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The Islamic View about Intercession (Shafaa‘ah)

The Day of Judgment will be the time when Allaah SWT will deliver perfect justice to everyone based on their beliefs and actions, without anyone being wronged or short-changed in any way whatsoever. Perfect justice requires perfect knowledge of all the facts about beliefs, actions, circumstances and intentions of people; and that knowledge is possessed only by Allaah SWT. Thus, to avoid injustice, Allaah’s decision must not be influenced by anyone at all because that influence will bring imperfection into the decision due to the lack of perfect knowledge of that person. That is why everyone will be judged purely and solely by Allaah SWT without any interference or influence from anyone whatsoever; and everyone will have to stand for accountability on his own without having anyone at all to help him or plead for him.

Although justice will be meted out  to everyone, the righteous believers will also be treated with mercy by Allaah SWT. There will be many forms of mercy and grace in the treatment of the sincere believers who practised righteousness. One form of mercy is intercession. The privilege of intercession will be granted to those slaves of Allaah SWT who excelled in their service to Allaah SWT and His Deen and thus deserved special recognition. The Prophet ŝall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam will be the main intercessor[i], but others will also be granted this privilege according to their level of excellence in serving Allaah and His Deen. These intercessors include other prophets, Siddiqeen (the people of truth), Shuhadaa (those who gave their lives witnessing the Truth of Allaah’s Deen), those who dedicated their lives to the establishment of His Deen, etc. They themselves will be taken to Jannah without accountability.

Those invited to intercede will be allowed to intercede only in favour of those of their loved ones for whom Allaah permits them. It is because only Allaah SWT alone knows who deserves His mercy. Such intercession will benefit people in the following ways:

  • Those believers who will have a reasonable balance of good deeds over bad deeds will be treated with “Easy Accountability” – that is, they will be admitted into Jannah on the basis of their overall balance, without item by item accountability of their infractions. Although easy accountability is indicated in Soorah Al-Inshiqaaq (83:7-8) for those whose record is given into their right hands, according to a Hadeeth reported from ‘Ayeshah RA, easy accountability will not be automatic. It will be by Allaah’s mercy and intercession of certain good deeds.

    The Prophet said, “There are three attributes that if a person possesses them, Allaah SWT will treat him with “Easy Accountability” and admit him into Jannah by way of His mercy: giving to the one who deprives you; forgiving the person who does wrong to you; and establishing relations with a relative who breaks away from you.” (Al-Mustadrak from Aboo Hurairah)

    ‘Ayeshah mentioned to the Prophet that verse “whoever commits an evil act, he shall be recompensed accordingly”(An-Nisaa 4:123) is the scariest verse of the Qur-aan. The Prophet explained how sufferings in the world will be used to offset a believer’s bad deeds and then he said, “Doomed is anyone who is subjected to detailed accountability.” Or in another version “Whoever is subject to detailed accountability of his actions, he shall be punished”. When ‘Ayeshah asked about “Easy Accountability” as per verses 83:7-8, he said, “That is just about the presentation of the record; whoever is asked to account for his actions, he shall be doomed/punished.” (Al-Bukhari, Al-Muslim and Aboo Dawood from ‘Ayeshah)

  • Those believers who deserve only a lower level of Jannah based on their performance will be raised to higher levels to join their loved ones from their families and friends.[ii]
  • Those believers whose heart was in the right place, but were weak in performance such that they would end up in the middle of the scale (equal debits and credits, zero balance), neither deserving punishment nor reward will be granted Jannah through intercession.
  • Those believers who will be punished in Hell for their crimes will, after the completion of their punishment, be admitted to Jannah on the basis of intercession.[iii]   

The good deeds that are very much loved by Allaah SWT will also be allowed to intercede for those who practised those beloved deeds with excellence. One way of understanding this intercession is that during the performance evaluation, Allaah SWT will grant a high weight to those actions and/or grant bonus points to the attachment and dedication of a person to them. For example, the Qur-aan will intercede for those who dedicated their lives for spreading its message and implementing the system of life it taught[iv]. The following Hadeeth, for example, makes this point:

Allaah's Messenger (s‘aws) said, “Fasting and the Qur-aan will intercede for man (on the Day of Judgment). Fasting will say, ‘O my Lord, I kept him away from his food and his passions by day, so accept my intercession for him.’ The Qur-aan will say, ‘I kept him away from sleep by night, so accept my intercession for him.’ Then their intercession will be accepted.” (Tirmidzi from ‘Abdullaah ibn Amr)

Angels can also intercede, but their intercession is in the nature of a general Du‘aa for the benefit of the sincere believers, such as the following:

The angels who bear the Throne and those around it exalt the impeccable glory of their Lord and praise Him; believe in Him; and implore forgiveness for the believers saying, "Our Lord! Your Mercy and Knowledge embrace all things. Forgive, then, those who turn to You in repentance, and follow Your path; and save them from the punishment of the Blazing Fire! Our Lord! And admit them into the Gardens of Eternity, which You have promised to them, those who do good from their fathers and their wives and their offspring, You are the Mighty, the Wise. And save them from ills of that Day; and anyone who is saved from ills that Day – he indeed is the one on whom You have bestowed Mercy; and that is the supreme success.”(Al-Ghaafir 40:7-9)

The intercession will not be allowed for saving anyone from the punishment of their serious crimes if the person had not repented, had not done enough to compensate for that crime and had not sought Allaah’s forgiveness for it during the life of this world. This is indicated by the Ahaadeeth such as the following:

When Allaah revealed the verse: “Warn your nearest kinsmen,” Allaah's Messenger got up and said, “O people of Quraish (or said similar words)! Save yourselves from the Hellfire as I cannot save you from Allaah's punishment; O Banee ‘Abd Manaaf! I cannot save you from Allaah's Punishment, O Safiyyah, the Aunt of Allaah's Messenger! I cannot save you from Allaah's punishment; O Fatimah bint Muhammad! Ask me anything from my wealth, but I cannot save you from Allaah's punishment.” (Al-Bukhari from Aboo Hurairah)

The Prophet warned those who do not pay Zakaah, and then added, "I do not want anyone of you to come to me on the Day of Resurrection, carrying over his neck a sheep that will be bleating. Such a person will (then) say, ‘O Muhammad! (Please intercede for me,)’ I will say to him. ‘I can't help you, for I conveyed Allaah's Message to you.’ Similarly, I do not want anyone of you to come to me carrying over his neck a camel that will be grunting. Such a person (then) will say ‘O Muhammad! (Please intercede for me).’ I will say to him, ‘I can't help you for I conveyed Allaah's message to you.’” (Al-Bukhari from Aboo Hurairah)

There is a similar but longer Hadeeth in Al-Bukhari and Al-Muslim about those who misappropriated anything of value from the booty of war or Islamic treasury, wherein the Prophet mentions many items one by one describing how a misappropriated item will be riding on the neck of the dishonest person and in each case the Prophet responds to his request for help by saying, “I can't help you for I conveyed Allaah's message to you”.

The concept of intercession was the same for all of the followers of the Prophets and messengers. They taught their followers clearly and unequivocally the reality personal accountability to Allaah SWT so that the people could prepare themselves for it, without undue reliance on intercession. Despite those clear teachings, people fall in the trap of Shayŧaan after the departure of the prophets and messengers and invent their own theories of intercession and intercessors. The fabricated views cause three serious problems:

  1. Instead of keeping their devotion exclusively for Allaah SWT, they start performing devotional rituals for the entities they believe can be their intercessors. Such belief and behaviour is evident Shirk because people created by Allaah SWT to serve Him exclusively now include others in their devotional activities and rituals, which Allaah SWT does not like at all.
  2. When people believe that they can get away from Allaah’s punishment by way of intercession, they become lax in their vigilance against sinful activity, adopt compromising behaviour and commit evils. This belief invalidates the purpose of accountability, defeats the Islamic objectives of maintaining justice, peace and excellence in the society and creates fasaad (imbalance, injustice and other terrible problems). So much so, that when such misguidance becomes deeply rooted in a society, reformation of that society becomes impossible.
  3. Those who fall in this trap are in fact duped by Shayŧaan to cause their own ruin. The devotional rituals they perform to seek approval of their presumed intercessors, such as angels or deceased prophets and saints[v] or any other entities, are totally unknown to those so-called intercessors; and on the Day of Judgment, they will have no clue at all if they had any devotees and what they did in their devotion to them. Thus, they will deny even knowing their devotees or any of their devotional activities.

When the Prophet ŝall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam started his Islamic movement in Makkah, the wrong beliefs about intercession were deeply entrenched in the Arabs’ minds. Like many of those who claim to be Muslims today, they had become dependent on their fabricated views on intercession, instead of worrying about their personal behaviour. They had taken angels as their main intercessors along with some righteous people of the past. They had erected idols of their intercessors and used to perform devotional rituals to gain their approval. To them, it was more important to keep their own, special intercessors happy than to worry about the pleasure of Allaah Who was the Lord of everyone, not just theirs. The Jews and Christians had fabricated their own theories of intercession. Considering this widespread problem, the Qur-aan clearly warned people of their erroneous beliefs, starting from the early days of the Islamic movement and throughout the Makkan and early Madeenan period. It corrected their views by teaching the following four principles:  

  1. Absolutely no help or intercession will avail those who disbelieve or  do not practise righteously:
    1. They(the dwellers of Hell)will say, “We were not of those who performed Salaah,nor did we use to feed the poor, and we used to join in with those who carped and caviled,  and we used to deny the Day of Recompense,until death came to us with certainty.” Anyhow, they will not benefit from the intercession of any intercessors.(Al-Muddaththir 74:43-48)

      This verse introduced the subject to them clearly indicating that if they do not believe in Islam or live righteously, no intercession will be able to save them even a bit from the punishment of Allaah SWT.

    2. Warn them of the Day that is ever drawing near, when the hearts will feel like coming right up to the throats, choking them; the wrong-doers will have no compassionate friend nor any intercessor who would be listened to.(Al-Ghaafir 40:18)
    3. On the Day when the Moment arrives, the guilty/unrighteous will be struck dumb with despair. No intercessor will they have among their "presumed partners" and they will themselves reject their so-called partners.(Ar-Room 30:12-13)

      That is, when they will realize that their so-called intercessors are useless, they themselves will discard them, but that will not help. They must abandon them right here in this world.

    4. The guilty ones will say in their mutual bickering: Now we have no intercessors, nor any loving friend. Now if we only had a chance of return, we shall truly be of those who believe!” (Ash-Shu‘araa 26:100-102)
    5. The Day when no relative will be able to remove any trouble from a relative, nor shall they be helped, except those on whom Allaah shall have mercy; surely, He is the Mighty the Merciful.(Ad-Dukhaan 44:41-42)
    6. O descendants of Israaeel! Remember My favour which I bestowed on you and that I preferred you over all other nations. And fear that Day when a person shall not avail another in any way, nor shall intercession be accepted for him, nor shall any compensation be taken from him, nor shall they be helped.(Al-Baqarah 2:47-48)
    7. O descendants of Israaeel! Remember My favour which I bestowed on you and that I preferred you over all other nations. And fear that Day when a person shall not avail another in any way, nor shall compensation be accepted from him, nor shall intercession benefit him, nor shall they be helped.(Al-Baqarah 2:122-123)
    8. O believers! Spend from that which We have bestowed upon you before the day comes in which there will be no trade and when neither any friendship nor intercession will be of any use; and the disbelievers are the ones who are doing wrong to themselves.(Al-Baqarah 2:254)
    9. Indeed We have revealed the Book to you with the truth so that you may judge among people according to what Allaah has taught you; and do not be a defender for those who betray their trust. And seek forgiveness from Allaah; surely Allaah is Forgiving, Merciful. And do not plead for those who betray themselves; surely Allaah does not like anyone who has been habitually treacherous, sinful.(An-Nisaa 4:105-107)

      Although these verses are for this world, the prohibition consistently applies to the Hereafter.

    10. The end result in the Hereafter shall not be determined by your (Muslims’) vain desires nor by the vain desires of the People of the Book; rather, whoever commits an evil act, he shall be recompensed accordingly, and besides Allaah, he will find for himself neither a guardian nor a helper.And whoever does good deeds -- whether male or female -- and has faith, they shall enter the garden, and they shall not be wronged even a bit.(An-Nisaa 4:123-124)

      This verse clearly tells that evil acts of the believers will not go unpunished unless the person qualifies for Allaah’s Mercy in the form of Easy Accountability, as described earlier.

    11. Also, it should be noted that the Prophet was stopped from praying for the hypocrites and was told that his prayers for them will not be accepted[vi]. Similarly, Nooĥ was rebuked for requesting the safety of his son[vii] and Ibraheem’s prayer for his father[viii] was rejected and his request for clemency for the people of Looŧ was declined[ix].

    All of the above-quoted verses as well as Ahaadeeth quoted in the previous section emphatically assert that no intercession is allowed or accepted for those who disbelieve or those believers who commit major crimes.

    Those Muslims who believe that the Prophet will intercede for the salvation of the believers who commit major crimes and are condemned to enter in Hell, should also reflect on the following verses:

    Can anyone, then, save someone against whom the punishment has justly been decreed? Can you (O Muĥammad) save him who is already in the Fire?(Az-Zumar 39:19)

    Although this verse tells the Prophet that the die-hard disbelievers are doomed for punishment because they would never believe regardless of how much he tried, it also applies to the Hereafter as a general principle describing that no one can save a person from a decreed punishment and that even the Prophet will not be able to save anyone who is already in the Fire.

  2. If people want to earn the approval of someone for intercession, they must seek the pleasure of Allaah SWT Himself because only He is the Real Intercessor and the sole decision-maker about all matters related to intercession:
    1. And what will make you realize what the Day of Recompense is? Again, what will make you realize what the Day of Recompense is? It will be the Day when no one will be capable of doing anything for another, and the decision, that Day, will be entirely Allaah's.(Al-Infiŧaar 82:17-19)
    2. It is Allaah Who created the heavens and the earth and what is between them in six periods, and firmly established Himself on the Throne of Authority. You do not have any protector or any intercessor besides Him; will you not then receive admonition?(As-Sajdah 32:4)
    3. Or have they taken intercessors besides Allaah? Ask them, “Even though they did not ever have control over anything, nor do they understand.” Tell them, “Intercession is altogether in Allaah’s hands; His is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, then to Him you shall be brought back.”(Az-Zumar 39:43-44)
    4. By means of the Qur-aan, focus on warning those who fear that they shall be gathered to their Lord while they will have no patron or intercessor besides Him – so that they (such believers) adopt Taqwa.(Al-An‘aam 6:51)
    5. But continue to advise them by means of the Qur-aan lest a person be delivered to ruin for what he has earned, when he will have no patron or intercessor except Allaah and all the ransom he offers will not be accepted from him.(Al-An‘aam 6:70)
  3. No one can dare intercede without His permission (without Him asking someone to intercede); and intercession can only be for those for whom Allaah will have given the permission:
    1. The day on which the Spirit (Jibreel) and the angels will stand in ranks, no one will speak unless granted permission by the Most Gracious, and he will say only what is right and to the point.(An-Nabaa 78:38)

      Thus no one will dare open his mouth unless invited to speak and then will say only what he knows to be true and what Allaah will like to hear. In case a person is invited to intercede, he will only intercede in favour of a person approved by Allaah SWT, not the one decreed to be punished by Allaah SWT.

    2. Say: “Call upon those whom you fancy (as your intercessors) besides Allaah. They do not possess even an atom's weight of anything either in the heavens or in the earth, nor have they any share in either, nor is any of them a helper to Allaah. And no intercession to Him will avail anyone unless it is in favour of a person for whom He has granted permission.(Saba 34:22-23)
    3. No one will enjoy the privilege of intercession, except someone who deserves it according to the covenant of the Most Gracious.(Maryam 19:87)

      According to this verse, the requirement of deserving the privilege of intercession as per the covenant of Allaah SWT applies to both the intercessor and the beneficiary of the intercession:

      • No one will be able to benefit from intercession, unless the person has deserved Allaah’s mercy by his personal and sincere belief in pure Tawĥeed and by his best efforts to act righteously, while completely avoiding performance of rituals for anyone other than Allaah; and
      • No one will dare intercede for anyone nor will anyone be allowed to do so unless Allaah SWT Himself invites that person to intercede and the person thus invited will only be able to intercede for a person deserving the intercession as described above.
      The same message has been given in the following verses. Verse 20:110 even explains the reason why the intercession will be acceptable only in favour of the person approved by Allaah SWT: Allaah SWT has the complete knowledge of people’s real beliefs, intentions and actions, which none else does. Thus only He knows who deserves intercession.
    4. On that Day no intercession shall benefit except from those to whom permission has been granted by the Most Gracious and whose word He is pleased with. He knows what is before them and what is behind them, while they (the intercessors) cannot compass it with their knowledge.(Ŧaa Haa 20:109-110)
    5. And those whom they call upon besides Him have no authority for intercession, except he who bears witness of the truth on the basis of their knowledge.(Az-Zukhruf 43:86)

      This verse indicates that intercession is, in fact, witness that can be given only truthfully based on one’s personal knowledge. This message was also indicated in the verse quoted above under a. “The day on which the Spirit (Jibreel) and the angels will stand in ranks, no one will speak unless granted permission by the Most Gracious, and he will say only what is right and to the point.”(An-Nabaa 78:38) That is, what the person knows to the right.

    6. Verily your Lord is Allaah, Who created the heavens and the earth in six periods, and established Himself upon the Throne of Sovereignty, executing governance. There can be no intercessor except with His permission. That is Allaah, your Lord; therefore, become His slaves. Would you not then learn from these reminders? (Yoonus 10:3)
    7. And how many angels are in the heavens whose intercession does not avail at all, except after Allaah has given permission to whom He wills and for whom He pleases.(An-Najm 53:26)
    8. And they say: “The Most Gracious has begotten offspring.” Exalted in Glory is He! They are only slaves who have been bestowed honour. They do not speak until He has spoken, and they act by His command. He knows what is before them, and what is behind them, and they offer no intercession except for him whom He approves; and for fear of Him they tremble.(Al-Ambiyaa 21:26-28)
    9. Who is there that can intercede with Him except by His permission? He knows what is before them and what is behind them, while they cannot comprehend anything of His knowledge except what He wishes to impart.(Al-Baqarah 2:255)
    Thus, the decision as to who deserves the mercy of Allaah in the form of intercession will be exclusively made by Allaah SWT and who will be invited to intercede for that person or persons will also be decided exclusively by Allaah SWT.
  4. Anyone for whom people perform ritual devotions will not be there for the devotees on the Day of Judgment, and even if the devotees find them, the presumed intercessors will deny any relationship with the devotees. There are many verses which  describe how the presumed partner will be nowhere to be found, but the following are only a few examples that relate expressly to intercession:
    1. They have adopted gods besides Allaah hoping that they would be protectors for them. Absolutely not! Rather, their presumed gods would deny their worship and become adversaries against them.(Maryam 19:81-82)
    2. They worship besides Allaah that which can neither harm them nor profit them, and they say, “These are our intercessors with Allaah”. Ask them, “Are you informing Allaah of what He knows not in the heavens and the earth? Glory be to Him, and supremely exalted is He above what they ascribe to Him!”(Yoonus 10:18)
    3. And Allaah will say, “Certainly you have come to Us individually as We created you at first, and you have left behind you the things which We gave you, and We do not see with you your intercessors about whom you assumed that they were Our partners in respect to your affairs; certainly the links between you have been cut off and what you used to fancy has disappeared.(Al-An‘aam 6:94)
    4. On the day when the fulfillment (of the Day of Judgment) comes, those who had ignored it before will exclaim, “The messengers of our Lord did indeed bring truth! Do we have any intercessors that they may intercede for us? Or could we be sent back so that we behave differently from what we used to do?” Indeed they have lost themselves and all that they used to forge (the presumed intercessor) has disappeared from them.(Al-A‘raaf 7:53)


[i] There are many well-known Ahaadeeth on this topic.

[ii] Aŧ-Ŧoor 51:21

[iii] Al-Muslim from Aboo Sa‘eed Khudri

[iv] It should be understood that reciting the Qur-aan like parrots or teaching its Tajweed, without understanding and spreading its message or without concrete efforts to implement the system of life that it brought, is not enough to earn this privilege.

[v] Although saint is not a defined Islamic term, some Muslims regard certain deceased righteous people as such.

[vi] A-Tawbah 9:80 and Al-Munafiqoon 63:6

[vii] Hoode 11:46

[viii] At-Tawbah 9:114

[ix] Hoode 11:74-76

 
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