Shifaa or Intercession in the Qur’an: Clearing Misconceptions


One of the ideas commonly taught in Islam is the idea of intercession (Shifaa), in which someone (we shall discuss whom) intercedes on behalf of an individual presented before Allah on Judgment Day. But some misconceptions have made this rather simple idea more controversial.

The idea is that the individual may have committed a fairly sizable number of sins and perhaps didn’t do as many good deeds to offset these sins, so s/he is in need of intercession to “pass” this crucial moment of judgment and be allowed into paradise.

Many (if not most) Muslims believe that this “service” is provided by Prophet Mohammad, who is often referred to as “alShafi” or “he who intercedes” or even “redeemer.” In a sense, this role is similar to the Christian concept of Jesus as savior or redeemer, except that Muslims categorically consider Muhammad as a human prophet (as they also consider Aissa or Jesus), not divine, whereas Christians consider Jesus not only an intercessor but divine and worship him as a god. The idea of the intercession if Prophet Mohammad is so strongly adhered to among many that they would be willing to kill anyone who openly challenged this idea. So I’m not sure how long I’ll live, because I am going to openly challenge this idea.

The Quran mentions intercession frequently, most often in reference to the statement that no one can intercede on anyone’s behalf without Allah’s permission. This is significant, because the message given here is not to emphasize WHO intercedes — Prophet Mohammad is NEVER called Intercessor in the Quran — but rather to emphasize Allah’s total authority on the day of judgment, as well as the absolute lack of any participation by anyone to interfere in any way with Allah and His judgment.

Surat al-Zumar 39:44

قُل لِّلَّهِ الشَّفَاعَةُ جَمِيعًا لَّهُ مُلْكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ثُمَّ إِلَيْهِ تُرْجَعُونَ

Say: “To God belongs all intercession.” To Him belongs the sovereignty of the heavens and the earth, then to Him you will be returned.”

Here unequivocally Prophet Mohammad is told to say to the believers that only Allah has sovereignty over intercession, and therefore it is understood to be granted to whomever He chooses. But the prophet is not named not mentioned in any way as an intercessor — nor is any other human being. For angels are the only intercessors, a service they are commanded to perform (angels cannot act without the command of Allah) when Allah sees fit. It is never at the discretion of the prophet or even of the angels. Nowhere in the Quran does Allah suggest in the least that Prophet Mohammad shares the throne with Allah — to say this would be both blasphemy and “shirk” or “assigning partners with Allah.” And yet many Muslims assert this, backing their claims with spurious alleged hadeeths. Even the great singer Om Kalthoum once sung a piece that declared this very thing. And yet this defies the very heart of Islam, tawheed or “oneness of God,” a very pure monotheism in which the boundaries between creator and created are clear and totally strict.

Why, if Allah is The All-Merciful, and there is no mercy at all comparable to that of Allah, would anyone imagine that “someone” else, such as Prophet Mohammad, would have greater mercy than Allah, to the point where it would be necessary to mitigate Allah’s cruelty (forgive such a thought!) with the mercy of a man??? Is this not a destructive way to view the All-Merciful? One would have to believe the Quran contradicts itself (and throw out one’s religion in that case) to believe that Allah is in total control over intercession and at the same time relinquishes control momentarily, for the sake of certain persons, handing it over to a more-merciful human!!! This is obviously a total error in understanding.

Why? People want what is easy, a way out of a tight spot. There is no tighter spot than Judgment Day. Allah inspires fear in those who believe. And no one is without sin. One never knows what will happen on that Day. So a handy solution would be, hey, we have this prophet whom Allah approves of and who is going to paradise, so let him put in a good word since we are Muslim and basically follow the prophet, etc. Eventually this desire becomes “fact,” and then it becomes “dogma.” And then it becomes critical to the idea of surviving J-Day, so those who believe in it would like to annihilate those who say, wait, this doesn’t make sense, it can’t be true.

So if Prophet Mohammad cannot intercede, who can? As I said above, te angels can, but only with Allah’s permission. Intercession then is a sort of prayer performed by angels on behalf of a believer whom Allah first adjudicated as being in need of “moral support” because of his/her sins, but also basically good and deserving of paradise. Because the Quran says Allah is always only just and fair, and will never oppress anyone. So intercession then is a sort of formality, but Allah is sole Judge, and the intercession does not change the actual judgment, but rather is a way of showing Allah’s mercy to those who may be “borderline” cases in terms of faith.

Surat Al-Najm (The Star) 53:26

وَكَم مِّن مَّلَكٍ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ لَا تُغْنِي شَفَاعَتُهُمْ شَيْئًا إِلَّا مِن بَعْدِ أَن يَأْذَنَ اللَّهُ لِمَن يَشَاءُ وَيَرْضَىٰ

And how many an angel is there in the heavens whose intercession does not avail at all except after Allah has given permission to whom He pleases and chooses?

Here we read that the angels are the intercessors, and that they can only intercede or pray for a person if Allah gives them permission. The Quran should have the final say on matters such as this! Of course, no one can “know” an angel nor can s/he prepare for the possibility of intercession by, for example, getting in the good graces of one. So intercession in the hereafter is not like that in this world where we can try to influence the intercessor by bribes or other means. By the same token, by showing too much near-worship and assigning too many powers to the prophet, one cannot influence him to “do something” on that Day. The only solution is sincerity, compassion, deep faith in Allah alone, and studying the Quran and trying to live by its deeper and most emphatic guidance. Not by amassing “hassanat” (good points for good deeds) in superficial ways, such as reciting Quran without understanding, or having a dream in which one sees the prophet or a relative of his. Good deeds should be simply that — not only prayer and fasting, but equitable treatment of others, generosity, charity, and forgiveness.

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