We saw in the last chapter that at least some of the Jewish Rabbis believed in a messiah who would come to suffer and intercede. However, when we Christians say that Jesus is the messiah who came to intercede for all who accept him as Saviour, Muslims usually reply, "No, it is Muhammad who has the power to intercede." The principal of a primary school in Tunisia told me that no Muslim will stay in hell, because Muhammad will speak on behalf of each one of them.
If the Christian goes on to claim that only Jesus has the right to intercede because he was perfect and sinless, someone almost always answers, "but all the prophets are restrained or guarded (ma'sum) from sin.
And when Christians say that Jesus died for our sin, a Muslim often responds with the statement that God would not let one of his chosen prophets be killed.
Therefore, we shall turn again to the Qur'an and see whether it has anything to say concerning these claims. Starting with the last question first, we shall look at all the passages which seem to have any bearing on these three points.
There are eight Quranic verses which mention this subject, all of which seem to be addressed to the Jews. The first group of verses speak of prophets and are as follows,
The Heifer (Al-Baqara) 2:91 from 2 AH,
"When it is said to them `Believe in what God has sent down,' they say, `We believe in what was sent down to us'; and they disbelieve in that which comes after it. And it is the truth confirming what is WITH THEM.
"Say, 'Why did you kill the prophets of God in times gone by, if you are believers?'"
The Family of `Imran (Ali 'Imran) 3:112, from 3 AH,
"...they rejected the signs of God, and killed the prophets unjustly..."
The Family of `Imran (Ali 'Imran) 3:181,
"...We shall certainly record their word and their killing of the prophets unjustly..."
The Women (Al-Nisa') 4:155, from 5-6 AH,
"Then because of their breaking of their covenant, and their disbelief in the clear proofs of God, and their killing of the prophets unjustly, and their statement, `Our hearts are uncircumcised'...they believe not, except a few."
Then in the Sura of the Family of `Imran (Ali `Imran) 3:21 from 3 AH we find the accusation broadened. In addition to the prophets, the unbelievers seek to slay even ordinary men if they "command justice".
"As to those who deny the clear proofs of God and kill the prophets, and kill those of men who command justice; announce to them a painful punishment."
Finally in a third group of verses we find, that in addition to prophets, even apostles were killed.
The Heifer (Al-Baqara) 2:87 from 2 AH,
"We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of Apostles; and we gave Jesus the son of Mary clear proofs and strengthened him with the holy spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you an apostle with what you yourselves desire not, you are puffed up with pride? Some you called liars, and some you killed."
The Family of `Imran (Ali `Imran) 3:183, from 3 AH,
"Say (Muhammad), `There came to you apostles before me with clear signs and even with what you ask for. Why then did you kill them, if you speak the truth?' "
The Table (Al-Ma'ida) 5:70, from 10 AH,
"We took the covenant of the Children of Israel and sent them apostles. Every time an apostle came to them with what they themselves disliked---some of them they called liars, and some they killed."These eight verses state clearly that
A well-known example is the prophet Yahya Ibn Zakariya (John the Baptist). Though his death is not mentioned in the Qur'an, it is found in the Gospel, and it is mentioned by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. In book XVIII, chap. 5 of The Antiquities of the Jews he writes,
"For Herod (King of the Jews) slew him (Yahya), who was a good man and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue." (italics mine)
The words in italics are almost exactly the same as the Quranic verse saying that they "killed those who commanded justice."
We must conclude therefore, that it is completely false for a Muslim to say that God could never let a prophet, or an apostle like Jesus, be killed. The Qur'an states clearly that the Sovereign, All-Powerful Lord has already done so in the past.
and though Adam and Eve are not mentioned by name in the late Meccan Sura of the Heights (Al-A'raf) 7:189-190, it certainly seems to be the intention of these verses (and 4:1 where the same phrase is used) when we are told,
"He it is Who did create you from a single soul, and therefrom did make his mate that he might take rest in her...
But when He gave to them a goodly child, they ascribed unto Him partners (shuraka')."
To "ascribe partners to God" is the unforgivable sin in Islam. It is worse than rebellion.
2. Concerning Noah, in the late Meccan Sura of The Prophet Hud 11:45-47, we read,
"And Noah called upon his Lord, and said, `O my Lord! surely my son is of my family (and should be saved)...
He (God) said, `O Noah! he is not of thy family, for his conduct is unrighteous. So ask not of me that of which you have no knowledge. I give you counsel, lest you act like the ignorant!'
He (Noah) said, `O my Lord! I do seek refuge with You, lest I ask you for that of which I have no knowledge. And unless you forgive me and have mercy on me, I will be of the lost.' "
What shall we say of this? Noah's request that his unbelieving son should be spared is so human, "so normal" to us, that we would hardly call it sin. But God rebukes him with strong words; and Noah recognizes that he has sinned in refusing God's will, and asks for forgiveness and mercy.
3. Abraham, the father of three religions, also has something to say. In the middle Meccan Sura of Abraham (Ibrahim) 14:41, Abraham speaks saying,
"Our Lord! Forgive me and my parents and believers on the day when the account is cast."and again in the middle Meccan Sura of The Poets (Al-Shu`ara') 26:77,81-82, he says,
"...Not so the Lord and Cherisher of the Worlds...
who will cause me to die and then give me life, and who, I hope, will forgive me my sin (khati'ati) on the day of judgement."
Here, Abraham not only asks forgiveness in a general way as in the first quotation, but he specifically asks forgiveness for his own sin.
4. When we examine Moses, this great apostle of God, to whom the Lord spoke "directly" we find that he too is rebuked. In the late Meccan Sura of the Narration (Al-Qasas) 28:15,16 we read,
"And he (Moses) entered the City...and he found two men fighting--one of his own sect, and the other of his foes. Now the man of his own sect appealed to him against his foe, and Moses struck him with his fist and finished him off. (Then) he said, `This is of the work of Satan; for he is a clearly misleading enemy.'
He prayed, `O my Lord, I have indeed wronged my soul! Forgive me!' and He (God) forgave him, for He is the Forgiving One, the Most Merciful."
The interpretation of Yusuf Ali is that Moses did not intend to kill the Egyptian but only to deliver the Jewish fighter. Therefore, Moses asked God's forgiveness for killing this man.
5. The next man to be considered is the apostle David who wrote the Zabur or Psalms. In the Early Meccan Sura of Sad 38:21-25 it is written,
Yusuf Ali does not believe that this story refers to David's crime of committing adultery with Bathsheba and then killing her husband to hide the sin as recorded in the Torah-Old Testament.
"Has the story of the disputants reached you? Behold, they climbed over the wall of the private chamber.
When they entered in front of David...they said, `Don't be afraid. We are two disputants...Decide now between us with truth...This man is my brother. He has nine and ninety ewes, and I have one ewe; and he says entrust her to me, and he is harsh to me in speech.'
He (David) said, `He has undoubtedly wronged you in demanding your ewe to be added to his ewes...Not so do those who believe and do good works, and they are few.'
And David guessed that We had tried him and he asked forgiveness of his Lord and he fell down prostrate and repented.
So We forgave him THIS..." (capital letters mine)
Hamidullah, though, has no doubt that it does refer to this very serious crime, and that is also my opinion for two reasons. Firstly the parable of the 99 ewes and one ewe as found here is similar to the Biblical account, and secondly verse 26 of the Qur'an goes on to say,
"O David...judge between men with truth and don't follow the passion (al-hawa) (of the heart), for it will beguile you from the path of God..."
Anyway, whether it refers to his adultery or not, it clearly speaks of some specific sin referred to as "THIS", for which David asked forgiveness and for which he was so overcome that he fell on his knees and bowed down.
6. In the Early Meccan Sura of Sad 38:35 Solomon too says,
"...O my Lord! Forgive me..."
although his sin is not very clear, unless it was loving horses more than the remembrance of God.
7. Finally we come to the Prophet Jonah. He purposely refused to obey God's command to go and warn the people of Nineveh, and took ship to run away. After which, according to the Early Meccan Sura of The Ranks (Al-Saffat) 37:142-144,
"...the fish swallowed him, and he was blameworthy (mulim) and had he not been one of those who glorify (God), He would have stayed in its belly till the day when they are raised."His words of repentance from the belly of the fish are found in the middle Meccan Sura of The Prophets (Al-Anbiya') 21:87 where it says that,
"...he cried out in the darkness, saying, `There is no God save you! Glory to you! Indeed, I have been one of the oppressing transgressors (al-zalimin)
So Jonah admits that he was an "oppressing sinner" and God calls him "blameworthy", the very same word used in Sura 51:40 where the Qur'an reports that God threw Pharaoh into the sea because he was "blameworthy".
In these verses we have seen that seven prophets, two of whom were also apostles, either called themselves sinners or were called sinners by God and told to repent.
While the sins of Noah and Solomon seem such small sins of heart attitude to us as to be almost "normal", they were still told to ask for forgiveness.
But of Adam, the Qur'an says that he "rebelled ('asa)" and "ascribed partners (shuraka') to God", and Jonah, after refusing God's command, is called "blameworthy (mulim)".
Abraham specifically asks forgiveness for "sin (kati'a)", and the two apostles, Moses and David must repent for murder and adultery. Moses' killing of the Egyptian was accidental, but David was completely responsible for his sinful actions.
Some Muslims have wanted to say that the prophets and apostles were held back from great sins, but we have seen that even this is not true.
A judge, from the court of appeals in Tangier, once claimed that actions which were sins for ordinary people, were not sins for the prophets. Then I asked him who would be more blameworthy and receive a greater punishment in his court: one who knew the law when he broke it, or one who was ignorant of the law? He quickly answered that it was the person who knew the law who deserved the greater punishment. The lesson is obvious: The responsibility of a prophet or an apostle is greater, not less.
To this the Qur'an also agrees. In the Sura of The Confederates (Al-Ahzab) 33:7-8 from 5-6 AH, it says that God took a "sacred covenant" from the prophets and apostles: a covenant which he did not demand from other people; and on the basis of which He would judge their faithfulness. The verses read,
"And remember We took from the prophets their covenant; and from you (Muhammad) and from Noah and Abraham and Moses, and Jesus the son of Mary; and we took from them a sacred covenant, that He (God) may ask (call to account) the faithful ones concerning their truthfulness."
In conclusion, we can only say that it is obvious and clear that according to the Qur'an prophets and apostles also sin.
8. This brings us then to a very delicate subject---delicate because it may cause pain in the heart of the reader---but if we are to continue our search right down to the last grain of truth, we must discuss it anyway.
What does the Qur'an say about Muhammad and sin? We shall look at the verses in the order of their revelation.
One Wrapped Up (Al-Mudaththir) 74:1-5, very early Meccan,
"O you, the wrapped up one, arise and warn,
and your Lord magnify,
and purify your garments,
and flee abomination.
(or that which provokes God's anger---Hamidullah)
Morning Light (Al-Duha) 93:6-7, early Meccan,
"Did He not find you (Muhammad) an orphan and protect?
Did He not find you straying (dallan) and He guided?"
This is the word used in the early Meccan Sura of The Opening (Al-Fatiha) 1:6-7 which every Muslim prays many times a day,
"Show us the straight path.
The path of those whom you have favored---not (the path) of those who earn Your anger, nor of those who go astray (al-dallin)."
The Expansion (A lam nashrah) 94:1-7, which reads,
"Have We not expanded your breast (Muhammad), and removed from you your burden (wizrak) which crushed your back, and exalted your fame? Along with trouble comes ease...So when you are free, toil and strive to please your Lord."
This must be compared with the late Meccan Sura of The Cattle (Al-An'am) 6:31 which describes the unbelievers in hell by saying,
"...They bear upon their backs their burdens (auzarahum) and evil is that which they bear!"
The reader may also remember that on page 5 we studied this word for burden and we saw that "no burdened one can bear the burden of another"---that is "No sinner can bear the sin of another".
He Frowned (`Abasa) 80:1-11, early Meccan,
"(The Prophet) frowned and turned away, because there came to him the blind man. But what could tell you but that perchance he might grow (in righteousness)? Or that he might receive admonition and teaching might profit him?
As to one who regards himself as self-sufficient, to him you attend. Yet it is no blame to you if he does not grow (in righteousness).
But as for him who came to you striving earnestly and with fear, of him you were unmindful.
No. It is indeed an admonishment."
Here Muhammad is rebuked for showing favoritism and Hamidullah has a note at these verses saying, "Thus the revelation is not always pleasing to the prophet."
The Believer (Al-Mu'min) 40:55, late Meccan,
"Then have patience (Muhammad) for the promise of God is true; and ask forgiveness for your sin (danbika) and celebrate the praise of the Lord in the evening and the morning."
Muhammad 47:19, from 1 AH,
"And know (O Muhammad) that there is no god but God, and ask forgiveness for your sin (danbika), and for the men and women who believe..."Since the sins of Muhammad and of the other believers are mentioned together in the same sentence, it would seem that they must be similar in character.
The Women (Al-Nisa') 4;105-107, from 5-6 AH,
"Lo! We have sent down to you the book with truth, that you may judge between mankind by that which God shows you. And don't be a pleader for the treacherous,The words in parentheses added by one translator are placed there on the basis of the explanation given by most commentators and quoted by Yusuf Ali, that this revelation came when Muhammad was tempted to judge against an innocent Jew in favor of a guilty Muslim.
and ask forgiveness from God (for your wrong intention), for God is Ever-forgiving, most Merciful.
and plead not on behalf of those who deceive themselves. Lo! God does not love one who is treacherous and sinful."
The Victory (Al-Fath) 48:1-2, from 6 AH,
"Truly We have granted you a clear victory, that God may forgive you your sin (danbika) that is past and that which is to come, and finish his favor to you and guide you on the straight path."
Repentance (Al-Tauba) 9:43 from 9 AH,
"God give you forgiveness (Muhammad)! Why did you grant them exemption until those who told the truth were seen by you in a clear light and you knew the liars?"Muhammad is rebuked for not inquiring of God, or of judging too hastily in giving some men exemption from battle.
Help (Al-Nasr) 110:3, from 10 AH, a few week's before Muhammad's death,
"Celebrate the praises of your Lord (Muhammad) and pray for His forgiveness; for He is ever ready to show mercy."
We may summarize this information by saying that Muhammad did no great sins like those which the Qur'an attributes to Adam and Jonah and David. The acts of Muhammad which are described and rebuked in the above verses are those into which it would be exceedingly easy for any leader to fall, and they can be found in the lives of other prophets who have gone before. What we are to understand by the words "your sin" (danbika) is not explained, but we are forced to the conclusion that Muhammad, like the other prophets and apostles whom we studied above, was not sinless.
The reader may be very upset by this information---even angry; but these verses have not been included because they bring joy. It is because of the question of intercession.
Intercession Yes or No? Two Opinions
At the beginning of this section, I quoted the principal of a primary school who said that because of the intercession of Muhammad, no Muslim will remain in hell.
In support of the same opinion, a book called Proofs of Blessing (dala'il al-khairat) by Abi `Abdallah Muhammad Suliman Al-jazuli, one of the "yellow books" sold all across North Africa and even in Marseille, describes Muhammad as,
"Intercessor of the Nation, and the Intercessor among Intercessors of the Resurrection Day
In a chapter entitled the "Two Hundred and One Names of Muhammad" he is called,
"...Perfect...Truth...Intercessor...the Spirit of Holiness...the Spirit of Truth...the Key of Heaven...Forgiving of Sins...and the Holder of Intercession..."
In other places further names are added such as, "Light of Lights...Lord of the Righteous", and even names of God such as "The Gracious" (al-ra'uf) and "The Compassionate" (al-rahim).
This book is so well known that two male nurses in one of the North African dispensaries where I worked could sing long passages by heart.
Finally consider the following story which I have heard in both Morocco and Tunisia.
On the day of resurrection,
Moses' people said to him, "O Moses! Intercede for us."
He answered, "Myself. Myself."
Jesus' people said to him, "O Jesus! Intercede for us."
He answered, "Myself, Myself."
Muhammad's people said to him, "O Muhammad! Intercede for us."
He answered, "My nation, My nation."
Hearing beliefs and stories like these repeated over and over again, gives the people of North Africa the idea that the intercession of Muhammad is a sure thing. Therefore, we shall again make a detailed study of the Qur'an to see if there are verses which support this belief in Muhammad's power to intercede on the day of judgement---a belief held almost universally in popular Islam.
In the Qur'an we find that the verb and nouns formed from the verb "he intercedes" (shafa`a) are used 26 times in relation to God. Except for one verse which I have treated separately, the references divide themselves naturally into three groups. We shall now look at each passage in detail, including as much context as is necessary to demonstrate the usage.
1. THERE WILL BE NO INTERCESSION BY IDOLS OR FALSE GODS. One Wrapped Up (Al-Mudaththir) 74:48, very early Meccan. (used twice as different noun forms):
"Then will NO INTERCESSION of (any) INTERCESSORS profit them."
Ya-Sin 36:23, early or middle Meccan.
"If (God) most gracious should intend some adversity for me (Muhammad), of NO USE whatever will be THEIR INTERCESSION for me, nor can they deliver me."
The Roman Empire (Al-Rum) 30:13, middle Meccan.
"NO INTERCESSOR will they have among their false gods and they will themselves reject their false gods."
The Poets (Al-Shu`ara') 26:l00-l0l, middle Meccan.
"Now that we have NONE TO INTERCEDE (for us), nor a single friend to feel (for us)."
The Heights (Al-A`raf) 7:53, late Meccan. (Used twice---once as a verb and once as a noun)
"On the day (judgement day) the event is finally fulfilled, those who disregarded it before will say, `The apostles of our Lord did indeed bring truth. Have we NO INTERCESSOR now TO INTERCEDE on our behalf?" (In the context it means "where are our false gods to help us now?")
The Believer (Al-Mu'min) 40:l8, late Meccan.
"NO intimate friend nor INTERCESSOR will the wrong-doers have, who could be listened to."
The Cattle (Al-An`am) 6:94, late Meccan.
"WE SEE NOT with you YOUR INTERCESSORS (false gods) whom ye thought to be partners in your affairs:"
Jonah (Yunus) l0:l8, late Meccan.
"They serve besides God, things that hurt them not, nor profit them and they say, `THESE (FALSE GODS) ARE OUR INTERCESSORS with God.' "
The Heifer (Al-Baqara) 2:48, 2 AH.
"Then guard yourselves against a day when one soul shall not avail another, NOR SHALL INTERCESSION BE ACCEPTED from it, nor shall compensation be received from it, nor shall they be helped."
The Heifer (Al-Baqara) 2:l23, 2 AH.
"Then guard yourselves against a day when one soul shall not avail another, nor shall compensation be accepted from it, NOR SHALL INTERCESSION (of another) PROFIT IT nor shall they be helped."
The Heifer (Al-Baqara) 2:254, 2 AH.
"Before the day comes when NO bargaining (will avail) nor friendship nor INTERCESSION."
2. GOD ALONE HAS THE POWER OF INTERCESSION
The Crowds (Al-Zumar) 39:43,44, late Meccan.
"What! Do they take for INTERCESSORS others BESIDES GOD? Say: `Even if they have NO POWER whatever and no intelligence?' Say: `TO GOD BELONGS ALL INTERCESSION.' "
The Cattle (Al-An`am) 6:70, late Meccan.
"But proclaim (to them) this (truth): that every soul delivers itself to ruin by its own acts: it will find for itself NO protector or INTERCESSOR EXCEPT GOD: if it offered every ransom (or reparation), none will be accepted:"
The Cattle (Al-An`am) 6:51, late Meccan.
"Give this warning to those who fear (because they know) that they will be gathered unto their Lord. EXCEPT FOR HIM, they will have NO protector, nor INTERCESSOR: that they may live righteously."
Adoration (Al-Sajda) 32:4, middle Meccan.
"Ye have NONE BESIDE HIM, TO protect or INTERCEDE (for you)."
3. INTERCESSION IS BY GOD'S PERMISSION ALONE
The Star (Al-Najm) 53:26, early Meccan.
"How many-so-ever be the ANGELS in the heavens, their INTERCESSION WILL AVAIL NOTHING, EXCEPT AFTER GOD HAS GIVEN LEAVE FOR WHOM HE PLEASES AND IS ACCEPTABLE."The City of Saba (Saba) 34:23, early Meccan.
"NO INTERCESSION can avail in His presence EXCEPT FOR HIM FOR WHOM HE HAS GRANTED PERMISSION."The Prophets (Al-Anbiya') 2l:28, middle Meccan.
"And they (angels or apostles) offer NO INTERCESSION EXCEPT FOR THOSE WHO ARE ACCEPTABLE and they stand in awe and reverence of His (glory)." ***
"NONE SHALL HAVE POWER OF INTERCESSION, BUT SUCH A ONE AS HAS RECEIVED PERMISSION (or promise) FROM GOD most gracious."Ta-Ha 20:l09, middle Meccan.
"On that day NO INTERCESSION SHALL AVAIL EXCEPT HE TO WHOM THE MOST MERCIFUL PERMITS IT AND WHOSE WORD IS ACCEPTABLE."Jonah (Yunus) l0:3, late Meccan.
"NO INTERCESSOR (can plead with Him) EXCEPT AFTER HIS PERMISSION (has been obtained)."The Heifer (Al-Baqara) 2:255, 2 AH.
"His are all things in the heavens and on earth. WHO CAN INTERCEDE in His presence EXCEPT AS HE PERMITS?" ****** These four verses say clearly that no one can intercede except as God permits.
4. INTERCESSION ONLY BY HE WHO BEARS WITNESS TO THE TRUTH
Finally there is one other verse which I have treated separately because it gives another characteristic of one who can intercede. In the late meccan Sura of The Gold Adornments (Al-Zukhruf) 43:86, we read,
"And THOSE (FALSE GODS) whom they invoke besides God have NO POWER OF INTERCESSION; ONLY HE WHO BEARS WITNESS TO THE TRUTH and they know."
The question is---who is this person who bears witness to the truth?
Yusuf Ali in his note on this verse says that many commentators interpret it to mean any apostle who preached the Gospel of Unity. Others, including Yusuf Ali, would interpret it to mean Muhammad.
The verse does not say. One can only pose the question. Is it Abraham? Is it Muhammad? Is it Moses? Is it Jesus? Jesus is the only prophet who ever said of himself, "I am...the truth". But in the end we don't know. We are not told.
In summary we have found words derived from "he intercedes"
used 13 times in 11 verses to say that it is foolish and
useless to think that dead idols will intercede at the day of judgement.
We have found such derivatives used five times in four verses to say that
God alone has the power of intercession.
Thirdly, the question of who can intercede is discussed in eight verses
where it is stated that,
a) No one can intercede---even angels---except with God's permission.
b) Only those acceptable to God can have intercession offered in their behalf.
c) Only he who bears witness to the truth can intercede.
5. OTHER VERSES ON THE SUBJECT BUT WITHOUT THE WORD INTERCESSION
The same teachings as those mentioned above, but expressed by different words and expressions, are also found in other Quranic verses.
The Cleaving Asunder (Al-Infitar) 82:19, early Meccan.
"The day when no soul shall have power (to do) anything for another: for the command that day, will be (wholly) with God."The News (Al-Naba') 78:37-38, early Meccan.
"...None shall have power to argue with Him the day that the Spirit and the angels will stand forth in ranks. None shall speak except him whom the Most Gracious allows, and he will say what is right."The Cattle (Al-An'am) 6:164, late Meccan.
"...Every soul gathers the result of its acts on none but itself. No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another. Your goal in the end is towards God. He will tell you the truth of the things wherein you disputed." ***
There are verses in the Qur'an where prophets are told to pray for people or ask forgiveness for them. We shall take the verses concerning each prophet in their order of revelation.
1. Verses concerning Muhammad are as follows, Muhammad 47:19, from 1 AH,
"And know (O Muhammad) that there is no god but God, and ask forgiveness for your sin (danbika), and for the men and women who believe."The Family of `Imran (Ali `Imran) 3:159, from 2 AH. Muhammad is told in relation to the soldiers who were disobedient at Uhud to,
"pass over (their faults), and ask for forgiveness for them."The Hypocrites (Al-Munafiqun) 63:5, from 4-5 AH, speaks of hypocrites who pretend to believe but,
"...when it is said to them, `Come, the apostle of God will pray for your forgiveness', they turn aside their heads..."The Women (Al-Nisa') 4:64, from 5-6 AH, speaking of hypocritical believers who refused to come says,
"And if, when they had wronged themselves, they had but come unto you and asked forgiveness of God, and the apostle had asked forgiveness for them, they would have found God Forgiving, Merciful."The Light (Al-Nur) 24:62, from 5-6 AH, speaking in relation to those who ask to be excused from a matter needing collective action, says,
"...when they ask for your permission (to go) for some business of theirs, give permission to those of them whom you wish and ask God to forgive them."The Examined Woman (Al-Mumtahina) 60:12, from 8 AH. Speaking in relation of women who wish to become Muslims, this verse says,
"O Prophet, when believing women come to you, taking oath of allegiance to you...then accept their allegiance and ask God to forgive them."Repentance (Al-Tauba) 9:103, from 9 AH, speaks of the desert Arabs saying,
"Of their goods take alms...and pray for them.. Verily your prayers are a source of security for them."At first glance these verses might seem to lend support to a doctrine of special intercession by Muhammad, but first of all, none of them have to do with the day of judgement, and secondly the Qur'an tells us that other prophets prayed in this way.
2. Noah prayed for his family and his people, as well as himself. His preaching is recorded in the early Meccan Sura of Noah (Nuh) 71:2-4,7,10.
"He (Noah) said, `O my people! I am to you a clear warner, that you should worship God and fear Him and obey me; so that He may forgive you of your sins...'And in verse 28 of the same Sura we read,
"He said, `Lord!...whenever I call to them that you may forgive them, they thrust their fingers in their ears...and I have said, ask forgiveness of your Lord. He is a Forgiving One.'"
"Lord! Forgive me, and my parents, and him who enters my house believing, and believing men and believing women..."
3. Abraham also prayed for others as well as himself. Abraham (Ibrahim) 14:41, late Meccan.
"(Abraham said) O our Lord! Forgive me, my parents and all believers".The Poets (Al-Shu'ara') 26:86, middle Meccan, says that Abraham prayed,
"Forgive my father. Indeed, he is of those who go astray (al-dallin)"It was, of course, later revealed in 9:113-114, from 9 AH, that Abraham, Muhammad and the believers are not to pray, even for next of kin, after they understand and refuse.
The Sura of the Prophet Hud 11:74, late Meccan, tells us that Abraham even pleaded for the people of another prophet, his nephew Lot.
"When fear had passed from Abraham...he began to plead with us (yujadiluna) on behalf of Lot's people." [The Arabic word here would mean argue if used of two men; and Hamidullah translates it "dispute".]
4. Jacob, too, is stated to have asked forgiveness for the sins of his ten sons. In the late Meccan Sura of Joseph (Yusuf) 12:97-98, we read,
"They said, `O our father! Ask forgiveness of our sins (dunubana) for us; for indeed we were sinners (khati'in).' He said, `I shall ask forgiveness for you of my Lord for He is the Forgiver, the Merciful.'"
5. In the late Meccan Sura of the Heights (Al-A'raf) 7:148-156 the Qur'an gives the story of the golden calf and verse 155 records how Moses prayed for his people, saying,
"...O my Lord! If it had been Your will You could have destroyed, long before, both them and me. Will You destroy us for the deeds of the foolish ones among us? This is no more than Your trial. By it You cause whom You will to stray; and You lead whom You will into the right path. You are our Protector. So forgive us and have mercy upon us; and You are the Best of forgivers."
The Bible also speaks of prophets who prayed in this way.
1. The Torah Exodus 32:31-32 records the same prayer of Moses as that given above.
"...Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin---but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written."
2. The prophet Daniel describes his praying with these words,
"`O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive!
O Lord, hear and act!
For Your sake, O my God, do not delay,
because Your city and Your people bear Your Name.'"
3. The prophet Amos prays for his people saying,
"...I cried out, `Sovereign LORD, forgive! How can Jacob (the Nation) survive? He is so small!'"
4. Job was told to pray for those who had accused him of sin.
"After the LORD had said these things to Job, He said to Eliphaz the Temanite, `I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly...' and the LORD accepted Job's prayer."
5. Paul prays for his brothers of the Jewish nation,
"Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved."And the depth of his feeling and prayer are shown in these words,
"I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel."In the Bible, too, Jeremiah is finally told by God not to plead anymore. God says,
"So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you. Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem?... They pour out drink offerings to other gods to provoke me to anger."
Having examined these many passages, in both the Qur'an and the Bible, we find that they all speak of living prophets praying for living people with whom they are in contact. We have not found one single verse in the whole Qur'an which promises that any of these prophets, from Noah to Muhammad, will have power to intercede on the day of judgement. This leaves only the Hadith as a possible source for further information.
About the time that I decided that I would have to consult the Hadith literature on this subject, I found a copy of An-Nawawi's Forty Hadiths in a book store. There, I thought, this should make it easy. If there are any Hadiths on "intercession", this great specialist in Hadith literature will surely include at least one in his special collection. But to my surprise there was not one Hadith on the subject---not even a short one!
In his Dictionary of Islam under the heading "intercession", T. P. Hughes gives the following information concerning the Hadith on page 214.
The statements of Muhammad, as contained in the Traditions, are as follows:---
"He is most fortunate in my intercession in the Day of Judgment, who shall have said from his heart, without any mixture of hypocrisy: `There is no deity but God.'"
"I will intercede for those who shall have committed great sins."
"Three classes will intercede on the Day of Judgment, the Prophets, the Learned, the Martyrs." Mishkat, book xxxiii, ch. xii. The author of the sharh-i-Mawaqif says (p. 588): According to the Sunnis, the intercession of Muhammad is specially for those who have committed great sins (ahlu 'l-kabair), for the purpose of removing punishment; for Muhammad has said, "My intercession is for those who have committed great sins". But the Mu`tazilas say the intercession of Muhammad is for the increase of merit, and not for the prevention of punishment; for it is said in the Qur'an, Sura ii.48: "Fear the day wherein no soul shall pay recompense for another soul. Nor shall intercession be accepted for it, nor shall compensation be taken from it, nor shall they be helped." (This is one of the verses which we saw above in group 1.)
I have not made my own study of the Hadith as I did of the Qur'an, but it is clear from this summary that Hadiths on the subject are scarce and contradictory; and there is so little evidence to support intercession by Muhammad at the day of judgement, that the Mu`tazilas---the Muslim rationalists from the second century of the Hejira could say categorically that intercession by Muhammad is not for the prevention of sin.
One does not have to look as far back as the Mu`tazilas, though, to find this doctrine. The founder of the Wahhabis, Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab wrote a book called The Book of Unity toward the end of the 18th century. In this book "he attacked the commonly held beliefs in the powers of the saints and pious men and the practices consequent upon these beliefs---worship of and at saints' tombs, reliance upon the intercessions of the Prophet and the saints, indeed, the whole gamut of popular religion.".
A very modern statement of the Islamic belief concerning "intercession" is found in The Muslim World League Journal of May-June 1983. In an article entitled "The Islamic Concept of God and Prophet, Shaikh Gamal al-Banna writes,
"Islam stresses the human character of the Prophet... Therefore, any kind of mediation is not permissible or recognized in Islam. Prophets are mere messengers of God; they cannot forgive anyone if he commits a sin or exempt him from the punishment he deserves. They cannot also intercede with God on anybody's behalf, for Islam does not recognize the idea of intercession as such."
In support of Shaikh al-Banna's statement and the beliefs of the Wahhabis are the following two Hadiths which go strongly against any idea of intercession by Muhammad. The first is recorded by Bukhari, in the book Testimonies, Chapter XXX on "Casting Lots to Solve Problems" where it tells about Othman, one of the strongly convinced Muslims who fled from Mecca with Muhammad. Shortly afterward he became ill and died. Muhammad entered the home at that moment and heard Omm-El-Ala, a woman who had cared for Othman in his illness, say over the body, "The mercy of God be with you. I witness in your favor that God was generous toward you."
Muhammad asked her how she knew this and when she admitted that she didn't he said,
"As for Othman, he is dead, and by God the Certain One, I wish only good for him, but by God, (even though) I am the Apostle of God, I do not know what God will do with him."The second hadith is found on page 128 of the book, Prophet Muhammad and His Mission (1967) by Athar Husain, where the author tells us,
"Muhammad said,What can one say?
`O People of Quraish be prepared for the hereafter. I cannot save you from the punishment of God,
O Bani Abd Manaf...I cannot protect you either,
O Safia, aunt of the Prophet I cannot be of help to you;
O Fatima, daughter of Muhammad, even you I cannot save.'"
Transmitted by Bukhari and Muslim
If Muhammad could not intercede for a Muslim follower who was so convinced that he left his home and family to follow Muhammad, or for his own believing daughter, who is left?
In conclusion, there is nothing in the Qur'an or the Hadiths to support the popular story mentioned above which ended with Muhammad saying, "My nation. My nation." Rather than interceding, the Sura of the Children of Israel (Bani Israil) 17:57, from 1 AH says that the prophets themselves are looking for a means to get close to God. It reads,
"Those whom others call on (angels and prophets) wish a means to their Lord, even those who are nearest. They hope for his mercy and fear his wrath."
And rather than finding verses which say that Muhammad will pray for the believers, as one might expect, the Sura of the Confederates (Al-Ahzab) 33:56 says that God and the angels pray for Muhammad; and the believers are also commanded to pray for him and his salvation. It reads,
"God and his angels pray for the prophet, and you who believe, pray for him and ask for his salvation."It is because of this command that every time a Muslim mentions Muhammad by name, he adds this prayer for Muhammad's salvation.
The 200 page "yellow book" Proofs of Blessing, mentioned above, is filled with encouragements to pray for Muhammad. Many times praying for Muhammad is linked with Muhammad's intercession for the person praying as in the following examples,
"whoever prays for Muhammad 100 times on Friday will have 80 years of sins forgiven."Unfortunately people believe these ideas, repeat them and hope that they are true even though there is no support for them in the Qur'an.
Gabriel speaking, "If anyone prays for you (Muhammad), seventy thousand angels will pray for him, and he whom the angels pray for will be of the family of paradise."
and Muhammad himself saying, "The more from you prayers for me, the more for you wives in heaven."
Finally, to close this Chapter we shall look at the attitude of two of the earliest and greatest Muslims, which shows how they were feeling as death approached. Jens Christensen, after many years of Islamic studies, wrote,
One of the things that often surprised me in my first studies of Islam was the note of despondency and insecurity that is found in the deathbed utterances of so many of Islam's great men.
Abu Bakr, for example, was a prince among men, of sterling character and a true Muslim. Yet it is said of him that he was so fearful of the future and labored so much under distress that his breath was often as of a roasted liver. According to two traditions he is supposed to have said to Aisha on the day of his death,
“Oh my daughter, this is the day of my release and of obtaining of my desert:—if gladness it will be lasting; if sorrow it will never cease.”
Do you see those two "ifs"? Nothing in Islam can remove them; not even the fact that Abu Bakr was given the title Atiq (Free) because Muhammad is supposed to have told him: “You are free (saved) from the fire.”
T. P. Hughes quotes Omar as saying, “It had gone hard with my soul, if I had not been a Muslim”, but in telling of Omar's death Christensen writes,
When Omar was lying on his deathbed, he is reported to have said,
“...I am not other than as a drowning man who sees a possibility of escape with life, and hopes for it, but fears he may die and lose it, and so plunges about with hands and feet. More desperate than the drowning man is he who at the sight of heaven and hell is buried in the vision...Had I the whole East and West, gladly would I give up all to be delivered from this awful terror that is hanging over me. And finally touching his face against the ground he cried aloud: `Alas for Omar, and alas for the mother of Omar, if it should not please the Lord to pardon me.”
Do you see Omar's difficulty? It is the uncertainty expressed in the "if" of the last sentence. That "if" does not express any feeling of uncertainty regarding Omar's faith, Omar's belief in one God, Omar's trust and confidence in the prophet, or Omar's lack of having lived a moral life. All of these things are in order as far as a human being could do that which is right.
No. The "if" refers to Allah; "if" it should not please the Lord to pardon him.
When Yazid was burying Omar his father, he is quoted as saying: “I will not magnify him before the Almighty in whose presence he has gone to appear. If He forgives him it will be of His mercy; if He takes vengeance on him, it will be for his transgressions.”
Here again you have the two "ifs":If Allah forgives...
If Allah takes vengeance...
This remark of Yazid's seems to me to epitomize the whole of Islam. No man from Muhammad himself, right down to the least educated non-Arabic speaking Muslim who knows only a few prayers, would ever presume to know, or dare to predict what "if" will mean for him.
Or to put it another way, Allah demands complete submission from each man, but He never commits Himself in any revealed way to His servants as individuals. There is no way that a man can know whether he will be saved or not.
This uncertainty is seen clearly in the middle Meccan sura of the Poets (Al-Shu'ara') 26:82, where Abraham speaks of,
"The Lord of the Worlds...Who will cause me to die and then to live (Abraham believes this and is sure of it); and Who, I hope (atma'u), will forgive me my sins on the day of judgement." (For his forgiveness he can only say, "I hope so")In verse 52 of the same Sura, Moses and Aaron say to Pharaoh,
"We hope (natma'u) that our Lord will forgive us our sins".And in 17:57, as we saw above
"even those (the angels and prophets) who are nearest. They hope (yarjuna) for his mercy and fear his wrath."
Finally three more verses from the Qur'an state very clearly that even those who have done their best are given only a "maybe" from Allah. In the late Meccan Sura of the Narration (Al-Qasas) 28:67, Allah says to his believers,
"But as for him who shall repent and believe and do right, perhaps ('asa an) he may be one of the successful."
The same idea is repeated in the Sura of the Forbidding (Al-Tahrim) 66:8 from 7 AH, where the believers are told,
"O ye who believe, Repent toward Allah with a sincere repentance. It may be (`asa an) that your Lord will remit from you your evil deeds and admit you to gardens beneath which rivers flow."
In the Sura of Repentance (Al-Tauba) 9:18 from 9 AH, almost the end of the Qur'an, Allah says,
"Those only shall worship in the Mosques of Allah, who believe in Allah and the last day and observe proper worship and give alms and fear none except Allah; and it might be ('asa an) that these are of the rightly guided."
In the end, it is a very lonely choice. If a person does not believe, then he is sure to go to hell; but even if he does believe, on the day of judgement, he stands there all by himself in front of Allah. There is no intercessor or friend, and he can only hope that maybe, perhaps, he might be among the blessed.
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