Is it polytheism to pray turning to a grave and ask for intercession (shafa'ah) from the person buried there?
The truth and goodness are in the middle, and true way. The soul is always inclined to extremism; it wants to wander in the extremes. Excessiveness and negligence are the two opposite poles of the extremism. The former goes forward and upward, the latter goes backwards or downwards.
One of the issues that people go to the extreme is the issue of intercession (shafa'ah). You see some people who show so much and so excessive esteem to the tombs of the beloved slaves of Allah that they act as if the person buried there can forgive them no matter how many sins they commit. You also see some people who, unlike the former group, deny awliya (saints) and think that razing the graves to the ground is the greatest service to Islam. They oppose visiting the graves and regard praying by turning towards the grave as polytheism. Both of these attitudes are extremism and they are far from the spirit of Islam.
Polytheism is the murder of ascribing partners to Allah. What is meant by polytheism is aberration from the belief of oneness and believing in more than one god. After all, that is the most terrible level of polytheism and the form of polytheism that causes deprivation from forgiveness.
There is also hidden polytheism. In that kind of polytheism, Allah is known as one but the causes and means are given so much importance that they possess value in a person's heart as if they are partners of Allah. The debate about intercession takes place relating to that second kind of polytheism.
Here, there is a reality that is overlooked and is necessary to be evaluated well. Allah carries out a lot of his actions through causes. That is a necessity of His holy wisdom. It is He who creates the causes, and it is He who uses them in certain tasks. So, the causes should not be denied; they should not be given more importance than they are, either. One of them is excessiveness and the other is negligence. Both of them are far from the right path.
A man who says, "That tree in my garden gave so much fruit this year", knows that it is Allah who created the tree and the fruit. When we ask them, he expresses it like that. However, he uses the first expression in his speech as a metaphor because he receives the fruit through the tree. A person who says to that man, "You became a polytheist; you ascribed the tree, Allah forbid, as a partner to Allah goes to the extreme.
It is Allah who has mercy on men and gives them food; but he used the tree as a means for His mercy. Similarly, he made the sun a means of enlightening the world. Allah created causes for material sustenance and lights; the fact that He uses some of His favorite slaves as a means for His spiritual grants should be regarded similarly
As it is stated in the reality of "Each good thing is in the hands of Allah.", no one and nothing can have a good thing that He has not given. If our Lord gives a good thing using somebody else as a means, we will see His mercy in that good thing and thank Him. This is a necessity of our belief of oneness.
To be forgiven is also a good thing. It can only be expected from Allah. To be attached to the grave of a prophet or a wali with an excessive love as if all of the good things are in their hands is definitely contrary to the spirit of the oneness of Islam and it is impossible to approve it. However, if a slave, having the consciousness that only Allah can forgive sins, prays by saying, "Oh my Lord! Forgive me for the sake of these people." and visits the grave of those holy people, it will be unjust to regard it as polytheism.
The attitude of those people who do not to regard the circumambulation of the Kaaba built by the hands of Hazrat Ibrahim as polytheism but who oppose visiting the grave of our beloved prophet who was sent as a mercy for the world is not something understandable and logical.
Some people who deny intercession put forward some verses. What is strange, those people do not even wonder "what the scholars, mufassirs (interpreters) say regarding this issue" when they put forward those verses. They draw wrong conclusions by relying on their knowledge of Arabic or by reading only the translation of those verses.
According to a common thought among the Arab polytheists, it would not be right for a person to ask forgiveness from Allah directly. The fetishes had to act as intermediaries. That is, they regarded fetishes as intercessors before Allah. Some of the verses that reject intercession were sent down to eliminate this thought. Here is an example:
"What! (Failing to recognize that Allah is the sole Authority over the universe in need of nothing) have they taken to themselves, apart from Allah, intercessors (whom they suppose capable of intervening for their souls or even in the operation of the universe)? (Chapter az-Zumar, 43)
Some of the verses regarding this issue express the fright of the Day of Judgment and describe the state of the Gathering Place before our Prophet (PBUH) is given the permission of intercession.
An example for verses like that is as follows: "And be fearful of and strive to be guarded against a day when (everybody will be seeking a means to save himself, and when) no soul will pay on behalf of another, nor will any intercession (of the sort common in the world but which does not meet with Allah's permission and approval) be accepted from any of them, nor will compensation be received from them, nor will they be helped." (Chapter al-Baqara, 48)
Many verses express clearly that intercession is true and right. According to those verses, intercession is existent but only with the permission of Allah and for the slaves that Allah approves.
Some of the verses that explain this aspect are as follows: "Besides, no intercession (for the fulfillment of any demand and for the accomplishment of any deed) is of any avail before Him, except that it be made for him (and by him) whom He permits." (Chapter Saba, 23) "How many an angel there is in the heavens (even supposing they would intercede for a human) whose intercession does not avail at all except after Allah has given permission to whomever He wills (to intercede on behalf of whomever He wills) and is pleased with." (Chapter an-Najm, 26).
"On that Day the Spirit and the angels stand in ranks. No one will speak except him whom the All-Merciful allows, and he speaks what is right." (Chapter Naba, 38)
"Who is there that will intercede with Him save by His leave?"(Chapter al-Baqara, 255)
Since those verse express that intercession is true and right clearly, who can oppose to this divine concept and with which authority and relying on what?
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