Many people in the Muslim world have been deceived into believing that since the Awliya (friends) of Allah are alive in their graves, they can help us when they are called upon at times of need. They believe that they can literally hear the living’s supplications towards them. However, this is a grave error on their part and goes against the clear textual evidences in the Quran and Sunnah which detail the state of the dead.
One of the most common verses used by those who believe that the Awliya of Allah are alive and can hear and answer their supplications is when Allah Says in the Quran:
And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, “They are dead.” Rather, they are alive, but you perceive [it] not (Quran 2:154)
But such an understanding from this verse has a number of flaws. Firstly, this verse is exclusively talking about those who are martyred in the path of Allah and not the righteous believers in general. Imam Tabari, who wrote one of the earliest and most popular works of tafseer (Quranic explanation), made a brief but beneficial discussion about this verse in his famous tafseer. He pointed towards the types of rewards mentioned in the various hadiths regarding the rewards of a martyr in the afterlife. Then he said, “Allah favored the martyrs with those (rewards) and benefited the believers with news about them. Allah, the Exalted, mentioned information about them that they are blessed with the food of paradise in the Barzakh (life between this world and the next) before their resurrection…it is a virtue which Allah preferred them (martyrs) with and favored them with it alone.”1 So, Allah here is talking to the believers in general about the reward of those who died in His path, thus, attaining martyrdom. Since Allah is exclusively talking about the martyrs in this verse, those who try to extend the meaning of the verse towards the dead righteous believers in general cannot use it as evidence.
Secondly, once it is understood that the verse above is speaking exclusively about the conditions of the martyrs in Barzakh, there is nothing in the texts which speaks about martyrs in the context of a connection between them and the life of this world. For example, there is a hadith in Sahih Muslim that states:
Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: Nobody who enters Paradise will (ever like to) return to this world even if he were offered everything on the surface of the earth (as an inducement) except the martyr who will desire to return to this world and be killed ten times for the sake of the great honor that has been bestowed upon him. (Sahih Muslim Book #020, Hadith #4651)
This hadith makes it clear that the dead have no connection with this life and that the closest thing that a martyr has is a mere desire to return to this life only so he could be killed again. What further proves this point is a hadith mentioned in Tafsir Ibn Khatir on behalf of Imam Ahmad in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
When your brothers were killed in Uhud, Allah placed their souls inside green birds that tend to the rivers of Paradise and eat from its fruits. They then return to golden lamps hanging in the shade of the Throne. When they tasted the delight of their food, drink and dwelling, they said, `We wish that our brothers knew what Allah gave us so that they will not abandon Jihad or warfare.’ Allah said, `I will convey the news for you.’ (Tafsir Ibn Khatir)2
This hadith proves that the dead martyrs are not knowledgeable about the conditions of the people of this life, hence, Allah told them that He Himself will convey the news on their behalf because they are not connected to this life in any way.
Lastly, there are numerous other texts in the Quran and Sunnah which point to the fact that the dead in general have no connection with the life of this world. For example, Allah Says in the Quran:
Indeed, you will not make the dead hear, nor will you make the deaf hear the call when they have turned their backs retreating. (Quran 27:80)
And not equal are the living and the dead. Indeed, Allah causes to hear whom He wills, but you cannot make hear those in the graves. (Quran 35:22)
The above-mentioned verses clearly indicate that the dead cannot hear the living. Abu Bilal Mustafa Al-Kanadi, after mentioning the two verses above, says that Allah “clarifies to His prophet that he cannot make the rejecters of faith hear the message (for they are dead in heart and in spirit) any more than he can make those in their graves hear what is spoken to them!”3
Another example is when Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) constantly emphasize the importance of calling out to Allah alone at all times. For example, Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“Dua (supplication) is worship,” then he recited (the verse): And your Lord says, “Call upon Me; I will respond to you.” Indeed, those who disdain My worship will enter Hell [rendered] contemptible (Quran 40:60) (Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 2895; Ibn Maajah, 3818; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi, 2370)
In the above verse Allah equates making supplications (dua) to Him as worshipping Him. Therefore, making a supplication to a being is the same as worshipping it! This is further proven by the words of the Prophet (peace be upon him) above that supplication is indeed worship. The Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him) is also reported to have said:
“If you ask, then ask of Allah, and if you seek help, then seek the help of Allah.” (Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 2516; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi, 2043.)
The famous website IslamQA made a good point when it said, “It is well known that this is one of the worst ways of going against the message that was brought by Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the other Messengers, and that was revealed in the Books, namely the call to Tawheed (Oneness of Allah) and worshipping Allah alone, and forsaking the worship of all others. It is not acceptable in the religion of Islam, which Allah has chosen as the religion for His slaves, to call upon anyone except Allah, not any Prophet who was sent or any angel who is close to Him. Rather we are to call upon Him alone.”4
In conclusion, there are numerous texts in the Quran and Sunnah which point to the fact that Allah must be called upon alone because supplications are an act of worship. And worship can only be directed to Allah alone without any partners. Also, when trying to understand the text of Quran and Sunnah, it should be understood and interpreted after combining all the verses and hadiths together and not trying to find meanings in individual verses and hadiths by ignoring the rest of the text. Otherwise, anyone could choose particular verses and hadiths and derive various deviant conclusions.
3al-Kanadi, Abu Bilal Mustafa. Mysteries of the Soul Expounded. P. 100.