Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Correct Understanding of the Tawassul of 'Umar through al-'Abbas


TAWASSUL OF 'UMAR THROUGH AL-'ABBAS [may Allah be pleased with them]

كما في صحيح البخاري (954) عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ رضي الله عنه: أَنَّ عُمَرَ بْنَ الْخَطَّابِ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ كَانَ إِذَا قَحَطُوا اسْتَسْقَى بِالْعَبَّاسِ بْنِ عَبْدِ الْمُطَّلِبِ فَقَالَ: اللَّهُمَّ إِنَّا كُنَّا نَتَوَسَّلُ إِلَيْكَ بِنَبِيِّنَا فَتَسْقِينَا وَإِنَّا نَتَوَسَّلُ إِلَيْكَ بِعَمِّ نَبِيِّنَا فَاسْقِنَا قَالَ فَيُسْقَوْنَ

It is narrated in Saheeh al-Bukhaaree (954) from Anas ibn Maalik that if a drought came, 'Umar ibn al-Khattaab (radiyallahu 'anhu) would ask al-'Abbaas ibn 'Abd al-Muttalib to pray for rain. He would say: "O Allah, we used to beseech You by means of (the du'a of) Your Prophet for rain and You would give us rain; now we beseech You by means of (the du'a of) the paternal uncle of Your Prophet, so grant us rain."

[Salafi translation]

This hadith is often manipulated by the salafis to try and prove that Tawassul is only through the living and not through the deceased. Alhamdolillah, Sunnipath has a useful response to them on this issue on their website [www.sunnipath.com]:


How do the contemporary Hanafi scholars explain the hadeeth recorded in Sahih Al-Bukhari according to which Khalifah Umar (Allah be pleased with him) asked Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) to ask Allah for rain on behalf of the Muslim community and not the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) at his grave. The Khalifah said that they USED to ask the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to ask Allah and now they ask his uncle instead.


Before turning to the question and its questionable premises some preliminary remarks are in order.

First of all, `Umar asked al-`Abbas ibn `Abd al-Muttalib, not his son `Abd Allah ibn `Abbas...

Second, the terminology of the Khalifa's request, Allah be well-pleased with him, is as follows:

"O Allah! We would use our Prophet as a means to You and You then sent us rain; now we use our Prophet's uncle as a means to You, therefore send us rain!"

Narrated from Anas by al-Bukhari in his Sahih.

“Whoever understands from this that `Umar only used al-`Abbas as his means and not the Messenger of Allah, upon him peace, because al-`Abbas is alive and the Messenger of Allah is dead – that person’s understanding is dead.” (Al-Maliki)

Al-Suyuti mentions the context of this event in his Tarikh al-Khulafa' (Beirut, 1992 Ahmad Fares ed. p. 140):

"In the year 17 `Umar enlarged the Prophetic mosque. That year there was a drought in the Hijaz. It was named the Year of Cinders (`am al-ramada). `Umar prayed for rain for the people by means of al-`Abbas. Ibn Sa`d narrated from [the Sahabi] Niyar al-Aslami that when `Umar came came out to pray for rain, he came out wearing the cloaks (burd) of the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace. Ibn `Awn narrated that `Umar took al-`Abbas's hand and raised it up, saying, 'O Allah, we seek a means to You with the uncle of Your Prophet to ask that You drive away from us the drought and water us with rain'...."

Now, the event of the tawassul of Sayyiduna `Umar through al-`Abbas shows the following:

[1] Nowhere in the hadith is there any indication that there was no tawassul through the Prophet upon him peace, in the time of `Umar. Such a view is an inference or an extrapolation that is not based on explicit evidence.

[2] On the contrary, `Umar implicitly made tawassul through the Prophet upon him peace, at that very time, by wearing his blessed cloaks as he came out for the prayer for rain as mentioned in the report by Ibn Sa`d. In Sahih Muslim Asma' says that she inherited the mantle of the Prophet from her sister `A'isha and that they used it to seek a cure for people.

[3] The use of the Prophet's uncle illustrates that tawassul is essentially through the Prophet upon him peace, as the importance of al-`Abbas in this respect is only in his relationship to the Prophet as `Umar himself states with the words "the uncle of Your Prophet" in al-Bukhari's version already mentioned; "the status of al-`Abbas in relation to your Prophet" in al-Lalika'i's version; and as al-`Abbas states:

"O Allah, truly no tribulation descends except because of sins, nor is lifted except upon repentence. The people have turned to you by means of me BECAUSE OF MY POSITION IN RELATION TO YOUR PROPHET, and here are our hands [raised up] towards you - despite our sins - and our forelocks in repentence, so send down water for us and PRESERVE YOUR PROPHET IN THE PERSON OF HIS UNCLE." Whereupon the sky let down water as thick as ropes and the people came over to al-`Abbas passing their hands over him and saying to him: “Congratulations to you, irrigator of the two Sanctuaries!” Whereupon `Umar said, “He/This is, by Allah, the means to Allah and the place of nearness to Him!”

Cited from al-Zubayr ibn Bakkar's narration in al-Ansab by Ibn Hajar in Fath al-Bari (2:497).

So the tawassul continues to be solely through the Prophet despite appearances to the contrary, for he is the ultimate recourse of human beings seeking nearness to Allah as he himself taught the blind man (“Say, ‘O Muhammad, I turn with you to Allah…’”) and as several Sahaba explicitly said, such as in the following reports:

(a) Report of the Bedouin who said to the Holy Prophet :

We have come to you when even our virgins' milk is dry, and the mother worries for her own life over her child's, The child lets down his arms sitting still For hunger, a hunger unstilled and uninterrupted. We have nothing left from what our people eat Except bitter colocynth and camel-wool mixed with blood. And we have none but you to flee to, for where can people flee except to the Messengers?

Then the Prophet - upon him peace - stood up and he was dragging his garment. He climbed up the pulpit and said: "O Allah, send us water...." whereupon rain fell abundantly. Then the Prophet upon him peace said: "If Abu Talib were alive he would have liked to see this. Who will recite for us what he said?" Hearing this, `Ali stood up and said: "O Messenger of Allah, I think you mean his saying:

A fair-skinned one by whose face rainclouds are sought, A caretaker for the orphans and protector of widows. With him the clan of Hashim seek refuge from calamities, For they possess in him immense favor and grace...."

Narrated by al-Bayhaqi in Dala'il al-Nubuwwa (6:141) cf. Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wal-Nihaya (6:90-91) and Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari (1989 ed. 2:629).

(b) Report of Sawad ibn Qarib al-Sadusi who declaimed:

Truly, you are the nearest of all Messengers as a means to Allah, son of the noblest and purest ones!

Therefore, be an intercessor for me the Day none but you among intercessors shall be of the least benefit for Sawad ibn Qarib!

Whereupon the Prophet smiled, upon him peace, and said: “You have obtained success, Sawad!”

Narrated by Abu Ya`la in his Mu`jam (p. 265), al-Tabarani in al-Kabir (7:94 §6475), Abu Nu`aym in Dala’il al-Nubuwwa (p. 114 §63), al-Taymi in the Dala’il (p. 132), al-Hakim in the Mustadrak, (3:705), al-Bayhaqi in the Dala'il (2:251) cf. Ibn `Abd al-Barr, Isti`ab (2:675), Ibn Kathir, Tafsir (4:169) and Bidaya, Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari (7:180) and Isaba (3:219).

(c) Report of Hassan ibn Thabit who declaimed:

O Pillar of those who rely upon you, O Immunity of those who seek refuge in you, and Resort of those who seek herbiage and rain, and Neighboring Protector of those in need of shelter! O you whom the One God has chosen for His creatures by planting in him perfection and purity of character!

Narrated by Ibn `Abd al-Barr in al-Isti`ab (1:276) and Ibn Sayyid al-Nas in Minah al-Mad-h (p. 73).

[4] The background to `Umar's prayer for rain shows that there was also an explicit tawassul through the Prophet upon him peace, performed by the Sahabi Bilal ibn al-Harith as narrated in two versions:

(a) Version 1

From the Sahabi Malik al-Dar:

The people suffered a drought in `Umar's khilafa, whereupon a man came to the grave of the Prophet sallAllahu `alayhi wa- Alihi wa-Sallam and said: "Messenger of Allah! Ask for rain for your Community, for verily they have but perished." After this the Prophet appeared to him in a dream and told him: "Go to `Umar and give him my greeting, then tell him that they will be watered. Tell him: Be clever!" The man went and told `Umar. The latter wept and said: "My Lord! I spare no effort except in what escapes my power."

Ibn Kathir cites it thus from al-Bayhaqi's Dala'il al-Nubuwwa (7:47) in al-Bidaya wal-Nihaya (Ma`arif ed. 7:91-92=Dar Ihya' al-Turath ed. 7:105) saying: "isnaduhu sahih" and he also declares its chain sound (isnaduhu jayyidun qawi) in his Jami` al-Masanid (1:223) in Musnad `Umar. Ibn Abi Shayba cites it (6:352=12:31-32) with a sound (sahih) chain as confirmed by Ibn Hajar who says: "rawa Ibn Abi Shayba bi'isnadin sahih" and cites the hadith in Fath al-Bari, Book of Istisqa ch. 3 (1989 ed. 2:629-630=1959 ed. 2:495) as well as in al-Isaba (6:164 §8350=3:484) where he says that Ibn Abi Khaythama cited it. It is also thus narrated by al-Khalili in al-Irshad (1:313- 314) and Ibn `Abd al-Barr in al-Isti`ab (2:464=3:1149).

Al-Albani attempted to weaken this report in his Tawassul (p. 120) but was refuted in the lengthy analysis given by Mamduh in Raf` al-Minara (p. 262-278), which refutes other similar attempts cf. Ibn Baz's marginalia on Fath al-Bari, Abu Bakr al-Jaza'iri's tract Wa-Ja'u Yarkudun, Hammad al-Ansari's articles "al-Mafhum al-Sahih lil-Tawassul" also titled "Tuhfat al-Qari fil-Radd `ala al-Ghumari," and other such literature.

Ibn Hajar identifies the man who visited and saw the Prophet upon him peace, in his dream as the Companion Bilal ibn al- Harith, counting this hadith among the reasons for al- Bukhari's naming of the chapter "The people's request to their leader for rain if they suffer drought" in his Sahih, book of Istisqa'.

(b) Version 2 from al-Tabari's Tarikh (2:509):

In the year of the drought called al-Ramada during the successorship of `Umar the Companion Bilal ibn al-Harith, while slaughtering a sheep for his kin, noticed that the sheep's bones had turned red because the drying flesh was clinging to them. He cried out "Ya Muhammadah!" Then he saw the Prophet - upon him peace - in a dream ordering him to go to `Umar with the tidings of coming rain on condition that `Umar show wisdom. Hearing this, `Umar assembled the people and came out to pray for rain with al-`Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet upon him blessings and peace.

[5] `Umar had made tawassul through the Prophet in the past, upon him peace, since he said: "WE WOULD USE OUR PROPHET AS A MEANS TO YOU..." i.e. in his and Abu Bakr's rule (and not only during the life of the Prophet upon him peace), as it is improbable that they never once experienced drought in the previous 8.5 years. “But to restrict this sententence to the Prophet's lifetime is a deficiency stemming from idle lust, a manipulation of the text of the report, and figurative interpretation without proof.” (Al-Kawthari)

[6] At any rate the major Sahaba did make tawassul through the Prophet upon him peace, after his time as established by the report from our Mother `A'isha - Allah be well- pleased with her - in al-Darimi's Sunan, in the 15th Chapter of the Introduction (1:43) titled: "Allah's generosity to His Prophet after his death," related from Aws ibn `Abd Allah with a good chain:

"The people of Madina complained to `A'isha of the severe drought that they were suffering. She said: "Go to the Prophet's grave and open a window towards the sky so that there will be no roof between him and the sky." They did so, after which they were watered with such rain that vegetation grew and the camels got fat. That year was named the Year of Plenty."

The reader will find extensive documentation on this report in the Encyclopedia of Islamic Doctrine (4:47-52) and it was declared authentic by all the Sunni experts of hadith, last in date Shaykh Nabil ibn Hashim al-Ghamri in his 1999 10-volume edition of and commentary on al-Darimi titled Fath al-Mannan (1:564-566) where he rejects the objections of al-Albani and his likes to this hadith.

[7] `Umar had made tawassul through the Prophet upon him peace, in the campaign of Tabuk and had therefore directly experienced the Divine munificence and Prophetic generosity.

"When the travel provision of the people decreased they thought of slaughtering their camels but `Umar came to the Prophet upon him peace, and said, 'How will they survive without their camels?' The Prophet said, 'Call to them to bring every remainder of their travel provisions.' A piece of leather was spread and they brought whatever they had. Then the Messenger of Allah stood and supplicated, then he blessed over the food and summoned them to being their bags. The people supplied themselves to the last one. Then the Messenger of Allah said, 'I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that I am the Messenger of Allah!'"

Narrated from Salama ibn al-Akwa` by al-Bukhari and Muslim and from Abu Hurayra by Muslim and Ahmad.

[8] `Umar used al-`Abbas to show people the status of the Prophet's family in the society and teach them to respect and venerate them, as Ibn Hajar said in explanation of the report of Anas cited above:

"It is desirable to seek the intercession of saintly people and the relatives of the Prophet sallAllahu `alayhi wa-Alihi wa-Sallam, and it shows al-`Abbas's great merit and that of `Umar due to the latter's humbleness before al-`Abbas and his recognition of his due right."

This is confirmed by al-Ajurri's narration in al-Shari`a and Ahmad in Fada'il al-Sahaba (2:937 #1802) that Ka`b al- Ahbar took al-`Abbas's hand and said, "I shall hide it away [this handshake] for your intercession on my behalf." Al- `Abbas replied: "Why, will I have the power of intercession?" Ka`b said: "Yes, there is none from the Household of the Prophet upon him and them peace, except they have the power of intercession!" Ka`b al-Ahbar also said to Sayyidina `Umar: "Whenever the Israelites had a drought they sought intercession through their Prophet's household" as narrated by Ibn `Abd al- Barr in al-Isti`ab (2:814).

[9] It is known that `Umar had a particular veneration for the Prophetic Household (Ahl al-Bayt) as illustrated by the following reports:

(a) Ibn Sa`d narrated from al-Sha`bi and al-Hasan that al- `Abbas had some need of `Umar one day and said to him:
"Commander of the Believers, suppose the uncle of Musa, upon him peace, came to you as a Muslim, how would you treat him?" He replied, "I swear by Allah that I would treat him well!" Al-`Abbas said, "Well, I am the uncle of Muhammad the Prophet - upon him and his House blessings and peace!" `Umas said, "Abu al-Fadl, and what do you suppose? By Allah, your father [`Abd al-Muttalib] is certainly dearer to me than my own father!" He said, "By Allah?" `Umar said, "By Allah, yes! Because I know that he [`Abd al-Muttalib] is dearer to the Messenger of Allah than my own father, therefore I prefer the love of the Messenger of Allah to my love."

(b) A man disparaged `Ali ibn Abi Talib in the presence of `Umar whereupon the latter said: "Do you know the dweller of this grave? He is Muhammad ibn `Abd Allah ibn `Abd al-Muttalib. And `Ali is the son of Abu Talib ibn `Abd al-Muttalib. Therefore, do not mention `Ali except in a good way for if you dislike him you will harm this one in his grave." Narrated by Ahmad with a good chain in Fada'il al-Sahaba (2:641 #1089).

(c) After `Umar saw al-Husayn ibn `Ali ibn Abi Talib waiting at his door he said to him: "You are more deserving of permission to enter than [my son] `Abd Allah ibn `Umar! You see the goodness that was placed on our head; [therefore] first Allah; then you [the Prophetic Household]!" and he placed his hand on his head as he spoke. Narrated by Ibn Sa`d, Ibn Rahuyah, and al-Khatib.

(d) Jabir said he heard `Umar ibn al-Khattab say on the pulpit after he married Umm Kulthum, the daughter of `Ali and Fatima - Allah be well-pleased with them:

"Do not disparage me [for marrying a young girl], for I heard the Prophet say, upon him blessings and peace: 'On the Judgment Day every means will be cut off and every lineage severed except my lineage.'"

Narrated by al-Tabarani. Al-Haythami said its narrators are those of al-Bukhari and Muslim.

`Umar desired to place himself in the Prophet's lineage through this marriage due to the precedence of Ahl al-Bayt in the Prophet's intercession, upon him and them peace.

[10] Nor is this intercession solely by way of the Prophet's mere supplication (du`a) and by means of al-`Abbas's mere supplication as claimed by the innovators and by the terminology of the question cited above. Rather, it was by means of their person (dhat) AND du`a as literally stated in the following reports among many others:

(a) Intercession through the Prophet's person according to Ibn `Umar:

In Sahih al-Bukhari:
`Abdullah ibn Dinar said:

"I heard Ibn `Umar reciting the poetic verses of Abu Talib:

A fair-skinned one by whose face rainclouds are sought, A caretaker for the orphans and protector of widows.
"`Umar ibn Hamza said: Salim narrated from his father (Ibn `Umar) that the latter said: "The poet's saying came to my mind as I was looking at the face of the Prophet - upon him blessings and peace - while he was praying for rain - and he did not come down until the rain water flowed profusely from every roof-gutter:

A fair-skinned one by whose face rainclouds are sought, A caretaker for the orphans and protector of widows."
One sub-narrator added: "These were the words of Abu Talib."

Note that in his translation of Bukhari (2:65), Muhammad Muhsin Khan alters the wording of the hadith to read: "A white person WHO IS REQUESTED TO PRAY FOR RAIN" in place of "by whose face rain is sought." This is tahrif i.e. textual and semantic manipulation of the most important source in Islam after the Qur'an.

(b) Intercession through al-`Abbas's person according to `Umar:

"People! The Messenger of Allah sallAllahu `alayhi wa-Alihi wa-Sallam considered al-`Abbas like his father, venerating him and greatly respecting him and his rights. Therefore, O people! take the lead of the Messenger of Allah in the person of his uncle al-`Abbas and take the latter as your means to Allah Most High in the context of your tribulation."

Narrated from `Umar with a sound chain by al-Baladhiri and with weak chains from Ibn `Umar by al-Zubayr ibn Bakkar in al-Ansab and Ibn `Asakir in Tarikh Dimashq (8:932) as cited by Ibn Hajar in the Fath (1959 ed. 2:497). Shaykh Mahmud Mamduh in Raf` al- Minara (p. 120) rejected al-Albani's claim in his book al-Tawassul (p. 67-68) that the chain of this hadith is "mixed up" (mudtarib) as inapplicable here.

[11] `Umar showed the possibility of tawassul through X. even though Y. - also present - may be better than X. He showed that tawassul through the inferior in the presence of the superior is permissible as there is Consensus that the best of all living human beings after Prophets then, namely `Umar, `Uthman, and `Ali are all three superior to al-`Abbas, Allah be well-pleased with all of them. This was also a mark of humbleness on `Umar's part as already cited from Fath al-Bari. Another example of this is the tawassul of Mu`awiya for rain through the Sahabi Yazid ibn al-Aswad al-`Amiri as narrated by Abu Zur`a al-Dimashqi in his Tarikh and his tawassul also through the Tabi`i Abu Muslim al-Khawlani as narrated by Ahmad in al-Zuhd cf. al-Tahanawi, I`la' al-Sunan (8:193).

[12] `Umar used al-`Abbas also as a precaution lest people's faith in the Prophet upon him peace, be shaken in case the prayer were not answered.

[13] Finally, the Sunna prayer for rain formally has to be performed by the outward, political Imam of the Muslims or his deputy. It is in that function that the office of the Messenger of Allah – upon him blessings and peace – had ceased and was taken over, first by Abu Bakr, then by `Umar. Al-`Abbas’s position in this event is that of the deputy of the latter as the Commander of the Believers. And Allah knows best.


I have compiled the above from the references cited below and the lights imparted by my teachers on this subject – may Allah keep them and thank them for guarding pure and authentic Sunni doctrine from the ignorant and the extremists.

Contemporary Hanafi References:

- Al-Kawthari, Muhammad Zahid. "Mahq al-Taqawwul fi Mas'alat al-Tawassul" ("The Eradication of Gossip Concerning the Use of Intermediaries") in his Maqalat ("Essays") and recently published as a monograph with introduction and notes by Shaykh Wahbi Sulayman Ghawji (1997).

- Al-Dajwi, Yusuf Ahmad – al-Kawthari’s Shaykh. Four Articles on tawassul originally published in Majallat al-Azhar and reprinted at the beginning of Ghawji’s edition of al-Kawthari’s “Mahq al-Taqawwul.”

- Ghawji, Wahbi Sulayman. Introduction to Mahq al-Taqawwul.

- Al-Nass, Samer. Al-Wasilatu ila Fahmi Haqiqat al-Tawassul ("The Means to Understanding the Truth of Seeking a Means"). Beirut: Dar al-Tawfiq, 2003. The best treatment in our opinion.

Other references:

- Muhammad ibn `Alawi al-Maliki, Mafahim Yajib an Tusahhah ("Necessary Correction of Certain Misconceptions"). 10th ed. (p. 153-156.)

- Abul-Hasanayn `Abd Allah ibn `Abd al-Rahman al-Makki al- Hashimi, al-Salafiyya al-Mu`asira: Munaqashat wa-Rudud (“Contemporary Salafism: Discussions and Rebuttals”) p. 143-145.

- Al-Ghumari, Irgham al-Mubtadi` al-Ghabi bi-Jawaz al- Tawassul bil-Nabi ("Compelling the Dunderheaded Innovator to Accept the Permissibility of Using the Prophet as a Means"). Ed. Hasan `Ali al-Saqqaf. 2nd ed. Amman: Dar al-Imam al-Nawawi, 1992.

- Mahmud Mamduh, Raf` al-Minara bi-Ahadith al-Tawassul wal- Ziyara ("Raising the Lighthouse with the Hadiths of Seeking Means and Visitation [of the Prophet]") p. 118-121.