Tawaswswul: Supplicating Allah (s.w.t.) through an Intermediary

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is taken from Tawaswswul: Supplicating Allah (s.w.t.) through an Intermediary, by Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller, 1995 and is extracted from Reliance of the Traveller.

Supplicating Allah (s.w.t.) by means of an intermediary, whether it be a living person, dead person, a good deed, or a name or Attribute of Allah Most High.  The scholar, Imam Yusuf ar-Rifa’i (q.s.) said, “I here want to convey the position, attested to by compelling legal evidence, of the orthodox majority of Sunni Muslims on the subject of supplicating Allah through an intermediary, and so I say that since there is no disagreement among scholars that supplicating Allah through an intermediary is in principle legally valid, the discussion of its details merely concerns derived rulings that involve interschool differences, unrelated to questions of belief or unbelief, monotheism or associating partners with Allah; the sphere of the question being limited to permissibility or impermissibility, and its ruling being that it is either lawful or unlawful.  There is no difference among groups of Muslims in their consensus on the permissibility of three types of supplicating Allah through an intermediary: Tawaswswul through a living righteous person to Allah Most High, as in the hadits of the blind man with the Prophet (s.a.w.) as we shall explain; the tawaswswul of a living person to Allah Most High through his own good deeds, as in the hadits of the three people trapped in a cave by a great stone, a hadits related by Imam al-Bukhari in his Swahih; and the tawaswswul of a person to Allah Most High through His Dzat, Names, Attributes, and so forth.

Since the legality of these types is agreed upon, there is no reason to set forth the evidence for them.  The only area of disagreement is supplicating Allah through a righteous dead person.  The majority of the orthodox Sunni community hold that it is lawful, and have supporting hadits evidence, of which we will content ourselves with the ‘Hadits of the Blind Man’, since it is the central pivot upon which the discussion turns.”

Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.) related, through his chain of narrators, from 'Utsman ibn Hunayf (r.a.), that a blind man came to the Prophet (s.a.w.) and said, “I have been afflicted in my eyesight, so please pray to Allah for me.”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Go make ablution, perform two raka'at of prayer, and then say, ‘Oh Allah, I ask You and turn to You through my Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet of Mercy; O Muhammad, I seek your intercession with my Lord for the return of my eyesight.’”  And in another version: “for my need, that it may be fulfilled.  O Allah, grant him intercession for me.”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) added, “And if there is some need, do the same.”

Scholars of shari’ah infer from this hadits the recommended character of the prayer of need, in which someone in need of something from Allah (s.w.t.) performs such a prayer and then turns to Allah (s.w.t.) with this supplication together with other suitable supplications, traditional or otherwise, according to the need and how the person feels.  The express content of the hadits proves the legal validity of tawaswswul through a living person as the Prophet (s.a.w.) was alive at that time.  It implicitly proves the validity of tawaswswul through a deceased one as well, since tawaswswul through a living or dead person is not through a physical body or through or through a life or death, but rather through the positive meaning, ma’na thayyib, attached to the person in both life and death.  The body is but the vehicle that carries that significance, which requires that the person be respected whether dead or alive; for the words, “O Muhammad,” are an address to someone physically absent - in which state the living and dead are alike - an address to the meaning, “Dear to Allah (s.w.t.),” that is connected with his spirit, a meaning that is the ground of tawaswswul, be it through a living or dead person.

Moreover, Imam ath-Thabarani (r.a.), in his al-Mu'jam asw-Swaghir, reported a hadits from ‘Utsman ibn Hunayf (r.a.) that a man repeatedly visited ‘Utsman ibn ‘Affan (r.a.) concerning something he needed, but ‘Utsman (r.a.) paid no attention to him or his need.  The man met ibn Hunayf (r.a.) and complained to him about the matter - this being after the death, wisal, of the Prophet (s.a.w.) and after the caliphates of Abu Bakr (r.a.) and ‘Umar (r.a.) - so ‘Utsman ibn Hunayf (r.a.), who was one of the companions who collected ahadits and was learned in the Religion of Allah (s.w.t.), said, “Go to the place of ablution and perform ablution, then come to the mosque, perform two raka’at of prayer therein, and say, ‘O Allah, I ask You and turn to You through our Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet of mercy; O Muhammad, I turn through you to my Lord, that He may Fulfill my need,’ and mention your need.  Then come so that I can go with you,” meaning to accompany him to meet the caliph ‘Utsman (r.a.).

So, the man left and did as he had been told, then went to the door of ‘Utsman ibn ‘Affan (r.a.), and the doorman came, took him by the hand, brought him to ‘Utsman ibn ‘Affan (r.a.), and seated him next to him on a cushion.  ‘Utsman (r.a.) asked, “What do you need?” and the man mentioned what he wanted, and ‘Utsman (r.a.) accomplished it for him, then he said, “I had not remembered your need until just now,” adding, “Whenever you need something, just mention it.”

Then, the man departed, met ‘Utsman ibn Hunayf (r.a.), and said to him, “May Allah Reward you!  He did not see to my need or pay any attention to me until you spoke with him.”

‘Utsman ibn Hunayf (r.a.) replied, “By Allah, I did not speak to him, but I have seen a blind man come to the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) and complain to him of the loss of his eyesight.  The Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Can you not bear it?”

And the man replied, ‘O Messenger of Allah, I do not have anyone to lead me around, and it is a great hardship for me.’

The Prophet (s.a.w.) told him, “Go to the place of ablution and perform ablution, then pray two raka'at of prayer and make the supplications.’”  ibn Hunayf (r.a.) went on, “By Allah, we did not part company or speak long before the man returned to us as if nothing had ever been wrong with him.”

This is an explicit, unequivocal text from a companion proving the legal validity of tawaswswul through the dead.  The account has been classified as swahih by Imam al-Bayhaqi (r.a.), Imam al-Mundziri (r.a.) and Imam al-Haytsami (r.a.).

Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.) stated that the hadits of the blind man is, “a hadits that is well or rigorously authenticated but singular, being unknown except through his chain of narrators, from the hadits of Abu Ja’far, who is not Abu Ja’far Khatmi,” which means that the narrators of this hadits, despite “Abu Ja’far” being unknown to Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.), were acceptable to the degree of being well or rigorously authenticated in either case.

But scholars before Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.) established that “Abu Ja'far,” this person unknown to Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.), was Shaykh Abu Ja’far Khatmi (r.a.) himself.  Imam ibn Abi Khaytsamah (r.a.) said, “The name of this Abu Ja’far, whom Hammad ibn Salamah related from, is ‘Umayr ibn Yazid, and is the Abu Ja’far that Shu’bah related from,” and then he related the hadits by the channel of transmission of ‘Utsman (r.a.) from Shaykh Shu’bah (r.a.) from Shaykh Abu Ja’far (r.a.).

Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah (r.a.), after relating the hadits of Imam at-Tirmidzi (r.a.), said: “All scholars say that he is Abu Ja’far Khatmi, and this is correct.”

The ahadits master, Imam ibn Hajr (r.a.), noted in Taqrib at-Tahdzib, that he was Shaykh Abu Ja’far Khatmi (r.a.), and that he is reliable, swaduq.

Imam ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (r.a.) likewise said that he was Shaykh Abu Ja’far Khatmi (r.a.), in al-Isthi’ab fi Ma’arifah al-Aswhab.  Moreover, Imam al-Bayhaqi (r.a.) related the hadits by way of Imam Hakim (r.a.) and confirmed that it was rigorously authenticated, swahih.  Imam Hakim (r.a.), related it by a chain of transmission meeting the standards of Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) and Imam Muslim (r.a.), which the ahadits master, Imam adz-Dzahabi (r.a.) confirmed, and Imam ash-Shawkani (r.a.) cited as evidence.  The meaning of this is that all the men of the hadits’ chain of transmission are known to the main a’immah of ahadits.

This hadits was recorded by Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.), in his al-Tarikh al-Kabir; by Imam ibn Majah (r.a.) in his Sunan, where he said it was swahih; by Imam an-Nasa’i (r.a.), in Amal al-Yawm wa al-Layla; by Imam Abu Nu’aym (r.a.), in Ma’arifah asw-Swahabah; by Imam al-Bayhaqi (r.a.); in Dala’il an-Nubuwwah; by Imam al-Mundziri (r.a.)’ in at-Targhib wa at-Tahrib; by Imam al-Haytsami (r.a.), in Majma’ az-Zawa’id wa Manba’ al-Fawa’id; by Imam ath-Thabarani (r.a.), in al-Mu’jam al-Kabir; by Imam ibn Khuzaymah (r.a.), in his Swahih; and by others.  Nearly fifteen ahadits masters, authorities with more than 100,000 ahadits and their chains of transmission by memory, have explicitly stated that this hadits is swahih.  As mentioned above, it has come with a chain of transmission meeting the standards of Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.) and Imam Muslim (r.a.), so there is nothing left for a critic to attack or slanderer to disparage concerning the authenticity of the hadits.  Consequently, as for the permissibility of tawaswswul, through either a living or dead person, it follows by human reason, scholarship, and sentiment, that there is flexibility in the matter.  Whoever wants to, can either take tawaswswul or leave it, without causing trouble or making accusations, since it has been this thoroughly checked.

It is well to review some salient features of the proof that was given, such as that there are two ahadits, Imam at-Tirmidzi’s (r.a.) “Hadits of the Blind Man” and Imam ath-Thabarani’s (r.a.) “Hadits of the Man in Need” to whom ‘Utsman ibn Hunayf (r.a.) related the story of the blind man, teaching him tawaswswul that the Prophet (s.a.w.) had taught the blind man.

Imam at-Tirmidzi’s (r.a.) hadits is swahih, being the subject of the above investigation of its chain of narrators, the authenticity of which is established beyond a reasonable doubt and attested to by nearly fifteen of the foremost ahadits specialists of Islam.  The hadits explicitly proves the validity of tawaswswul, through a living intermediary as the Prophet (s.a.w.) was alive at the time.  The hadits implicitly shows the validity of supplicating Allah (s.w.t.) through a deceased intermediary as well.  Perhaps the most telling reason is that everything the Prophet (s.a.w.) ordered to be done during his lifetime was legislation valid for all generations until the end of time unless proven otherwise by a subsequent indication from the Prophet (s.a.w.) himself.  The tawaswswul he taught during his lifetime not requiring anything else to be generalised to any time thereafter.

The authenticity of Imam ath-Thabarani’s (r.a.) hadits is not discussed by the article in detail, but deserves consideration, since the hadits explicitly proves the legal validity of tawaswswul through the deceased, for ‘Utsman ibn Hunayf (r.a.) and indeed all the companions, by scholarly consensus, ijma’, were legally upright, ‘udul, and are above being impugned with teaching someone an act of disobedience, much less idolatry, shirk.  The hadits is swahih, as Imam ath-Thabarani (r.a.) explicitly stated, in his al-Mu’jam asw-Swaghir.  Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller, wishing to verify the matter further, to the hadits with its chain of narrators to hadits specialist, Shaykh Shu’ayb Arna’ut, who after examining it, agreed that it was swahih as Imam ath-Thabarani (r.a.) indicated, a judgement which was also confirmed to the translator by the Moroccan ahadits specialist, Imam ‘Abdullah Muhammad Ghumari (r.a.), who characterised the hadits as “very rigorously authenticated,” and noted that ahadits masters, Imam al-Haytsami (r.a.) and Imam al-Mundziri (r.a.) had explicitly concurred with Imam ath-Thabarani (r.a.) on its being swahih.  The upshot is that the recommendedness of tawaswswul to Allah (s.w.t.) - through the living or the dead - is the position of the Shafi’i school, which is why both our author, Imam ibn Naqib al-Miswri (r.a.); and Imam an-Nawawi (r.a.), in his al-Adzkar, and al-Majmu’; explicitly record that tawaswswul through the Prophet (s.a.w.) and asking his intercession are recommended.

The Hanafi scholar, Imam Muhammad Hamid (r.a.) said, in Rudud ‘ala al-Bathil wa Rasa’il ash-Shaykh Muhammad al-Hamid, “As for calling upon the righteous,” referring to when they are physically absent, as in the words, “O Muhammad,” in the above hadits, “tawaswswul to Allah Most High through them is permissible, the supplication being to Allah Most Glorious, and there is much evidence for its permissibility.

Those who call on them intending tawaswswul cannot be blamed.  As for someone who believes that those called upon can cause effects, benefit, or harm, which they create or cause to exist as Allah (s.w.t.) Does, such a person is an idolator who has left Islam - Allah be our refuge!  This then, and a certain person has written an article that tawaswswul to Allah (s.w.t.) through the righteous is unlawful, while the overwhelming majority of scholars hold it is permissible, and the evidence the writer uses to corroborate his viewpoint is devoid of anything that demonstrates what he is trying to prove.  In declaring tawaswswul permissible, we are not hovering on brink of shirk or coming anywhere near it, for the conviction that Allah (s.w.t.) Alone has Influence over anything, outwardly or inwardly, is a conviction that flows through us like our very lifeblood.  If tawaswswul was shirk, or if there were any suspicion of idolatry in it, the Prophet (s.a.w.) would not have taught it to the blind man when the latter asked him to supplicate Allah for him, though in fact he did teach him to make tawaswswul to Allah (s.w.t.) through him.  And the notion that tawaswswul is permissible only during the lifetime of the person through whom it is done but not after his death is unsupported by any viable foundation from Sacred Law.”


  1. Some of the most damaging "Islamophobia" is coming from within our ranks as Muslims. Well funded organiztions like Islamic Finder and the Islamic Council of New England. t name just who ostracize all organizations who adhere to tasawwaf principles refusing to allow them to be part of the dialogue, or in the case of the above mentioned council, excluding Imams in the areas from their shura council. These many activist "Muslim" organizations set forth spokespersons to speak about Islam who are alien, down right scary, to most Americans or non-Muslims. I would suggest much of this is intentional. What true Islamic leader puts themselves first when they should clearly understand that many convert Americans well versed in the western culture are available to these media outlets but are ignored. The media outlets are looking for the black bearded, dark eyed, scary person who will increase peoples hatred towards Muslims and up their ratings. It is time that we recognize one of our biggest problems lies within our ranks - those organizations who actively exclude those whoa adhere to the principles of tassawuf from participating in the open dialogue.

    For Islam to be accepted in America and understood it will be necessary for us to develop Dargahs across America where people can feel comfortable entering and experiencing a brand of Islam that is kind, gentle and loving.

    Sh. Umar Rabbani


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