Translated by Zameelur Rahman
[Translator’s note: The following is the translation of a short treatise by Mawlana Zafar Ahmad al-‘Uthmani called Nihayat al-Idrak fi Aqsam al-Ishrak on the nature and types of shirk. He wrote it in response to a question regarding the differences between the shirk of the ancient Arab idolaters and that of some Muslim grave-worshippers. A translation of the question has been omitted. The underlined portions are over-lined in the original.]
The definition of the shirk on which damnation and eternality in Hellfire is consequential upon is what is found in Hashiyat al-Khayali, quoting from Sharh al-Maqasid: “If the disbeliever (kafir) feigns faith he is a hypocrite (munafiq), and if his disbelief occurred after faith he is an apostate (murtadd), and if he believes in a partner in divinity (sharik fi l-uluhiyyah), he is a polytheist (mushrik).” (p. 124)
Thus, it should now be understood that there is a distinction between the Arabian polytheists who would worship idols and between the grave-worshipping Muslims who prostrate themselves before graves and mock tombs (ta‘ziyah). The Arabian polytheists would regard them as partners in divinity and would declare with their tongues that they are partners of Allah. This is proven by His (Exalted is He) statement: “They have assigned a portion for Allah from the tillage and the cattle created by Him, and then said, ‘This is for Allah,’ so they claim, ‘And this is for our associate-gods (shuraka’),’” (6:136) and His (Exalted is He) statement: “They have appointed the Jinn as partners with Allah,” (6:100) and His (Exalted is He) statement: “And you set up rivals with Him,” (41:9) and other such verses. Although those people would make favourable interpretations of this, nevertheless, they were estranged from the declaration of Tawhid, and would say: “Has he made the gods into One God? This is a very strange thing indeed!” (Qur’an 38:4) And while performing Tawaf, they would say: “We are here! You have no partner except a partner that You possess. You own him and all that he owns.”
On the other hand, those who worship graves or worship mock tombs are not like this. Neither do they deny the statement of Tawhid, nor are they estranged from it. On the contrary, they say without exception that Allah (Exalted is He) is the only object of worship, and they declare themselves Muslims. The Hindus regard their gods as partners in divinity, and they deny – and are estranged from – the statement of Tawhid, which is the same condition as the Arabian polytheists as understood from the above.
Thus, the difference between the two is that the shirk of the worshippers of graves and the worshippers of mock tombs is “practical polytheism” (shirk ‘amali) as long as they declare themselves Muslims and monotheists, while the shirk of the Hindus is comprised of both creedal (i‘tiqadi) and practical polytheism. ((This is just like the difference between “practical hypocrisy” (nifaq ‘amali) and “creedal hypocrisy” (nifaq i‘tiqadi). The first is behaving in the manner of hypocrites, although internally the person believes in Islam; and the second is actual disbelief in Islam while pretending to be a Muslim. Shah Wali Allah discusses the difference between practical and creedal hypocrisy in al-Fawz al-Kabir (See: al-Fawz al-Kabir, tr. Salman Nadwi, Dar al-Basha’ir al-Islamiyyah, pp. 37-9) This also corresponds to the distinction between the two types of bid‘ah discussed by Imam al-Shatibi, “true bid‘ah” and “relative bid‘ah.” The first is when someone literally introduces something new into the religion without a sound basis, and the second is where one behaves as though a novel matter is part of religion. (See: Al-I‘tisam, Abu Ishaq al-Shatibi, ed. Mashhur Hasan Al Salman, Maktabat al-Tawhid, 2:127-338) In all of these cases, “nifaq,” “bid‘ah” and “shirk” are used without qualification in the texts of the Shari‘ah for both types (practical and creedal), although their literal and primary usage is for the second type only. (Translator) ))
It should also be understood that prostrating to other than Allah is not unconditionally [creedal] shirk, but in some situations it is [only] a mark of shirk [i.e. practical shirk] and the remainder is actual shirk in the manner described above, meaning, to profess a partner in divinity, verbally, and in the heart. It says in Sharh al-‘Aqa’id: “There is no dispute that there are some sins which the lawgiver has assigned as signs of denial (takdhib), and they are known as such from proofs of the Shari‘ah, and do not depend on intention, like prostrating to an idol, throwing a mushaf into waste, and articulating words of disbelief.” (p. 148)
Prostrating to graves and mock tombs is not a sign of denying the Shari‘ah because worshipping them is not widespread amongst the disbelievers. Yes, that thing worshipping which is widespread amongst the disbelievers, prostrating to it will necessitate the ruling of disbelief judicially –as stated explicitly in the marginalia of Sharh al-‘Aqa’id on the aforementioned page – though, religiously, if there is no defect in [the person’s] faith and belief in his heart, he will be a believer with Allah.
See ‘Allamah Ibn Taymiyyah’s book, al-Sirat al-Mustaqim (pp. 150 – 165), wherein the ‘Allamah wrote very harsh words against venerating graves and prostrating to them, but he did not call those people who were engaged in this “disbelievers” or “polytheists” [although, they were engaging in “practical polytheism”]. Yes, he certainly said it resembles the idolaters.
Moreover, it is found in hadith: “May Allah curse the people who adopted the graves of their prophets as places of prostration. O Allah! Do not make my grave an idol that is worshipped.” However, the jurists derived the prohibition of prostrating to graves from this [hadith]. None of them declared the one prostrating to a grave merely due to the prostration a disbeliever, unless he confessed that it was by way of worship and that the occupant of the grave is an object of worship, meaning, a partner in divinity. So understand! And Allah (Exalted is He) knows best.
[It says] in al-Fatawa al-Kamiliyyah ((The author of this work is Muhammad Kamil ibn Mustafa al-Tarablusi, a jurist and mufti from Tripoli. He was born in Libya in the year 1244 H and was trained at Azhar University where he studied under some of its prominent scholars. He returned to Tripoli and taught at Masrasah ‘Uthman Basha. He authored a number of scholarly books and treatises, the most famous of them his collection of fatawa. He died in the year 1315 H (1897 CE). )) :
I say: It is not hidden what [corruption] has occurred to many of the commoners due to glorifying the graves of the saints and draping them with curtains, of great danger in their beliefs, because they believe with respect to the saints [that they possess] effective agency (ta’thir) along with Allah (Exalted is He), such that they avoid vowing to Allah (Exalted is He) which is established in the Shari‘ah, and they make abundant vows to the saints and draw near to them; and they abandon taking oath by Allah (Exalted is He), such that it has become almost nonexistent amongst them. They do not dare to take oath by them [i.e. the saints] due to their belief that the one who swears by a saint and breaks it, it will cause harm to him in his body, his wealth and his offspring. This is from [creedal] shirk, and protection is from Allah (Exalted is He). Do you not see what the author of Hujjat Allah al-Balighah narrated from his (Allah bless him and grant him peace) statement: “Whoever swears by other than Allah, he has committed shirk”? He said: “Some of them have interpreted it as deterrence and severity, but that is not so, as it is upon its outward [meaning], since they take oath by them with the belief regarding them that they harm them in their bodies and their wealth.”
I heard from one of the judges of Rome, described as knowledgeable and pious, that he said: “If I had the ability to destroy the domes of the saints, I would destroy all of them just as ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab did with the tree under which the pledge occurred, due to what reached him that people attend it and pray near it, so he uprooted it for fear of harm to the laypeople because of it.”
[It is narrated] in the Sahih from Ibn ‘Umar that the tree was made hidden. ((I say: This and what has preceded from ‘Umar that he uprooted it can be reconciled [by saying] that the original tree was hidden and the common people took in its place another tree near to it and they believed it was [the original tree], so ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with him) uprooted that tree. And Allah knows best. (Mawlana Zafar Ahmad al-‘Uthmani) )) They said: And the wisdom [in it being hidden] is so that temptation does not occur by means of it after the good that occurred beneath it, and had it remained, it would not be safe from the ignorant people glorifying it until they may believe that it has the power of causing benefit and harm, as we see today in what is less than it. Ibn ‘Umar alluded to this by his statement: “Its being hidden was a mercy from Allah (Exalted is He).” Ibn Sa‘d narrated with an authentic chain from Nafi‘ that it reached ‘Umar that people attend the tree and prayed near it, so he admonished them and then he ordered that it be uprooted, so it was uprooted. [This is] from al-Jamal ‘ala l-Jalalayn.
And because of what has occurred from some commoners, of the belief in causative agency from the saints, the Wahhabi sect has written with respect to the whole of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa l-Jama‘ah numerous treatises on their polytheism such that they describe us, assemblies of Ahl al-Sunnah, as polytheists! And when they gain dominance over one of us, they say: “Kill the idolater.” And the greatest calamity is in the jurists of the towns, as they command the commoners when directing oaths at them [i.e. the Wahhabis] to swear by a saint, and they say that in this is manifestation of truth. So look how they seek to manifest a worldly right by uprooting religion from its source! And there is no power, nor might, except with Allah (Exalted is He). (pp. 264-5)
I say: The underlined sentences prove that glorification of other than Allah by vowing to him and swearing by his name and prostrating before him, if attached to the belief in his causative agency with Allah (Exalted is He), it is shirk and its participant is a mushrik, in creed and practice.
The great scholar, the knower [of Allah], Ibn al-Qayyim said in Sharh Manazil al-Sa’irin: “Worship brings together two principles: the utmost love with the utmost servility and humbleness.” The author of its marginalia said: “Worship comprises of the utmost love and humbleness just as he said, but this is not its full meaning, because the lover may combine these two properties but is not a worshipper of his beloved. Rather, worship is an expression about a belief and feeling about the object of worship having unseen power beyond the ordinary means by which He is able to cause benefit and harm. Thus, every supplication or praise or veneration accompanied by this belief and feeling is worship.” (1:40)
The upshot of these statements is that those from the worshippers of graves and mock tombs who hold the belief of the attribution of unseen causative agency to the inhabitants of the graves or mock tombs is a mushrik, and whoever, by way of outward veneration, prostrates etc. to them, but does not believe in their causative agency, he is an open sinner (fasiq) due to practical polytheism (shirk ‘amali), but not a disbeliever (kafir).
Hazrat Shaykh [Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi] explained the standard to determine the difference between the belief in causative agency (ta’thir) and the absence of this belief. That is, some have the belief that Allah (Exalted is He) granted a certain creature that is near to Him some independent power to bring benefit and harm in such a way that in order to bring benefit or harm to his advocate or opponent he is not dependent on a particular will of Allah. Although if He wanted to stop him, then again the power of Allah will become dominant. This is just as rulers give their representative governors specific volitions in such a way that their administration at that point in time is not dependent on the acceptance of the central ruler. However, if he wanted to stop them, then the ruler’s decree will become dominant. Thus, this notion is belief in causative agency (ta’thir). The Arabian idolaters had this belief with respect to their false gods.
Some have the belief that such independent power is not found in any creature, but some creatures were given such a rank of closeness and acceptance that they intercede on behalf of those who draw near to them, and then even after this intercession they were not given the choice to bring benefit and harm, but Allah (Exalted is He) is the One Who brings benefit and harm; nonetheless, this creature’s intercession is never rejected, and in order to acquire that intercession, he is treated directly or indirectly in a manner resembling worship. This is not a belief in causative agency. However, without any Shar‘i evidence, rather against Shar‘i evidence, having such a belief is a creedal sin, and behaving in a way resembling worship is practical sin. And due to this resemblance [of worship], in Shar‘i pronouncements, they are called “mushrik.”
Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali said: “This is what occurred to me, and Allah knows best. This is why our teachers and our elders did not anathematise the worshippers of graves (‘abidi al-qubur) and those who prostrate to them and their likes due to interpreting their condition according to the second scenario and not the first, and the proof for that is their claim to be Muslim and to believe in Tawhid and their disassociation from shirk, in contrast to the idolaters of Arabia and India who are estranged from Tawhid and from negating independent power from their gods, and they say: ‘Has he made the gods into One God?’ (Qur’an 38:4). And Allah knows best.”
13 Safar, 1348 H (July, 1929)
Addendum to the Treatise Called “The Peak of Comprehension on the Categories of Polytheism”
By my master, the physician of the ummah, the reviver of religion, [Ashraf ‘Ali al-Thanawi] (may his glory and splendour remain)
The aforementioned account on the distinction between the two shirks which is derived from the universals of the Shari‘ah is in need of specific evidences with respect to both of my claims ((First, that the mushrikun believed in such extraordinary powers (tasarruf) [with respect to their gods] that is not restricted by permission [from Allah] and, second, that the one who believes in extraordinary powers restricted by permission [from Allah] is not committing major shirk (al-shirk al-akbar) (Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi) )) for more satisfaction, which despite a long period of time my mind was empty of deliberating on and exploring. All praise to Allah, the day before yesterday and yesterday, three evidences passed by my mind and sight in succession, which together negate any doubt about both claims.
The first evidence is based on the principles of the logicians, which due to being a specific proof is more satisfying than the universals. That is, that the matter of divine monotheism is a rational necessity, whether a priori or a posteriori – which is another discussion. When a certain matter is rationally necessary, it entails that its opposite is rationally impossible. Thus, the opposite of Tawhid is impossible. This opposite has two possibilities:
- First, negation of God, which is disbelief.
- Second, associating other gods with Him which is shirk.
The impossibility of divisibility necessitates the impossibility of all subdivisions. Thus, shirk entails belief in the impossible. The texts [of the Qur’an] also point to this impossibility, like His (Exalted is He) statement: “Say: Had there been other gods along with him, as they say, then they would have found a way to the Lord of the Throne,” (17:43) and His (Exalted is He) statement: “If there were, in the heavens and the earth, other gods besides Allah, they would both have become corrupted” (21:22) and His (Exalted is He) statement: “Neither has Allah chosen a son, nor is there a god with Him, otherwise every god would have gone away with his own creation, and some of them would have raised themselves above others” (23:91) and His (Exalted is He) statement: “Had Allah opted to have a son of His own, He would definitely have chosen anyone, as He wished” (39:4) and the like of them from the verses [of the Qur’an], according to what I explained in Bayan al-Qur’an. ((Since he explained them in such a way that the verses point towards an explanation of the aforementioned impossibility. (Mawlana) Zafar Ahmad. ))
Extraordinary powers (tasarruf) restricted by permission [from Allah] is not rationally impossible. Thus, that is not shirk. Although believing in any extraordinary power negated by the texts [of the Qur’an and Sunnah] is sin, disbelief, or heresy due to opposition to the texts, based on the varying degrees of the text and the degrees of opposition; nonetheless, it will not be [major] shirk in any situation. The ignorant Arabs being mushrikun is established by explicit texts [of the Qur’an]. Thus, they must have believed in extraordinary powers not restricted by permission [from Allah]. Hence, with praise to Allah, both claims are established.
The second evidence is transmitted [proof] from the statements of the learned scholars, which due to clear agreement with the major scholars is more satisfactory than rational evidence. They are the following:
‘Allamah Qadi Muhammad A‘la al-Thanawi said in his book Kashshaf Istilahat al-Funun compiled in the year 1158 H on the definition of shirk (with kasr):
It is a verbal noun with the meaning of association and belief in a partner for the Lord Who has no partner, as mentioned in al-Muntakhab. The scholars said: Shirk has four types: shirk in divinity, shirk in the necessity of existence, shirk in management and shirk in worship. No one affirms a partner for Allah that is equal to Him in divinity, necessity, power and wisdom, except the dualists, since they affirm two gods, one of them wise, performing good, and the other foolish that performs evil, and they call the first by the name “Yazdan” and the second by the name “Ahruman” who is Satan in their belief.
As for a partner in worship and management, there are many who take that [path]. From them are the worshippers of stars and they are two groups. From them are those who say that Allah (Glorified is He) created these stars and entrusted the management of the lower world to them, so these stars are the managers of this world. They say, therefore, it is necessary for us to worship these stars in devotion to Allah, and to follow Him. These are the philosophers. From them are an extreme group that denies the Creator and say these heavenly bodies and stars are entities with an intrinsic necessary existence and non-existence is impossible for them, and thus, they manage the conditions of the lower world. These are pure atheists (or materialists).
From those who worship other than Allah are the Christians, who worship the Messiah, and from them also are the idol worshippers.
It is necessary to explain the reason for idol worship, since idol worship according to a large group of intellectuals is manifestly irrational. They [i.e. the scholars] mention [a number of] reasons for it [i.e. idol worship]:
The first reason is that when people saw that changes in this world were based upon and were connected to the changes in the conditions of the stars, as in terms of the nearness of the sun and its distance from the zenith the four seasons arise, by means of which different conditions are brought about in this world; and then the people observed the conditions of all the stars, and thus believed fortune and misery was distributed based on the form of their appearance in the horizons of man, according to different situations; when they believed this, it overcame their minds that the foundation of temporal events is the connections between stars, so they went into excess in glorification of them. From them are those who believe them to have intrinsic necessary existence, and that they created this world. And from them are those who believe in their temporality, and that they were created by the “Great God,” but they manage the conditions of this world, and they affirmed intermediaries between the “Great God” and the conditions of this world. Further, when they saw that these stars go out of sight for most of the time, they made for each star an idol from the material affiliated with it. For example, they made an idol of the sun from gold, pearl and diamond. Then they engaged in worship of those idols. Their objective in this was worship of those stars and seeking nearness to them. As for the prophets, they have two stations. One of them is erecting proof that these stars have no causative agency at all in the conditions of this world due to what Allah (Exalted is He) said: “His, indeed, is all creation and command,” (7:54) after having explained that they are subservient [to Him]. And the second of them is that assuming their causative agency, the signs of temporality are found in them, so it is necessary that they were created, and engaging in the worship of the Creator is more worthy than engaging in the worship of creation.
[It says] in al-Kashshaf under the commentary of His (Exalted is He) saying: “So do not set up rivals to Allah while you know” (2:22): “A rival is an equal in essence and an opponent in qualities, so if you say: They used to call their idols by His name and glorify them in the manner He is glorified with nearing acts, and they would not claim that they differ with Allah and oppose Him, I say: When they sought nearness to them and glorified them and named them ‘gods,’ their condition became similar to the condition of one who believes that they are gods equal to Him, able to oppose Him and go against Him, so that was said to them by way of deriding [them].”
The second reason is what Abu Ma‘shar mentioned that many of the people of China and India would affirm God and angels but they believed that He (Exalted is He) is a body with a beautiful form, and likewise the angels, but they are concealed from us in the heavens, so they made forms and statues. They made a form with extreme beauty and they say that it is the form of God and another form less than it in beauty and they regarded it as the form of angels and then they persisted in worship of them, seeking by that worship closeness to Allah and His angels. Thus the reason for idol worship based on this is the belief that Allah (Exalted is He) is a body and in a place, glorified is He!
And the third reason is that a group believe that Allah entrusted the management of all places to a specific angel and entrusted management of every part from the parts of the world to a particular heavenly spirit, and they say, the manager of the seas is an angel and, similarly, the manger of the mountains is another angel, so they made for each of the managing angels a specific idol and sought from each idol what is appropriate to that universal spirit. (p. 771-2)
I say: The exegete, ‘Allamah Nizam al-Din al-Naysaburi, mentioned the like of this in his commentary, Ghara’ib al-Qur’an. Thus, he said:
And know that there is no one in the world that affirms a partner for Allah equal to Him in necessity, knowledge, power and wisdom, although the dualists affirm two gods, a wise one that does good and a foolish one that does evil. As for taking a deity besides Allah, those who follow that [path] are many. The first group are the worshippers of stars, and they are the “Sabiites,” for they say that Allah (Exalted is He) created these stars and they are the managers of this world, so it is necessary for us to worship Allah and the stars in devotion to Allah. And the second group are the worshippers of the Messiah (upon him peace). And the third group are the worshippers of statues. We say: There is no religion older than the religion of the worshippers of statues, and the knowledge that these stones which were manufactured at this time are not the ones that created us and created the heavens and earth is a necessary knowledge, so it is impossible that a great multitude would have agreed on it. Therefore, they must have another objective besides this. The scholars mentioned [a number of] reasons for it [i.e. idol-worship]. The first is what Abu Ma‘shar mentioned.
Then he mentioned the like of what passed shortly, and likewise the second reason is what was mentioned [above], which is that the people saw the conditions of the world connected to the changes in the conditions of the stars, and so on.
And the third of them is that the astrologers would anticipate times over long periods, and they would claim that one who takes a talisman at that time in a specific way he will acquire benefit from it in specific ways, like fortune, fertility and safety from disasters. When they would take a talisman, they glorified it due to their belief that they would benefit from it, so when they went into excess in that glorification, it came to be like worship. When they forgot how this matter started, as time passed, they engaged in its worship.
The fourth of them is that when a prominent man from them died they believed about him that his supplication was answered and his intercession with Allah (Exalted is He) is accepted, so they adopted a statue on his form and worshipped it based on the belief that that man would be an intercessor for them on the Day of Resurrection with Allah (Exalted is He), and they say: “These are our intercessors with Allah.”
And the fifth of them is that they probably took them as a direction for their prayer and their acts of obedience and prostrated towards them not to them, just as we prostrate towards the qiblah not to it, and when this condition persisted, the ignorant [from them] thought that it is necessary to worship them.
Sixth, perhaps they were from the anthropomorphists, so they believed in the possibility of the Lord becoming incarnate in them, so they worshipped them based on this interpretation. ((I say: Thus, it is summed up for us from this explanation that the causes of shirk are many:
- First, belief of something being a partner with Allah (Exalted is He) in divinity and necessity and there is no one who claims this besides the dualists.
- Second, belief of something being manager of the world as a medium between it and Allah (Exalted is He), with intrinsic causative agency in the world, i.e. with volition without need for the will of Allah over it, as Allah entrusted that to him, as is the belief of the worshippers of stars and some of the idol worshippers.
As for the belief of it being manager and a causative agent while dependent in its management and agency on the will of Allah and His intent, that is not shirk due to His (Exalted is He) statement: “And [I swear by] the [Angels] managing the affair” (79:5). And likewise the belief of it being a medium between it and Allah (Exalted is He) is likewise not shirk because the angels and messengers are mediums between the slaves and the Creator in terms of [gaining] knowledge [of Allah] and the laws [of Shari‘ah] and some of the angels being mediums in creative matters is not hidden to one who reads the texts [of the Qur’an] and hadiths.
- Third, prostrating to something while calling it “god” without belief of it having causative agency or intrinsic management, as is the case with some of the idol worshippers.
- Fourth, the belief of Allah (Exalted is He) being a body in a place. The belief that He has a son and a wife is included in this as they are from the concomitants of a body.
- Fifth, belief of something besides Allah (Exalted is He) causing benefit and harm intrinsically i.e. without need for the permission of Allah in that, as is the belief of the makers of talismans.
- Sixth, belief in the incarnation of the Lord into something.
- Seventh, belief in something being an intercessor for one before Allah (Exalted is He) and in this there is some detail which will come.
Thus, worship is the demonstration of the utmost servility and humbleness to something along with one belief from amongst these beliefs concerning it [i.e. the object of worship], and its proof is what we mentioned earlier that worship is the utmost of love and the utmost of servility and humbleness, with the feeling that the objective of worship has unseen power beyond ordinary means by which he can effect benefit and harm.
Prostration to something is not always worship as the angels prostrated to Adam and the brothers of Yusuf and his parents fell down in prostration to him, and it is apparent that the most correct [view] is that this prostration was by placing the head on the ground as comes to the mind from it linguistically, but it was not attached to a belief from the aforementioned beliefs, but was for mere greeting and kindness, which was allowed in earlier dispensations and was then abrogated in our Shari‘ah. This is why the scholars say that the prostration of greeting is haram and the prostration of worship is disbelief. Moreover, we ought to ponder over the conditions of those who prostrate to graves, which of the groups of idolaters are they similar to? It is apparent from their condition that they are similar to those who when a pious man from them died they believed about him that his supplication is answered and his intercession with Allah is accepted so they make a statue of him, on his form, and they worship it based on the belief that that person will be an intercessor for them on the Day of Resurrection with Allah (Exalted is He) and they say “these are our intercessors with Allah.” However, those [Muslims] who prostrate to graves do not make a statue of him on his form as opposed to the idolaters. Yes, they are equal in prostration to that man, outwardly, and in the belief of him being an intercessor, inwardly, and it has just passed that prostration to something is not always [creedal] shirk even if it is from the greatest of enormities [and practical shirk]. We should now explore the belief of intercession about someone, is it always shirk or is there detail to it? It is not hidden to the one who read texts [of the Qur’an] and has experience of hadiths that belief in intercession about someone is not always shirk, due to intercession being established for the Prophets and for the bearers of the Qur’an and the saints on the Day of Resurrection after His (Exalted is He) permission for them to do so. Thus, it is necessary that the idolaters who said about their idols “these are our intercessors with Allah,” the meaning of intercession according to them is a meaning beyond this, as will come, [quoting] from Ibn al-Qayyim. (Mawlana) Zafar Ahmad. )) (1:181)
‘Allamah Ibn al-Qayyim said in Ighathat al-Lahfan the upshot of which is that:
He (Exalted is He) said: “Or do they choose as intercessors other than Allah? Say: Even though they have no power at all and no intelligence? Say: Intercession belongs entirely to Allah. His is the dominion of the heavens and the earth.” (39:43-4) Thus, He explained that intercession is for the one who has dominion of the heavens and the earth, and that is Allah Alone, for He is the One Who intercedes by Himself with Himself to show mercy to His slave. Thus, He gives permission to whoever He wills to seek intercession on his behalf, so the intercession in reality belongs only to Him, and the one who intercedes with Him only intercedes by His permission and His command after His (Glorified and Exalted is He) intercession, which is His wish from Himself to show mercy to His slave. This is contrary to the polytheistic intercession which these idolaters and those who agree with them would affirm, which is what He (Glorified and Exalted is He) nullified in His Book by His statement: “And guard yourself against a day when no one shall stand for anyone in anything, nor shall ransom be accepted from anyone, nor shall intercession be of benefit to him,” (2:123) and His saying: “Before a day comes when there will be no trading, no friendship and no intercession,” (2:254) and His saying: “They have no guardian or intercessor besides Him,” (6:51) and His saying: “You have no guardian or intercessor besides Him.” (32:4) Thus, He (Glorified is He) explained that [His] slaves have no intercessor besides Him. Rather, when Allah (Glorified is He) wishes to show mercy to His slave, He gives permission to one who will intercede for him, just as He (Exalted is He) said: “There is no intercessor but after His permission,” (10:3) and He (Exalted is He) said: “Who can intercede with Him without His permission.” (2:255) Thus, intercession by His permission is not intercession besides Him, nor is an intercessor an intercessor besides Him, rather, [he is] an intercessor by His permission. The difference between the two intercessors is like the difference between a partner and a slave under instructions [from His master]. Thus, the intercession which [the Qur’an] negates is the intercession of a partner, for He has no partner. And the intercession which it affirms is the intercession of a slave under instruction, who does not intercede nor does he come before his Master until he gives him permission.
Until he said:
The difference between them is the difference between creation and Creator, Master and slave, Owner and property, the Independent and the dependent and the One Who has no need of anyone ever and the one dependent in every way on another. Thus, intercessors with creation are their partners, as their interests are maintained by them and they are their supporters, by means of whom the authority of kings and powerful men are upheld, and were it not for them their hands and their tongues would not spread amongst the people. Thus, because of their need for them, they need to accept their intercession, even if they did not permit it and are not happy with the intercessor, because they fear that if they reject their intercession their obedience of them will diminish, and they will go to others, so they find no alternative to accepting their intercession, whether against their will or wilfully.
As for the Independent, Whose independence is from the necessities of His being, and all that is besides Him is dependent on Him by its essence, and all who is in the heavens and the earth are His slaves, compelled by His power, He (Glorified is He) said: “To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth. Who can intercede with Him without His permission?” (2:255) and He said: “Say: Intercession belongs entirely to Allah.” (39:44) Thus, He explained that the condition of His dominion of the heavens of the earth necessitates that intercession in its entirety belongs to Him alone, and that no one can intercede with Him except by His permission, as He has no partner, rather only slaves, as opposed to the intercession of the people of the world, some of them with others.
Until he said:
The secret of the difference between the two intercessions is that in the intercession of a creation with a creation and his request from the one interceded with, he does not depend therein on the one interceded with, neither in creation nor in command nor in permission. Rather, he is a cause moving him from the outside, like all causes which move natural means. And this cause that moves [natural means] often agrees with the thing which is moved by means of it, like one who intercedes with him in a matter he likes and approves, and often is opposed by him like one who intercedes with him in a matter he hates. Moreover, his request and intercession is sometimes stronger than the conflicting [element] so he accepts the intercession of the intercessor and sometimes the conflicting [element] in his view is stronger than the intercession of the intercessor so he rejects it and does not accept it. And sometimes the two matters are equal to him so he remains undecided between the conflicting [element] which requires rejection and the intercession which requires acceptance, so he waits until one of the two matters becomes favourable to him by means of something that gives [either side] preference. Thus, the intercession of a person with a creature like him is struggling in being a cause – separate from the one interceded with – by which he moves him, even if against his will, so the position of intercession for him is the position of one who orders other than him or compels him to do something either by force and authority or by means of what he desires. Thus, it is necessary that the one interceded with acquires from the intercessor either something he desires that will benefit him or something from him which he fears which is repelled thereby.
This is different from the intercession with the Lord (Glorified is He), since as long as He does not create the intercession of the intercessor and permit him therein and approve of it from him and accept the intercession, it could not come into existence. And the intercessor does not intercede with Him due to the Lord’s need for him or fear of him or desire for what he has, but his intercession with Him is due merely to submitting to His command and following Him, as he is commanded to intercede in obedience to the command. For none of the prophets and angels and all creation move to intercede or [do] anything else except by the wish of Allah (Exalted is He) and His creation. Thus, the Lord (Glorified and Exalted is He) is the One Who moves the intercessor so that he intercedes. The intercessor with creation is the one who moves the one interceded with until he accepts. And the intercessor with creation is free from him in most of his affairs and he is in reality his partner. Even if he is his property and his slave, the one interceded with is in need of him, in what he gains from him of benefit and help and support and other than that, just as the intercessor is in need of him in what he gains from him of sustenance, help and other than that, so each of them are in need of the other.
Whoever Allah (Exalted is He) grants the ability to understand this explanation and recognise it, the reality of Tawhid and shirk and the difference between what Allah (Exalted is He) affirmed of intercession and what He negated and nullified will become evident to him. And he to whom Allah has not appointed light, for him there is no light. ((I say: After this it is not permissible to charge those who prostrate to graves with disbelief and major shirk (al-shirk al-akbar) due only to the belief about the inhabitants of graves that they are their intercessors with Allah, so long as they are not asked about the nature of this belief of theirs. Before asking [them about the nature of their belief], we must act on what the scholars said, that the statement of a speaker, “the spring produced vegetation,” is understood as a literal attribution if the one who said it is an atheist and a metaphorical attribution if the one who said it is a monotheist. Likewise, the statement, “these are our intercessors with Allah,” will be understood as the polytheistic intercession if the speaker is not a Muslim, and a Shar‘i intercession if he is a Muslim. Likewise, the statement that “so-and-so benefits and harms” will be understood as intrinsic benefit and harm if an open disbeliever, and benefit and harm by the permission of Allah and His grace which He endowed on him if a believing monotheist who accepts Islam. This is how this matter ought to be understood. And all praise belongs to Allah, the Gracious Sovereign.
Perhaps you realised from the distinction which ‘Allamah Ibn al-Qayyim discussed that it is based on what Shaykh [Ashraf ‘Ali al-Thanawi] said in explaining the difference in the belief of causative agency and its absence. Thus, the idolater believes that the intercession of his object of worship is effective due to what he has of independent power according to his belief, while the monotheist who glorifies graves does not believe it has causative agency, nor that an intercessor causes harm and benefit [intrinsically], but only believes that he will not be rejected in his intercession due to the position he holds before Allah. This is not shirk, although it is a sinful [belief]. So, understand! (Mawlana) Zafar Ahmad. )) (Summarised from pp. 115-8)
From these quotes, the first claim is established explicitly and the second claim implicitly.
The third is transmitted proof from the words of the Lord of the Worlds, Whose testimony, due to being Knower of the world of secrets and hidden things, is more adequate than everything else in terms of authority. That is, His (Exalted is He) saying: “Say: Call those Whom you assume [to be gods] besides Him, while they do not own [the power of] removal of distress from you and [do not own the power] to change [it],” (17:56) and His (Exalted is He) saying: “And those whom they invoke besides Him do not own [the right of] intercession; but those who bear witness to the truth [may intercede for the believers],” (43:86) and similar verses that escape restriction.
The way this proves the first claim is that in these statements ownership of extraordinary powers has been negated, and the requirement, rather the reality, of “ownership” as per the nature of “ownership” is that these extraordinary powers are not restricted by permission [from Allah]. From the context, the objective is to nullify the beliefs of the idolaters. It is known from this that they used to believe in such volitions and extraordinary powers which were not restricted by permission [from Allah]. Thus, the first claim is established.
With respect to conditions used in a context of condemnation, the implied opposite meaning ((The implied opposite meaning here is: if it is not believed that extraordinary powers are unrestricted by permission from Allah, it is not shirk. )) is taken into consideration. From this the second claim is also proven.
And all praise belongs to Allah for completing favours and inspiring wisdom.
Jumada al-Thaniyah, 1345 H (December, 1926)
Imdad al-Ahkam, 1:119-132