Is Seeking Help From The Prophet Muhammad (saw) Shirk (Polytheism)?
Having watched the debate between Ustdah Abdur Rahman and Sheikh Asrar Rashid, I will be sharing some thoughts for our readers. It is a near impossibility to claim complete objectivity as we all have preconceived notions and influences, which either directly or indirectly impact our conclusions. This does not however, mean that we give up trying; all we can do is attempt to be open to other ideas while taking time to listen to the opposing views. Before commenting, it is necessary for a disclaimer to be made.
Asrar Rashid started by defining Istighatha/Waseela linguistically and demonstrating how it has been utilised several times in the Holy Qur’aan and Prophetic Hadeeth. Of course, this was suitable for a debate format of six hours, If however there was an awareness that the debate was cut short to four hours then I feel that these points whilst valid none-the-less detracted from the textual evidences necessary for the gist of the discussion.
Sheikh Asrar al Rashid did make much ado out of technicalities in the contract, this was of course his right given the insistence of his interlocutors upon writing a precise and air-tight contract which necessarily had to be met by Asrar prior to the debate going ahead.
He made several points based upon this, namely that the debate was not formally set to exclude Istighatha to the living (clause seven) and that therefore ‘Abd al-Rahman Hassan had walked into an instant failure, and could not win the debate by default since none will deny the Istighatha to the living (even though Salafis phrase it as if even that is Shirk until pressed).
More importantly a distinction was made to corner the salafi namely if the concept of Istighatha (seeking help) was shirk because it violated Tawhid, the same would be true regardless of whether or not the Prophet (saw) was alive or not or if had the ability to hear and respond to the supplication of the Muslim who calls upon him for assistance.
The discussion therefore could really boil down into several points which are not necessarily mutually exclusive:
i) Is Istighatha Shirk?
ii) Does it have a basis in the time of the Salaf al-Salih?
iii) Is it Haram?
iv) What is the ruling upon the ‘Ulema who have accepted/taught this practice?
v) If they are recognised scholars of the Salafi Minhaj, do they receive one reward for allowing the Umma to practice Shirk?
In order to classify the practice as Shirk, it was necessary for the speakers to engage in a discussion of the three-fold division of Tawhid:
iii) Al-Asma’ wa al-Sifaat
Note: To understand a break down of these terms according to Salafi's refer to the following link;
The classical claim is that the Mushrikeen of the Jahiliyyah period already affirmed the doctrine of Tawhid al-Rububiyyah (The belief in one God) and that those who affirm the doctrine of Istighatha being permissible are therefore on par with the Mushrikeen. Who also used the idols to get closer to God.
Asrar would later request a confirmation of the three fold division of Tawhid as mentioned above from a consensus of the first three generations or providing evidence from Qur’aan and Sunnah.
A debate hence circulated between the two camps surrounding whether or not the Mushikeen did actually affirm the doctrine or not, in attempting to affirm the position that they did, ‘Abd al-Rahman Hassan made reference to the Tafsir of Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, one wonders if the reference is to a Saheeh Hadeeth or Athar affirming this or merely the statement of Al-Tabari which of course is not a firm evidence in and of itself.
Abd al-Rahman Hassan made much ado about the Methodology of the Ash’ari scholars and whether or not they consider the singular narrations and the Ayah of the Qur’aan as a source of knowledge or merely conjectural probability (Dhann), whilst this seems absurd in and of itself as obviously the Ash’aris have taken Khabar al-Ahad (singular reports) for Sughriyat al-‘Aqeedah (Punishment of the Grave etc) but more importantly, the debate was between an Ash’ari and a Salafi and therefore min bab al-ilzam (from the perspective of adopting your opponents epistemology) there was no problem in Asrar Rashid utilising this approach even if what ‘Abd al-Rahman attributed to the Asha’irah. Internally, there exists a debate between Salafi scholars in regards to whether or not Khabar al-Ahad yields knowledge or not with al-Albani saying it does, and therefore ‘Abd al-Rahman Hassan was being silent about an issue he raised with the Asha’irah which likewise exists amongst the Salafiyyah.
Asrar Rashid correctly pointed out that if the issue of Istighatha to the Prophet (saw) after his death was an issue of kufr then one would expect anyone who states it is not kufr would be accused of committing an act of Kufr, he politely pressed the point to ‘Abd al-Rahman Hassan but desisted after an inadequate or rather cushioned response was offered.
Asrar successfully brought out the inconsistency on whether or not the Salafis were being fair on their contemporary Ash’ari colleagues or not in that ‘Abd al-Rahman Hassan would not do Takfeer (declare one as a non-muslim) upon the classical scholars like Al-Subki (including many others) who affirmed Istighatha but rather would say he was Mutaawal (did Ta’weel/interruption) but would not offer the same excuse for the modern day Muslims who practice and support the same deed, quickly brandishing them as grave worshippers.
Abd al-Rahman Hassan persistently asked about the statement of Asha’irah rejecting the Qur’aan and Sunnah as Dhann (speculative probability) but failed to realise that after the conditions upon which evidence would be valid in the debate were signed, it is irrelevant if those would be considered valid to classical Asha’irah or not and that this served as a convenient smoke-screen and red herring for him.
Abd al-Rahman Hassan made much ado out of the verse containing the word ‘Idh’ asking if it was utilised in a past tense only, given that the books of grammar do not give this restriction, it is interesting that ‘Abd al-Rahman does not recognise their scholarship or authority, but given that the difference of opinion exists, there at least is a scope to say that given the possibility exists, it is no longer a clear cut verse (Nass) in order for ‘Abd al-Rahman to utilise it in one way or another at the exclusion of another interpretation.
Abd al-Rahman Hassan then attempted to make an Istidlal based upon the fact that after the death of the Prophet (saw), ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab' did not do intercession to him (saw) directly but did it instead through ‘Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet. Unfortunately this argument lacks sophistication and merit as ‘Umar b. al-Khattab also denied that Tayammum was a legitimate means of purification in the absence of water, despite the clarity of it in the Holy Qur’aan.
Abd al-Rahman reaffirmed that the practice needs to be sourced from the time of the Sahaba and the first three generations. His insistence that he had the books that contained the narrations in support of the practices and the refutations to them came across as another smokescreen, we were impressed by both sides having books very good, now make your points.
Asrar Rashid made a good point based upon the Usuli principle, that 'Al-‘Ibra bi-‘Umoom al-Lafz' namely that the generality of the text and not the specific reason of its revelation is the important point.
Asrar Rashid asked if rationality prevented Allah (swt) from placing certain abilities in the Prophet (saw) that allowed him to intercede and benefit the nation in his Barzakhi life (the period between a person's death and his resurrection on the Day of Resurrection), and whether Allah doing this would be rationally impossible, whilst this is a valid point in addressing what the Barelwis and other Sufis believe about the Prophet (saw) it was a side point as rationally we could all conceive the continuation of Prophethood and even the continuation of Divine Messages after the Qur’aan (it is not a rational impossibility to conceive this) yet the texts forbid this from occurring due to what Allah (swt) has informed us.
I felt this was a weak point and did not merit mention in the discussion. Since Ustadh Abd al-Rahman did mention that Prophets (saw) can benefit the Umma in their Hayat al-Barzakhi it was not entirely without basis.
As for ‘Abd al-Rahman Hassan’s question about whose rationality and the internal differences amongst the Ash’ari Mutakalimeen, this point was even more absurd since rationally there are very few impossibilities and we can generally agree to all of them unless we throw away the three laws of logic (Non-Contradiction, Excluded Middle and Identity).
‘Abd al-Rahman Hassan raised some valid points about the ability of every believer in the grave to hear others who approach their graves, however the problem is that since the believers in their grave do not have the same rights as the Messenger of Allah and since the Qur’aan has never directed us to ask for forgiveness from the believers (where as it does in at least one area say the Prophet ((saw)), then it seems like an invalid point once more.
‘Abd al-Rahman Hassan continually mentions how the majority are not a measurement of truth and that the Qur’aan states the majority are misguided, this was a valid point and was reaffirmed by the khabar of Ibn Mas’ud. Of course it seems that in the first three generations, the Salafis do consider the majority to be a valid point for they always utilise it as an argument.
Constant reference was made to the dictionaries of the Arabic language which accordingly was not a valid proof for either side given that no consensus was ever cited and more importantly these dictionaries did not come from the first three definitions and rarely featured a verifiable chain of narration to cite earlier scholars from those generations.
Abd al-Rahman’s distinction between types of 'Nada’ were helpful for they demonstrated that despite the usual evidences provided by Sufis, there is cases where the formula of Ya Fulan is used but the intention is not necessarily an actual appeal to the person whose name is invoked after their death, this was a beneficial point.
I was surprised by ‘Abd al-Rahman’s points about assuming that Asrar actually did not think that the Prophet (saw) tasted death, either he was grossly ignorant of his interlocutor’s beliefs which would be disastrous or he was creating a straw man which would be even worse. Asrar successfully clarified this point.
Asrar spent much time elucidating that they do not believe that the Prophet (saw) has independent power and life from Allah (swt), but in all fairness it seems that his interlocutor ‘Abd al-Rahman is familiar with this and believes that this still renders his belief akin to the Qurayshi pagans since they believe the same thing.
Asrar made a valid point that since ‘Abd al-Rahman believes that Sufis who do Istighatha have the same Hukm as the Jahili idol worshippers, that ‘Abd al-Rahman should apply the same ruling to such Sufis, and Scholars, which he doesn’t.
But Asrar then started side-tracking by bringing up Fatawa of Salafis such as destroying the green dome etc, and the mention of how I.S.I.S (Daesh) justified their actions based on what Abd-al-Rahman was demonstration. This this seemed out of place and I think this was unnecessary from Asrar.
Whilst I think Asrar did well in his utilising the verse of visiting the Prophet and asking for forgiveness, I do not think that this was a point which couldn’t be responded to, rather his interlocutor was unable to respond to it. I would have asked if Asrar was to utilise this verse, how he would deal with the verse that tells believers not to raise their voices above the Prophet (saw) is it still applicable? After all according to reports some of the companions used to to just that when visiting his grave. Wouldn’t that demand absolute silence from visitors today since we can no longer hear his voice and hence we should be entirely silent at the grave?
Asrar asked why saying that the Prophet (saw) can answer prayer is necessarily shirk, whilst this is valid and the real dispute would be whether or not he can actually hear and benefit us in his Barzakhi life, it is also an interesting dilemma, however the real question would be why people like Asrar actually believe this practice holds legitimacy, do they have a solid basis for believing this.
Abd al-Rahman Hassan’s usage of Qur’aanic verse to demonstrate the belief of the Idol Worshippers was valid and useful and should be a source of pondering for all of us. However he continually moved into preaching mode and acted as if he was giving a Juma’ah Khutbah something which would appeal to his followers, his interlocutor’s supporters would have been entirely put off through such actions and as such it seemed more annoying and extremely patronising, the sort of thing that we Muslims would attack a Christian for doing in a debate but will justify if our own side does it.
The Moderator did a very good job at coming across as impartial and I respected the way that he conducted himself with virtue and impartiality entirely. However he did not prevent either speakers from moving away from the agreed topics of debate.
What was frustrating was the annoying generalisations of ‘Abd al-Rahman Hassan and his Salafi side, when they say that Du’a is Ibadah and therefore shirk when done to other than Allah (swt), this does become problematic because the Qur’aan advises Muslims to go to the Prophet and ask for forgiveness during his own life, it cannot be Shirk once and not shirk at another point, the issue is purely whether it is allowed or has a basis after his soul leaves the body.
Asrar’s evidences presented for seeking assistance were interesting, he focused upon several things. As for his claim that Abd al-Rahman al Hassan could not use the sayings of Ash’airah in ‘Ilm al-Rijaal, this was invalid since Al-Albani and other Salafi scholars have stated in regards to Ahl al-Bid’a (people of innovation) that the important point is in their truthfulness and their innovation is what they will answer to Allah (swt) for and not to others, so Abd- al Rahman could follow al-Albani in that opinion.
Asrar used the narration of Khalid ibn al-Waleed utilising a hair of the Prophet (saw) for victory, whilst this refutes the claims of the Salafis on Tabbaruk, it has little to do with Istighatha.
Abd- al Rahman annoyingly refers to Asrar’s arguments as Shubihat (doubts) instead of referring to them as heavy doubts, more emphasis could be placed on just responding to Asrar’s as opposed to poisoning his arguments to his flock.
Commenting upon the deficiencies of the editions of Ibn Taymiyyah’s books which Asrar’s had was another meek point, since non-salafis tend not to study in the Gulf where the best copies are produced, they cannot be expected to have the most luxury editions of books and this irrelevant to the debate.
Abd- al Rahman kept invoking emotions by making much ado of Asrar saying “WE”, no one understood from Asrar that he was making a claim to legislation so Abd- al Rahman should not have given a little khutbah about that.
Abd- al Rahman demanded from Abd- al Rahman statements where Al-Nawawi and Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani claimed to be Ash’ari, whilst this was a valid question, I do hope that Abd- al Rahmanis familiar with the fact that Al-Albani has referred to them as Ash’ari and Al-‘Uthaymeen refers to them as not being from Ahl al-Sunnah (Salafi).
Given that Al-Albani and al-‘Uthaymeen refuse to call them A’immah Salafiyeen, it seems that Abd- al Rahman knows more than them in this aspect and has undone their position of the two scholars.
Abd- al Rahman kept making the claim that the Prophet (saw) could benefit the nation when he was:
Asrar al Rashid made the point that the narration of Ibn Hunayf refutes this since the Prophet (saw) wasn’t present with him. He depended upon the edition of Muhaddith Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut who is considered a very reliable Hadeeth grader, who authenticated the report.
Asrar al Rashid also utilised the narration of Malik al-Dar, given that this narration is so heavily disputed, it was frustrating to hear that this particular narration was used by him given just how controversial it is.
The Narration of A’isha, the wife of the Prophet (saw) was also a valid contribution and established a precedent of seeking the Prophet (saw) as a means after his death.
Abdul Rahman al Hassan came back and with very good conduct began to attack the evidences brought by Asrar, he began with the narration which contained the narrator Al-Amash, Asrar tried to point out at this point that Sheikh Muqbil ibn Hadi, the Salafi Yemeni Muhaddith had a point to invalidate this weakening but naturally time constraints and stress did not allow Abdul Rahman to recognise this. This showed that Asrar al Rashid was very prepared to discuss the individual gradings of the Narrations.
He continued weakening the Hadeeth in front of Asrar Rashid, but unfortunately since the books of Jarh and Ta’deel were not present and Abdul Al Rahman was not citing the ‘Ulema of Rijaal, then we were just expected to trust his memory and claims, which were not fair in the context of this debates.
Unfortunately given that the debate was cut radically in time, we were unable to observe much of an exchange on this last part.
I conclude that Asrar Rashid turned out to be the stronger participant, outlining a clear cut methodology and bringing textual evidences which diluted the false dilemma created by the Salafi group and even ‘Abd al-Rahman Hassan himself.
There are several points which need to be made here:
The Salafi side has been throwing around emotional rhetoric, they will use buzz words like ‘One side calls only to Allah’ and the other calls to the dead…
This sounds really sophisticated to the average lay man and does successfully make a fine rhetorical point, similar to the cheap tactic of barelwis when they call Salafis or other Sunnis haters of the Prophet (saw) when they attribute minor sins to him. The truth is that the whole debate has been whether Allah (swt) has allowed and created a framework in which he has given the Prophet (S) the unique ability as an intercessor in his Barzakhi life.
I cannot emphasise more that a Qur’anist could out-do the Salafi on such rhetoric, he could say:
‘Both sides call to the Words of Men, random men who sin and are prone to error, we call purely to the book of Allah (swt)’
To their own audience it would sound amazing, remove the understanding of men and go straight to Qur’aan.
The Conduct of Both Asrar’s audience and Abdul al Rahman was horrible.
Adnan Rashid did well and conducted himself well from ‘Abd al-Rahman Hassan’s side but unfortunately the so called Dawah Man (also known as Imran ibn Mansur) and Aboo Taymiyyah Jeylaani (Gilani as he calls himself, even though Abdul al Rahman al Hassan was quick to correct how Israr pronounced the name at the start) came across as entirely immature, with Aboo Taymiyyah gloating during the presentations (something Asrar assistant debater did not do).
As for Asrar’s side, they were being provocative and argumentative, arguing with the moderator, also both sides posted snippets and made annoying claims during the debate and still continue to do so.
Abd al-Rahman Hassan made much ado about how Tawatur does not require authentication as it is defined by mass of transmission and not individuals, whilst this is traditionally true, Abd al-Rahman Hassan seems unfamiliar with the fact that his own scholars such as Sa’ad al-Homaid in his Fatawa al-Hadeethiyyah have actually claimed the need to investigate the ‘Adalah of the individual narrations of the Hadeeth.
‘Abd al-Rahman Hassan was frustrating in his inability to understand:
A) How the claim that one should depend on Allah (swt) alone and call upon him, is negated by affirming Istighatha in his life.
B) failure to address and ‘understand’- the distinction between saying something is Haram and saying it is kufr or shirk.
Asrar was a little frustrating in not grasping the need for clear cut proof of Istighatha being practiced by the first three generations. Whether or not it’s Shirk is one thing, and whether one should do it is another.
I also wish the following topics would be addressed:
a) How the doctrine of Istighatha does not violate al-Sanusi’s Shirk al-Taqreeb
b) How the Ash’aris did not all unite on Istighatha, see Fakhr al-Din al-Razi etc.
c) Whether or not the Barelwi doctrine of Mukhtar-al-Kul (Mukhtar-e-kul) can find accommodation amongst the traditional Ahl al-Sunnah Scholars.
It was a little frustrating to see Abd al-Rahman Hassan get frustrated that Asrar Rashid was able to respond to his argument, both sides should actually know that you don’t present your evidence at the end of a debate because the whole point is to allow your opponents to respond to your arguments.
Do I believe anyone won the debate? No, Asrar was the more organised and structured but the debate did not cover anything in great depth. The Salafis and Barelwis who delude themselves into believing anything was won are just as delusional as they were when they walked in.
In reality, all that was proven is that the topic is not black and white and cannot be reduced to a pathetic sound bite. Indeed, the question which needs address is:
‘Is the discussion clear cut?’ because both sides want to reduce it to kufr and shirk, yet if it was that black and white and obvious then their own giants who allowed it, were a bunch of ignorant fools according to their logic.
Lastly, ‘Abd al-Rahman Hassan says that the first book written on Istighatha was by a Rafidhi, his biography has been analysed and he is a Sunni scholar depending upon Sunni proof, he has nothing to do with Rafdh.
The complete debate unedited can be found on the following link;
also for more information pertaining to Tawassul please refer to this article;