Do Ismailis contradict Surat al-Fatihah when they pray to the Prophets and Imams for help?
‘From Thee alone we seek help.’ (Surat al-Fatihah)
Does this part of verse 5 imply that the seeking of help from the Prophets, the Imams and the saints is a form of shirk, an ‘association’ of other beings with the divinity, from whom, alone, all help is to be sought? Not at all. Again, there is an exoteric and an esoteric way of responding to this question. Exoterically, one need only refer to the words of the verse 4:64 to see that God not only permits but encourages the believers to seek the Prophet’s prayers of forgiveness for them:
. . . If only, when they had wronged themselves, they had come to thee [Muhammad], and pleaded for forgiveness from God, and had the Messenger pleaded for forgiveness on their behalf, they would indeed have found God to be clement and merciful (4:64).
God responds mercifully not only to our own prayers of forgiveness, but also to those of the Prophet on our behalf; therefore, seeking the Prophet’s ‘help’ is not an infringement of the principle of seeking ‘help’ from God alone, but is rather an aspect or specific application of this very principle. This is because God Himself has established various means by which He is to be approached, given His utter transcendence: ‘seek unto Him a means of recourse (wasīla)’ (5:35). The Qurʾān itself, together with all previous Revelations, the Prophet Muḥammad, together with all previous Prophets, the Imams and the saints of Islam and indeed of all religions—these are so many ‘means’ by which God can be approached, if the intention is indeed to resort to the means for the sake of the end, rather than be idolatrously fixated on the means as an end in itself. Then the prerogatives of tawḥīd are satisfied and one’s seeking of help from these means is fully justified. The famous ‘Throne verse’ (āyat al-kursī) establishes the legitimacy of intercession—both as regards this world and the next:
God—there is no God save Him, the Alive, the Eternal. Neither slumber nor sleep overtaketh Him. Unto Him belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. Who is he that intercedeth with Him save by His leave? He knoweth that which is in front of them and that which is behind them, while they encompass nothing of His knowledge save what He will. His Throne encompasseth the heavens and the earth, and He is never weary of preserving them. He is the Sublime, the Tremendous (2:255).
Esoterically, while the above reasoning will be confirmed, it will be reinforced by a perspective stemming from the vision of tawḥīd which is ontological ( wujūdī) and not only theological (ulūhī). From this ontological point of view, as noted above, at verses 1–3 of the Fātiḥa, there is nothing in being but God; what appears as ‘other than God’ is a maẓhar, a locus for the manifestation of God and nothing else. When assistance is sought from the Prophets, the Imams and the saints, one is seeking assistance from them as so many manifestations of God, so many maẓāhir, or loci, of the ẓuhūr (manifestation) of al-Ẓāhir, the Outwardly Manifest. Therefore, the means as well as the end is divine: it is not a question of seeking human means for the sake of attaining a divine end, for one sees through the human form to the divine substance of the maẓhar. This is a radical mode of tawḥīd, a more penetrating application of the principle: from Thee alone we seek help. It also manifests metaphysical fidelity to the principle of divine ubiquity:
‘Wherever ye turn, there is the Face of God’ (2:115).
It is this Face which is sought, both as regards the means and the end, when one seeks any kind of help from any kind of being:
‘Every single good thing (niʿma) you have is [a grace] from God’ (16:53).
The reference to niʿma—which can also be translated as ‘blessing’ or ‘grace’—brings us back to the Fātiḥa, for the ‘straight path’ at verse 6 is described by reference to alladhīna anʿamta ʿalayhim, it is the path of ‘those whom Thou hast blessed’. Esoterically speaking, those who have been most deeply blessed are those who see the divine Face ‘impressed’ upon every single thing. The niʿma is not only ‘from’ God in the sense of being an entity created by God; it is ‘from’ God in the sense of being a manifestation of God, and therefore it is divine in its essence, a ray of light which cannot be divorced from its source. This radical vision of ontological tawḥīd, this mode of assimilating all positive phenomena as manifestations of God, enables the heart of the true muwaḥḥid to see that in seeking ‘help’ from anyone—and at any level—one is seeking help from nobody and nothing but God.
Above was excerpted from Reza Shah-Kazemi, Spiritual Quest: Reflections on Qur'anic Prayer, 33-35.
For further details on the metaphysics and philosophical explanations of Praying to God and seeking the Help of the Imams, read the following article: