Shia’s Belief System (Part 3)

Written by: Dr. Kazem S. M. Mesbah Moosavi

Published on: September 25th, 2019

Sunset view of the shrine of Imam Ali (peace be upon him) from the Clock Tower, located in Najaf, Iraq.



Click here for Part 1 | Part 2

Dr. Kazem Mesbah Moosavi

The following text is part of a series of interviews done by Dr. Razavi with a Shia scholar and thinker, Dr. Kazem Mesbah Moosavi, the founder and president of Islamic Iranian Centre of Imam Ali. He is a graduate researcher from Elmiyeh Seminary in Qom, and received his PhD from McGill University. He has taught for many years as the professor of Islamic studies, theology and philosophy at Elmiyeh seminary as well as in a number of universities, including McGill University in Montreal. He is the author of many published and unpublished writings in psychology, philosophy, and Islamic studies.  There are hundreds of his video lectures available for researchers.


One of the popular accusation of Shias by Salafi-Wahhabism is that Shias worship the grave/shrine, what is your perspective on this issue?!

We, as the followers of the prophet Muhammad and his successor, Imam Ali do not hold any one in the position of deity except the Almighty God, who deserves to be worshiped alone. We do not consider a partner for God. We bear witness that there is no deity deserve of worship except Allah, the Creator of the world. As our religious obligation, we recite in all of daily prayer: “iyyaka naabudu wa iyyaka nastaeyn” means: Our Creator and Nurturer! You alone do we worship, and your aid alone do we seek.


So why do Shias visit the shrine of the prophet and his household?

The shrine of the prophet and his household are considered as holy places and mosques. Shias go there to worship God and seek forgiveness from him alone and not from anyone else. Yes, we do believe in the intercession (shafa’ah) of the Prophet and the Imams. We visit the shrine of the prophet to ask him to pray for us and to intercede for God’s forgiveness and blessing.

Professor, you said that Shia considers the prophet as intercessor or shafia, this was the very belief of the pagans towards their idols when they said: “we do not worship them except because they are our intercessors (shafia) towards God.” In other words, the idols were considered as intercessor, likewise Shia believe that the prophet is an intercessor toward God. What is the difference between Shia’s belief system and that of the mushrikin (disbelievers)?

First of all, the pagans as explicitly stated in the Quran, use to worship the idols and not God. And this is the real shirk, but Shia does not worship anyone else but God. Shia prays to Allah and for Allah, Shia prostrates for Allah alone and asks forgiveness from Him alone. This is exactly the opposite of what the pagans used to do; (they worshiped the very idols and prostrate before them and not before God). Do not you see such a big difference?! Those who worship idols vs. those who worship God. The problem with Salafi-wahhabists is that they cannot simply differentiate between these two actions.


If Shias believe in monotheism (tawheed) why do they not ask directly from God; who did validate the prophet’s intercession?! 

First of all, Islam is not about God alone, but God as the Creator and Muhammad (Peace be upon him) as His messenger. According to the holy Quran, (in Surah 4, verse # 64) it is not enough to do seek forgiveness from God when you are sitting at home without consideration of the prophet Mohammad (pbuh). God wants His prophet to be acknowledged and respected all the times. That is why Islam is not to believe in God only but to have faith in the prophet as well. You cannot become Muslim by stating that “there is no God but God,” you have to confess that “Muhammad is His messenger” as well.

In Islam the prophet is in the core of the faith; he should not be isolated or forgotten even when pray to God. In our daily prayers we must recite repeatedly the confession “I bear witness that Muhammad is His messenger.” This is the reason why the holy Quran in surah 4: 64 states that when people wrong themselves by committing sin, they must go to the prophet; then they ask forgiveness from God (istighfar). In this case, the latter becomes their intercessor by doing isteghfar, then, on that time, people find the Lord as repentive and compassionate.

Similarly, in the story of the children of Jacob, when they wronged their brother Josef, asked their father to intercede for them before God by seeking forgiveness from God. They said: قالوا يا ابانا استغفر لنا ذنوبنا انا كنا خاطئين “They said O father seek forgiveness for our sins; we were the wrong doers (surah 12:97). He said I shall seek forgiveness from my Lord; He is forgiving and compassionate” (Surat 12:98). There are other verses in the Quran which command the prophet to do isteghfar, ask forgiveness on behalf of the believers. (See Surat 47:19, Surah 60:12, Surat 24:62, Surah 3:159).

Accordingly, the holy Quran acknowledges the intercession of the prophet for people. Given the position of the prophet before God, He will not turn down the payers of His prophet. The main point is that God wants His prophet to be at the center of the believers’ hearts and attention. We must venerate him whether live or dead to get his intercession before God.  That is why the issue of intercession is unanimously agreed upon by all the sects of Muslims whether Shia, Shafi’i, Maliki, Hanbali or Hanafi except for the takfiri sect of Salafi-Wahhabists.


Interesting. You gave me a new vision about the intercession from the Quranic perspective. But there is something still bugging me all the times when I think of intercession. What you said was logical with regards to the prophet’s intercession when he was alive, but how do you justify people’s visit of the shrine of the prophet who is no longer alive. Can he still pray for them and ask God’s forgiveness while he is dead? How is it possible to visit a dead person and ask his dua and his intercession? Can a dead person hear and respond to you?! 

This is an excellent question which requires an excellent answer. Let me present you with an introduction before I answer your question. As you know, some concepts are relative. It could mean something by some consideration and its opposite by another consideration. The concepts of life and death are the same; someone may be considered alive from one perspective and dead from another. For example, the one who has been in coma for many years and is in the vegetative stage, not being able to eat, move, see, hear, or do any function anymore is considered dead from the medical perspective, but he is alive from another perspective.

The same is true of the concept of death. Death happens when the soul leaves the body, then the body cannot function anymore: it cannot eat, drink, move or grew at all, but rather begins to be decomposed and converted into dust after a while.  This is the most common stage of people after the death. The body, in this case, has no feeling and cannot have any interaction with the world and consequently must be buried under the ground. This is the meaning of death in the holy Quran, “You will indeed die as the others die too.” Accordingly, the prophet, the martyrs and saints die too; they are no longer alive after the occurrence of their death. This is from one perspective.

This, however, is not the case with all people from another perspective. According to the Quran, some people are alive and must be considered alive after their deaths. The holy Quran with regards to the martyrs states: “Do not say to those who have been killed in the sake of Allah, as “dead” but they are alive but you do not feel it.” (Surat 2:154). There is a similar verse:

“And never think of those who have been killed in the cause of Allah as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision” (3:169). Accordingly, those who have been killed for the sake of Allah, are not dead but alive and being sustained by their Lord. Therefore, a martyr is dead from one perspective and alive by another consideration. When Quran uses the concept of “dead” for His prophet after the occurrence of the death, it refers to the stage of the prophet when he leaves the corporeal life, and his soul departs from his body and loses all its physical functionality in this world. On the other hand, when Quran speaks of life after the occurrence of death, it refers to the spiritual life of the martyrs who enjoy a higher stage of life after their death. These people must not be considered as dead, but alive in another sense. They can see, listen and interact with others but not through their corporeal bodies and the physical eyes. The body dies but the soul survives in another level of life.

If this is the case with the martyrs, it will surely be the case with regards to the prophet. It does not make sense to say that people who were defending Islam and fighting beside the prophet and have been killed in the sake of Allah are alive because they are martyrs, but the prophet himself, who is the source of all good is dead.

In other words, if martyrs, like Imam Ali, Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain (who have been killed in the sake of God) are alive, surely the prophet is alive too. He is able to see and hear us; he will return our salaam and pray to God for our sins.  If he is not hearing us, why we should say salaam to him in all of daily prayers when we say “assallam Alayk ayuhan nabi wa rahmatollah wa barakatuh”?! Without question the prophet, who is alive from the Quranic perspective, will return our salaam. The same is true with all martyrs, and is why they must be visited and venerated even after their death.


Thank you, it was a relieving answer. But can I ask them to pray for me and to pray for healing of my family in case they are sick. Can I also ask them to pray for my needs and wishes?!

Given that the prophet and the Imams and all the martyrs are alive from the Quranic perspective, you must treat them the same way you treat a living person. What would you do if they were in this world and you had chance to see them?! You would certainly ask them to pray to Allah for you, your family and all your wishes; because you know that the prophet’s dua, prayer, is not the same as others. If he prays to Allah for your needs, there is much more possibility that God gives you your wishes. You must, however, be careful not to forget God at any moment. You must remind yourself that they are just God’s servants and they have nothing of their own. Your main focus must be on almighty God, who has permitted their intercession and dua.


As I learned from our discussion, the main difference between the pagans who consider the idols as their intercessors and those Muslims who regard the prophet and the imams as their intercessors is that the pagans worship the idols, whereas, the Shias worship God alone without consideration of a partner for Him; they forbid worshiping anyone but God. Am I right?!

Yes you are absolutely right, and this is the main difference between tawheed and shirk.


Thank you. There are a few more questions related to our topic. One refers to building a mosque and shrine for the grave; is it allowed to do so?!

The Salafi-Wahhabist insists that building a mosque on the top of a grave is a sign of shirk and must be forbidden. They refer to the verse 84 in surah 9: “Do not stand on his grave and never pray for any of them who die.” This verse does not, however, support their argument. When we take into consideration before and after this part of the verse, we can make sure that this verse does not intend to forbid visitation of the graveyard and prayer on the grave. This verse is referring to a special case of hypocrites, who publicly say the shahadatain and acknowledge Islam, but privately denies Islam and ridicule in the faith of Muslims.

Let us look at the whole verse as follows: “And do not pray [the funeral prayer, O Muhammad], over any of them who has died – ever – or stand at his grave. Indeed, they disbelieved in Allah and His Messenger and died while they were defiantly disobedient.” As you see, the verse has nothing to do with praying on the grave but refusing to pray for the disbelievers.


Is there any verse which confirms the validity of building a mosque on the grave?!

Yes, I can refer you to the story of the people of the Cave (ashabul Kahf) in the Quran; there was an argument among people how to deal with their graves. The holy Quran mentions that a group of believers, who knew the secret of the people of the Cave and their high spiritual position before God, decided to honor them by building a mosque on top of their graves:  “And similarly, we caused them to be found that they [who found them] would know that the promise of Allah is truth and that of the Hour there is no doubt. [That was] when they disputed among themselves about their affair and [then] said, “Construct over them a structure. Their Lord is most knowing about them.” Said those who prevailed in the matter, “We will surely take [for ourselves] over them a masjid (Surah 18:21).”

Giving that the holy Quran mentions the believers’ proposal to build a mosque on top of their graves without denouncing or rejecting it, proves that Quran approves such an action, otherwise, it should reject such an idea. Similarly, the Ummah of Islam honored their prophet by building a shrine for him. This is not a sign of shirk but the very pure monotheism (tawheed) to honor its prophet in such a decent way. This is why traditionally, Muslims honour some of their great personalities by building a Mosque on top of their graves. Shias made Mosques for all the household of the prophet, including Imam Ali in Najaf and Imam Hussain, the grandson of the prophet in Karbala, Iraq.


Thank you Dr. Mesbah Moosavi for your valuable time. We are looking forward for an upcoming session regarding other issues about the Shia belief system. I am sure that such a discussion will remove any misconceptions Shia Islam and pave the way towards unifying the Ummah.


Click here for Part 1 | Part 2

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