There is a general belief amongst Muslims that the living Muhammad intercedes for them at the throne of God. The Wahhabi’s state that the intercession of their Prophet is only by the permission of Allah on the Last Day and that there will be no intercession for sins until the Day of Judgement. In principle the Quran denies that there is an intercessor with Allah. However, there are a few passages which suggest that under certain circumstances Allah does allow someone to intercede. It seems that Muhammad’s intercession is available for the Muslim as he/she invokes the blessings of Allah upon the Prophet.

Islam teaches that its adherents fall short of Allah’s requirements but Allah will forgive those who have repented on the Day of Judgement. Muhammad’s intercession will be a decisive factor especially for unrepentant Muslims. Muhammad became acquainted with the idea of eschatological intercession through Jewish and Christian influences. Abraham interceded for those in Sodom and Gomorrah and it may be through this and apochryphal and pseudepigraphical literature that Muhammad learnt that the ‘People of the Book’ believed in mortal intercessors.

One of the main hadiths which support the view that the intercession of Muhammad will be accepted by Allah is as follows: Narrated Abu Huraira: ……… Why don’t you look for a person who can intercede for you with your Lord? Some people will say: Appeal to your father, Adam.’ They will go to him and say: ‘O Adam! You are the father of all mankind, and Allah created you with His own hands, and ordered the angels to prostrate for you, and made you live in Paradise. Will you not intercede for us with your Lord? Don’t you see in what (miserable) state we are, and to what condition we have reached?’ On that Adam will reply, ‘My Lord is so angry as He has never been before and will never be in the future; (besides), He forbade me (to eat from) the tree, but I disobeyed (Him), (I am worried about) myself! Myself! Go to somebody else; go to Noah.’ They will go to Noah and say; ‘O Noah! You are the first amongst the messengers of Allah to the people of the earth, and Allah named you a thankful slave. Don’t you see in what a (miserable) state we are and to what condition we have reached? Will you not intercede for us with your Lord? Noah will reply: ‘Today my Lord has become so angry as he had never been before and will never be in the future Myself! Myself! Go to the Prophet (Muhammad). The people will come to me, and I will prostrate myself underneath Allah’s throne. Then I will be addressed: ‘O Muhammad! Raise your head; intercede, for your intercession will be accepted, and ask (for anything), for you will be given. (Bukhari Volume 4 Book 55 Number 556 c/f 581)

Muhammad intercedes for the dead

In the hadith shafa’a is usually mentioned in connection with eschatology although Muhammad himself, during his lifetime was said to have made intercession for the dead: ‘Aisha relates that Muhammad often use to slip out from her side at night to the cemetry of Baki’ al-Gharkad to beseech the forgiveness of Allah for the dead.’ (Muslim Janaiz trad 102)

Muslim theologians believe that reading the Quran in the graveyard is not an obligation or sunnah in Islam saying that Muhammad did not read the Quran there, for the Quran is for people who are alive. He did however, when visiting the Baqi cemetery greet the dead here and he used to talk to them.

Intercession in the Quran

On the day of judgement the Qurraish were told that no Shafa’a will be accepted (Al-Mudhaththir 74:48, c/f Yunus 10:18, Al-Ghafir 40:18) while believers are told to guard themselves against a day when intercession will not be accepted (Al-Baqarrah 2:48 and verse 254). However, the possibility of intercession is not totally excluded but such passages suggest shafa’a is only possible with Allah’s permission (Az-Zumar 39:44, Yunus 10:3 c/f Al- Baqqarah 2:255) The Quran hints at a possibility but provides no explicit information. Most commentators say intercession is denied unbelievers but Muslims have been offered a covenant with Allah and therefore intercession will only benefit Muslims (Maryam 19:87) Islamic jurisprudence, based on the acceptance of a practice by consensus (ijma), recognises the intercession of Muhammad in the following verses: “soon will thy Lord raise thee to a station of praise and glory”! (Al-Isra 17:71) “And soon will thy guardian-lord give thee (that wherewith) thou shalt be well-pleased.” (Ad-Dhuha 93:5)

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Muhammad the first among his community to intercede

Apart from Muhammad, others are mentioned as advocates: angels (Al Ghafir 40:7 c/f Ash-Shura 42:5), the apostles, the prophets, the martyrs and the saints (Ibn Hanbal baqi musnad al-mukhirin 5 (11463) but their intercessions have no affect unless Allah wills forgiveness. Muhammad however, is pre-eminent in this matter for he was the first to intercede for his community: ‘Anas b. Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: I would be the first among people to intercede in the Paradise and amongst the apostles I would have the largest following (on the Day of Resurrection).’ (Muslim Book 1 No 381)

Muhammad’s intercession effective for taking those who do not ascribe partners to Allah out of hell: O Muhammad raise your head and speak for you will be listened to; and intercede for your intercession will be accepted. I will say allow me Lord to intercede for whoever said ‘None has the right to be worshipped except Allah.’ Then Allah will say by my power, and by my supremacy and by my greatness I will take out of Hell whoever said, ’None has the right to be worshipped but Allah.’ (Bukhari Volume 9 Book 93 Number 601) “He will intercede for those who worship Allah alone: “The luckiest person who will have my intercession on the Day of Resurrection will be the one who said sincerely from the bottom of his heart “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah.” (Bukhari Vol 1 Book 3 No 98)

Muhammad’s intercession for those who have committed major sins: Narrated Anas Ibn Malik: The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: My intercession will be for those of my people who have committed major sins (Abu Daud Book 40 Number 4721). Mutizilite teaching is that the chain of transmission of this hadith is untrustworthy however, orthodoxy asserts that through Muhammad’s intercession the time in hell will be shortened and the punishment less severe. His intercession will be so effective that “Some people will be taken out of the fire …. and they will enter Paradise” (Bukhari Volume 8 Book 76 Number 571)

Muhammad has been raised to a higher station to intercede for Muslims

What is only a possibility in the Quran becomes a reality in the hadith: “soon will thy Lord raise thee to (maqam mahmud) a Station of Praise and Glory!” (Al-Isra 17:79). This is taken by some to mean the highest position in Paradise where he will intercede. Narrated by Ibn Umar: On the Day of Resurrection the people will fall on their knees and every nation will follow their prophet and they will say, “O so-and-so! Intercede (for us with Allah), “till (the right) intercession is given to the Prophet (Muhammad) and that will be the day when Allah will raise him into a station of praise and glory (i.e. Al-Maqam -al-Mahmud) (Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Number 242, c/f Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Number 243)

Jesus unfit to intercede

Narrated Anas They will go to Jesus who will say, ‘I am not fit for this undertaking but you’d better go to Muhammad .. So they will come to me ………….. He (Allah) will say, ‘O Muhammad, lift up your head and speak, for you will be listened to, and intercede, for your intercession will be accepted, and ask (for anything) for it will be granted:’ (Bukhari Vol 9 Book 93 No 532)

All the prophets appeals were accepted in their day but Muhammad’s appeal will be for his followers on the Day of Resurrection

Narrated Anas: “For every prophet there was an invocation with which he appealed to Allah, and his invocation was accepted (in his lifetime), but I kept my (this special) invocation to intercede for my followers on the Day of Resurrection.” (Bukhari Volume 8 Book 75 No 317) Ibn Majah zuhud 37 no 331 states Muhammad was given the choice either to have half of his community go to Paradise or intercede for all of them. He preferred the latter option because it would result in a greater number of Muslims entering heaven.

Five things were conferred on Muhammad including the power of intercession for his people According to the hadith found in Muslim Book 4 No 1058 five things were conferred upon Muhammad “which were not granted to anyone before me” the fifth being “and I have been granted intercession“. Although “Every messenger is endowed with a prayer” Muhammad’s prayer has been reserved “for the intercession of my Umma on the Day of Resurrection.” (Muslim Book 1 Number 390)

Intercession thCPO1C5IXDevelopments in Sunni Theology – Ash’ari on the intercession of the Muslim community

While all Muslims may intercede for each other Muhammad’s intercession falls into three categories. 1) for sinful Muslims so that Allah may disregard their sins; 2) for penitent Muslims, so that Allah may accept their penitence; 3) for charitable Muslims, so that Allah may increase their happiness. Following Muhammad, who is the first to intercede, the whole Muslim community will be involved. The poor will pray for the rich, the oppressed for the oppressor, the miscarried foetus for the parents.

Opposing view to the intercession of Muhammad

The non-orthodox Mutazila School say there is no shafa’a, for once people are in Hell there is no way out. They consider that sinful Muslims, if they do not repent of major sins will go to hell and their punishment will be eternal. There is no alternative either heaven or hell. Muhammad’s intercession is only for believing and deserving Muslims. They ask how can they receive a good reward when following evil? Muhammad will only pray for repentant Muslims; their repentance will have removed the punishment due for their sin but they will still need Allah’s additional reward to enable them to enter Paradise. Mutizilite theologians concentrate on different texts (Al-Baqarrah 2:48, Al-Ghafir 40:18, Al-Anbiya 21:28) than those of Sunni theologians showing how Muhammad’s intercession for sinful Muslims is contradicted.

Mutizilite teaching agrees with the orthodox in welcoming the intercession of Muhammad on the Day of Judgement and both consider it a blessing. They consider that because Muhammad’s sins have been forgiven he is able to plead with Allah to look favourably on his people. Muslims often object that the atoning death of Jesus has no value for “no one bears the burden of another” (6:164, 17:15, 38:18, 39:7, 53:38) yet, Sunni’s teach that Muslims benefit from the merits of Muhammad’s intercession. 

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