Is it permissible to attend gatherings reciting eulogies of Prophet Muhammad?
Dear learned scholar,
We are often invited by friends to gatherings where our Prophet (Peace be upon Him) is honored. But some relatives say we cannot take part because people stand up to recite Ya Nabi (O Prophet). They say this comes close to elevating the Prophet to the status of Allah and associating partners with Him and we can only recite Ya Allah. They say if such phrases are not recited then it will be permissible to attend the gatherings, but only occasionally to prevent it from becoming an innovation. Please advise me on the correct position. May Allah reward you. Wa salam.
Dear honorable brother,
It is permissible to repeat this sentence. There is a great difference between al-wasila (seeking intercession) and al-tabarruk (seeking blessings) and between shirk (associating partners with Allah). This is because Allah Almighty commanded us to make tawassul as per His words,O you who have believed, fear Allah and seek the means [of nearness] to Him and strive in His cause that you may succeed. [Al-Ma`idah: 35)
Allah Almighty praises His servants who supplicate Him through tawassul. He says,Those whom they invoke seek means of access to their Lord, [striving as to] which of them would be nearest, and they hope for His mercy and fear His punishment. Indeed, the punishment of your Lord is ever feared. [Al-'Isra': 57)
In the Arabic language, the words wasila or tawassul mean status and pious actions and together they mean seeking to draw closer to Allah through all lawful means. This includes venerating everything that Allah Almighty has venerated—places, times, people and conditions. For instance, Muslims strive to pray in the Holy mosque and supplicate Allah at the grave of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the multazam to venerate the places that Allah has venerated; a Muslim endeavors to spend Laylut al-Qadr [the night of Power] performing voluntary prayers, seeks the hour when prayers are answered on Fridays and the last third of night to venerate the times which Allah has venerated; a Muslim also draws closer to Allah through his love for Allah's prophets, pious friends and the righteous to venerate the people Allah has venerated; a Muslim seeks to supplicate Allah when traveling and when it is raining to venerate the conditions Allah has venerated and so forth. All of this falls under the words of Allah Almighty,That [is so]. And whoever honors the symbols of Allah - indeed, it is from the piety of hearts. [Al-Hajj: 32)
Shirk, on the other hand, means directing any worship to other than Allah in a manner that suits none but Him, even if this is done with the intention of drawing close to Allah. Allah Almighty says,And those who take protectors besides Him [say], "We only worship them that they may bring us nearer to Allah in position." [Az-Zumar: 3)
We mentioned above "directing any worship to other than Allah in a manner that does suits none but Him" to exclude any act that outwardly resembles an act of worship even though it is not actually so. A supplication may constitute worship to the object or person called upon as in, "They call upon instead of Him none but female [deities], and they [actually] call upon none but a rebellious Satan" [Qur`an 4: 117]. Conversely, it may not constitute worship. Allah the Almighty says, "Do not make [your] calling of the Messenger among yourselves as the call of one of you to another" [Qur`an 24: 63]. A request may constitute worshipping the person to whom the request is directed such as in the verse, "And ask Allah of his bounty" [Qur`an 4: 32], or it may not be so as in the verse "For the petitioner and the deprived" [Qur`an 70: 25]. Furthermore, seeking help may constitute directing worship to the object or person from whom help is sought as in the verse "It is You we worship and You we ask for help" [Qur`an 1: 5] or it may not be so as in, "And seek help through patience and prayer" [Qur`an 2: 45]. Love may constitute worship of the beloved or it may not be as the Prophet says in the hadith, "Love Allah for the blessings He has poured on you, and love me through your love for Allah and love the members of my household through your love for me.
Shirk then means glorifying other than Allah in the manner due to Him. The Almighty says, So do not attribute to Allah equals while you know [that there is nothing similar to Him]. [Qur`an 2: 22].
Allah also says:
And [yet], among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals [to Him]. They love them as they [should] love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah. [Qur`an 2: 165)
Based on this, the difference between wasila and shirk becomes clear. Wasila includes venerating what Allah has venerated and doing so is in fact venerating Allah as per His words, Exalted be Him,That [is so]. And whoever honors the symbols of Allah - indeed, it is from the piety of hearts. [Al-Hajj: 32).
Contrary to this, shirk would mean venerating an entity either alongside or other than Allah. Therefore, the angels' prostration before Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) was out of faith and monotheism, while the polytheists' prostration before the idols was disbelief and shirk, even though the prostration in both cases was to other than Allah. However, since the angels' prostration to Prophet Adam was a form of glorifying what Allah has venerated and performed in the manner prescribed by Allah, it was permissible and rewardable, while the polytheists' prostration to idols was a veneration emulating that which is due to Allah and therefore prohibited and punishable.
A group of scholars based the permissibility of swearing an oath by what is glorified in Islamic law such as the Prophet, Islam, and the Ka'ba on this difference between wasila and shirk. These include Imam Ahmed (may Allah have mercy on him) in one of his opinions; he based his opinion on the fact that the Prophet constitutes the second part of the Shahada [testimony of faith] without which one's faith is incomplete. He maintained that this does not in any way mean equating the Prophet with Allah but venerating the Prophet by way of Allah's veneration for him. He also based his opinion on interpreting the hadiths prohibiting swearing an oath by other than Allah to mean equating the object of the oath to Allah whereas the majority of scholars prohibited swearing an oath by other than Allah based on the apparent general impermissibility included in the hadiths of swearing an oath by other than Allah. This is because swearing an oath by the Prophet does not entail likening him to Allah—our veneration for the Prophet stems from Allah's veneration for him. The prohibition of swearing an oath by other than Allah is not general since scholars have unanimously agreed on the permissibility of making oaths by invoking the attributes of Allah the Almighty. Hence, it is a general command that refers to a specific matter.
In explaining the evidence upon which the early scholars based their permissibility, Al-Mundhir said, "Scholars have differed over the interpretation of the prohibition of swearing an oath by other than Allah. A group of them maintained that it specifically refers to the oaths made by the people of Jahiliya [pre-islamic period] who used to venerate other than Allah such as al-Lat, al-'Uzza and their forefathers. A person who swears an oath by these objects is blameworthy and there is no expiation for his sin. On the other hand, it is not prohibited to swear an oath by what is construed as venerating Allah the Almighty and drawing close to Him such as by saying, 'For the sake of the Prophet; Islam; hajj; 'umra; hady [animal slaughtered in the Sacred Precinct to gain the pleasure of Allah]; charity; emancipation [of slaves] and other similar expressions. Scholars who have maintained this opinion include Abu 'Ubaid and others who based their opinion on the fact that the Companions obligated those who swore by emancipation, hady, or charity to uphold their oaths even though they [the Companions] were aware of the prohibition. This proves that the prohibition was not general or else they would not have commanded the fulfillment of the oaths [sworn by those objects).
If there was a difference of opinion over some kinds of wasila i.e. tawasul by the righteous and supplicating Allah or prostrating at their graves, then it is impermissible to remove such a sin or difference of opinion from the scope of wasila to that of disbelief and shirk. This is because doing so would mean confusing matters by equating the glorification of Allah with that of others alongside Allah. Allah Almighty says:
Then will We treat the Muslims like the criminals? What is [the matter] with you? How do you judge? [Qur`an 68: 35-36)
There is also a difference between believing that those called upon can cause effects or that they create or cause to exist. This is tantamount to a Muslim who believes that the acts of creation by Jesus [peace be upon him] was by the will of Allah in contrast to the Christian belief maintaining that Jesus created by his own will. Therefore, when we see a Muslim asking or seeking help from other than Allah, we are obliged to interpret his act as seeking causality and not seeking others' power or creation. This is because we are aware that every Muslim believes that Allah alone has influence over harm and benefit and that some creations may only be harmful or beneficial based on Allah's will. It remains to be seen whether or not a creature may be considered as causing an effect.
We must implement these established principles when discussing the issue of seeking help from prophets and the righteous. If we are aware that such actions coming from Muslims who address these prophets and righteous individuals out of their belief in their piety and closeness to Allah and that loving these figures and visiting graves is a means through which a Muslim draws closer to his Lord, it becomes evident that these and other similar acts do not even remotely involve shirk or kufr.
It is not a sin to refrain from seeking help from prophets and righteous individuals; rather, this should be left to a Muslim's decision and circumstances. The proper stance is to allow people to act naturally and let them do what evokes presence of heart and submission [to Allah).
Moreover, it is impermissible for any Muslim to repudiate seeking the help of the Prophet [pbuh] because of the words of Allah Almighty,And if, when they wronged themselves, they had come to you, [O Muhammad], and asked forgiveness of Allah and the Messenger had asked forgiveness for them, they would have found Allah Accepting of repentance and Merciful. [Qur`an 4: 64).
Muslims unanimously agree that this ruling will remain until the Day of Judgment.