The Sixth: Al-Tawassul
The word tawassul is derived from another Arabic word, wasīlah, which means: measure, medium, etc. Thus, tawssul denotes seeking to attain one’s aim and the effort made for its achievement. In the legalistic definition, tawassul is to seek attain of Allah’s pleasure and His Paradise by performing that which He has ordained and abstaining from that which He has forbidden.
The word wasīlah occurs twice in the Qur’an. The first place is where Allah says,
“You who believe, be conscious of Allah and seek the means to come near to Him (wasīlah) and strive in His cause so that you may be successful.” (Q, 5:35)
In the second place Allah says,
“Those whom they invoke, they themselves seek the means of coming near (wasīlah) to their Lord as to which of them becomes the closest, and they hope for His Mercy and fear His punishment. The punishment of your Lord is really something to be greatly feared.” (Q, 17:57)
Thus, the meaning of wasīlah in both verses is to seek nearness to Allah by performing that which He likes. Thus, we see ibn Kathīr, in his commentary of the first verse, relating from ibn ‘Abbās and others, such as Mujāhid, Abū Wāyl, Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, ‘Abdullāh b. Kathīr, al-Suddi, and ibn Zayd who have all explained the word wasīlah in the verse to mean: an attempt to get closer to Allah. As for the second verse quoted above, ‘Abdullāh b. Mas‘ūd has made known the circumstances surrounding its revelation, as well as its meaning. He said, “The verse was revealed in connection with the case of a group Arabs who had been worshipping a group of jinn. Later, those jinn themselves embraces Islam, while their worshippers remained unaware.”
This is clear enough to establish that wasīlah is any righteous deed or lofty action of worship that is adopted as a means to seek Allah’s closeness. This is why Allah says,
“They themselves seek the means of coming near (wasīlah) to their Lord.” (Q, 17:57)
Meaning, they look for those pious deeds that can be used as a means to get close to Allah, and through this they attain His pleasure.
Tawassul can be divided into two types: the lawful and the unlawful. Concerning the tawassul that is lawful, it refers to the use of legitimate means to attain closeness to Allah. The proper way of knowing these means is through consultation with the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Prophet. Whatever means that have been declared as lawful in either or both of them is lawful, while all other methods or approach that are not found in either of both should be considered as unlawful. This lawful tawassul is itself subdivided into three types:
- Using any of Allah’s most beautiful names and attributes as a means of approach to Him. An example of this is when a Muslim supplicates, “Allah, I ask You with Your being the Most Merciful and the Most Compassionate to bring about health for me.” Or he says, “I beseech You with Your mercy that encompasses all things to forgive me and have mercy on me,” as well as other statements. The proof for the validity of this type is found in the following verse,
“To Allah belongs the most beautiful names, so invoke Him by them.” (Q, 7:180)
- Using the righteous deeds that one has performed as a means of attaining closeness to Allah. For instance, one may say, “Allah, forgive me by virtue of my having faith in You, my love for You, and my following of Your Messenger.” Or, “Allah, I beseech You to drive away my grief in consideration of the love that I have for Your Prophet and my belief in his message.” The supplicant may also mention a considerable good deed that he has performed, and use that as a means to seek closeness to his Lord. This was done by the three who were trapped in the cave, and their narration will be mentioned shortly. The proofs for the validity of this type of tawassul includes the verses,
“Those who say, ‘Our Lord, we have indeed believed, so forgive us our sins and save us from the punishment of the Fire.’” (Q, 3:16)
“Our Lord, we have believed in what You have revealed, and we have followed the Messenger. So, record us with those who bear witness.” (Q, 3:53)
Concerning the narrative of the events of the three men who were trapped in the cave, it provides evidence for the validity of this form of tawassul. ‘Abdullāh b. ‘Umar relates that the Prophet said,
“Once three men [from the previous nations] were traveling, and suddenly it started raining, so they took shelter in a cave. The entrance of the cave got closed while they were inside. They said to one another, ‘You, nothing can save you except the truth, so let each one of you supplicate [to Allah] by referring to such a deed which he knows that he has done sincerely [for His sake].’ So one of them said, ‘Allah, You know that I had a laborer who worked for me for one faraq of rice, but he departed, leaving it behind. I sowed that faraq of rice and with its yield I bought cows. Later, when he came to me asking for his wages, I said, “Go to those cows and drive them away.” He said to me, “But you have to pay me only a faraq of rice.” I said to him, “Go to those cows and take them, for they are the product of that faraq.” So he drove them. O Allah, if you consider that I did that for fear of You, then please remove the rock.’ The rock shifted a bit from the mouth of the cave. The second one said, ‘Allah, You know that I had old parents whom I used to provide milk from my sheep every night. One night I was delayed and when I came, they had slept, while my wife and children were crying with hunger. I used to not let them drink until after my parents had drunk. I disliked to wake them up and also disliked that they should sleep without drinking it, so I kept waiting [for them to wake] until dawn. Allah, if You consider that I did that for fear of you, then please remove the rock.’ So the rock again shifted, and they could see the sky. The third said, ‘Allah, You know that I had a cousin whom I loved very much. I sought to seduce her, but she refused, unless I paid her one-hundred dinars [due to a difficulty]. So, I collected the amount and brought it to her, and she allowed me to sleep with her. But when I sat between her legs, she said, “Fear Allah, and do not deflower me but legally.” I got up and left the hundred dinars [with her]. Allah, if You consider that I did that for fear of You, then please remove the rock. So, Allah saved them and they came out of it.”
- Using the supplication of a righteous person, whose supplication is expected to be answered, as a means of attain closeness to Allah. A Muslim may, for example, request from such a righteous person, who is known to be persistently obedient to Allah, to supplicate Allah on his behalf, for relief from certain distress or for comfort and well-being. The fact that the Companions would ask the Prophet, whether individually or collectively, to supplicate Allah on their behalf is sufficient proof for the validity of this type of twassul. Anas b. Mālik related,
“During one Friday, a person entered the mosque through the gate facing the pulpit while Allah’s Messenger was delivering the sermon. The man stood in front of Allah’s Prophet and said, ‘Allah’s Messenger, the livestock are dying and the roads are cut off, so supplicate to Allah for rain.’ Allah’s Messenger raised his hands and said, ‘Allah, bless us with rain; Allah, bless us with rain; Allah, bless us with rain.’ By Allah, we could not see any trace of cloud in the sky and there was no building or a house between us and [Mount] Sal. A heavy cloud like a shield appeared from behind it, and when it came to the middle of the sky, it spread and then rained. By Allah, we could not see the sun for a week. Next Friday a person entered through the same gate and at that time Allah’s Messenger was delivering the sermon. The man stood in front of him and said, ‘Allah’s Messenger, the livestock are dying and the roads are cut off, please supplicate to Allah to withhold the rain.’ Allah’s Messenger raised his hands and said, ‘Allah, around us and not on us. Allah, on the plateaus, the mountains, the hills, the valleys, and where the trees grow.’ So, the rain stopped and we came out walking in the sun.”
Sharīk said, “I asked Anas, ‘Was it the same person who had asked for the rain.’ Anas replied, ‘I do not know.’”
In another ḥadīth recorded by both Bukhārī and Muslim, the Prophet mentioned that some seventy thousand people from among his followers will enter Paradise without giving any account for their deeds or being subjected to any form of punishment. Concerning their description, he said,
“‘They are those who neither request the use of ruqyah nor cauterize their body for medicinal purposes, and they neither believe in bad or good omen of birds. Instead they rely on their Lord.’ ‘Ukāshah b. Miḥṣan stood up and said, ‘Allah’s Messenger, supplicate to Allah to make me one of them.’ The Prophet said, ‘You are one of them.’”
In another ḥadīth the Prophet made mention of ‘Uways al-Qarnī and advised those around him to ask him to seek Allah’s forgiveness on their behalf.
This type of tawassul is only applicable provided that the person who is asked to supplicate is alive, and it is forbidden to request such a thing from a person who is deceased, since that person in reality has ceased engaging in any deeds.
 See Bukhārī no. 4714 and Muslim no. 3030.
 Bukhārī no. 3465.
 Bukhārī no. 1013 and Muslim no. 897.
 Bukhārī no. 5705 and Muslim no. 218.