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Al-Bazzaar (4922) narrated via Usaamah ibn Zayd al-Laythi, from Abaan ibn Saalih, from Mujaahid, from Ibn ‘Abbaas, in a marfoo‘ report: “Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, has angels on earth other than the recording angels who write down how many leaves fall from the trees. If one of you gets lost in the wilderness, let him call out, ‘Help me, O slaves of Allah.’”
This hadith is not reliable. For a detailed look into the weakness of this hadith and others that are similar in meaning to it, see:
It is important to understand that just because the narrators in a chain of hadith are reliable does not mean that the hadith itself is authentic. There are many factors that are considered before a hadith is judged to be authentic or not. Those who are familiar with sciences of hadith are well aware of this point. Many of those who rely on this hadith and others that are similar in meaning often point to the fact that the men in its chain are all reliable.
What is more likely to be the case with this hadeeth – if we determine that it is acceptable – is that it is the words of Ibn ‘Abbaas, and not the words of the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him).
Al-Bayhaqi said: This is mawqoof (and its isnaad ends with) Ibn ‘Abbaas, and it has been applied by some righteous people, and they found it to be true from experience.
End quote from al-Adaab, p. 269
Among those who acted upon this hadeeth was Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal.
‘Abdullah the son of Imam Ahmad said: I heard my father say: I did Hajj five times, twice riding and three times walking, or twice walking and three times riding. I lost my way during one Hajj and I was walking, so I began to call out: O slaves of Allah, show me the way. I kept doing that until I found the road.
End quote from Masaa’il al-Imam Ahmad Riwaayat Ibnihi ‘Abdullah (p. 245). See also: Tareekh Dimashqby Ibn ‘Asaakir (5/298).
However, their acting on this hadith does not prove the authenticity of the hadith in any way because the authentication of the texts is based on established conditions according to the consensus of the scholars. Also, religious matters are not established simply because of experience. This was clearly pointed out by the great scholar Imam Shawkaani (source).
Additionally, those scholars who were acting on this hadith were not intending through it to calling out to dead humans. Rather, they were acting on the wording of the hadith which specifically refers to alive angels in a particular situation as will be explained below.
One of the important matters to which attention must be paid is that the guideline on the kind of seeking help that constitutes shirk (polytheism) is “asking of anyone other than Allah for that which no one can do except Allah.”
As for seeking help from other created beings in matters that they are able to do, that has nothing to do with shirk at all.
The report mentioned states that there are type of angels, who are alive, in the sense of a life that is natural and appropriate for them. Allah has put them on earth to help those who are lost and guide them to the correct route, so whoever asks them for help is asking for help from a created being regarding something that he is able to do, and Allah has created him for this role.
There is a great difference between this and asking a created being who is dead or absent to heal his sick loved one, or to bless him with a child, or to make childbirth easy for his wife, or to have mercy on him and forgive him, and other things that no one can do except Allah.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said:
Istighaathah means seeking ghawth (help) which is removal of hardship. A created being may be asked for help with regard to matters that he is able to help with, as Allah, may He be exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning):
“but if they seek your help in religion, it is your duty to help them”
“The man of his (own) party asked him for help against his foe”
“Help you one another in Al-Birr and At-Taqwa (virtue, righteousness and piety)”
But with regard to that which no one can do except Allah, it should only be sought from Allah. End quote from Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa (1/103).
And he said:
As for that which no one can do except Allah, may He be exalted, it is not permissible to seek it from anyone except Allah, may He be glorified; it should not be sought from the angels or the Prophets or anyone else, and it is not permissible to say to anyone other than Allah “Forgive me” or “Give us rain” or “Grant us victory over the disbelieving people” or “Guide our hearts” and so on. … As for that which humans are able to do, that does not come under this heading.
End quote from Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa (1/329)
And he said:
The Sunnah is that the living person may be asked to offer du‘aa’ (supplication), just as he may be asked for anything else that he is able to do. As for created beings who are absent or dead, they are not to be asked for anything.
End quote from Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa (1/344)
And he said:
Things that no one is able to do except Allah are not to be sought from anyone else, such as sending down rain, causing crops to grow, relief of distress, guidance away from the wrong paths, and forgiveness of sins. No one in creation is able to do these things; no one is able to do them except Allah.
End quote from Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa (1/370)
We have quoted a great deal from Shaykh al-Islam about this point because there is a great deal of confusion about it among those who follow whims and desires and innovations (bid‘ah), who seek to confuse others also.
Shaykh Saalih Aal ash-Shaykh said: The hadeeth does not support the claim of the followers of falsehood, that one may ask of the dead and others. Rather it clearly states that those who are addressed by the one who has lost his way are the angels, who can hear what he says to them and are able to respond by their Lord’s leave, because they are alive and have been given the ability to help the one who is lost find his way. They are the ones who are addressed as slaves of Allah; they are alive and can hear, and can respond by doing what their Lord enables them to do, which is to help the one who is lost in the wilderness find his way. Whoever quotes these reports as meaning that one may call upon a specific person by name is telling lies against the Messenger of Allah, and he has not paid attention to and contemplated the words of the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him), and that is characteristic of those who follow whims and desires.
Once this is clear, we may say that this report contains words that may be said and one may be lenient concerning it, despite the fact that it is da‘eef (weak), because it is in accordance with the basic teachings of Islam and is not contrary to the texts of the Qur’an and Prophetic hadeeths. Moreover, it is specific to a situation as mentioned in the report, because this is one of the matters concerning which it is not permissible to make analogy, as beliefs are based on tawqeef [i.e., they can only be known through divine Revelation and sound texts of hadeeth, with no room for ijtihad]. This is what we understand. (p. 56)
With regard to that which no one can do except Allah, and that which is unique to His Lordship, such as giving life, causing death, and granting provision… All of that is not to be sought from anyone except Him, may He be glorified. Whoever seeks help from anyone other than Allah with regard to such matters has committed shirk (association of others with Allah).
With regard to that which created beings are able to do, there is nothing wrong with asking for it from those who are able to do it, or seeking their help with regard to it, subject to two conditions: that the one whose help is sought is alive and present, and that he is able to do that thing.
Further, Shaykh al-Albaani discussed this hadeeth in detail in as-Silsilah ad-Da‘eefah, where he (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
In addition to the fact that this hadeeth is da‘eef (weak), there is nothing in the text to suggest that it is permissible to seek the help of the dead, such as the awliya’ (“saints”; close friends of Allah) and the righteous, because it clearly indicates that what is meant by the slaves of Allah here is some creation other than human beings.
This is based on the fact that in the first hadeeth he says: “for Allah has angels present on earth who will bring it back to you,” and in this hadeeth he says: “Allah has slaves whom we do not see.”
This description can only apply to the angels or the jinn, because they are the ones who we do not usually see. … So it is not permissible to include with them Muslims among the jinn or humans whom they call “men of the unseen,” such as the awliya’ and the righteous, whether they are alive or dead. Seeking help from them and seeking their aid is blatant shirk, because they cannot hear the supplication, and even if they could hear it, they would not be able to respond and fulfill the request.
This is clearly stated in many verses, including the passage in which Allah, may He be blessed and exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning):
“And those, whom you invoke or call upon instead of Him, own not even a Qitmeer (the thin membrane over the date stone).
If you invoke (or call upon) them, they hear not your call, and if (in case) they were to hear, they could not grant it (your request) to you. And on the Day of Resurrection, they will disown your worshipping them. And none can inform you (O Muhammad SAW) like Him Who is the All-Knower (of each and everything)”
End quote from Silsilat al-Ahaadeeth ad-Da‘eefah wa’l-Mawdoo‘ah (656).