The Help of Allah’s People is the Help of Allah
Mawlana Adnan Chishti Attari
It is without doubt that the beloved people of Allah aid and extend help to creation. However, they do not help others due to an innate power in them or of their own absolutely independent volition, but rather they do so due to the power and permission of Allah. No Muslim would believe otherwise. Islam teaches us that only Allah Almighty is the true, ultimate helper. As for the elect servants of Allah Almighty, they act as intermediaries, means, and channels of divine help. The help granted by the righteous slaves of Allah Almighty, in reality, is the help of Allah Almighty.
After proving the concept of “seeking help from Allah’s people” (istimdād/istiʿāna) from the Sunnah, the erudite Shafiʿī jurist and hadith master, Imam Taqī al-Dīn al-Subkī رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه , remarks:
Seeking help from the noble Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم does not mean that a person considers him to be the creator and able of disposing of affairs independently—no believer would ever think this. To interpret the belief in this way and then use it as a ruse to prevent people from seeking aid ˹from the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم ˺ is utter deception in the religion and a cause of distress for the Muslims.
اَلْمُسْتَغَاثُ بِهٖ فِی الْحَقِیْقَۃِ: ہُوَ اللهُ تَعَالٰی، وَ النَّبِیُّ صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم وَاسِطَۃٌ بَیْنَہٗ وَ بَیْنَ الْمُسْتَغِیْث
“The Being from whom help is truly sought is Allah Almighty. The Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم is an intermediary and a means between Him and the one seeking assistance.”
Sceptics should first ask mainstream Muslims who practice istimdād: Do you consider the prophets and saints to be like God, intrinsically powerful and pre-eternally independent, or do you respect them as the accepted people of Allah Almighty who are distinguished in His court and accepted as intermediaries by Allah? See what answer you receive!
Istighātha, istimdād, and tawassul are the same in essence:
When the beloveds of Allah Almighty are considered means or intermediaries for receiving divine help, then it is clear as day that the two terms istighātha and tawassul are different words for the same practice.
Clarifying this, Imam al-Subkī states:
وَ اِذَا تَحَرَّرْتْ ھَذِہِ الْاَنْوَاعُ وَ الْاَحْوَالُ فِی الطَّالِبِ مِنَ النَّبِیِّ صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم ، وَظَہَرَ الْمَعْنیٰ، فَلَا عَلَیْکَ فِی تَسْمِیَتِہٖ: تَوَسُّلًا، اَوْ تَشَفُّعًا، اَوِاسْتِغَاثَۃً، اَوْ تَجَوُّھًا،اَوْ تَوَجُّھًا، لِاَنَّ الْمَعْنٰی فِی جَمِیْعِ ذَلِکَ سَوَاءٌ
“Having listed all the types and circumstances of seeking aid from the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم , and now the meaning has become clear, there is no need to designate a specific name for it such as tawassul, istighātha, tashaffuʿ, tajawwuh, or tawajjuh, because these terms all have the same essential meaning.”
Commenting on these terms, Ibn Ḥajar al-Makkī رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه adds:
وَلَا فَرقَ بينَ ذکرِ التَّوَسُّلِ وَالِاسْتِغَاثَةِ وَالتَّشَفُّعِ وَالتَّوَجُّہِ بِہٖ صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم اَوْ بِغَیْرِہٖ مِنَ الْاَنْبِیَاءِ وَکَذَا الاَوْلِیَاء
“There is no difference in taking the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم , other prophets, or the saints as ˹objects of˺ tawassul, istighātha, tashaffuʿ, and tawajjuh.”
After such a clear expose, to claim that people seek help from the prophets and saints whilst deeming them to be intrinsically powerful and independent, is nothing but a grave accusation. The reviver of Islam, Imām Aḥmad Razā Khān states regarding such accusers:
This ˹accusation˺ is a severe matter. If they were to realise the depth of its offense, they would repent for a lengthy period. To harbour ill assumption against the people of tawhid is unlawful. And to misconstrue their righteous actions, which are free from needing clarification, as acts of disbelief is unequivocally a grave sin.
Is asking help from the deceased an act of polytheism?
To learn the answer to the above-mentioned question, read the following statement of Imām Aḥmad Razā Khān رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه which is presented here with slight amendments:
Critics of seeking help from the saints habitually target simple members of the public who lack knowledge, and deceive them by saying, “Seeking help from the dead is polytheism but seeking help from the living is not,” or they will claim, “Seeking aid from someone near is not polytheism but seeking assistance from someone far away is pure polytheism.” Such words are extremely ignorant. Polytheism will remain polytheism regardless of the one who is involved. If it is not polytheism with one person, then it is not polytheism with others either.
Is it just the dead who cannot be partners to Allah, whilst the living can? Is it just the distant who cannot be partners to Allah, whilst those nearby can? Is it just the prophets who cannot be partners to Allah, whilst doctors can? Is it just humans who cannot be partners to Allah, whilst angels can? Of course not! None can be a partner with Allah Almighty.
When something (whether calling out or something else) done with a certain belief is not polytheism when done with someone who is close and alive, then it cannot be polytheism when done with that same belief with the one who is distant, or deceased, or in fact even with a stone. If it classed as polytheism with any one of them, then it would unquestionably be the same ruling for the rest of creation.
He further mentions:
Muslims should remember this point and keep it in consideration. Whenever they see deceitful and sly people making a distinction by saying, “So-and-so action or such-and-such belief is polytheism when done with one person but not the other,” then be assured that they are utter liars, because if something is not polytheism in one case, it cannot be polytheism with that same belief anywhere .
It is permissible to seek help even after death:
Shaykh ʿAbd al-Ḥaqq al-Dihlawī رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه writes:
Imam Muḥammad al-Ghazālī رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه has mentioned: كُلُّ مَنْ يُّسْتَمَدُّ بِهٖ فِيْ حَيَاتِهٖ يُسْتَمَدُّ بِهٖ بَعْدَ وَفَاتِهٖ i.e., “Every such individual from whom it was permissible to seek help during his life, it remains as such even after his demise.”
A man from the great ranking saints said, “I have seen four saints of Allah Almighty that have been bestowed the ability to dispose of affairs from within their graves, just as they would during their life on the earth or to an even greater extent. From amongst them are Shaykh Maʿrūf al-Karkhī and Shaykh ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī,” and he mentioned two other saints. (Keep in mind that this divinely bestowed ability is not limited to these four saints, rather this pious predecessor mentioned that which he personally witnessed).
May Allah Almighty grant us the ability to adhere to the beliefs and doctrines relayed by our pious predecessors.
صَلَّی اللہ تَعَالٰی عَلَیْہِ وَاٰلہٖ وَسَلَّماٰمِیْن بِجَاہِ النَّبِیِّ الْاَمِیْن
 Shifa al-Siqam Fi Ziyarat Khair al- Anaam, p. 383
 Shifa al-Siqam Fi Ziyarat Khair al- Anaam, p. 379
 Also termed, istighātha and istiʿāna.
 Fatāwā Razawiyyah, vol. 21, p. 331
 Al-Shifa al-Saqam Fi Ziyarat al-Kahir al- Anaam, p. 383
 Al-Jawhar al-Munazzam, p. 61
 Fatāwā Razawiyyah, vol. 21, p. 329
 Fatāwā Razawiyyah, vol. 21, pp. 326,327
 Ashiʿat al-Lam’aat, vol. 1, p. 762, Lam’aat al-Tanqeeh, vol. 4, p. 215