What is the role of mediators in getting nearness to God?

The word “Wasilah” (means) has a wide range of meanings which include anything or any action that helps get nearer to Almighty God. In view of the fact that the universe has been created on the basis of the intricate system of cause and effect, causes and caused for guidance and perfection of mankind, and just as man’s natural needs are met through material causes, in the same way the divine blessings such as guidance, forgiveness, nearness to God and man’s promotion to higher spiritual positions are based on a particular system and that they are realized through specific causes and means without which it is impossible for man to get those blessings and to attain proximity to God. These means, without which attaining proximity is impossible, have been introduced in the Quranic verses and hadiths.

To answer this question we must first shed some light on the meaning of mediator or means:

When it comes to the meaning of ‘means’ in the holy verse:

“O you who believe! Fear Allah and seek means of nearness to Him” [1]

Allamah Tabatabai explains the term as such:

“The reality of the means of nearness to Allah is to comply with demands of His path with knowledge and worship, pursuit of virtues and fulfillment of recommended acts. It is a sort of joining together, i.e. a spiritual joining which connects the slave with his master; there is no link that connects man with his Lord except the submissiveness of worship and veneration. Therefore, the means of nearness means ensuring the reality of veneration and turning the face of humility and poverty to His direction – therefore, Wasilah (means) in the above verse refers to the link that joins the servant to his Lord.” [2]

Wasilah has a wide range of meanings; it includes any action or anything that brings us nearer to Allah, the most important of which are belief in God and his Prophet, Jihad and acts of worship such as prayers, Zakat (alms), fasting, (Hajj) pilgrimage of the House of God, visiting the relatives, giving alms, openly or secretly, and any good acts…and also the intercession of prophets, Imams and pious servants of God which helps an individual gain nearness to God and which, in its broad sense, is included in Tawassol (invocation). Also, following the Prophet (pbuh) and Imams and walking in their footsteps bring us nearer to our God. Even imploring Allah to swear on the position of the Prophets, Imams and Allah’s saints has such a virtue…” [3]

In a commentary on the aforementioned verse, it has been stated in Tafsir Nomuneh that: Wasilah has a wide range of meanings; it includes any action or anything that brings us nearer to Allah, the most important of which are belief in God and his Prophet, Jihad and acts of worship such as prayers, Zakat (alms), fasting, (Hajj) pilgrimage of the House of God, visiting the relatives, giving alms, openly or secretly, and any good acts…and also the intercession of prophets, Imams and pious servants of God which helps an individual gain nearness to God and which, in its broad sense, is included in Tawassol (invocation). Also, following the Prophet (pbuh) and Imams and walking in their footsteps bring us nearer to our God. Even imploring Allah to swear on the position of the Prophets, Imams and Allah’s saints has such a virtue…” [3]

Therefore according to the Quran, which has ordered the believers to seek means of nearness to God, Wasilah or imploration has one such meaning.

In addition to the aforementioned verse, the Holy Quran says in verse 97 of Surah Yosuf:

Josef’s brothers requested their father (Jacob) to seek divine forgiveness for them and their father fulfilled their request.

Ibrahim’s act of seeking divine forgiveness for his father has also been mentioned in Surah Tawbah of the Quran which indicates the role of Prophets’ prayers in the forgiveness of peoples’ sins. [4]

In many narrations passed to us by Shia and Sunni reporters, we can see the role and significance of imploring Allah’s’ saints for forgiveness.

It is mentioned in Vafa ul-Vafa of Samhudi (a Sunni scholar) that it is permissible to seek the holy Prophet (pbuh)’s intercession and help before and after his birth and also before and after his demise or in the intermediate world and on the Day of Judgment. [5] Thereupon, he has quoted Umar bin Khattab to have said that Adam sought Prophet Muhammad’s mediation, “Adam knew in advance about the creation of Muhammad (pbuh) so he appealed to Almighty God by saying: “O’ Lord, forgive me for Mohammad’s sake” [6].

Also, he relates another hadith from a number of Sunni narrators including Tirmizi and Nesai who said: “A blind man asked the Holy Prophet (pbuh) for a supplication to cure his disease; the Prophet (pbuh) ordered him to pray as such:

“O’ Lord, I ask you for the sake of your Messenger, the Messenger of mercy and forgiveness, oh Mohammad I am turning to you in the presence of God to fulfill my wishes and O’ God, make Mohammad my intercessor.” [7]

Bayhaqi is quoted as having said that during the time of the Second Caliph there was famine for two years in the Arabian Peninsula. Bilal, accompanied by some other companions (sahabah), went to the Holy Prophet’s grave and said: “O’ Prophet Seek rain for your Ummah because they are about to be destroyed [8].” [9]

The question to deal with is: Why do we need a means and a mediator? The answer is that the universe has been created on the basis of cause and effect for man’s guidance, growth and perfection. His needs are fulfilled through material and sometimes non-material causes and means. In fact, mediators or agencies serve as causes or means through whom proximity to Almighty God is gained. Divine blessings such as guidance, forgiveness etc. are sent down upon man by way of a specific order. God is Wise and He has willed that such matters take place through special causes and means. Therefore, it is meaningless to ask why in the material world the Almighty God has created the sun to brighten the earth. Why God has made water a means for quenching our thirst? And why doesn’t God fulfill these needs directly without these means? In the abstract world also, we cannot make such questions as to why Allah (swt) doesn’t bestow His mercy, guidance and proximity upon man without a means and a mediator. Thus, just as a plant cannot grow up without water, soil and light, man is also unable to reach the ultimate blessing without any divine means.

Martyr Mutahhari says:

God’ actions are based on a system and if someone is heedless of it, he is astray and deviated. For this reason, God, the Exalted, has ordered sinners to go to the Prophet’s house and should, in addition to seeking divine forgiveness on their own, implore the Prophet (pbuh) to pray to God to bestow His Mercy upon them. [10]

The Holy Quran says:

“If they (unbelievers) ever do injustice to themselves and come to you (Muhammad) asking for God’s forgiveness and if the Messenger also was to ask God to forgive them, they would certainly find God All-forgiving and All-merciful. [11].” [12]

It is because of fulfilling this divine tradition that so much emphasis has been put in Quranic verses and narrations on seeking means for forgiveness and nearness to God.

Almighty God says:

O you who have believed, fear Allah and seek the means [of nearness] to Him and strive in His cause that you may succeed. [13]

In his discussion about intercession, Allamah Tabatabai says about the role of intercessor as such:

In reality the interceder adds his own recommendation to the plea of the petitioner; in this way the number of pleaders becomes even, and the weak plea of the petitioner is strengthened by the prestige of the intercessor. Had he used his own power, he would not have been able to achieve his goal because his power was weak and insufficient. Intercession is a means which supplements the cause. [14]

It is necessary to make mention of the following points in the closing:

1. Although man’s materialistic needs are met by worldly means, it doesn’t mean that non-material means such as prayers and imploration for help do not play a role in fulfilling our material needs. Divine means are sometimes cause-makers and at times cause-destroyers. That is, sometimes it is the material causes that have an effect but the grounds for achieving these causes are paved by means of supplication and prayers and at times the supplications eliminate the effects of the material causes and make them devoid of any impact. For example, a flaming fire that should burn something does not burn. Anyway, the cause of all causes is Allah and He can put in the spiritual means the same effect as that of a medicine.

2. The concept of intercession the Prophet or Imams or Allah’s saints is to make recourse to the high position of these great people because they are dear and near to God and if their intercession is sought, God will, for their sake, grant His servants the position of proximity. [15]

[1] Al-Maidah: 35
يا ايها الذين آمنوا اتقوا الله و ابتغوا اليه الوسيلة
[2] Allamah Tabatabai, Al-Mizan, Vol.5 p.535
[3] Makarem Shirazi, Tafsir-e Nomouneh, vol.4 pp.364-367
[4] al-Tawbah: 114
[5] Samhudi, Vafa ul-Vafa, vol.3, p.1371
[6] Ibid
[7]اللهم اني اسئلک و اتوجه اليک بنبيک محمد نبي الرحمة، يا محمد اني توجهت بک الي ربي في حاجتي لتقضي لي اللهم شفعه في
Vafa-ul Vafa, vol.2, 1372 (ibid).
[8] يا رسول الله استسق لامتک فانهم قدهلکوا …
al-Tawassol ela haqiqat al-tawassol, p. 329, see Vafa-ul Vafa, vol.2 pp.368 – 369 .
[9] Tafsir Nomouneh, vol.4 , pp. 369 – 368
[10] ولو انهم اذظلموا انفسهم جاؤوک فاستغفروا الله و استغفر لهم الرسول لوجدو الله تواباً رحيماً
[11] al-Nesa: 64
[12] Collection of Shahid Mutahhari’s Works, Vol.1, p. 264
[13] Al-Maidah: 35
[14] Translation of Al-Mizan, Vol.1, pp.239 and 240.
[15] See translation of Al-Mizan, Vol.1 pp.239 and 240; al-Mizan, Vol.1, pp.239 -246

WHAT EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT ISLAM/Imamate (Leadership with Divine Authority)

In the discussion of prophethood, it was proven that it was essential that God, the Wise, should dispatch messengers for the guidance of mankind, should provide them with the laws and commandments so that they could achieve prosperity and perfection; now we say that: Since the life of messenger is not eternal in the world and through his demise it is quite possible that divine commandments which came for the guidance of mankind might have been destroyed.

Therefore, after the prophet there must be someone so that divine commandments without any less or more addition should remain preserved near him; he should make efforts and endeavor in guarding and preservation of those commandments; he should guard the religion and execute the divine commandments, which guarantee the prosperity of mankind. He should look after for the worldly and religious deeds of the people, so that the path of achieving the prosperity and perfection for the human beings remains open and the link between God and the people should not be disconnected; such a person is called an Imam or successor.

The Imam is a protector of the treasure of knowledge of the Prophet; the Imam is the most perfect manifestation of a human being as well as of religion. He is leader of the people; he himself takes a spiritual journey of perfection and prosperity as well as guides others.

3.2. Characteristics of an Imam
A. Infallibility
The Imam too, like a prophet, should be immune from making any mistake or negligence in remembering commandments, their propagation, and execution so that the divine commandments should remain with him without any less or more; and he should not allow the people to deviate from the straight path of honesty in execution of commandments and administration of the society; the main road of perfection−which is not more than one−should not be obstructed.

The Imam should be infallible and immune from the performance of any sin and rebellion. And his deeds should be in compliment with his words, so that his words and values should not lose credit and should not lose his confidence and trust from the people. If he would commit sins, deeds opposite to the religious commandments, he would become as an example for the people and through means of his character would invite them to oppose religious commandments. Thus, the Imam must be infallible i.e. he should act upon all religious commandments and should be decorated with the esoteric essence of the religious commandments.

B. Knowledge of Imam
An Imam must know all divine commandments of the religion. He must be thoroughly knowledgeable with respect to every aspect relevant to his spiritual position and leadership. He should be a learned scholar (a’lim) to possess all religious commandments with him, so that in guidance and administration of the people, he should not be helpless and incompetent; he should be able to keep the straight path of prosperity open.

C. Distinctions and Perfection
Earlier it was proven that an Imam acts upon all religious commandments and undertakes his journey in the context of religion. Therefore, he should be the most superior and most perfect human being. He journeys upon the straight path of religion and accompanies others with him and guides them. An Imam is a total manifestation of the religion, and in his blessed existence all realities and divine learning could be witnessed.

D. Miracles
It could be utilized from history and narrations that the infallible Imams (a.s.) like Prophets had miracles and were capable of performing acts which were not possible by ordinary human beings. Occasionally the circumstances required that proof of their position of infallibility and imamate depended upon their performance of a miracle.

Whoever would refer to the books of narrations, their excellent virtues, history, and with unprejudiced intellect should review the abundance of miracles that have been attributed to the Infallible Imams (a.s.) and would attain the certainty that overall they had possessed miracles and outstanding works. Of course it is not our intent that all miracles that have been related to the Infallible Imams (a.s.) are true and correct; instead perhaps among them some false and unknown matters might have been existed.

E. Imam’s Identification
An Imam could be identified through two paths:

First Path

The Prophet or the previous Imam should introduce him and appoint him as his successor and leader of the people. If he is not introduced by God, Prophet and previous Imam, the people by themselves could not identify the Imam, and could appoint him as their leader for their governmental affairs; because it was proven earlier that an Imam and leader of the people should be infallible, most distinguished and learned scholar of the community.

Other than God no one else has knowledge about the position of his infallibility. Ordinary people are not in a position to diagnose the infallible from the non-infallible. Regarding perfection of his holy essence and divine knowledge no one knows except God and Prophet.

Second Path

In order to prove his Imamate, if an Imam has performed an outstanding act or miracle, his imamate would be proven because had his claim been a lie, God would not have certified his credibility through the means of a miracle.

Difference between an Imam and Prophet
Imam and Prophet have differences between them from the following point of views:


A Prophet is the founder of a religion and is a bringer of the religious commandments while an Imam is the guardian of commandments and is responsible for their execution.


A Prophet receives the religious laws and commandments through the means of revelation and has direct communication with God; but an Imam is not a receiver, i.e. the laws and commandments are not revealed upon him instead he receives them from the Prophet and has a vital role in the guidance, and admonishment of prophetic knowledge.

3.3. Appointment of a Successor and Number of Imams (a.s.)
Whoever in the society possesses a position and rank and is responsible for its ruling affairs, if he wants temporarily not to go to work, without any doubt, he appoints a successor for himself and assigns responsibility of ruling affairs of the society upon him. He would never be ready to leave that congregation or community without assigning a supervisor or manager. The Holy Prophet (S) of Islam too paid a serious attention about this task and assigned plenty of emphasis regarding this matter.

Every village or city that was conquered at the hands of Muslims, he immediately appointed a ruler and governor for it. When he dispatched soldiers to the war-front, he assigned a commander for them and also he occasionally assigned his replacement in case of his martyrdom or sickness. Whenever he journeyed or participated in a war, he appointed his successor and assigned the ruling affairs of the community in Medina to him.

The Holy Prophet (S) was the ruler of the Muslims, he was not negligent about this matter that after his demise the Muslim society requires an infallible ruler, who through means of execution of divine laws and commandments should administer them and should make efforts and endeavors towards the advancement of his cherished objective. The Holy Prophet (S) knew well that Islamic nation could not remain as a living, powerful, and Islamic nation without an infallible ruler.

Due to this reason it could be said with absolute certainty that: The Holy Prophet (S) with all that compassion that that he had for overall discipline and order of the Islamic community and survival of Islam; it was impossible that he would leave the world without appointing a successor or leader for ruling affairs of the young Islamic nation. Apart from that it was proven earlier that an Imam should be appointed through God and Prophet because except God and His Prophet, no one else could testify to his infallibility.

Therefore it is absolute duty of the Prophet to introduce an infallible Imam to the people and if he has acted negligently in this regards, he has left the matter of prophethood and propagation of religion as incomplete. It is because of this reason that we are certain that the Holy Prophet (S) has declared his successor and Imam of the Muslims.

The Holy Prophet (S) not only appointed the successor immediately after him, instead he also introduced the forthcoming Imams after him. In plenty of traditions that have reached to us through the Holy Prophet (S) the numbers of the Imams have been declared as twelve. The Holy Prophet (S) said: “There would come twelve caliphs after

me and all of them would belong to Qureshite. The first person of them would be Ali (a.s.) and last one would be the promised Mahdi (a.s.). And in some of narrations the names of all twelve persons have been mentioned.”1

Guarding the Creed

Imam Mahdi

Imam Mahdi

The Shiite creed, right from its expansion at the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and Imams (a.s.) was subject to attack by the enemies and more so during the time of occultation. This is because by the twelfth Imam’s absence, they find the arena empty and thus utilise this opportunity by misguiding and deviating the people.

Those who truly and sincerely await the Imam of the age (a.t.f.s.) are responsible for defending the creed and ideal of Imam and answering the satanic doubts and inspirations of the enemies with all their might. Imam Hadi (a.s.) says:

“If during the absence of your Qaem, there remains no scholars who invite thepeople towards him and defend his religion with divine proofs and arguments and free Allah’s helpless slaves from the trap of Satan and the enemies…, none would remain except those who turn their backs to Allah’s religion and become apostates.”1

  • 1. Tafsir al-Askari (a.s.) / 345.