This is a continuation from the previous article:
Grave Concerns: Part 1 – “Ya Muhammad!”
“Servants of Allah, help me!”
حَدَّثَنَا الْحُسَيْنُ بْنُ إِسْحَاقَ التُّسْتَرِيُّ، ثَنَا أَحْمَدُ بْنُ يَحْيَى الصُّوفِيُّ، ثَنَا عَبْدُ الرَّحْمَنِ بْنُ سَهْلٍ، حَدَّثَنِي أَبِي، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللهِ بْنِ عِيسَى، عَنْ زَيْدِ بْنِ عَلِيٍّ، عَنْ عُتْبَةَ بْنِ غَزْوَانَ، عَنْ نَبِيِّ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ “إِذَا أَضَلَّ أَحَدُكُمْ شَيْئًا أَوْ أَرَادَ أَحَدُكُمْ عَوْنًا وَهُوَ بِأَرْضٍ لَيْسَ بِهَا أَنِيسٌ، فَلْيَقُلْ يَا عِبَادَ اللهِ أَغِيثُونِي، يَا عِبَادَ اللهِ أَغِيثُونِي، فَإِنَّ لِلَّهِ عِبَادًا لَا نَرَاهُمْ.” وَقَدْ جُرِّبَ ذَلِكَ
‘Utbah B. Ghazwān narrated that the Prophet of Allah ﷺ said,
| If one of you loses something, or one of you wants help, and he is in a land in which there is none to befriend, then let him say, ‘O servants of Allah, help me; O servants of Allah, help me,’ for Allāh has servants that we do not see.|
Ṭabarānī (or another sub-narrator) added, ‘Experience has shown this to be true.
The claim: This ḥadīth clearly shows that it is permissible to cry out to Allāh’s servants for help in times of need, even though they are not actually present. These servants must be His righteous servants as it is inconceivable that Allāh ask us to call out to the disbeliever or the transgressor. The words of Ṭabarānī show that the scholars of Ahlu’l-Sunnah would actually practise this, indeed it is authentically related that Imām Aḥmad and others enacted this, and they found it to work for them. None of them ever viewed this as an act of shirk.
Before analysing this claim, let us gather together other versions of this ḥadīth to better understand it.
حَدَّثَنَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ بْنُ نَائِلَةَ الْأَصْبَهَانِيُّ، ثنا الْحَسَنُ بْنُ عُمَرَ بْنِ شَقِيقٍ، ثنا مَعْرُوفُ بْنُ حَسَّانَ السَّمَرْقَنْدِيُّ، عَنْ سَعِيدِ بْنِ أَبِي عَرُوبَةَ، عَنْ قَتَادَةَ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللهِ بْنِ بُرَيْدَةَ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللهِ بْنِ مَسْعُودٍ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ “إِذَا انْفَلَتَتْ دَابَّةُ أَحَدِكُمْ بِأَرْضِ فَلَاةٍ فَلْيُنَادِ: يَا عِبَادَ اللهِ، احْبِسُوا عَلَيَّ، يَا عِبَادَ اللهِ احْبِسُوا عَلَيَّ؛ فَإِنَّ لِلَّهِ فِي الْأَرْضِ حَاضِرًا سَيَحْبِسُهُ عَلَيْكُمْ”
Ibn Masʿūd narrated that Allāh’s Messenger ﷺ said,
| If the mount of one of you bolts in the wilderness, let him call out: ‘O servants of Allah, bring it back to me. O servants of Allāh, bring it back to me,’ for Allāh has (servants) present on the ground who will bring it back to you.|
حَدَّثَنَا يَزِيدُ بْنُ هَارُونَ، قَالَ: أَخْبَرَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ إِسْحَاقَ، عَنْ أَبَانَ بْنِ صَالِحٍ: أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّم، قَالَ: “إِذَا نَفَرَتْ دَابَّةُ أَحَدِكُمْ أَوْ بَعِيرُهُ بِفَلَاةٍ مِنَ الْأَرْضِ لَا يَرَى بِهَا أَحَدًا، فَلْيَقُلْ: أَعِينُونِي عِبَادَ اللَّهِ، فَإِنَّهُ سَيُعَانُ”
Abān b. Ṣāliḥ narrated that Allāh’s Messenger ﷺ said,
| If your mount or camel bolts in the wilderness, where none can be seen, he should say, ‘Servants of Allāh, help me,’ for he shall be assisted.|
حَدَّثنا موسى بن إسحاق، قَال حَدَّثنا منجاب بن الحارث، قَال حَدَّثنا حَاتِمُ بْنُ إِسْمَاعِيلَ عَنْ أُسَامة بْنِ زَيْدٍ، عَن أَبَان بن صالح، عَن مجاهد عن ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ رَضِي اللَّهُ عَنْهُمَا، أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيه وَسَلَّم قَال إِنَّ لِلَّهِ مَلائِكَةً فِي الأَرْضِ سِوَى الْحَفَظَةِ يَكْتُبُونَ مَا سَقَطَ مِنْ وَرَقِ الشَّجَرِ فَإِذَا أَصَابَ أَحَدَكُمْ عَرْجَةٌ بِأَرْضٍ فَلاةٍ فَلْيُنَادِ أَعِينُوا عِبَادَ اللَّهِ.
وَهَذَا الْكَلامُ لا نَعْلَمُهُ يُرْوَى عَن النَّبِيّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيه وَسَلَّم بِهَذَا اللَّفْظِ إلاَّ مِن هَذَا الْوَجْهِ بِهَذَا الإِسْنَادِ
Ibn ʿAbbās narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said,
| Allāh has angels on earth besides the recording angels who write down how many leaves fall from the trees. If one of you is afflicted with cramping pain in the leg while in the wilderness, let him call out, ‘Help me, O servants of Allāh.’|
أَخْبَرَنَا أَبُو عَبْدِ اللَّهِ الْحَافِظُ، حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو الْعَبَّاسِ هُوَ الْأَصَمُّ، حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ الْمَلِكِ بْنُ عَبْدِ الْحَمِيدِ، حَدَّثَنَا رَوْحٌ، حَدَّثَنَا أُسَامَةُ بْنُ زَيْدٍ، عَنْ أَبَانَ بْنِ صَالِحٍ، عَنْ مُجَاهِدٍ، عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ قَالَ “إِنَّ لِلَّهِ مَلَائِكَةً فِي الْأَرْضِ يَكْتُبُونَ مَا يَقَعُ فِي الْأَرْضِ مِنْ وَرَقِ الشَّجَرِ، فَإِنْ أَصَابَتْ أَحَدًا مِنْكُمْ عَرْجَةً أَوِ احْتَاجَ إِلَى عَوْنٍ بِفَلَاةٍ مِنَ الْأَرْضِ فَلْيَقُلْ: أَعِينُوا عِبَادَ اللَّهِ رَحِمَكُمُ اللَّهُ، فَإِنَّهُ يُعَانُ إِنْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ.”
هَذَا مَوْقُوفٌ عَلَى ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، مُسْتَعْمَلٌ عِنْدَ الصَّالِحِينَ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْعِلْمِ لِوُجُودِ صِدْقِهِ عِنْدَهُمْ فِيمَا جَرَّبُوا وَبِاللَّهِ التَّوْفِيقُ
Ibn ʿAbbās said,
|“Allāh has angels on earth who record every leaf that falls on the ground from a tree. So if one you is afflicted with cramping pain in the leg while in the wilderness, or needs help in that wilderness, let him say, ‘Servants of Allāḥ! Help me, may Allāh have mercy on you.’ He will then be helped if Allāh wills.”|
Bayhaqī added: These are the words of ibn ʿAbbās. The righteous people of knowledge have enacted this since their actual experience testified to the truth of it. Tawfīq lies with Allāh.
The wording of ibn Abī Shaybah has ibn ʿAbbās saying, ‘Allāh has angels on earth in addition to the recording angels who write down how many leaves fall from the trees. If one of you is afflicted with cramping pain in the leg while in the wilderness, let him call out, ‘Help me, O servants of Allāh.’
And we also have the following incident concerning Imām Aḥmad,
أَخْبَرَنَا أَبُو عَبْدِ اللهِ الْحَافِظُ، أنا أَحْمَدُ بْنُ سَلْمَانَ الْفَقِيهُ، بِبَغْدَادَ، نا عَبْدُ اللهِ بْنُ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ حَنْبَلٍ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَبِي، يَقُولُ “حَجَجْتُ خَمْسَ حِجَجٍ، اثْنَتَيْنِ رَاكِبًا، وَثَلَاثَ مَاشِيًا، أَوْ ثَلَاثَ رَاكِبًا، وَاثْنَتَيْنِ مَاشِيًا، فَضَلَلْتُ الطَّرِيقَ فِي حَجَّةٍ، وَكُنْتُ مَاشِيًا فَجَعَلْتُ أَقُولُ يَا عِبَادَ اللهِ، دُلُّونِي عَلَى الطَّرِيقِ” قَالَ فَلَمْ أَزَلْ أَقُولُ ذَلِكَ حَتَّى وَقَفْتُ عَلَى الطَّرِيقِ، أَوْ كَمَا قَالَ أَبِي
ʿAbdullāh b. Aḥmad said that he heard his father (Imām Aḥmad) saying,
|‘I performed Ḥajj five times, twice riding and three times walking – or three times riding and twice walking. On one occasion, when I was walking, I lost my way and started saying, “O servants of Allāh, show me the path,” and kept saying this until I found the path again.’|
This chains of narration for this ḥadīth are all weak, with the exception of the ḥadīth of ibn ʿAbbās cited above, which some scholars stated was ḥasan. Ibn Ḥajr said the isnād was ḥasan but the ḥadīth was gharīb jiddan. Sakhāwī and Albānī also stated the isnād was ḥasan. However, Albānī goes on to show that, despite this, the ḥadīth was actually defective and more likely the words of ibn ʿAbbās himself as recorded by Bayhaqī and already cited above. There is a lengthy discussion to be had concerning the validity of his conclusion, but that is beyond the scope of this particular article.
Even if the words of ibn ʿAbbās, the content is such – dealing as it does with matters of the unseen (ghayb) – that it would have the ruling of being from the Prophet ﷺ. However, Albānī expressed some hesitation in assigning it this ruling, pointing out the possibility that ibn ʿAbbās may have taken this information from those Ahlu’l-Kitāb who had accepted Islām. This would be a contentious claim. First, as alluded to by Albānī himself, although ibn ʿAbbās did take narrations from the Ahlu’l-Kitāb, he almost always took from those amongst them who had accepted Islām. Second, the Companions would receive those narrations from the Ahlu’l-Kitāb dealing with their history, biographies and stories of the Prophets etc. They would accept what agreed with the Qurʾān, reject what contradicted it, and remain silent concerning information about which the Qurʾān was silent. They would not take rules and regulations from them, and neither would they take matters related to adkhār or duʿā, not to mention matters related to belief from them.
Ibn ʿAbbās himself said, ‘Gathering of Muslims, how can you ask the People of the Book anything when your Book which Allāh revealed to your Prophet ﷺ is the most recent narrative concerning Allāh? It is pure and unadulterated. Allāh has informed you that the Ahlu’l-Kitab distorted the Books of Allāh and altered them, writing them with their own hands and then claiming that it was from Him that they may sell them for a paltry price. Does the knowledge that has come to you not prevent you from asking them? By Allāh we have never seen one person from amongst them asking you about what was revealed to you!’
Moreover, one could argue that even if, for the sake of argument, ibn ʿAbbās did take this narration from the Ahlu’l-Kitāb, he did not seem to have a theological problem with it, and neither do we have a record of any other Companion objecting to it. Allāh knows best.
Weak ḥadīth cannot be used to establish core matters of law, and they certainly cannot be used to affirm matters of belief. This is a point of agreement amongst the scholars. As such, these ḥadīth cannot be used to prove the case being made. In fact, even if we assume they are authentic, they still do not support the claim. Neither can the ḥadīth of ibn ʿAbbās, which we have said is the best of the narrations cited above, for the simple reason that there appears to be a misunderstanding concerning its true import. These ḥadīth do not contradict anything established in the Book and Sunnah as we shall see by Allāh’s permission.
The different wordings cited above show that the servants spoken of are actually present – not absent – but cannot be seen: “for Allah has (servants) present on the land (fī’l-arḍ ḥāḍiran)”, “for Allāh has servants that we do not see.”
A case may be made that the servants spoken of, who are described as being fī’l-arḍ ḥāḍiran could refer to them being present anywhere on earth; however, the context and wording of the ḥadīth itself lends weight to the explanation that they are present in the same wilderness being spoken of in the ḥadīth. Moreover, once we understand who is actually being referred to, the actual point becomes academic as we will see later in shā Allāh.
In the language of the Sharīʿah, even in the customary usage of the language by Muslims, when one speaks of a servant of Allāh who ‘we do not see,’ the first port of call is the angels or the jinn. After this, a secondary port of call might be a human being or perhaps even a creation we are unaware of, for Allāh says,
|وَمَا يَعْلَمُ جُنُودَ رَبِّكَ إِلَّا هُوَ|
|“And none knows the soldiers of your Lord except Him.”|
If someone wants to assign a meaning not immediately apparent to a text, and leave its primary meaning, it is upon that individual to bring clear textual proof showing this.
The fact that a person is unable to see the servants spoken of does not presuppose that they are absent. For example, we don’t see the recording angels, but they are there and present. We don’t see the Jinn, but they are there.
That the ḥadīth mentions that those being called on are actually present flies in the face of the proposition that this ḥadīth proves you can call on those who are absent. In fact, one can even argue that the wording itself implies that those who are not present should not be asked, since it explicitly makes the point of stating that those being asked are actually present.
The narration of ibn ʿAbbās, which we have already said is the best of the various versions, quite clearly restricts the possibilities mentioned above to the angels. Indeed, Bayhaqī records this ḥadīth under the chapter concerning knowledge of the angels (fī maʿrifati’l-malāʾikah).
So returning to the description cited above, “for Allah has (servants) present on the land”, one might ask, ‘How or in what manner are they present?’ The answer is simply that this is a matter of the ghayb (unseen) which we are required to accept and believe. There are angels all over the heavens and the earth, there is no space the width of four fingers without an angel in it. The wings of Jibrīl alone covered the horizon and himself the space between heaven and earth etc. Therefore, in this, we restrict ourselves to what the Sharīʿah has to say. They are present, but we simply do not know how.
Moreover, there are numerous ḥadīths where Allāh’s Messenger ﷺ used phrases similar to the phrase ḥāḍir belonging to Allah which is used in the ḥadīth cited above to refer to the angels, for example,
| إِنِّي تَحْضُرُنِي مِنَ اللَّهِ حَاضِرَةٌ|
| There are those who visit me from Allāh.|
To reiterate, the report mentioned shows that there are angels who are present and alive, in the sense of a life that is appropriate for them, and can actually hear the request for help. Allāh has put them on earth with the task of assisting those in need of help in the wilderness, or helping those lost by guiding them to the correct path.
Indeed, the examples mentioned in the ḥadīths cited above: retrieving an animal that has bolted, helping someone find the path, helping someone with a cramp are well within human ability to do should a human have been present, let alone an angel.
Therefore, whoever turns to them for help is seeking help from a created being regarding something that he is able to do. Not only that, but this being is undertaking a role that Allāh has created him for. A person would be asking from someone who is present and able.
If someone wants to extend the possibilities mentioned above to others besides the angels, it is upon that person to bring authentic proof to support the claim. This is because this is a matter of the ghayb (unseen) that can only be ascertained through revelation. There is no authentic, clear proof supporting the claim that this ḥadīth refers to anything but the angels.
|لَهُ مُعَقِّبَاتٌ مِّن بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِ يَحْفَظُونَهُ مِنْ أَمْرِ اللَّـهِ|
|“Each person has successive [angels] before and behind him who protect him by Allāh’s command.”|
Ibn ʿAbbās said, ‘This refers to the angels that guard him from in front of him and from behind. When Allāh’s decree comes, the angels withdraw from him.’ Mujāhid said, ‘Every person has guardian angels assigned to protect him.’ Mujāhid also said, ‘Every servant has an angel assigned to him, protecting him, be he asleep or awake, from Jinn, men and poisonous creatures. The angel tells anything that comes to him to go away, except for what Allāh grants permission to afflict him.’
This āyah establishes the basic premise that there are angels assigned to help the human being.
Bukhārī records that Hājar, when she was running in search of water between Ṣafā and Marwā in sheer desperation, heard a voice and then called out, ‘Help us, if you have any good with you!’ and Jibrīl appeared at the spot of the well of Zamzam. He hit the earth with his heel and water began gushing out.
It should be noted that Hājar only called out once the angel made his presence known, before that she had not cried to anyone despite the dire situation she was in. Therefore, from her perspective, once she had heard the sound of the angels voice, she was calling out to someone she believed was present and there. This point is made explicitly clear in the narration of Ṭabarī (with a ḥasan isnād) that Jibrīl asked her, ‘Who are you?’ She replied, ‘I am Hājar, the mother of Ibrāhīm’s child.’ He asked, ‘To whom has he left you?’ She replied, ‘To Allāh.’ He then said, ‘He has left you to the One who is sufficient.’
It should further be noted that hitherto, she had not cried out to Ibrāhīm (AS) in his absence, or to saints or to any other created object. Surely if crying out to another in his absence at times of dire need were permissible, she would have cried out to al-Khalīl (AS), the best Messenger after our Messenger, Muḥammad ﷺ? Therefore, one can argue that this incident is a proof that one cannot actually do this.
Indeed, before this, when Ibrāhīm (AS) made to depart after leaving them in the barren valley of Mecca, she asked, ‘Ibrāhīm, to whom are you leaving us?’ He (AS) replied, ‘To Allāh’s care.’ She said, ‘I am content with Allāh.’
Therefore, this ḥadīth is an example of what has been stated above: calling out to an angel for help who is present and able to help. It is an example of istighātha, but not as claimed by some, an example of istighātha with the absent.
There is a huge disconnect between what this ḥadīth proves and the claims being made. There is stark difference between asking someone deceased or absent for help in times of need, and asking an angel that is present and has been tasked by Allāh to help in certain circumstances. The ḥadīth does not in any way justify crying out to a person in the grave to heal the sick, or to bless a person with a child, or to make childbirth easy, or any number of things that some people, in their ignorance, plead for. Such matters, in fact, are only for Allāh alone to do.
Moreover, the various wordings of this ḥadīth show that this act of seeking help from these angels is to be resorted to in certain, infrequent circumstances and is by no means a norm to be done without restriction. This too is a far cry from what some people do, making istighātha with the deceased a norm in many different circumstances.
In keeping with the above line of discussion, it is because we do not know which specific angels have been assigned to help that the injunction is to make a general call, ‘Servants of Allāh…’ and not a call to a specific angel. There is a clear difference between making a general call, ‘Servants of Allāh, help me!’ and a specific call to a particular individual who is absent or in his grave, for example, ‘ʿAlī, help me!’ The general call mentioned in this ḥadīth is yet another indication that a group of angels are meant and not a specific human being who is deceased or absent.
This ḥadīth can actually be used to prove the exact opposite of what the claimant tries to affirm. We have already seen that those being referred to in this ḥadīth are the angels, as such it does not refer to human beings who are absent or deceased. Moreover, it has already been stated that the wording itself implies that those who are not present should not be asked, since it explicitly makes the point of stating that those being asked are actually present. Additionally, we have seen that a general, unspecified call is different to a specific, particular call.
But one can also argue that if calling out to the absent or the deceased was legislated in Islām, the need of knowing this is far greater than knowing what to do in an exceptional circumstance such as being lost in the wilderness, or being afflicted with a cramping pain while in that wilderness. In fact, if the claim being made is indeed a norm allowed by Islamic Law, we should find more texts allowing it: texts which are clear in their import and authentic. The fact that we do not find this, and instead find texts such as this discussing infrequent scenarios, is actually a proof that the Sharīʿah has not allowed this and does not see this as a norm to be allowed as a rule. Surely we would expect the Sharīʿah to talk about something that is relevant to the whole nation of Islām through the ages, which they are in need of knowing, more than talking about something exceptional that only affects certain individuals in certain circumstances?
Can we extend this request for help from angels to something beyond what is mentioned in this text? This is a matter of the unseen and a matter of belief, as such we should restrict ourselves to what the text speaks of and not go beyond that. When we look at the lives of the Prophets ﷺ, we do not see them calling out to angels at times of need and difficulty, rather to Allāh alone. When we look to the lives of the Salaf, we don’t see this as a norm amongst them: at times of need and hardship they did not call out to angels. Neither do we see this as a norm in the revealed texts; for instance, we do not find the Sharīʿah enjoining us to call out to the angel of rain to bring down rain and so on. Allāh knows best.
Crying out to the living for help (istighatha), who are present, in that which is within their capacity to do is perfectly lawful. There is no difference of opinion concerning this. An example of this is mentioned in the Qurʾān,
|وَدَخَلَ الْمَدِينَةَ عَلَىٰ حِينِ غَفْلَةٍ مِّنْ أَهْلِهَا فَوَجَدَ فِيهَا رَجُلَيْنِ يَقْتَتِلَانِ هَـٰذَا مِن شِيعَتِهِ وَهَـٰذَا مِنْ عَدُوِّهِ ۖ فَاسْتَغَاثَهُ الَّذِي مِن شِيعَتِهِ عَلَى الَّذِي مِنْ عَدُوِّهِ فَوَكَزَهُ مُوسَىٰ فَقَضَىٰ عَلَيْهِ ۖ قَالَ هَـٰذَا مِنْ عَمَلِ الشَّيْطَانِ ۖ إِنَّهُ عَدُوٌّ مُّضِلٌّ مُّبِينٌ|
[Mūsā] entered the city, unnoticed by its people, and found two men fighting: one from his own people, and the other an enemy. The one from his own people cried out to him for help against the enemy. Mūsā struck him with his fist and killed him. He said: this must be Satan’s work, clearly he is a misguiding enemy.
This is all that the title ḥadīth can be said to prove.
In the Qurʾān and authentic Sunnah we find a blanket condemnation of supplicating to others besides Allāh, just as we find a blanket condemnation of crying out to the deceased for help. This issue will be explored further in a separate article by Allāh’s permission.
For now, we need to understand that we cannot leave the clear sense of the Qurʾān and Sunnah for mere possible interpretations that may or may not be there in other texts. We cannot ignore or supplement the norm laid out in the revelation in such matters for anything that is not proven by clear, authentic texts.
The title ḥadith would qualify as being a mutashābih text – one that is equivocal in meaning and not an explicit statement. So, to put it another way, the muḥkam (unequivocal) texts cannot be left for the mutashābih (equivocal). Indeed, the mutashābih texts need to be understood in the light of the muḥkam, not the other way around which, ostensibly, is the mistake being made here. Allāh says,
|هُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ ۖ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ ۗ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّـهُ ۗ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا ۗ وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ|
|“He it is who has sent this Scripture down to you. Some of its verses are definite in meaning (muḥkam) – these are the cornerstone of the Scripture – and others are ambiguous (mutashābih). The perverse at heart eagerly pursue the ambiguous in their attempt to make trouble and to pin down a specific meaning of their own. But only Allāh knows the true meaning. Those firmly grounded in knowledge say, ‘We believe in it: it is all from our Lord,’ and only those with real perception will take heed.”|
It is well established in the Science of Uṣūl that if a narration is open to more than one interpretation, with no other text directing us to which is meant, it is not correct to use it as evidence for one of those interpretations. We have seen that this narration has one interpretation proven by the texts. However, for the sake of argument, if we were to ignore that evidence, we would assert that there is a number of possible interpretations available to us for this ḥadīth with no clear evidence restricting it to any particular one. As such, we would still conclude that this narration cannot be used to prove that claim being suggested.
Tajriba or experiential judgements cannot be used to establish acts of worship, especially those acts dealing with the unseen. These require textual evidence. Those scholars who stated that practical experience had demonstrated the ḥadīth under discussion were not making that experience a proof to establish the act itself, they were merely adducing secondary evidence to strengthen something already established, in their eyes, through text. Allāh knows best.
Imām Aḥmad acted upon this ḥadīth as already cited above. There is nothing untoward in this; as other scholars have noted, this was the practise of the righteous scholars. However, this practise of theirs does not lend any legitimacy to crying out to the dead or absent for relief or help. This was not what they did. The clear import of this ḥadīth and their understanding of it did not allow them to do so.
It is for this reason that scholars who were opposed to performing istighatha with the deceased such as Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Kalim al-Ṭayyib, Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Wābil al-Ṣayyib, Ibn Mufliḥ, al-Ādāb al-Sharʿiyyah, ibn ʿAbdu’l-Hādī, Ādāb al-Duʿā and others quote this ḥadīth without seeing any problem in it.
al-Harawī records that, one time, ʿAbdullāh b. al-Mubarak lost his way on a journey and it reached him that whoever got lost in a desert should cry out, ‘Servants of Allāh, help me!’ and he would be helped. Ibn al-Mubārak said, ‘I began searching for a record of the ḥadīth so I could investigate the isnād.’ al-Harawī commented, ‘He did not allow himself to employ a duʿā without first being content about its isnād.’
This was the attitude of the Salaf: they would objectively look at texts before drawing conclusions, they would critically analyse those texts and carefully consider their authenticity. This is a far cry from an approach that appears to already have drawn conclusions and then attempts to retrofit evidence to justify them, no matter how weak the text or far-fetched the interpretation. Allāh’s aid is sought.
There is a belief present amongst the ranks of some concerning a group of people referred to as Rijāl al-Ghayb (Unseen People). The belief is that there is a group of saints (awliyāʾ) who are hidden from our eyes, or unknown to the majority of mankind, and have been tasked to help those in dire need. Amongst these are the so-called awtād, aqṭāb, abdāl and nujabāʾ, even Khiḍr is claimed to be included amongst their ranks. It is claimed by some that the unseen servants referred to in this ḥadīth are these people. The reality is that there is no authentic, clear proof whatsoever to support this claim.
Alongside the title ḥadīth, the narrative in question seeks to bolster its claim with ḥadīth such as the one below,
| عَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ «إِنَّ لِلَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ خَلْقًا خَلَقَهُمْ لِحَوَائِجِ النَّاسِ يَفْزَعُ النَّاسُ إِلَيْهِمْ فِي حَوَائِجِهِمْ أُولَئِكَ الْآمِنُونَ مِنْ عَذَابِ اللهِ»|
| Allāh has a creation who He created to meet the needs of people, and to whom people resort at times of need. Such people are protected from Allāh’s punishment.|
The claim being that this ḥadīth also proves the case that it is permissible to resort to created beings at times of need and shows the permissibility of crying out to them for help, be they present or absent, be they on this earth or in their graves. Some even claim that this ḥadīth is another reference to the so-called Rijāl al-Ghayb mentioned earlier.
This ḥadīth is ḍaʿīf jiddan, and as such cannot be used to establish points of belief. But even if authentic, the claim being presented is, quite frankly, disingenuous and is an example of pre-conceived notions and beliefs being forced onto texts that just do not support them. All this ḥadīth can be used to prove is that there are certain people who Allāh has chosen to help others; as another similar ḥādīth – also ḍaʿīf jiddan – indicates,
|عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ «إِنَّ لِلَّهِ عِبَادًا اخْتَصَّهُمْ لِقَضَاءِ حَوَائِجِ النَّاسِ، آلَى عَلَى نَفْسِهِ أَنْ لَا يُعَذِّبَهُمْ بِالنَّارِ، فَإِذَا كَانَ يَوْمُ الْقِيَامَةِ خَلَوْا مَعَ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يُحَدِّثُهُمْ وَيُحَدِّثُونَهُ، وَالنَّاسُ فِي الْحِسَابِ»|
|“Allāh has servants that He has selected to meet the needs of people and has taken it on Himself not to punish them in the Fire. On the Day of Rising they will be having a private conversation with Allāh while others are being judged.”|
As such, the meaning of this ḥadīth falls under the generality of the many texts commending those who help others, such as:
|“Whoever relieves a believer’s distress of the distressful aspects of this world, Allah will rescue him from a difficulty of the difficulties of the Hereafter. Whoever alleviates [the situation of] one in dire straits who cannot repay his debt, Allah will alleviate his lot in both this world and in the Hereafter. Whoever conceals [the faults of] a Muslim, Allah will conceal [his faults] in this life and the Hereafter. Allah is helping the servant as long as the servant is helping his brother. Whoever follows a path in order to seek knowledge thereby, Allah will make easy doe him, due to it, a path to Paradise. No people gather together in a house of the houses of Allah, reciting the Book of Allah and studying it among themselves, except that tranquillity descended upon them, mercy covers them, the angels surround them and Allah makes mention of them to those in His presence. Whoever is slowed by his deeds will not be hastened forward by his lineage.”|
|“If Allāh puts anyone in the position of authority over the affairs of the Muslims, and he secludes himself (from them), not fulfilling their needs, wants and poverty, Allāh will keep Himself away from him, not fulfilling his need, want and poverty. The narration then mentions that Muʿāwiyah appointed a man to fulfil the needs of the people.”|
|“On every day in which the sun rises, charity (ṣadaqah) is due upon every joint of a person. Administering justice between two people is an act of charity; helping someone onto his riding beast, or lifting his luggage onto it is an act of charity; a good, pleasant word is an act charity; every step you take to the prayer is an act of charity; and removing something dangerous or harmful from the road is an act of charity.”|
The text has absolutely nothing to do with point of the contention: istighātha with the deceased or absent, it does not even have any relation to the concept of mediation, or tawassul.
Allāh is the ultimate source of guidance and help and succour. He has appointed means and causes (asbāb) towards attaining that, such as duʿā and dhikr.
|قُلْ مَن يُنَجِّيكُم مِّن ظُلُمَاتِ الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ تَدْعُونَهُ تَضَرُّعًا وَخُفْيَةً لَّئِنْ أَنجَانَا مِنْ هَـٰذِهِ لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الشَّاكِرِينَ ﴿٦٣﴾ قُلِ اللَّـهُ يُنَجِّيكُم مِّنْهَا وَمِن كُلِّ كَرْبٍ ثُمَّ أَنتُمْ تُشْرِكُونَ ﴿٦٤﴾|
|“Say, ‘Who is it that saves you from the dark depths of the land and sea when you call upon Him humbly and secretly, “If He rescues us from this crisis, we will truly be thankful.” Say, ‘It is Allāh who rescues you from this and every distress; yet you still associate others with Him.’”|
The whole topic of asbāb is greatly misunderstood and misused, some go to the extreme of denying their existence altogether, and others expand the scope to such an extent that it encompasses shirk itself. This topic will be covered separately.
For the sake of completion, we also have other guidance narrated from the Prophet ﷺ and the Salaf concerning the supplication to be made when losing something:
|وَعَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ – صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ – فِي الضَّالَّةِ أَنَّهُ يَقُولُ: “اللَّهُمَّ رَادَّ الضَّالَّةِ، وَهَادِيَ الضَّالَّةِ، تَهْدِي مِنَ الضَّلَالَةِ، ارْدُدْ عَلَيَّ ضَالَّتِي بِقُدْرَتِكَ وَسُلْطَانِكَ فَإِنَّهَا مِنْ عَطَائِكَ وَفَضْلِكَ”|
|“Allāh, the one who returns what is lost, the one who guides what is lost, You guide people from misguidance. Return my lost item to me by Your power and authority, for indeed it came from your grace and bounty.”|
This ḥadīth is ḍaʿīf, however Bayhaqī cited this as the words of ibn ʿUmar himself and said it was ḥasan. The version in ibn Abī Shaybah contains the advice to first pray two rakʿahs before making the supplication.
It is a basic academic mistake to decontextualise a ḥadīth and then force an interpretation on it which just does not fit all the facts, indeed one built on preconceived notions. This is what has happened here.
The mistake is further compounded by transposing this false interpretation onto the actions of the righteous Imāms of Ahlu’l-Sunnah, and then concluding that they agree with your conclusions.
The ḥadīth, when considered in its correct context, does not justify crying out to the deceased or the absent in times of need for help, it does not even justify mediation with them.
And Allāh knows best.
 Ṭabarānī, al-Kabīr 17:117 #290.
The isnād is ḍaʿīf, cf. Haythamī, Majmaʿ al-Zawāʾid 10:132, ibn Ḥajr as cited in ibn ʿAllān, Sharḥ al-Adhkār 5:150, Sahsuwānī, Ṣiyānatu’l-Insān 1:393, Albānī, al-Ḍaʿifah #656
 Ṭabarānī, al-Kabīr 10:217 #10518, Abū Yaʿlā 9:177 #5269, Ibn al-Sunnī, ʿAmal al-Yawm #508
The isnād is ḍaʿīf and was classed as such by Haythamī, Majmaʿ al-Zawāʾid 10:132, ibn Ḥajr as cited in ibn ʿAllān, Sharḥ al-Adhkār 5:150, Sakhāwī, al-Ibtihāj bi Adhkār al-Musāfir al-Ḥāj pg. 39. cf. Sahsuwānī, Ṣiyānatu’l-Insān 1:392, Albānī, al-Ḍaʿifah #655
 Ibn Abī Shaybah #30438 with a ḍaʿīf isnād. cf. ʿAwwāmah 15:384, Albānī, al-Ḍaʿīfah 2:109
Ibn Ḥajr ruled the isnād ḥasan and stated that the ḥadīth was gharīb jiddan as cited by ibn ʿAllān 5:151, as did Sakhāwī, al-Ibtihāj, pg. 39, as did Albānī, al-Ḍaʿīfah 2:109 who went on to show that, despite this, the ḥadīth was defective and that the more likely case was that these were the words of ibn ʿAbbās himself.
 Bayhaqī, al-Ādāb #819, Shuʿab #165-7297
 Ibn Abī Shaybah #30339
 Bayhaqī, Shuʿab #7298. cf. ʿAbdullāh b. Aḥmad, Masāʾil al-Imām Aḥmad pg. 245, ibn ʿAsākir, Tārīkh Dimashq 5:298.
 Albānī, al-Ḍaʿīfah 2:109, Āli al-Shaykh, Hādhihī Mafāhīmunā, pp. 48-53
 Dhahabī, al-Isrāʾīliyyāt pp. 55-57, 60, Naʿnāʿa, al-Isrāʾiliyyāt pp. 117-119
 Bukhārī #7523
 Nayif, al-Khulāṣah fī Aḥkām al-Ḥadīth al-Ḍaʾīf, pg. 45
 Āli al-Shaykh, Hadhihī Mafāhīmunā, pg. 51
 Ibn ʿĪsā, al-Radd ʿalā Shubuhāt al-Mustaghīthīna bighayr Allāh, pg. 85, ibn Saḥmān, al-Ṣawāʾiq al-Mursala, pg. 196
 al-Muddaththir 74:31
 Mālik 2:967
 Ālūsī, Fatḥ al-Mannān, pp. 99-101, Ibn ʿĪsā, al-Radd, pg. 85. cf. Waliyullāh Dehlawī, al-Balāgh al-Mubīn, pp. 101-102
 al-Raʿd 13:11
 Ṭabarī, Ibn Abī Ḥātim
 Ibn Kathīr
 Bukhārī #3364-3365
 Ṭabarī, Tafsīr 2:69, and also in his Tarīkh 1:177. cf. Ibn Ḥajr, al-Fatḥ 6:426
 Sahsuwānī, Ṣiyānatu’l-Insān 1:230
 Āli al-Shaykh, Hādhihī Mafāhīmunā, pg. 55
 Sahsuwānī, Ṣiyānatu’l-Insān 1:230
 al-Qaṣaṣ 28:15
 Āli ʿImrān 3:7
 al-Harawī, Dhamm al-Kalām 3:109 #602, cf. Albānī, al-Ḍaʿīfah 2:109
 Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmūʿ 1:362, 13:217, Minhāj al-Sunnah 1:91-92, 3:380, ibn Abī al-ʿIzz, Sharḥ al-Ṭaḥāwiyyah 2:766. The term abdāl, however, was spoken about by the Salaf, but not in the sense used by some later Muslims.
 Ṭabarānī, al-Kabīr 12:358 #13334, Quḍāʿī #1007-1008 with a ḍaʿīf jiddan isnād. cf. Āli al-Shaykh, Hadhihī Mafāhīmunā pg. 177, Albānī, al-Ḍaʿīfah #3319
 Tammām #1575 with a ḍaʿīf jiddan isnād, cf. Albānī, al-Ḍaʿīfah #3196
 cf. ibn Mufliḥ, al-Ādāb al-Sharʿiyyah 1:420-422, 2:167+
 Muslim #2699
 Abū Dāwūd #2948, Tirmidhī #1333
 Bukhārī #2827, Muslim #1009
 al-Anʿām 6:63-64
 Ṭabarānī, al-Awsaṭ 5:43 #4626, al-Kabīr 12:340 #13289. Haythamī 10:133 ruled the isnād ḍaʿīf.
 Bayhaqī, al-Daʿwāt al-Kabīr #556, ibn Abī Shaybah #30338
 Ibn Abī Shaybah #29720
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