Lahu da‘watul-haqqi walladhīna yad‘ūna min dūnihi lā yastajībūna lahum bishay’in illā kabāsiti kaffayhi ilāl-mā’i liyabluga fāhu wamā huwa bibālighih
[Only] to Him belongs the true invocation, and those whom they invoke besides Him do not answer them in any way —like someone who stretches his hands towards water that it should reach his mouth but it does not reach it.
(Sūratur Ra‘d, No.13, Āyat 14)
The word da‘wah or du‘ā means calling attention towards one who calls. It refers to the act of calling while ijābah is the act of answering. The aim is the fulfillment of a need or a wish on behalf of the caller. There is a hidden meaning in the word du‘āthat the one being called is able to turn his attention towards the caller if he wishes and must also possess the power and ability to answer the caller and fulfill his need. Calling one who has no awareness and does not have the ability to pay attention or fulfill a need is not a true supplication even if it may apparently seem so.
The word haqq in the verse above is a description of the Du‘ā done to Allah ‘azza wa-jall. True and real supplication belongs only to Allah. Only He can be called upon for He can give attention and fulfill needs. Any supplication to other than Him is false and useless. Allah hears while others do not. He has the power and control over things which others do not. He is near, has mercy, is self-sufficient, etc. – all these and other qualities that others do not possess. Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali (a) says to his son Imam al-Hasan (a): Know that the One in Whose hands are the treasurers of the kingdom of this world and the Hereafter has allowed you to supplicate (Nahjul Balāgha, Letter 31). Thus calling others is a misplaced action, an illusion that does not satisfy any need.
The verse demonstrates a beautiful similitude of a misguided supplication as that of a person who is thirsty and wants to drink water. To fulfill his need he stretches his hand to water that he imagines to be close. It does not reach his mouth and he remains thirsty. This is an example of a misguided action. If a person sits beside a well but only stretches out his hand to the well and then lifts his hand to his mouth, is he is able to quench his thirst? How can he get water into his mouth without dipping his hands into the actual water? Imaginary dipping is not able to get him water.
To actually get water into the mouth one has to get close to actual water, dip into that water, and then lift it to the mouth. Without that the action of lifting the hands to the mouth is just an apparent imitation of an action that could bring fulfillment but does not because it is misplaced. Whoever calls upon other than Allahsubhānahu wata‘ālā performs such an apparent imitation of an action which should bring fulfillment but does not. This is because it calls upon those who have no power or ability of their own and cannot fulfill any need of the supplicant. The believers only call upon Allah for all their needs even against those punishments that are already decreed. Imam al-Kāzim (a) said: You are advised to supplicate, for verily Du‘ā is [only done to] Allah; and seeking from Allah repels calamity which may have been destined and decreed to be executed. So if Allah is asked to avert a calamity, He averts it (Al-Kāfī, v. 2, p. 470).
Let this verse remind you of the need to supplicate only to Allah. True supplication belongs only to Him and that is the only way to bring fulfillment of needs. All other forms of supplication are futile.
Sources: ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed), Tafsīr-e Namūneh