Shafa’a is to attach oneself to an individual with status in the eyes of Allah (s) in order to seek Allah (s)’s forgiveness. It is a system that provides hope and removes despair from those who have sinned by giving them optimism for Allah (s)’s mercy. It also acts as a motivation to seek nearness to the friends of Allah (s) who have been granted permission to give shafa’a, and to do good deeds to be worthy of it. Shafa’a is part of Allah’s (s) system of cause and effect in which Allah (s) is the ultimate cause and He has created mediums for His servants to both receive bounties from Him and seek closeness to Him. It is important to note that the blessings received through these mediums (e.g. quenching thirst through the medium of water) is only made possible by Allah (s) giving these mediums the capacity to do so. Similarly, the capacity to give shafa’a and receive shafa’a is only with Allah’s (s) permission. Giving shafa’a is only granted to specific groups of people with a high status in His eyes and receiving shafa’a is only granted to those with faith and who are not wrongdoers.
What Is Shafa’a?
Shafa’a refers to the action of intercession in which an intercessor asks Allah (s) for forgiveness on behalf of another person. The literal meaning of shafa’a is to be attached to someone. These two meanings put together create a better understanding of shafa’a. Essentially, when one asks for shafa’a they are asking the intercessor to be their partner in approaching the forgiveness of Allah (s) (Banu, 2012). This beautiful system is one that will be explored here to understand its role on the Day of Judgement where Allah (s) has granted some individuals and entities the permission to grant shifa’ to others.
The Functions of Shafa’a
Given that Allah (s) is the ultimate power and source of mercy and forgiveness, one might wonder why He has granted the privilege of giving shafa’a to some of His creation. It indeed serves functions beyond its literal value of simply receiving forgiveness. Consider the case of Prophet Yaqub’s sons who turned to him after they felt shame for throwing their brother Prophet Yusuf into the well, asking for him to pray to Allah (s) for their forgiveness (The Quran, 12:47). Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi explains that they did this as they felt ashamed of their deeds and recognized that as a nabi, Prophet Yaqub held a high spiritual status and closeness with Allah (s) (Rizvi, 2011). In this way, shafa’a acted as a source of hope to the sons of Prophet Yaqub. Similarly, shafa’a acts as a source of hope and removes the despair of people who have recognized their sins (Banu, 2012).
To have an alternate means to reach Allah’s (s) forgiveness is a blessing that He has given to His servants, for in doing so, Allah (s) has created more means to reach Him. Note that when feeling shameful of one’s deeds, one may find it easier to indirectly approach Allah (s) through the status of those who have the ability to grant shafa’a. This idea is related to another benefit of shafa’a; developing a spiritual relationship with the friends of Allah (s) (Banu, 2012). In seeking an intercessor to God, one also needs to establish a relationship with this intercessor. This requires an individual to recognize the status of the friends of Allah (s) and familiarize oneself with them. This means working to be close to the intercessor and worthy of their intercession through one’s deeds. Thus the act of seeking shafa’a brings a person closer to Allah (s).
A System Based on Mediums Between Humans and God
To better understand shafa’a, it is important to consider the system of cause and effect that Allah (s) has created. Although He is the ultimate cause, many of the blessings that reach a person will come to them through a chain of effects and not directly from Allah (s) (Dhalla, 2007). For instance, water is drunk to quench one’s thirst as Allah (s) created it to be the means to quench thirst and sustain life. It is not enough to simply ask Allah (s) to be quenched, water must be drunk. Similarly, one’s parents are a means to their creation and sleep is a means to finding strength. In all these cases, it is important to acknowledge that Allah’s (s) creation leads to blessings in one’s life that would not otherwise exist. Allah (s) is the ultimate cause, and water, parents, and sleep are some mediums in the many chains of effects that lead to the blessings in one’s life.
The system of cause and effect goes in two ways; downwards from Allah (s) in which individuals receive from Him through mediums, and upwards in which individuals seek Allah (s) through mediums (Dhalla, 2007). In the Quran, Allah (s) tells believers that using means to reach Allah (s), called tawassul, is required to be successful. The recipe for success in Surah 5, ayah 35 is to believe, be God-conscious, use mediums to reach Allah (s), and struggle in His way (Dhalla, 2007). Note that these mediums include Allah (s) Himself through His qualities, actions which bring a person closer to Allah (s), places of spiritual status such as Masjid an-Nabawi, objects such as the black stone, and people (Dhalla, 2007). Seeking shafa’a, to ask for forgiveness through intercessors, is part of this upward system of reaching Allah (s) that He has established. Note that in all of these cases, it is only with the permission of Allah (s) that nearness to Him can be achieved.
Shafa’a on the Day of Judgement
On the Day of Judgement, Allah (s) will give individuals permission to intercede for others and seek forgiveness for them. Essentially these individuals will ask Allah (s) to save those they are interceding for from hell and to grant them entry to heaven (Banu, 2012). Note that both giving shafa’a and qualifying to receive it can only take place with Allah’s (s) permission, for He says, “Who can intercede with Him without His permission?” (The Quran 2:255) and, “Say: To God belongs exclusively [the right to grant] intercession,” (The Quran 39:44). As for those who can give shafa’a, Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said, “There are seven groups of people who, like prophets, can intercede: muadhins (chosen person to recite adhan at mosque), Imams, martyrs (or witnesses), the bearers of the Quran (i.e. those who memorize it), scholars, students, and the repentant” (Banu, 2012). As for those who are granted intercession on the Day of Judgement, they must have faith, “And they offer no intercession except for those who are acceptable, and they stand in awe and reverence of His (Allah’s (s) [Glory]” (The Quran 21:28). Allah (s) further clarifies that wrongdoers, interpreted as polytheists, hypocrites, oppressors, disbelievers (Banu, 2012), will not have intercession, as “No intimate friend nor intercessor will the wrong-doers have, who could be listened to” (The Quran 40:18). Let this system of shafa’a act as a source of hope and a motivation towards gaining His pleasure and closeness to His friends.
Rizvi, A. (2011, March 14). The Philosophy of Tawassul and Intercession | Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi | English [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w24WoW-U2Hs
Banu, A. (2012, Summer). An Inquiry into Intercession (Shafa‘ah). Message of Thaqalyn, 13(2).
https://www.al-islam.org/message-thaqalayn/vol-13-no-2-summer-2012/inquiry-intercession-shafaah-asiyah-banuDhalla, K. (2007). The Divine Link. Tabligh Centre – KSI Jamaat – DSM.