In his classic and conclusive defence of the Ash’ari school, Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari, the Imam and Hafiz, Ibn ‘Asakir (rahimahullah) (d. 571 H), quotes Imam al-Juwayni’s praise of the excellent belief of Imam al-Ash’ari. Al-Juwayni lists those beliefs in which Imam Abu l-Hasan al-Ash’ari adopted a via media between the extreme positions of deviants on opposite ends of the spectrum. At one point, he says:
وكذلك قالت الرافضة أن للرسول صلوات الله عليه وسلامه ولعلي عليه السلام شفاعة من غير أمر الله تعالى ولا إذنه حتى لو شفعا فى الكفار قبلت وقالت المعتزلة لا شفاعة له بحال، فسلك رضي الله عنه طريقة بينهما فقال بأن للرسول صلوات الله عليه وسلامه شفاعة مقبولة فى المؤمنين المستحقين للعقوبة، يشفع لهم بأمر الله تعالى وإذنه ولا يشفع إلا لمن ارتضى
“Likewise, the Rafidah say that the Messenger (upon him blessings and peace) and ‘Ali (upon him peace) are entitled to an intercession without the command of Allah (Exalted is He), nor His permission, such that if they were to intercede for the disbelievers, it would be accepted! And the Mu’tazilah say there is no intercession at all. Thus, he (Abu l-Hasan al-Ash’ari) adopted a path between the two, and he said: The Messenger (upon him blessings of Allah and His peace) will have an intercession that is accepted with respect to the believers who are deserving of punishment. He will intercede for them by the command of Allah (Exalted is He) and His permission, and He will not intercede except for one He approves.” (Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari, al-Maktabat al-Azhariyyah, 120-1)
This is the simple belief which no one truly from Ahlus Sunnah can contest or deny. The belief of the Rafidah is clear shirk, and the belief of the Mu’tazilah is clear denial of mutawatir reports. This is also the belief of Shah Isma’il Shaheed, for which the innovators (ahl al-bid’ah) of India accused him of denying shafa’ah! This is a clear illustration of where the innovators have much in common with the Rafidah, and hold beliefs that are shirk or border on shirk.
Here is an answer that was written sometime back to Gibril Haddad who attempted to support this false Barelwi accusation that Shah Isma’il Shaheed denied shafa’ah:
The final accusation made against Shah Isma’ill which Mawlana Nu’mani discusses is that he denied intercession (shafa’ah) (pp. 82-102) and Gibril Haddad regurgitates this claim in his review. Naim al-Din al-Muradabadi claimed in his Atyab al-Bayan that Shah Isma’il’s denial of intercession was more severe than the denial of the Mu’tazilis as they accept intercession for the elevation of ranks in paradise but not for the pardoning of sins, whereas Shah Isma’il denied intercession altogether. The reality, however, is that Shah Isma’il did not deny intercession in its true form but rejected those types of intercession that are inadmissible for Allah.
In the third section (fasl) “ishtirak fi al-tasarruf” he elaborates on the issue of intercession. For an accurate translation of the section in question, see Mir Shahamat’s translation here from pages 338-41.
Shah Ismai’il first quotes some verses of Sura Saba’ which includes the verse, “No intercession can avail in His Presence, except for those for whom He has granted permission.” (34:23)
He then goes on to describe three types of intercession or commendation (safarish) that are known and practiced, and he says the first two are inadmissible for Allah while the third is what is meant by intercession when it appears in Qur’an and hadith:
The first is “intercession by status” (shafa‘at al-wajaha) where the king desires to punish a criminal but because a high-ranking officer interceded on his behalf, fearing the loss of such a valuable officer, the king suppresses his desire to punish the criminal and pardons him.
A second type he discusses is “intercession from affection” (shafa’at al-mahabba) where the king suppresses his desire to punish because of his love for the one who interceded on behalf of the criminal like his wife, son etc.
The third and final type of intercession is that the criminal is deserving of forgiveness because although he committed a crime it was uncommon for him and he was truly repentant and remorseful, and seeing the desire of the king to forgive, a minister comes forward with the king’s approval to intercede on his behalf and seemingly because of his intercession, he pardons him. This is “intercession with permission” (shafaa bi l-idhn).
The first two are impossible with respect to Allah because Allah can never be forced or pressured into acting against His will or His desire because of affection or fear of losing a high-ranking servant, as ultimately all before Him are servants while He is the King of Kings with no need. The Qur’an says “O men! You are they who stand in need of Allah, and Allah is He Who is the Self-sufficient, the Praised One. If He wills, He can be rid of you and bring [instead of you] a new creation, and that is not a hard thing for Allah.” (35:15-7)
The third type is the type of intercession which will occur in the afterlife. Shah Isma’il explicitly mentioned that this is what is meant by the intercession mentioned in verses of the Qur’an and hadiths.
Mawlana Nu’mani after quoting the passage from Taqwiyat al-Iman, comments that no Muslim can deny that what Shah Isma’il said is undeniably true as Allah is completely independent of all creation (ghani) and in absolutely no need of them (samad). It is clear from the passage of Taqwiyat al-Iman that Shah Ismail only denies the first two types of intercession which no Muslim can possibly support, while he accepts the last type.
Mawlana Nu’mani says: wherever in the Qur’an intercession is mentioned in the affirmative, it always qualifies this with the condition “with permission” (bi al-idhn), the very type that Shah Ismail shows to be the only type of intercession possible with respect to Allah. It is also clear from the hadiths that without permission not even the closest servant can come forward to Allah to intercede for anyone. Mawlana Nu’mani then goes on to offer proofs from the Qur’an, its commentaries, and the hadiths and their commentaries, some of which are provided below:
Allah says: “Who is he that intercedes in His presence except with His permission?” (2:255) Al-Nasafi says in its commentary: “It is not [possible] for anyone to intercede in His presence except with His permission, and this is a demonstration of His sovereignty and His greatness, and that no one has the ability to speak on the Day of Resurrection except when He gives him permission to speak.”
ليس لأحد أن يشفع عنده إلا بإذنه وهو بيان لملكوته وكبريائه، وأن أحداً لا يتمالك أن يتكلم يوم القيامة إلا إذا أذن له في الكلام
Allah says: “There is no intercessor except after His permission” (10:3) Al-Baghawi says: “Its meaning is that the intercessors will not intercede except after His permission.”
معناه: أن الشفعاء لا يشفعون إلا بإذنه
Khazin says: “Meaning, no intercessor will intercede in His presence on the Day of Resurrection except after He gives permission to him to intercede.”
لا يشفع عنده شافع يوم القيامة إلا من بعد أن يأذن له في الشفاعة
Alusi says in his tafsir of this verse: “I.e. there is no intercessor interceding on behalf of another in any one time except after His (Almighty) permission based on [His] manifest wisdom, and that is when the intercessor is from the chosen [servants] and the one interceded for is deserving of intercession.”
أي ما من شفيع يشفع لأحد في وقت من الأوقات إلا بعد إذنه تعالى المبني على الحكمة الباهرة وذلك عند كون الشفيع من المصطفين الأخيار والمشفوع له ممن يليق بالشفاعة
Allah says: “On that day shall no intercession avail except of him whom the Beneficent allows and whose word He is pleased with.” (20:109) Nasafi: “I.e. the intercession will avail none except the intercession of the one the Beneficent allows i.e. the intercessor He allows to intercede.”
أي لا تنفع الشفاعة إلا شفاعة من أذن له الرحمن أي أذن للشافع في الشفاعة
Alusi says there are two possible interpretations of the one who the Beneficient “allows,” either the intercessor or the one interceded for. On the second possibility he writes: “The sum meaning of this is intercession will avail none except one who the Beneficent allows to be interceded for while he was a believer.”
وحاصل المعنى عليه لا تنفع الشفاعة أحداً إلا من أذن الرحمن في أن يشفع له وكان مؤمناً
Allah says: “Say: Unto Allah belongs all intercession” (39:44) Alusi says: “The meaning is that Allah is possessor of all intercession. No one can intercede unless the one interceded for is approved [by Allah] and the intercessor is allowed [by Allah to intercede].”
والمعنى أنه تعالى مالك الشفاعة كلها لا يستطيع أحد شفاعة ما إلا أن يكون المشفوع [له] مرتضى والشفيع مأذوناً له
Khazin says: “None intercedes on behalf of another except by His permission so busying oneself with His worship is worthier, because in reality He is the Intercessor and He allows intercession from whoever of His servants He wishes.”
أي لا يشفع أحد إلا بإذنه فكان الاشتغال بعبادته أولى لأنه هو الشفيع في الحقيقة وهو يأذن في الشفاعة لمن يشاء من عباده
Mawlana Nu’mani comments: This is precisely what Shah Isma’il said in the section of Taqwiyat al-Iman in question.
He then quotes the hadith of intercession from Bukhari which shows the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) only interecedes with Allah’s permission and he mentions specifically in this hadith: “He places boundaries for me [i.e. for my intercession]” under which al-‘Asqalani said quoting from al-Tibi: “He shows to me in every stage of the intercession a boundary I must stay within and not trespass e.g. He says: I allow you intercession for those who were deficient in congregational [prayer], and then those who were deficient in prayer, and then those who drank wine, and then those who committed adultery, and in this fashion.”
قَوْلُهُ فَيَحُدُّ لِي حَدًّا يُبَيِّنُ لِي فِي كُلِّ طَوْرٍ مِنْ أَطْوَارِ الشَّفَاعَةِ حَدًّا أَقِفُ عِنْدَهُ فَلَا أَتَعَدَّاهُ مِثْلَ أَنْ يَقُولَ شَفَّعْتُكَ فِيمَنْ أَخَلَّ بِالْجَمَاعَةِ ثُمَّ فِيمَنْ أَخَلَّ بِالصَّلَاةِ ثُمَّ فِيمَنْ شَرِبَ الْخَمْرَ ثُمَّ فِيمَنْ زَنَى وَعَلَى هَذَا الْأُسْلُوبِ كَذَا حَكَاهُ الطِّيبِيُّ