Tawassul in Arabic means seeking to draw close. Allaah
says in the Quraan (interpretation of the meaning):
means of access to their Lord
[al-Isra 17:57], i.e., means of
drawing close to Him. There are two types of Tawassul, correct Islamic tawassul and
Correct Islamic tawassul:
This means seeking to draw close to Allaah through acts of worship
which He loves and which please Him; these may be waajib (obligatory) or mustahabb
(encouraged), and may take the form of words, actions or beliefs. Some types are as
Seeking to draw close to Allaah by means of His names and attributes.
Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): And (all) the Most Beautiful Names
belong to Allaah, so call on Him by them, and leave the company of those who belie or deny
(or utter impious speech against) His names. They will be requited for what they used to
do. [al-Araaf 7:180]. So when a person makes duaa to Allaah,
he begins by calling on Allaah with the name that is most apt, such as
al-Rahmaan (the Most Merciful) when seeking mercy and al-Ghafoor (the
All-Forgiving) when asking for forgiveness, and so on.
Seeking to draw close to Allaah by means of faith and Tawheed. Allaah
says (interpretation of the meaning): Our Lord! We believe in what You have sent
down, and we follow the Messenger, so write us down among those who bear witness (to the
truth). [Aal Imraan 3:53]
Seeking to draw close to Allaah through righteous deeds, whereby a
person asks Allaah by virtue of the best deeds that he has done, such as salaah, fasting,
reading Quraan, avoiding haraam things, and so on. An example of this is the saheeh
hadeeth narrated in the Saheehayn about the three people who entered a cave, and a
rock fell and blocked their way out. They asked Allaah by virtue of their best deeds (to
save them). A person may also ask Allaah by virtue of his total dependency upon Him, as
Allaah mentions in the Quraan (interpretation of the meaning): [Ayyoob
said:] Verily, distress has seized me, and You are the Most Merciful of those who
show mercy. [al-Anbiya 21:83]; or by admitting his own wrongdoing and his
need for Allaah, as Yoonus is described as saying (interpretation of the meaning):
None has the right to be worshipped except You (O Allaah). Glorified (and exalted)
are You. Truly I have been of the wrong-doers. [al-Anbiya 21:87]
The rulings on Islamically correct tawassul vary according to its type.
Some types are waajib, such as seeking to draw close to Allaah through His names and
attributes and through Tawheed (believing in His absolute Oneness), and some are
mustahabb, such as seeking to draw close to Him by virtue of all kinds of righteous deeds.
Tawassul that is bidah and therefore forbidden:
This is the attempt to draw close to Allaah by means of things that He
does not like and that do not please Him, whether they be words, deeds or beliefs. One
example of this is trying to draw close to Allaah by calling on the dead or people who are
absent, asking them for help, and so on. This is a form of major shirk (shirk akbar),
which goes against Tawheed and means that a person is no longer considered to be a Muslim.
Calling upon Allaah, whether it is for a purpose such as asking Him to grant some benefit
or to ward off some harm, or as an act of worship to express humility and submission
before Him, can only be addressed directly to Allaah. If duaas or prayers are
addressed to anything or anyone else, this is shirk. Allaah says (interpretation of the
meaning): And your Lord said: Invoke Me (and ask Me for anything), I will
respond to your invocation. Verily! Those who scorn My worship [i.e., do not invoke Me and
do not believe in My Oneness], they will surely enter Hell in humiliation! [Ghaafir
40:60]. In this aayah, Allaah explains the punishment of those who arrogantly refuse
to call on Allaah, whether they call on someone other than Allaah or they do not call on
Him at all, out of pride and self-admiration, even if they do not call on anyone else.
Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): Invoke your Lord
with humility and in secret
[al-Araaf 7:55]. Allaah commands His
slaves to call on Him and not anyone else.
Allaah says of the people of Hell (interpretation of the meaning): [They
say:] By Allaah, we were truly in a manifest error when we held you (false gods) as
equals (in worship) with the Lord of the Worlds. [al-Shuara 26:96-97]
Anything that results in equating something other than Allaah with
Allaah in worship or acts of obedience is shirk, the crime of associating partners with
Him. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): And who is more astray than one
who calls (invokes) besides Allaah, such as will not answer him until the Day of
Resurrection, and who are (even) unaware of their calls (invocations) to them? And when
mankind are gathered (one the Day of Resurrection), they (false deities) will become
enemies for them and will deny their worshipping. [al-Ahqaaf 46:5-6]
Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): And whoever
invokes (or worships) besides Allaah, any other god, of whom he has no proof, then his
reckoning is only with his Lord. Surely, al-kaafiroon (the disbelievers in Allaah and in
the Oneness of Allaah) will not be successful. [al-Muminoon 23:117].
Allaah states that anyone who calls on anything other than him is
taking that thing as a god, as He says (interpretation of the meaning):
those, whom you invoke or call upon instead of Him, own not even a qitmeer (the thin
membrane over a date-stone). If you invoke (or call upon) them, they hear not your call,
and if (in case) they were to hear, they could not grant it (your request) to you. And on
the Day of Resurrection, they will disown your worshipping them. And none can inform you
(O Muhammad), like Him Who is the All-Knower (of everything). [Faatir 35:13-14].
In this aayah, Allaah explains that He is the only One Who deserves to
be called upon, because He, and no one else, is the Sovereign who is directing everything.
Those things that are worshipped cannot hear duaas, let alone respond to the
one who invokes them, and even if they were able to hear, they cannot respond, because
they do not have the power to either benefit or harm.
The mushrik Arabs whom the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah
be upon him) was sent to call were disbelievers because of this shirk. They would call
upon Allaah sincerely at times of difficulty, but they became disbelievers at times of
ease and plenty, when they would call on others besides Him. Allaah says (interpretation
of the meanings):
And when they embark on a ship, they invoke Allaah, making
their Faith pure for Him only, but when He brings them safely to land, behold, they give a
share of their worship to others. [al-Ankaboot 29:65]
And when harm touches you upon the sea, those that you call upon
besides Him vanish from you excpet Him (Allaah Alone). But when He brings you safely to
land, you turn away (from Him)
till when you are in the ships and they sail with them
with a favourable wind, and they are glad therein, then comes a stormy wind and the waves
come to them from all sides, and they think that they are encircled therein, they invoke
Allaah, making their Faith pure for Him Alone
The shirk of some people nowadays goes even further than the shirk of
people in the past, because they direct some acts of worship to something other than
Allaah, calling upon them and asking them for help even at times of distress; laa hawla
wa laa quwwata illa Billaah (there is no strength and no help except in Allaah). We
ask Allaah to keep us safe and sound.
To sum up our response to what your friend mentioned: asking the dead
for anything is shirk, and asking the living for anything that no one except Allaah is
able to do, is also shirk. And Allaah knows best.