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The Meaning of Ibaadah
Worship ( العبادة) is defined as:
A comprehensive term that incorporates everything that Allaah loves and is pleased with from the statements and actions, both inward and outward.
Thus, worship is of many different types, and they are mentioned in the Qur'an. And when something is declared to be worship, then it is not permissible for it to be directed to other than Allaah, and such worship occurs either in the heart, upon the tongue or through the limbs, all the forms and types of worship fall into any of these three categories.
Deficient Hanafi Definitions
In the Hanafi works we see many definitions of ( العبادة) - (many of which contain deficiencies) - and from the contemporary ones (as occurs al-Tibyaan of Abd al-Salam al-Rustumi, p.80) is:
نهاية التذلل لنهاية تعظيم الغير بالإختيار
The extremity of humility in ending the veneration of others wilfully, out of choice.
Al-Rustumi (p. 81) also quotes an interesting definition found in other Hanafi works of the past, which is:
عبارة عن الإعتقاد والشعور بأن للمعبود سلطة غيبية في العلم والتصرف فوق الأسباب يقدر بها على النفع والضر. فكل دعاء وثناء وتعظيم ينشأ من هذه الإعتقاد فهو عبادة
An expression of the belief and perception that the diety has an unseen authority (control, power) in knowledge and control (of the affairs) above the (created) ways and means (asbaab) through which He has power over benefit and harm [above and over the ways and means]. So every invocation (du'a), praise (thanaa) and veneration (ta'dheem) that emanates from this belief is considered ibaadah (worship).
And upon which he comments by saying:
This definition brings together all the individual instances of worship such as prayer, zakah, fasting, Hajj, remembrance, making oath, praise, supplication (du'a) and worship that consists of speech, bodily actions and the disposal of wealth - all of them together. So everyone who worships and believes that the deity has complete knowledge of him in all situations and has complete power over him in every situation, then if he is worshipping Allaah, then this is the worship of Allaah. And if he is worshipping other than Allaah with this belief, then it is Shirk, and worship of other than Allaah.
Note that these two affairs are binding, namely, a) belief in the power and authority of something or someone and b) invoking them for acquiring benefit or repulsion of harm. No one invokes another unless he actually believes that they hold power and authority over the thing being invoked for. This is how Allaah argues against those who worship others with du'a (invocation) in the Qur'an as is clear as the daylight sun, and this indicates the deficiency in the above definition which tries to separate between belief and action. Thus, whoever tried to separate between this (belief that only Allaah has power over benefit and harm) and that (invoking only Allaah alone and none other), and claimed one is not binding from the other and that they are not inextricably linked, then he is contending with the hujjah of the Qur'an against those who worship others besides Allaah. In other words, whoever claims that "I invoke others besides Allaah without believing that they have power or control over anything," then he has opposed the hujjah of Allaah against everyone who invoked other than Allaah since the belief that only Allaah has power and control over benefit and harm means that only Allaah should therefore be invoked directly. The entire message of the Qur'an in affirmation of Tawhid is that the affirmation of Rububiyyah makes actualization of Allaah's Uluhiyyah in belief, word and deed absolutely binding. This will be elaborated upon a little further below and the above definition, despite its deficiency, is quite helpful for our purpose.
Du'a (Invocation) is Worship
From its proofs are the saying of Allaah:
فَادْعُوا اللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدِّينَ
So, call you (O Muhammad and the believers) upon (or invoke) Allah, making (your) worship pure for Him (Alone)... (Ghafir 40:14)
Ibn Katheer commented:
أي فأخلصوا لله وحده العبادة والدعاء وخالفوا المشركين في مسلكهم ومذهبهم
Meaning, make your worship and your invocation purely and sincerely for Allaah alone, and oppose the pagans in their way and their religion.
And the pagans invoke others besides Allaah, hoping for their intercession or seeking them as a means of approach to Allaah, and Allaah refuted this in the Qur'an, and ordered that only He be invoked.
And also the saying of Allaah:
ادْعُواْ رَبَّكُمْ تَضَرُّعًا وَخُفْيَةً
Invoke your Lord with humility and in secret... (Al-A'raf 7:55)
And also the saying of Allaah:
وَأَنَّ الْمَسَاجِدَ لِلَّهِ فَلَا تَدْعُوا مَعَ اللَّهِ أَحَدًا
And the mosques are for Allah (Alone), so invoke not anyone along with Allah. (Al-Jinn 72:18)
Ibn Katheer comments:
يقول تعالى آمرا عباده أن يوحدوه في محال عبادته ولا يدعى معه أحد
The Most High says, commanding His slaves that they single Him out in arena of His worship and that none is invoked alongside Him...
And Ibn Jareer at-Tabari comments:
ولا تشركوا به فيها شيئا , ولكن أفردوا له التوحيد , وأخلصوا له العبادة
...[meaning], and do not associate anyone as a partner to Him therein, but rather single Him out with Tawhid (Pure Monotheism) and make worship purely and sincerely for Him (alone)...
And also the saying of Allaah:
فَلَا تَدْعُ مَعَ اللَّهِ إِلَهًا آخَرَ فَتَكُونَ مِنَ الْمُعَذَّبِينَ
So invoke not with Allah another ilah (god, deity) lest you be among those who receive punishment. (Ash-Shu'ara 26:213)
And also the saying of Allaah:
وَمَنْ أَضَلُّ مِمَّن يَدْعُو مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ مَن لَّا يَسْتَجِيبُ لَهُ إِلَى يَومِ الْقِيَامَةِ وَهُمْ عَن دُعَائِهِمْ غَافِلُونَ وَإِذَا حُشِرَ النَّاسُ كَانُوا لَهُمْ أَعْدَاء وَكَانُوا بِعِبَادَتِهِمْ كَافِرِينَ
And who is more astray than one who calls (invokes) besides Allah, such as will not answer him till the Day of Resurrection, and who are (even) unaware of their calls (invocations) to them? And when mankind are gathered (on the Day of Resurrection), they (false deities) will become enemies for them and will deny their worshipping. (Al-Ahqaf 46:6)
And there are many similar verses in this regard, through which it is firmly established that du'a (invocation) is worship and thus is not to be directed except to Allaah alone. This matter is also well established from the early Hanafi scholars.
Clarification: Calling Upon Someone In A Matter In Which They Have Ability
Before proceeding, we should clarify that all of the above verses are in reference to supplication (du'a) in such matters that only Allaah alone has the power over and thus whoever invoked others besides Allaah for that in which only Allaah has power over, then he has committed shirk (associationism) and kufr (disbelief), irrespective of whether the one being called upon is living or dead. As for invoking a living person for that in which he is actually capable, such as saying, "O so and so, feed me", or saying, "O so and so, give me drink", or saying, "O so and so, help me to carry these goods" and so on, from those things that the people have ability and power over, then there is no harm in this, and this is not considered the seeking of aid and support that is forbidden.
But whoever called upon one who is dead, or who is absent (i.e. not present there and then) with the likes of these requests (food, drink, assistance and so on), then he has committed shirk (associationism), because the dead and the absent are not able to provide the likes of these affairs, and a person would not have called upon them for these things except due to his belief that they are able to provide these things whilst being absent, and if he had not believed this, he would not have called upon them, rather he would have called upon Allaah alone.
Ahmed Riza Khan Barelwi: Oppose Allaah and His Messenger and Invoke the Prophets and the Righteous Dead with du'a (Invocation)
This is common in the works of the Barelwi, because the Barelwi folk-religion is founded upon veneration of the saints, the dead and righteous figures, upon the belief that they will solicit and win their intercession if they invoke them and venerate them, coupled with the belief that there is no way to salvation and reaching Allaah except through these intermediaries who are in effect the gateways to salvation to them. This is the most evil suspicion about Allaah, in that no-one can approach Him directly and must work through intermediaries if he hopes to ever achieve salvation. To the right is a book called "Twenty Matters that Distinguis the Sunni Creed," and within it Ahmed Riza Barelwi is outlining twenty matters that ought to characterize the Sunni creed. It is only a short treatise consisting of no more than five or six pages and we are interested in point number eleven where the Barelwi states:
Seeking aid (istimdaad) and assistance (isti'aanah) from the Prophets (upon them be prayers and salutations) and the Awliyaa (may their secrets be sanctified) and invoking them (by nidaa) at the time of need in order to make tawassul to them and to solicit help, [by saying] "O Messenger of Allaah", "O Alee", "O Shaykh Abd al-Qadir al-Jeelaanee", or making them intermediaries for the divine emanation is a truth necessary to know and it is permissible.
There is no ambiguity in the fact that this opposes the Qur'an, the Sunnah, the way of the Companions and likewise that of Abu Hanifah and his students and is tantamount to the Shirk that Allaah prohibited and condemned others for. As for their arguments that:
We believe only Allaah has power and control and we explicitly deny all power and control for those whom we invoke and call upon. How can this be Shirk?
And the answer to them is the answer of the Qur'an, which is that if you truly believed only Allaah has power and control, you would have invoked him directly and Him alone. But the fact that you invoke others in times of need, aid and assistance, in that in which only Allaah has control and power means only one of a number of things: a) you are dispossessed of intellect, as Allaah says about those who invoke others besides Allaah whilst affirming only Allaah has power over benefit and harm (فَأَنَّى يُؤْفَكُونَ), "How then are they deluded?" (29:61), and (فَأَنَّى تُسْحَرُونَ) "How then are you bewitched?" (23:89) and (بَلْ أَكْثَرُهُمْ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ), "But most of them do not understand!" (29:63) or b) you only invoked those others out of a firm belief and conviction you held regarding them that they have something of power and control - and the Qur'an falsifies this assumption, and the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) explicitly denied having any power and control over benefit and harm, so what about those less than him, or c) your aim in invoking them is to solicit their intercession, and this is a separate matter requiring a separate discussion elsewhere.
Finally, had what the Barelwi asserts been the truth, then it would have reached us through overwhelming, large-scale transmission (tawaatur) from the Companions and Taabi'een, and from those after them, that the Muslims used to invoke Abu Bakr (radiallaahu anhu), the greatest of the awliyaa of Allaah in this Ummah, and likewise that they used to invoke Umar (radiallaahu anhu) for isti'aanah and istimdaad and so on.
Allah and His Messenger invite to singling out Allaah with all worship, from the greatest of which is invocation (du'a) and which receives a great deal of attention in the Qur'an. The pagans of old were criticized because they did not act upon the requirements of their belief that only Allah is the creator, provider, sustainer and so on. Rather, they invoked others besides Allaah, even if they invoked only Allaah in times of calamity and hardship. So they opposed reason, common sense and revelation, by not acting upon the necessities that the firm belief in Allaah's ruboobiyyah required from them to single out Allaah with du'a (invocation) and to solicit aid and rescue in that in which only Allaah has power and control over, naturally, from Allaah alone. The Barelwi folk-religion is founded upon the opposite of this, and it is from the core doctrines and "distinguishing principles" for it to be believed that invoking others for isti'aanah and istimdaad with the du'a of need (du'a al-mas'alah) is a binding truth, necessary to know and permissible to implement. The Hindus of India had been upon this for centuries and centuries with respect to their ancestors for they are ancestor worshippers who seek aid, deliverance and support by venerating their dead ancestors and holding festivals and celebrations around their tombs and mausoleums.
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