22JMT1432 | Tawassul & Tawḥīd.
Shaykh Ibrāhīm Niāsse al-Kawlakhī, may Allah ﷻ be pleased with him, mentions in his Fī riyāḍhi ʾl-tafsir, a commentary of the ayah:
And [recall] when you [all] said, “O Mūsā, we can never endure one [kind of] food. So call upon your Lord to bring forth for us from the earth its green herbs and its cucumbers and its garlic and its lentils and its onions.” [Mūsā] said, “Would you exchange what is better for what is less? Go into [any] settlement and indeed, you will have what you have asked.” And they were covered with humiliation and poverty and returned with anger from Allah [upon them]. That was because they [repeatedly] disbelieved in the signs of Allah and killed the prophets without right. That was because they disobeyed and were [habitually] transgressing. | Qurʾān 2:70
“With all of this (having transpired), it was not appropriate for them (Banī Isrāʾil) to make their request directly from Allah ﷻ. However, this community (of the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ) have been given them absolute permission to call (on Him directly). He said, ‘…and ask Allah from His grace (Qurʾān 4:32).’ He ﷻ said, ‘…Call upon Me; I will respond to you (Qurʾān 40:60).’ Therefore, if any of us having something pressing or a need, he asks Allah ﷻ, the Blessed and Exalted, and He answers him.”
An interesting point to consider, after considering this brilliant pearl from amongst the wisdoms of the oceans of the Shaykh’s knowledge, is that the calling of Banī Isrāʾil on Mūsā, peace be upon him, was not then, nor is it not now, nor will it ever be considered an act of polytheism. Rather, they understand that the function of their Prophet was to serve as an intermediary between them and their Lord. He simply had a virtue that none of them, not as individuals nor collectively, possessed. This incident is one of the Qurʾānic proofs of the reality and validity of tawassul (i.e. petitioning assistance of one more virtuous than the petitioner with regard to God’s attention).
Since no one would be so bold as to call Mūsā, peace be upon him, and his followers to be polytheists, our discussion, of the act of petitioning, naturally, does not enter into the discussion regarding belief or disbelief. Rather, it is fixed in the land of legitimacy were it awaits to be categorized under one of the five legal values. It, like all acts, is either obligatory [wājib], praiseworthy [mandūb], permissible [jāʾiz], disliked [makrūh] or prohibited [ḥarām], depending on the circumstances we examine it through.
To go forward in our study, we find that tawassul is of different categories. Appeals to Allah ﷻ can be through a living, pious individual as we saw in the Qurʾānic ayah above. We also see this incident occurring in the traditions of the Prophet ﷺ. Imām al-Tirmidhī relates, through his chain of narrators from ʿUthmān ibn Ḥunayf, that a blind man came to the Prophet ﷺ and said, “I’ve been afflicted in my eyesight, so please pray to Allah ﷻ for me.” The Prophet ﷺ said: “Go make ablution [wuḍuʾ], perform two rakaʿat of prayer, and then say: ‘Oh Allah, I ask You and turn to You through my Prophet Muḥammad, the Prophet of mercy; O Muḥammad [yā Muḥammad], I seek your intercession with my Lord for the return of my eyesight (and in another version: ‘for my need, that it may be fulfilled. O Allah, grant him intercession for me.’)’”
The Prophet ﷺ added, “And if there is some need, do the same.”
The scholars have taken this ḥadīth to indicate the praiseworthy nature of asking Allah ﷻ for one’s needs through prayer, and all the more with this specific supplication as it was taught to the Companion by the Prophet ﷺ himself.
Request to Allah ﷻ can be made through the actions of a live, pious individual as indicated in the tradition narrated by Imām al-Bukhārī regarding the three men who were entrapped in a cave.
Narrated ʿAbd Allah ibn ʿUmar, “I heard Rasūluʾllah ﷺ saying, ‘Three men from among those who were before you set out together until they reached a cave at night and they entered it. A big rock rolled down the mountain and closed the mouth of the cave. They said to each other, “Nothing can save us from this rock but to invoke Allah ﷻ by mentioning the righteous deeds that we have done (for the sake of Allah ﷻ only).”
'So, one of them said, “O Allah! I had old parents (whom I used to provide with milk) and I never provided my own family with milk before them. One day, by chance I was delayed, and I arrived late (at night) after they had slept. I milked the sheep for them and then took the milk to them, but I found them sleeping. I did not like to offer my family the milk before them, so I waited for them and the bowl of milk was in my hand and I kept on waiting for them to get up until dawn. Then they got up and drank the milk. O Allah! If I did that for Your sake only, I invoke You to relieve us from our critical situation that has been caused by this rock.” So, the rock moved a little, but they could not get out.
“The Prophet ﷺ added: ‘The second man said, “O Allah! I had a cousin who was the dearest of all people to me and I wanted to have sexual intercourse with her, but she refused. Later, she came across hard times during a year of famine, and she came to me and I gave her one hundred and twenty dinars on the condition that she would not resist my desires, and she agreed. When I was about to fulfill my desires, she said, ‘It is illegal for you to violate my chastity except through legitimate marriage.’ So, I realized it was a sin to have sexual intercourse with her and left her, though she was the dearest of all people to me. I also left the gold I had given her. O Allah! If I did that for Your sake only, please relieve us from the present calamity.” So, the rock moved a little more, but still they could not get out from the cave.
“The Prophet ﷺ continued: ‘Then the third man said, “O Allah! I employed few laborers and I paid them all of them their wages, with the exception of one man who did not take his wages and went away. I invested his wages and I gained much profit from this. (Then after some time) he came and said to me: ‘O servant of Allah! Pay me my wages.’ I said to him, ‘All the camels, cows, sheep, and slaves that you see here, are yours.’ He said, ‘O slave of Allah! Don’t mock me.’ I replied, ‘I am not mocking you.’ So, he took the herd and drove them away and left nothing. O Allah! If I did that for Your sake only, please relieve us from the present suffering.’ So, the rock moved completely and they walked out.’” 
Request from Allah ﷻ can also be to Him by His very Essence, Names or Attributes.
The only area of real scrutiny that has conjured up some level of confusion amongst the Believers is pleading to Allah ﷻ through the petition of the righteous that have passed. This dilemma is easily solved when one is relaxed and contemplates the facts surrounding the previous examples. When the previous examples were made, indicating the actual occurrence of seeking assistance took place, whether in the Qurʾānic narrative or in the traditions of the Prophet ﷺ, the matter was not about the pursuance of support from live people or dead people. Rather, at the crux of the matter, it involved the petitioner’s good opinion regarding the positive meaning that was attached to those individuals, regardless of their being alive or dead. A good person, after all, remains so even into the next world. The body, at the end of the day is merely a container for this goodly aspect that is deemed to be close to Allah ﷻ.
Indeed, my protector is Allah, who has sent down the Book; and He is an ally to the righteous. | Qurʾān 7:196
Any friend [walī] of Allah ﷻ, is a much-needed friend indeed.
To press the issue a bit more, take note that the phrase, “yā Muḥammad!” was used in the instruction of the Prophet ﷺ in the tradition mentioned above. This phrase in the Arabic language is termed nidā al-ghayb, which is a linguistic device used to call those who are not present; be it due to distance or death.
However, if one’s own sense of logic does not provide them with a credible amount of solace, we can find more support for this concept in the reports of the early Muslims.
Imām al-Ṭabarānī, in his Majmuʿa ʾl-ṣaghīr, on the authority of Amāma ibn Sahl ibn Ḥunayf from his uncle ʿUthmān ibn Ḥunayf, that a man repeatedly visited al-Khalīfa ʿUthmān ibn ʿAffān, may Allah ﷻ be pleased with him, concerning something he needed. But ʿUthmān (ibn ʿAffān) paid no attention to him or his need. The man met Ibn Ḥunayf and complained to him about the matter - this taking place after the death [wiṣāl] of the Prophet ﷺ and after the khilāfa of Abī Bakr and ʿUmar.
So Ibn Hunayf, who was one of the Companions who collected aḥadīth and was learned in the Dīn of Allah ﷻ, said, “Go to the place of ablution and perform ablution [wuḍūʾ], then come to the mosque, perform two rakaʿat of prayer therein, and say, ‘O Allah, I ask You and turn to You through our Prophet Muḥammad, the Prophet of mercy; O Muḥammad [yā Muḥammad]!, I turn through you to my Lord, that He may fulfill my need,’ and then mention your need. Then come so that I can go with you [to the khalīfa ʿUthmān].”
So the man left and did as he had been told, then went to the door of ʿUthmān ibn ʿAffān, may Allah ﷻ be well-pleased with him, and the doorman came, took him by the hand, brought him to ʿUthmān, and seated him next to him on a cushion. ʿUthmān asked, “What do you need?” and the man mentioned what he wanted, and ʿUthmān accomplished it for him, then he said, “I hadn’t remembered your need until just now,” adding, “Whenever you need something, just mention it.”
Then the man departed, and ʿUthmān (ibn ʿAffān) met with Ibn Ḥunayf, and said to him, “May Allah reward you! He didn’t see to my need or pay any attention to me until you spoke with him.” ʿUthmān ibn Ḥunayf replied, “By Allah, I didn’t speak to him, but I have seen a blind man come to the Rasūluʾllah ﷺ and complain to him of the loss of his eyesight. Rasūluʾllah ﷺ said, ‘Can you not bear it?’ and the man replied, ‘O Rasūluʾllah, I do not have anyone to lead me around, and it is a great hardship for me.’ Rasūluʾllah ﷺ told him, ‘Go to the place of ablution and perform ablution [wuḍūʾ], then pray two rakaʿat of prayer and make the supplications.’” Ibn Ḥunayf went on, “By Allah, we didn’t part company or speak long before the man returned to us as if nothing had ever been wrong with him.” 
To be balanced, we need to put this issue in its proper category amongst the five aforementioned legal values. It is not something to be hurled at other Muslims from behind the barricades of sectarian banners and cheerleading squads. The scholars of theology [fiqḥ], who specialize in these types of investigations, have deemed the issue of seeking a means to Allah’s attention [tawassul], be it with the live or dead, a permissible [jāʾiz] act.
Permissible acts are those which are neither rewarded nor punished for in and of themselves. Rather, a good intention can make bring reward and a bad one can bring on retribution. This act then of tawassul, in and of itself, is neutral and the intention one brings with it is the scale by which it is judged.
The irony in all of this is that if anyone thinks that a Prophet, a righteous person, or the act has any power or ability of their own in the first place, they are already polytheists. This issue is easy for those who witness neither strength nor any power but in Allah ﷻ alone. Indeed, all else is dead and unable.
Everyone upon the earth has perished. | Qurʾān 55:26
May He teach grant us knowledge based in the experiential certainty [ḥaqq al-yaqīn] of our hearts so that our minds would not need to be convinced of such essential truths. Amīn.
- Imām Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Laṭīf Finch [Lighthouse Mosque; Oakland, CA]
©2011 سهول الفيضة | FLOODPLAINS®
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī; Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim; Riyāḍ al-Ṣāliḥīn
 On the conditions of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī and Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim; found in the collections of al-Bayhaqī; al-Mundhirī; al-Ḥaythamī