Quranic Reflection No. 482. Āyat 20:109 – Belief in Intercession

يَوْمَئِذٍ لَّا تَنفَعُ الشَّفَاعَةُ إِلَّا مَنْ أَذِنَ لَهُ الرَّحْمَـٰنُ وَرَضِيَ لَهُ قَوْلًا
Yawma’idhin lā tanfa‘ush-shafā‘atu illā man adhina lahur-Rahmānu waradhiya lahu qawlā
Intercession will not avail that Day except from him whom the All-beneficent allows and approves of his word.
(Sūrat TāHā, No 20, Āyat 109)

This verse is part of a passage that describes the Day of Judgement. It specifies that there will be intercession on that Day only for certain people. Both the one who intercedes and the one who is interceded for, would have to be approved by the Almighty.

Intercession is part of the Shi‘ī Islamic doctrines. It believes that believers will have an additional resort to save them from disgrace on the Day of Reckoning. Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā will allow His chosen ones to interceded for those who are worthy of it but do not have enough deeds to warrant salvation themselves. Intercession would either save them from punishment or raise their ranks above what they would have received.

The word ‘shafā‘ah’ (intercession) is derived from the word ‘shaf‘a’ which means to join one thing to another. A Shāfi‘ (intercessor) is someone who joins to another to provide what that person lacks and thus saves them. In religious terminology it refers to the act of mediation between God and another creature to bring good and drive away evil. It creates a change so that the sinner is no longer deserving of punishment. A Shāfi‘ is not always a person. Imam Ali ‘alayhis-salām says: There is no intercessor like repentance (Bihār, v.6, p.19). Tawassul is linked to shafā‘ah. A person doing ‘tawassul’ seeks the intercession of someone to mediate between them and God.

Many verses of the Quran talk about shafā‘ah. Allah ‘azza wajall rejects some types of shafā‘ah.  Some verses declare intercession to be the right of Allah (swt) only. Other verses mention the permission given to some to intercede for others. Putting all these verses together we can infer that the Quran approves some form of shafā‘ah and rejects some. It belongs only to God and others can do shafā‘ah only if He allows them to. Hadith also mentions shafā‘ah and those who will be given permission to do it. The Prophet (s) said: Three groups make shafā‘ah for sinners before God and their shafā‘ah will be accepted: Prophets (a), scholars of religion, and the martyrs (Bihār, v. 8, p.34).

Those who consider the belief in intercession to be a form of polytheism should understand that polytheism believes in an independent Divine being other than Allah (swt). Know that those doing shafā‘ah for believers are not independent of Allah ‘azza wajall. They have been granted permission by Allah and their power to intercede comes only from Him and goes back to Him. Other forms of mediating have been allowed and are practiced normally. When we ask people to pray for us, we know that Allah has allowed people to request for others from Him. We ask them, knowing that they cannot procure what we want. They can only ask Allah for us, Who Himself will grant it. The Quran also says the Prophet (s) can seek forgiveness for people: Had they, when they wronged themselves, come to you and pleaded to Allah for forgiveness, and the Apostle had pleaded for forgiveness for them, they would have surely found Allah all-clement, all-merciful (Q 4:64).

Shafā‘ah is a gift of God for the believer. It gives hope to those who have done wrong. It helps them have respect and love for the Divinely chosen personalities who have the power to intercede for them. Those who hope for intercession know that they need to be worthy of it. Let this verse serve as a reminder that this privilege exists for those who deserve it.  We need to make ourselves worthy of receiving the shafā‘ah on the Day of Judgement.

Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūnehhttp://en.wikishia.net/view/Shafa