Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:47-48)
By: Mohammad Sobhanie
Intercession in the Light of Quran
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ اذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتِيَ الَّتِي أَنْعَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَأَنِّي فَضَّلْتُكُمْ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ ﴿٤٧﴾ وَاتَّقُوا يَوْمًا لَّا تَجْزِي نَفْسٌ عَن نَّفْسٍ شَيْئًا وَلَا يُقْبَلُ مِنْهَا شَفَاعَةٌ وَلَا يُؤْخَذُ مِنْهَا عَدْلٌ وَلَا هُمْ يُنصَرُونَ ﴿٤٨﴾
Translation: O Children of Israel, remember My blessing which I bestowed upon you, and that I gave you a preference over all the nations (of your time). Beware of the day when no soul will compensate for another (soul), neither any intercession shall be accepted from it, nor any ransom shall be received from it, nor will they be helped.
Commentary: The Children of Israel believed that they were the beloved sons of God and His chosen nation. Thus, they thought that they would benefit from the intercession of divine messengers from the lineage of Prophet Yaqub (Jacob), and would only spend a limited number of days in Hell in the worst-case scenario. After that, Paradise would be exclusively theirs to enjoy.
The Quran refutes the aforementioned belief and declares that every soul will be judged solely based on the merit of its faith and deeds. Neither any intercession shall be accepted from any other soul, nor can the soul in question be acquitted for any amount of ransom.
Obviously, the verse under discussion rejects intercession; however, it is not clear as to whether intercession as a general concept is dismissed, or the specific type of intercession that the Children of Israel believed in. Before forming an opinion, an answer to this question requires examining all verses of the Quran which discuss intercession.
Intercession in the Quran: Intercession is mentioned in about thirty verses of the Quran. These verses are classified into three broad categories. The first category rejects the concept of intercession. An example is:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَنفِقُوا مِمَّا رَزَقْنَاكُم مِّن قَبْلِ أَن يَأْتِيَ يَوْمٌ لَّا بَيْعٌ فِيهِ وَلَا خُلَّةٌ وَلَا شَفَاعَةٌ ۗ وَالْكَافِرُونَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ ﴿٢٥٤﴾
O you who have faith! Spend out of what We have provided you before the coming of the day on which there will be no bargaining, no friendship and no intercession. And the faithless [those who do not spend in charity]—they are the unjust
This verse clearly asserts that there is: 1) no bargaining 2) no friendship and 3) no intercession on the Day of Judgment. However, the subsequent verse suggests the existence of intercessors who can intercede with God’s permission:
مَن ذَا الَّذِي يَشْفَعُ عِندَهُ إِلَّا بِإِذْنِهِ ۚ ….. ﴿٢٥٥﴾
“Who is it that may intercede with Him except with His permission?”
Therefore “No intercession” followed by, “who could intercede” perhaps negates unjustified intercession, or a type of intercession which Allah (SWT) has prohibited.
The second category states that the intercession entirely belongs to Allah (SWT):
قُل لِّلَّـهِ الشَّفَاعَةُ جَمِيعًا ۖ لَّهُ مُلْكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۖ ثُمَّ إِلَيْهِ تُرْجَعُونَ ﴿٤٤﴾
Say, ‘Intercession is entirely in the hands of God. To Him belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth; then you will be brought back to Him.’
Idolaters believed in the intercession of idols. The second category repudiates idolaters’ thoughts and asserts that intercession rests completely with Allah (SWT). He is the owner of sovereignty and He will grant the position of intercession to whom He pleases. This is like everything in the universe.
The third category of verses accepts the intercession of other than God in the Divine Court with terms and conditions. Amongst them are intercession would be with the command and permission of Allah (SWT), and those whom God approves will benefit intercession:
وَلَا يَشْفَعُونَ إِلَّا لِمَنِ ارْتَضَىٰ …. ﴿٢٨﴾
And they (angels) do not intercede except for him whom He approves;
This verse does not allude as how a sinner could win the stamp of His Lord approval. Quran commentators suggested perhaps God should be pleased from the principle of belief (religion), and approve the efforts that one has exerted to live according to those principles, although he or she may carry the burden of sin on the Day of Judgment. Such a person is worthy of receiving divine forgiveness.
The following narrative brings a proper understanding of the aforementioned verse into one’s mind. Imam Sadeq (AS), on his death bed, called his extended family to his bedside, looked into their eyes and said:
قَالَ الصَّادِقُ ع إِنَ شَفَاعَتَنَا لَا تَنَالُ مُسْتَخِفّاً بِالصَّلَاةِ.
Our intercession will not benefit those who take their prescribed daily prayer lightly.
Daily prayer is a pillar of the religion and, for sure, God will not be pleased with those who take His pillar of religion lightly.
The Quran makes it clear that intercession does not benefit unjust people [Arabic: (لِلظَّالِمِينَ)] and criminals [Arabic:( الْمُجْرِمِينَ)]. Those who do not refrain from major sins or persistently commit minor sins should be aware that they might fall into this category of unjust and criminal people. In that case, intercession will not avail them in the Hereafter.
A True Essence of Intercession: In the universe that we live in, Allah (SWT) sends His divine blessings and forgiveness in many ways; amongst them are the invocation of noble angels and the Prophet’s prayer (SAW), see Ghafir 40:7 and An-Nisa 4:64. For easy reading of this commentary, these verses are provided at the end.
Likewise, it is feasible that Allah (SWT) forgives those who deserve His mercy by intercession in the Hereafter, and the Quran supports the principle of intercession with Allah’s permission under His terms and conditions.
Obviously, Allah is absolute sovereign, and He can forgive without anyone’s prayer. However, the will of Allah is to command a group of His noble and dear servants to intercede for those whom deserve His divine forgiveness. Perhaps, Allah (SWT) wants to acknowledge and respect His elite servants further with the acceptance of their prayers on the Day of Judgment.
This concept of intercession existed since the time of Prophet (SAW) and many narratives have been reported. One of the companions of the Prophet, named Sawad bin Qarib [Arabic: (سواد بن قارب)], came to the Prophet reciting the following poem and asked for his intercession:
و کن لی شفیعا یوم لا ذو شفاعه – بمغن فتیلا عن سواد بن قارب
O dear Prophet, be my intercessor on the Day of Judgment, the day that other’s intercession will not avail Sawad bin Qarib.
Conclusions: The Children of Israel believed that since they were descendants of Prophet Yaqub (AS), their forefathers would be able to intercede with God for them under any circumstance. However, the Quran rebukes their understanding and declares that intercession will only be with His permission and for only those whom He is pleased with their principle of belief (religion), and the level of efforts that one has exerted upon himself to live according to those principles.
Verses of the Quran in the text:
الَّذِينَ يَحْمِلُونَ الْعَرْشَ وَمَنْ حَوْلَهُ يُسَبِّحُونَ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّهِمْ وَيُؤْمِنُونَ بِهِ وَيَسْتَغْفِرُونَ لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا رَبَّنَا وَسِعْتَ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ رَّحْمَةً وَعِلْمًا فَاغْفِرْ لِلَّذِينَ تَابُوا وَاتَّبَعُوا سَبِيلَكَ وَقِهِمْ عَذَابَ الْجَحِيمِ ﴿٧﴾
Those who bear the Throne, and those who are around it, celebrate the praise of their Lord and have faith in Him, and they plead for forgiveness for the faithful: ‘Our Lord! You embrace all things in mercy and knowledge. So forgive those who repent and follow Your way and save them from the punishment of hell.
وَصَلِّ عَلَيْهِمْ ۖ إِنَّ صَلَاتَكَ سَكَنٌ لَّهُمْ ۗ ….. ﴿١٠٣﴾…..
and pray for them. Indeed your prayer is a comfort to them.
وَأَنذِرْهُمْ يَوْمَ الْآزِفَةِ إِذِ الْقُلُوبُ لَدَى الْحَنَاجِرِ كَاظِمِينَ ۚ مَا لِلظَّالِمِينَ مِنْ حَمِيمٍ وَلَا شَفِيعٍ يُطَاعُ ﴿١٨﴾
Warn them of the Approaching Day, when the hearts will be at the throats, choking with suppressed agony, [and] the unjust will have no sympathizer, nor any intercessor who might be heard.
عَنِ الْمُجْرِمِينَ ﴿٤١﴾ مَا سَلَكَكُمْ فِي سَقَرَ ﴿٤٢﴾ ………..حَتَّىٰ أَتَانَا الْيَقِينُ ﴿٤٧﴾ فَمَا تَنفَعُهُمْ شَفَاعَةُ الشَّافِعِينَ ﴿٤٨﴾
the guilty: ‘What drew you into Hell?’………until death came to us.’ So the intercession of the intercessors will not avail them.
Al-Baqara 2:255, Saba 34:23: Maryam 19:86-87, Az-Zukruf 43:85-86, Ta-Ha 20:109 and Al-Anbiya 21:26-28