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Al-Mizan Tafseer


In The Name of Allah, the Beneficent and the Most Merciful
 

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Volume 1: Surah Baqarah, Verses 47-48

O Children of Israel! call to mind My favor which I bestowed on you and that I made you excel the nation (47). And be on your guard against the day when one soul shall not avail another in the least; neither shall intercession on its behalf be accepted, nor shall any compensation be taken from it, nor shall they be helped (48).

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COMMENTARY

Qur'an:  And be on your guard against the day when one soul shall not avail another in the least:

The temporal power and authority, with all its various systems and varying conditions, is based on a necessity of life - the only justification of this institution is that it fulfils this need in the framework of the prevailing factors of the society.  It some times exchanges a commodity for another, gives up a benefit for another, substitutes an order with another - without any hard and fast criterion to regulate- such dispensations.  The same phenomenon is observed in their judiciary.  Logically, a crime must be recompensed with punishment.  Yet some times the judge, because of some extraneous reasons, decides not to punish the criminal.  Some times the criminal rouses in the judge an overwhelming feeling of pity by his passionate appeal for mercy.  Or he wins him over by bribe which induces him to deliver an unjust judgment.  Or an influential man intercedes with the judge on behalf of the said criminal and the judge cannot ignore that intercession.  Or, the said criminal becomes a state witness leading to the conviction of even greater criminals, and is himself, thus, released without any punishment.  Or his tribe or colleagues get him freed from the clutches of the authorities.  Whatever the cause may be, it is a well-established custom in the worldly governments and human societies to let the wrong-doers go free at times.

The ancient tribes and the idol-worshippers believed that the life hereafter was an extension of this one; that the customs of this world were valid for that one too, and that the next world was permeated by the same actions and reactions which prevailed in this one.  Thus they offered sacrifices and offerings to their deities seeking forgiveness for their sins or assistance in their needs; the offerings were supposed to intercede on their behalf.  Some times a sin was expiated or help was sought by offering even a human sacrifice.  They carried this idea of continuation of the life so far as to bury with a man all types of necessities of life, not forgetting his ornaments and arms, in order that he might use them on his onward journey; some times even his concubines and soldiers were buried alive with him to keep him company.  You may see a lot of such finds in archaeological museums around the world.  Some such ideas have persisted even among the Muslims - with all their diverse cultures and languages, albeit in modified forms.

The Qur'an has rejected all such superstitious beliefs and baseless ideas in no uncertain terms:

. . . and the command on that day shall be entirely Allah's (82:19).

. . . and they see the chastisement and their ties are cut asunder (2:166).

And certainly you have come to Us alone as We created you at first, and you have left behind your backs the things which We gave you, and We do not see with you your intercessors about whom you asserted that they were (Allah's) associates in respect to you; certainly the ties between you are now cut off and what you asserted is gone from you (6:94).

There shall every soul become acquainted with what is sent before, and they shall be brought back to Allah, their true Master and what they did fabricate shall escape from them (10:30).

There are many similar verses; and they show that the life hereafter is cut off from the natural causes which govern this life, and is quite separate from material connections.  Once this principle is understood all the above-mentioned myths would automatically be cleared away.  But the Qur'an is not content with this general declaration; it refutes each and every myth and superstition described above:

And be on your guard against the day when one soul shall not avail another in the least;- neither shall intercession on its behalf be accepted, nor shall any compensation be taken from it, nor shall they be helped (12:48)

. . . . before the day comes in which there is no bargaining, neither any friendship nor intercession (2:254)

The day on which a friend shall not avail (his) friend aught . . . (44:41).

. . . there shall be no savior for you from Allah . . . (40:33).

What is the matter with you that you do not help each other? Nay! on this day they are submissive (37:25 - 26).

And they worship beside Allah what can neither harm them nor profit them, and they say: "These are our intercessors with Allah.  " Say: "Do you (presume to) inform Allah of what He knows not in the heavens and the earth?" Glory be to Him, and supremely exalted is He above what they set up with Him. (10: 18).

. . . the unjust shall not have any friend nor any intercessors who should be obeyed (40:18).

So we have no intercessors, nor a true-friend (26:100-101).

There are many other verses of the same theme, all rejecting the intercession on the Day of Resurrection.

On the other hand, the Qur'an does not totally reject the intercession; rather it confirms it to a certain extent.  For example, it says:

Allah is He Who created the heavens and the earth and what is between them in six periods and He is firmly established on the throne; you have not besides Him any guardian or any intercessors; will you not then mind? (32:4)

. . . there is no guardian for them, nor any intercessor besides Him (6:51).

Say: Allah's is the intercession altogether" (39:44).

 . . . whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His; who is he that can intercede with Him but by His permission?  He knows what is before them and what is behind them (2:255).

Surely your Lord is Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth in six periods; and He is firmly established on the throne; regulating the affair; there is no intercessor except after His permission (10: 3).

And they say,- "The Beneficent God had taken to Himself a son.  " Glory be to Him!  Nay! they are honored servants; they do not precede Him in speech and (only) according to His commandment do they act.  He knows what is before them and what is behind them, and they do not intercede except for whom He approves, and for fear of Him they tremble  (21:26 - 28).

And those whom they call upon besides Him have no authority for intercession, but he who bears witness of the truth, and they know (him) (43:86).

They shall have no authority for intercession, save he who has made a covenant with the Beneficent God (19:87).

On that day shall no intercession avail except of him whom the Beneficent God allows and whose word He is pleased with.  He knows what is before them and what is behind them, while they do not comprehend Him in knowledge And intercession will not avail aught with Him save of him whom He permits (34:23).

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 (53: 26).

Some of these verses (like the first three) say that intercession is reserved for Allah, while the rest declare that others too may intercede with Allah's permission.  In any case, all of them confirm the intercession per se.  How are these verses related to the preceding ones which totally reject intercession?  It is exactly the same relation that exists between the verses that say that the knowledge of unseen is reserved to Allah and those which declare that others too may have that knowledge with the permission of Allah.  As Allah says:

Say: "No one in the heaven and the earth knows the unseen but Allah" (27:65).

And with Him are the keys of the unseen, does not know it any except He (6:59).

The Knower of the unseen! so He does not reveal His secrets to any, except to him whom He chooses of an apostle (72:27).

The same is the case with various verses on the subjects of creating, sustaining, giving death, causality, command, authority and similar things.  Some verses reserve them for Allah, while some say that others too may do these things.  It is a well-known style of the Qur'an: first it rejects the idea that anyone other than Allah has any virtue or perfection; thereafter it confirms the same virtue or perfection for others depending on the permission and pleasure of Allah.  When read together, the verses show that nobody has any virtue by his own power and right; whatever excellence there may be, he has got it because Allah has given it to him.  Allah puts much emphasis to this fact; He attaches the proviso of His will even for those things which are firmly decreed by Him.  For example:

So as to those who are unhappy, they shall be in the fire; for them shall be sighing and groaning in it; abiding therein so long as the heavens and the earth endure, except as your Lord please; surely your Lord is the (mighty) doer of what He intends.  And as to those who are made happy, they shall be in the garden, abiding in it as long as the heavens and the earth endure, except as your Lord please; a gift which shall never be cut off            (11:106 -108). 

Note that abiding for ever is made dependent on the pleasure of Allah, even in case of the garden, although it is a gift which shall never be cut off.  It emphasizes the fact that even when Allah firmly decrees a thing, it does not pass out of His control or authority; "Surely your Lord is (mighty) doer of what He intends" (11:107).  When Allah gives a thing, it does not go out of His total possession.  When He denies some thing to someone, it is not done to protect Himself against any need or poverty!

In short, the verses that reject intercession - albeit talking about the Day of Resurrection - do so in the context of intercession independent of Allah's authority; while the ones proving it, prove it basically for Allah and then, depending on His pleasure, for others.

Thus the intercession is proved for other than Allah with His permission.

Now we should see what is the meaning of intercession?  Who may intercede?  On behalf of whom?  And when?  How is it related to the divine forgiveness?

WHAT IS THE MEANING OF INTERCESSION?

TRADITIONS

Al-Husayn ibn Khalid narrates from ar-Rida (a.s.), who narrated through his forefathers from the leader of the faithful (a.s.) that he said: “The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) said: ‘Whoever  does not believe in my reservoir, and whoever does not believe in my intercession, may Allah not extend to him my intercession.’ Then he (s.a.w.a.) said: ‘Verily my intercession is for those of my ummah who shall have committed great sins; as for those good-doers, there shall be no difficulty for them.’” Al-Husayn ibn Khalid said: “I asked ar-Rida (a.s.): ‘O son of the Messenger of Allah! What is then the meaning of the words of Allah, Mighty and Great is He: and they d not intercede except for him whom He approves?’ He (a.s.) said ‘They do not intercede except for him whose religion Allah is pleased with.’” (al-Amali as-Saduq)

The author says: The tradition of the Prophet, “Verily my intercession is….”, has been narrated by both sects with numerous chains; and we have shown earlier that it is based on the theme of the Qur’anic verses.

Suma’ah ibn Mihran narrates from Abu Ibrahim (a.s.) that he said about the words of Allah: may be your Lord will raise you to a praised position: “The people, on the Day of Resurrection, will remain standing for forty years; and the sun will be ordered so that it will ride over their heads and they will be bridled by sweat – and the earth will be told not to accept any of their sweat. So they will approach Adam to intercede for them and he will direct them to Nuh, and Nuh will direct them to Ibrahim, and Ibrahim will direct them to Musa, and Musa will direct them to ‘Isa, and ‘Isa will direct them saying: ‘You should seek the help of Muhammad, the last prophet.’ Thereupon, Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) will say: ‘I’ll do it;’ and will proceed until, arriving at the door of the garden, he will knock at it. It will be asked, ‘Who is it?’ (while Allah knows better!), and he will say: ‘Muhammad.’ Then it will be said: ‘Open for him.’  When the door will be opened he will turn to his Lord, falling in sajdah. He will not raise his head until he is told: ‘Speak up and ask, you will be given; and intercede, your intercession shall be granted.’ He will raise his head and turning to his Lord will fall (again) in sajdah. Then he will be promised as before; then he will raise his head. (Thereupon, he shall intercede) until he will intercede even for him who would have been burnt in the fire. Therefore, on the Day of Resurrection, no one among all the nations will be more eminent then Muhammad (s.a.w.a.); and it is (the meaning of) the words of Allah: May be your Lord will raise you to a praised position.” (al-‘Ayyashi)

The author says: This meaning is narrated by both sects in great number, in detail as well as in short, with numerous chains; and it proves that the “praised position” means the position of intercession. This tradition is not in conflict with intercession of other prophets, because probably their intercession will be an offshoot of our Prophet’s, and it will begin on his hand.

‘Ubayd ibn Zurarah said: “Abu ‘Abdillah (a.s.) was asked whether a believer would have the right of intercession. He said: ‘Yes.’ Then someone said: ‘Will even a believer need the intercession of Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) on that day?’ He said: ‘Yes. The believers too will come with wrongs and sins; and there will be none but he shall need the intercession of Muhammad on that day.’” (‘Ubayd) said: “And someone asked him about the words of the Messenger of Allah: ‘I am the Chief of the children of Adam, and I say this without boasting.’ He said: ‘Yes.’ (Then) he said: ‘He will hold the chain-link of the door of the garden and open it; then he will fall in sajdah, and Allah will tell him ‘Raise your head, do intercede, your intercession shall be granted, and ask, you shall be given.’ Thereupon he will raise his head and intercede – and his intercession will be accepted; and he will ask and be given.” (ibid)

Muhammad ibn al-Qasim narrates through his chains from Bishr ibn Shurayh al-Basri that he said: “I said to Muhammad ibn ‘Ali (a.s.): ‘Which verse in the Book of Allah is the most hope-inspiring?’ He said: ‘And what do your people say (about it)?’ I said: ‘They say, (it is the verse), Say: O my servants! Who have acted extravagantly against their own souls, do not despair of the mercy of Allah.”’  He said: ‘But we, the people of the house, do not say so.’ I said: ‘Then what do you say about it?’ He said: ‘We say (it is the verse), And soon will your Lord give you so that you shall be well pleased. (It means) the intercession, by Allah the intercession, by Allah the intercession.’” (at-Tafsir, Furat ibn Ibrahim)

The author says: The words of Allah, may be your Lord will raise you to a praised position, refers to the Prophet’s glorious position of intercession, as the numerous traditions of the prophet himself prove. Moreover the wording of the verse too supports it: “will raise you” shows that it is a position which he will attain in future, i.e. on the Day of Judgment; “praised” is general and unconditional, and implies that he shall be praised by all men, past and present. Al-Hamd means to praise someone for a good done to you intentionally. This definition shows that the Prophet will do something by his own will and power which will benefit all of them and in return everyone will praise him. That is why the Imam said in the tradition of ‘Ubayd ibn Zurarah, “and there will no one but he shall need the intercession of Muhammad that day.”

We shall later explain it further.

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