In this series of articles, Br. Yayha Whitmer and I will shed some light on the sad phenomenon of Muslims invoking other than Allah for their needs. Making du’aa to other than Allah is a matter that so clearly violates the message of the Quran, and even the testimony of faith, that its mere existence amongst those who subscribe to Islam, and its justification by people of knowledge, continues to boggle the minds of those Muslims who remain upon the fitrah.
While many of the other theological innovations of non-Orthodox Islamic groups are truly not as relevant to our modern society, and can for the most part be ignored in public discourse, it is this ‘line in the sand’ that we strongly believe cannot be crossed. Anyone who propagates the permissibility of making du’aa to other than Allah has violated the most basic message of Islam, and fallen into the essence of shirk that our Prophet came to eradicate. It does not matter what pseudo-Islamic arguments, or perverted understandings of the Scriptures, are employed in attempting to justify this travesty against Allah. The fact remains that turning to other than Allah with the goal of using these beings as intermediaries to get to Allah is the very religion of the pagan Jahili Quraysh that the Quran was revealed to eradicate.
This article serves as the Introduction to a series of other articles. Most will be written by our dear brother, Ustadh Yahya Whitmer (who studied a few years with our teacher Sh. Muhammad b. Salih Ibn Uthaymin, and whom I befriended while studying with the Shaykh as well). A few will be written by myself. Ustadh Yahya has asked that I read over and comment on the series, and graciously insisted that I be listed as co-author, even though (unless otherwise noted) he is the primary author of these articles.
May Allah cause these series to have a positive effect on the Ummah!
– Yasir Qadhi
by Yahya Whitmer
I remember the moment very clearly. It occurred 15 years ago and though a whirlwind of events have happened in my life since then, the resonance of this memory has not faded. It was the first time that I felt the fear of God. Not the fear of an unidentified spiritual being, but a very defined and focused fear of my Creator, who existed above and beyond me. This was especially remarkable because at the time I was an avowed and belligerent atheist, who relished debate and criticizing various religions. I was 18. I had been born into a non-practicing Christian family and by the age of 16 I had become convinced that Christianity and all its variations were nothing more than a mix of plagiarized mythologies, oppressive social control, and perhaps a bit of historic truth involving a seemingly noble person. By extension and analogy, I assumed all other religions to be the same, Islam included. I attended an international school in my youth and many of its students were from the Middle East, so I had seen enough examples of Muslim debauchery and hypocrisy to know that they were no different from anyone else. So it was with great consternation, during my first year of college, that I received the news that a young man in my dorm had converted to Islam. I had thought that he was like me: worldly, liberal, educated, and rational (yes, at 18 I thought I was pretty hot stuff). He had come from an elite prep school, he was popular, charismatic. So, what the heck was he doing?! The notion that a person from such a background could readily, of his own free will, adopt such an odd and particularly oppressive religion (so I thought) truly bewildered me.
So it began: debate, questioning, and research. Islam, aside from a nod from Malcolm X, seemed to have little validity or modern resonance. But then this person gave me a copy of the Qur’an and upon reading it my world view began to tilt and pivot; my awareness went in directions I was completely unprepared for. I remember one particular session of reading the Qur’an; the verses had thundered at me, declaring that I must submit to the One True God. Over and over, the Qur’anic message challenged me, demanding that I think, that I search, that I recognize that there is a Creator who deserved my allegiance, that living my life without concern for His wishes was not only inherently wrong and ungrateful, but would result in severe consequences. Never had I heard a call so pure. Although the Qur’anic message was expressed in a variety of ways throughout its thousands of verses, the essence of its call was clear, even to my arrogant 18 year old mind: there was a Creator, whose influence and control permeated every nook and cranny of the world, and I was meant to know Him in a more intimate and direct manner than anything I had ever conceived: He knew my heart, He saw my actions, and no one and no thing stood between us. There was no place to hide. The only option was submission, change, saying that I was sorry, and working to better myself. This was the spiritual mandate, the personal covenant that I understood from the Qur’an, and it rocked my world.
Until Islam, the concepts of God that I had encountered were comical, pitiful, fractured. He had created Adam and Eve and then lost sight of them in Eden. He had been a partisan deity, almost like a servant to the people that believed in Him. Or He looked like a giant old man with a long beard. Or He was irrelevant and salvation lied in extinguishing and controlling the self. Or he was splintered into multiple incarnations, 3 or hundreds. Or my relationship with Him occurred through a multitude of human proxies. Or my salvation could be purchased through the church. Or someone else had taken responsibility for my sins. But the Islamic concept of God was different. The Qur’an informed me that God was absolute, undeniable, irresistible. Nothing happened except by His will. He was above and beyond and yet He was close and aware. Nothing was like Him, yet He was described in terms that I could comprehend. He was Merciful and Just and demanded that we live with each other in mercy and justice as well. And finally, this Ultimate Being wanted to deal with me personally. Through submission, recognition, reflection, and prayer I could be in His presence and required no intermediary. I was promised that through embracing this relationship I would know true peace, but it was still my responsibility and my choice to make.
Something long dead inside me stirred. Though I obstinately clung to my atheism, a cognitive awakening had occurred and a question began to creep its way up to the forefront of my consciousness. It was the most basic of questions, but it had been submerged in years of self-indulgence and petty distraction. Finally, one day, as I was heading back to my dormitory, I looked up into the sky and asked myself, sincerely and for the first time, “Was God really there?” And in that moment I knew fear. I knew fear because the simple answer was, “Of course.” My own soul had answered me, my fiṭrah, my innate human nature. The sublime beauty and unified order of the natural world had answered me. The absolute uniqueness and power of the Qur’anic verses had answered me. God was there. I had lived 18 years completely ignoring Him and had planned to live the rest of my life in a similar fashion, but that wouldn’t work anymore. This God, the God that the Qur’an described to me, could not be ignored. And He did not deserve to be either.
I became a Muslim approximately 6 months after that incident. There are many things about those sequences of events that I need to be thankful for, but my main purpose in narrating this story is to say that the essence of Islam has always been clear, pure, and simple: A one on one relationship with the Creator of the heavens and the earth. He alone will take us to account and it is our hearts and our deeds that He will judge and only His Mercy that will save us. It is to this message that my soul responded and continues to respond. My studies at an Islamic University in Saudi Arabia, my time spent with Shaykh Muhammad ibn Salih Al-Uthaymeen, my readings of the works and collected statements of the earliest and best generations of Islam, all testify, agree, support, and expound on this concept. This is Islam.
Until I learned that it wasn’t, at least for a significant segment of the Muslim community.
I generally do not bother myself with what other Muslims are supposedly doing wrong, unless it is directly affecting me and my family. My own flaws tend to cause me more problems than the mistakes of others. However, due to several recent personal events, I felt a responsibility to investigate a particular brand of Sufism … but let me be clear: I abhor blind sectarianism. It is a waste of time in the best of cases and an impediment towards embracing the truth in the worst of cases. But because people I knew and cared for seemed to be heavily influenced by this ideology I felt compelled to investigate it. On one of their primary websites I found what I feared to find: to call upon other than Allah was not a problem, the website said. It was not only your actions that drew you close to Allah, but people as well; through invoking them, you could gain favor with God and your prayers might be answered. It was not singularity (tawḥīd) of worship that Allah required from us, only singularity in recognizing Allah as the Creator.
I was unnerved. Did people really see Islam this way? Did they not realize that through these amendments, these exceptions, the purity of the relationship between Creator and creation was compromised? Is not duʿāʾ the essence of worship, as the Prophet taught us? Was worship not for Allah alone? Were my hopes, my prayers, my salvation subject to the influence of other than God? Then to how many beings may my heart be attached? To how many other beings may a Muslim’s heart turn to in times of need?!
As naïve as it may seem to some readers, discovering these fatāwa, reading their justifications, and considering the spiritual implications truly disturbed me. I was familiar that concepts such as these existed in some Sufi traditions, but here it was at my doorstep, affecting people I knew and in many ways admired. Yet the difference between day and night paled in comparison to how different our views of Islam were.
This discussion about the true spirit of Islam is not irrelevant or superficial. I truly understand that we have many pressing social issues that need to be addressed. Education, spousal relations, parenting, personal and community finances, all of these are immensely important. But this issue is one that defines Islam, it is at the heart of what it means to be a servant of God. This is what opens or closes the gates of Heaven and Hell. It is the first building block of a personal relationship with the Creator; the first step towards true love and loyalty, or the first step towards infidelity and ingratitude. Even at the community level, this is relevant because unity is only achieved through a common sense of purpose. The Muslim ummah is not different from other communities because of its Arab origins or its specific rituals. It is different and defined by the message, “Lā ilāha illa Allāh” and discussion about what that really means will never be inconsequential.
Unlike previous explorations of similar topics, I intend to not just discuss whose evidence is stronger and more convincing, but also the spiritual implications of the two opposing viewpoints. The decisions you make about how you interact with your Creator are not detached intellectual choices, rather they have a direct and immediate impact upon your soul. What happens to your personal sense of responsibility, your spiritual work ethic, if you believe in direct intercession? What does it mean to believe that your actions are your only means (waṣīlah) to God’s Mercy? Are the pious a model to be imitated or something else? What of praise, what of love and attachment? Questions like these define the servant’s path to his Creator.
My ultimate goal in writing this series is not condemnation, but dialogue. Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen had a very specific method for dealing with differences within the Islamic ummah. He insisted that only the opinion and its evidences be discussed without mentioning the name of the person whom he disagreed with. By doing this, he was able to maintain focus on analyzing the strength of each argument and minimize individual reasoning from being clouded due to personal attachments. Following in the footsteps of my mentor, I will only be discussing the opinions, through direct quotation and minimal paraphrasing, and I will not mention names. I will also not pass judgment, implied or otherwise, on any person, no matter how vehemently I disagree with them. As a student of knowledge, I am equipped to discuss concepts, but judging individuals and their creed is far beyond my capabilities or responsibility.
Compassion, wisdom, and patience were the hallmarks of the Prophet’s call and so should they be with us. The people of the Qiblah have done enough to deserve such courtesy. My only request of any person who reads this series and disagrees with me is that s/he make the arguments and implications of each opinion the primary criteria, not the people who hold the opinions. Allah sent us this Book, this Messenger, and this Message, in Truth and it is to the Truth that we are ultimately obligated.
In this series, Shaykh Yasir Qadhi and I will discuss 4 main domains, where the evidences, conclusions, and implications of the 2 opposing viewpoints will be contrasted:
1. The Jamāʿah. What is this “main body” of Muslims that the Prophet (peace be upon him) has instructed us to adhere to?
2. Tawaṣṣul and Waṣīlah. What are the “means of approach”, the ways in which we may seek closeness to our Creator?
3. Tawḥīd. What does this word really mean and which interpretation of it is represented by “Lā ilāha illa Allāh”?
4. What now? Equipped with the information presented, what should a Muslim do? What attitude should he/she take with people that disagree? What other insights are needed to keep this message relevant and compelling? And how should it affect his/her relationship with Allah?
My secondary goal is to inspire a deeper appreciation of the tenets of Islam that I believe in. There is an old Arabic saying, bi-ḍiddi yatabayyanu al-ashyāʾ (by opposites things become clear); in comparing the differing opinions, I have grown in gratitude and love for the concepts that provide the foundation for my faith; I have a greater realization of how deep their roots grow and of how firm they stand in the face of challenges and opposition… much like a blessed tree. I hope that the reader may find similar or greater inspiration.
I pray that Allah pours His Mercy upon all my teachers, both living and dead, and I pray that you find true benefit in what I have written. And Allah knows best.