Tawassul and istighasa through the Prophet (PBUH)
One misconception of Ibn Taymiya has disrupted the Muslim community. He condemned tawassul and istighasa (asking for help) through the Prophet(PBUH). No one of the ulama ever stated a similar opinion.
Actually Ibn Taymiya was wrong affirming that tawassul and istighasa were not permitted. There was no alim thinking this way except for him. Quite the contrary, tawassul through the Prophet(PBUH) is a hasan (a good deed). No matter when is it used - before or after the creation of the Prophet (PBUH), during his life or after his death.
There is a hadith speaking for tawassul. Al-Hakim retold it and said it was reliable (sahih). This hadith proves that tawassul is a way of the pious predecessors (salaf), Prophets, aulia and of other Muslims and that the opinion of Ibn Taymiya here is a fiction having no ground: “When Adam committed his mistake he said: O my Lord, I am asking you to forgive me for the sake of Muhammad. Allah said: O Adam, and how do you know about Muhammad whom I have not yet created? Adam replied, O my Lord, after You created me and breathed into me of Your Spirit, I raised my head and saw written on the heights of the Throne: “La ilaha illallah Muhammadun Rasulullah”. I understood that You would not place next to Your Name but the Most Beloved One of Your creation. Allah said: O Adam, I have forgiven you, and were it not for Muhammad I would not have created you.”
“For his sake” (bi-hakkihi) stresses the importance and the highness of the Prophet (PBUH), his place in the sight of the Almighty Allah or his right (haqq) of leading position over the creations that Allah has granted him and also the rights of the Almighty’s slaves before Him that He granted to them in accordance with His graceful decision.
A reliable hadith (sahih) says: “He said: “And what are the rights of the servants (slaves) of Allah before Him?”
However this does not mean that answering supplications is obligatory (wajib) for Allah. Because nothing can be wajib for Him.
Besides, asking through the Prophet (PBUH) is not actually appealing to him the way it can be classified as shirk. This kind of petition is nothing else but a supplication to Allah Himself through the person having high position before Him. Allah gave the Prophet (PBUH) high-scale position [before Himself] and marked him out [of the rest slaves].
One of the Allah’s miracles on the Prophet (PBUH) is that He does not refuse the supplication addressed to Him through His Messenger (PBUH). One who denies that Allah graced the Prophet (PBUH) this way is humiliated.
Here is a hadith retold by an-Nasa’i and at-Tirmizi (who said it was reliable - sahih) at the times the Prophet was still alive [which can prove the legacy of tawassul through the Prophet (PBUH)]: “It was narrated from 'Uthman bin Hunaif that a blind man came to the Prophet (PBUH) and said: “Pray to Allah to heal 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.”
There is another story where the blind man says: “The loss of my sight is a great hardship for me, and there is no one near to guide me around.” So he [the Prophet (PBUH)] told him to perform ablution and do it well, to pray two Rak'aats, and to say this supplication: “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. OAllah, accep this intercession concerning me)”.
Imam Al-Bayhaki said this hadith was reliable (sahih) and added that his blindness cured.
Another version of this hadith (riwayat) tells: “Oh Allah, accept his intercession concerning me and grant me an intercession for myself.”
The Prophet (PBUH) knew this, but did not pray for him. He wanted the blind man to concentrate on istighasa through him and to feel the whole burden of spiritual desolation and despair and to see the aim [of his prayer]. People could get this result at the times the Prophet (PBUH) was alive and it is also possible today. Salafs used this method to attain their aims after the Prophet (PBUH) died.
Uthman ibn Hunayf, may Allah be pleased with him, taught this way of praying one of the companions. At-Tabarani and al-Bayhaki retold this du’a. And the chain of narrators of at-Tabarani is good (jayid). He quoted this companion’s du’a [the words of the Prophet (PBUH)]: “For the sake of Your Prophet and the Prophets before me.”
There is no any difference between tawassul, istighasa, tashaffu’ and tawajjuh through the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), other Prophets and the aulia. Because tawassul through the deeds (that are mentioned in a sahih hadith about the cave) is permitted, although deeds are time-bounded (i.e. they have both the beginning and the end).
This means the souls of the righteous [created for the eternity] are preferential [as a mean of tawassul]. Furthermore Umar ibn al-Hattab, may Allah be pleased with him, used tawassul through Ibn ‘Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, to ask for the rain. And Ibn ‘Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, did not refuse this. The fact that Umar ibn al-Hattab performed tawassul through Ibn ‘Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, but not through the Prophet (PBUH) or his grave is quite wise thing of him to do. Thus he showed his good manners (adab) and ennobled the Prophet’s relatives. Performing tawassul through Ibn ‘Abbas actually Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, did it through the Prophet (PBUH) and showed respect for his relatives.
Tawassul and istighasa do not require the person asking for help (al-mustahas bihi) to be superior to the one whose help he is asking for (al-mustahas ilayhi). The word tawajjuh comes from the word jah, which means superiority. A person having a higher position [before Allah] may perform tawassul through another one, who has a lower position. Istighasa is a supplication for help. Performing istighasa one asks another person for help, who addresses this to the third one. This is possible even in case the third person is better than the second one.
So tawajjuh and istighasa through the Prophet (PBUH) or through other people is nothing else but a prayer to Allah. If there is anyone who doesn’t understand this (word for word: “whose heart is not open for this”), then let him cry and feel sorry for himself. And we are asking Allah for prosperity.
Actually the goal is to get the help of the Almighty. The Prophet (PBUH) is a mediator between Allah and the one who asks for help.
Thus people ask the Almighty for any help. But they look for the Prophet’s assistance (PBUH) and get it in the form of intercession and acquisition (kasb). Asking for Prophet’s help (PBUH) is something figurative. In general istighasa is a wide-spread term used to mean help coming from anyone, including the help in a form of intercession. And it is no doubt concerning istighasa both in terms of Sharia and Arabic-language science.
Thus there is no difference between istighasa and supplication, especially when taking into consideration the hadith about intercession on the Judgment Day given in the Sahih Collection of al-Bukhari: “On the Day of Resurrection, the Sun will come near (to, the people) to such an extent that the sweat will reach up to the middle of the ears, so, when all the people are in that state, they will ask Adam for help, and then Moses, and then Muhammad (PBUH).”
Tawassul also means asking him [the Prophet (PBUH)] for du’a, because truly he is alive and is aware of the pleader’s problem. A reliable hadith says: “In time when the companion Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, was a caliph the people suffered a drought, whereupon a man came to the grave of the Prophet (PBUH) and said: "O Messenger of Allah! Ask for rain for your Community, for verily it perishes." After this the Prophet (PBUH) appeared to him in a dream and told him: "Go to Umar and give him my greeting, then tell him that they will be watered. Tell him: Be clever!" The man went and told Umar, may Allah be pleased with him. The latter wept and said: "My Lord! I spare no effort except in what escapes my power."
There is an another version of this hadith, which says that the dreamt one was a companion of the Prophet (PBUH) Bilal ibn Haris al-Muzani, may Allah be pleased with him.
Passages were cited from Al-jauhar al munazzam by Ibn Hajar al-Haytami and Shawahid al-hakk fil istighasa bi-sayyid al-halk (Proving the legacy of istighasa through the Master of all creations) by Qadi Yusuf al-Nabhani.