passionately than any man could love a woman. I tried to seduce her but she would refuse, till in a season of great hardship due to famine, she approached me (for help) and I gave her one hundred and twenty Dinars on the condition that she would have sexual intercourse with me. She agreed, and when we got together and I was just going to have intercourse with her, she pleaded, ‘Fear Allah, and do not break the seal unlawfully’, whereupon I moved away from her, despite the fact that I desired her most passionately; and I let her keep the money I had given her.
O Lord, if I did this thing seeking only your pleasure, then do move the distress in which we find ourselves.”
Again the rock moved a little but not enough to let them pass out.
Then the third supplicated:
“O Lord, I hired some labourers and paid them their dues, but one of them left leaving behind what was due to him. I invested it in business and the business prospered greatly.
After a while, the labourer came back and said: ‘O servant of Allah, hand over to me my wages.’ I said to him: ‘All that you see is yours; camels, cattle, goats and slaves.” He said: ‘Don’t play joke with me, O servant of Allah.’ I assured him: ‘I am not joking.’ So he took all of it sparing nothing. O Lord, if I did this seeking only for your pleasure, do relieve us of our distress.”
The rock then moved away, and all the three came out of the cave safe and sound.
Riyaad as-Saliheen (The Meadows of the Righteous) (Abridged)
By Imam An Nawawi Vol. 1
September 22, 2023
September 21, 2023