Quran Difficulty

How the Islamic Doctrine of Intercession undermines Allah’s Omniscience

Sam Shamoun

In some previous articles (1, 2) we discussed the problems and contradictions concerning the Islamic concept of intercession. We saw how the Quran and Islamic literature contradict themselves in that certain references say that Allah does not allow for any intercession whereas other verses state that he does. We further saw how intercession undermines the unity of Allah, or at least the traditional Islamic position concerning it.

Here we want to show how intercession calls into question Allah’s perfect knowledge. For instance, note what this next citation claims concerning the relationship between Allah’s knowledge and intercession:

And they worship besides Allah things that hurt them not, nor profit them, and they say: "These are our intercessors with Allah." Say: "Do you inform Allah of that which He knows not in the heavens and on the earth?" Glorified and Exalted be He above all that which they associate as partners with Him! S. 10:18 Hilali-Khan

The Quran is presuming here that an intercessor would only be needed if Allah is ignorant of certain relevant information, if he didn’t have full knowledge of the situation. As the late Muslim scholar Muhammad Asad noted concerning this text:

27 Thus, belief in the efficacy of anyone's unqualified intercession with God, or mediation between man and Him, is here equated with a denial of God's omniscience, which takes all the circumstances of the sinner and his sinning a priori into consideration. (As regards God's symbolic grant of permission to His prophets to "intercede" for their followers on the Day of Judgment, see note 7 above.) (Source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

The logic of the author(s) of the Quran goes something like this: an intercessor is unnecessary in light of Allah knowing everything since intercession implies ignorance. Seeing that Allah knows best and knows all, what can any intercessor possibly tell him that he doesn’t know already? Is there anything that Allah is unaware of which necessitates his need for an intercessor to inform him and thereby enable him to judge properly?

The author(s) was basically informing the unbelievers that their belief in intercession was a direct assault on Allah’s perfection since this made the idols and/or creatures which they worshiped equal with Allah in his knowledge. In other words, intercession for the writer(s) meant that these other beings which the unbelievers prayed to could actually instruct Allah and therefore implies that in some sense they were better informed and had more knowledge in certain respects than the Islamic deity himself. And since there is no one better informed than Allah and no one knows all that he knows it is therefore not possible for anyone to intercede before him.

In order to bring out this point clearly note the following Quranic tale:

And it was revealed to Noah, saying, 'None of thy people shall believe but he who has already believed; so be thou not distressed by that they may be doing. Make thou the Ark under Our eyes, and as We reveal; and address Me not concerning those who have done evil; they shall be drowned.' So he was making the Ark; and whenever a council of his people passed by him they scoffed at him, He said, 'If you scoff at us, we shall surely scoff at you, as you scoff and you shall know to whom will come a chastisement degrading him, and upon whom there shall alight a lasting chastisement.' Until, when Our command came, and the Oven boiled, We said, 'Embark in it two of every kind, and thy family -- except for him against whom the word has already been spoken and whosoever believes.' And there believed not with him except a few. He said, 'Embark in it! In God's Name shall be its course and its berthing. Surely my Lord is All-forgiving, All-compassionate.' So it ran with them amid waves like mountains; and Noah called to his son, who was standing apart, 'Embark with us, my son, and be thou not with the unbelievers!' He said, 'I will take refuge in a mountain, that shall defend me from the water.' Said he, 'Today there is no defender from God's command but for him on whom He has mercy.' And the waves came between them, and he was among the drowned. And it was said, 'Earth, swallow thy waters; and, heaven, abate!' And the waters subsided, the affair was accomplished, and the Ark settled on El-Judi, and it was said: 'Away with the people of the evildoers!' And Noah called unto his Lord, and said, 'O my Lord, my son is of my family, and Thy promise is surely the truth. Thou art the justest of those that judge.' Said He, 'Noah, he is not of thy family; it is a deed not righteous. Do not ask of Me that whereof thou hast no knowledge. I admonish thee, lest thou shouldst be among the ignorant.' He said, 'My Lord, I take refuge with Thee, lest I should ask of Thee that whereof I have no knowledge; for if Thou forgivest me not, and hast not mercy on me, I shall be among the losers.' S. 11:36-47

Allah was essentially telling Noah that he had no business interceding for his son since he didn’t know what Allah knew about him. This basically exposes the folly of intercession according to the Quranic perspective.

Thus, the argument of Q. 10:18 implies that if we do find specific Islamic references suggesting that intercession is possible, e.g. that Allah permits individuals to intercede before him, then this would essentially undermine the omniscience of the Islamic deity.

This, perhaps, explains why there are so many verses denying the permissibility and possibility of intercession:

Children of Israel, remember My blessing wherewith I blessed you, and that I have preferred you above all beings; and beware of a day when no soul for another shall give satisfaction, and no intercession shall be accepted from it, nor any counterpoise be taken, neither shall they be helped. S. 2:47-48

Children of Israel, remember My blessing wherewith I blessed you, and that I have preferred you above all beings; and beware a day when no soul for another shall give satisfaction, and no counterpoise shall be accepted from it, nor any intercession shall be profitable to it, neither shall they be helped. S. 2:122-123

O believers, expend of that wherewith We have provided you, before there comes a day wherein shall be neither traffick, nor friendship, nor intercession; and the unbelievers -- they are the evildoers. S. 2:254

Yet here is where the problem lies for Muslims. We find the Quran affirming that intercession is not only possible but actually takes place by the permission of Allah!

God there is no god but He, the Living, the Everlasting. Slumber seizes Him not, neither sleep; to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth. Who is there that shall intercede with Him save by His leave? He knows what lies before them and what is after them, and they comprehend not anything of His knowledge save such as He wills. His Throne comprises the heavens and earth; the preserving of them oppresses Him not; He is the All-high, the All-glorious. S. 2:255

It was by some mercy of God that thou wast gentle to them; hadst thou been harsh and hard of heart, they would have scattered from about thee. So pardon them, and pray forgiveness for them, and take counsel with them in the affair; and when thou art resolved, put thy trust in God; surely God loves those who put their trust. S. 3:159

Know thou therefore that there is no god but God, and ask forgiveness for thy sin, and for the believers, men and women. God knows your going to and fro, and your lodging. S. 47:19

Those who bear the Throne, and those round about it proclaim the praise of their Lord, and believe in Him, and they ask forgiveness for those who believe: 'Our Lord, Thou embracest every thing in mercy and knowledge; therefore forgive those who have repented, and follow Thy way, and guard them against the chastisement of Hell. Our Lord, and admit them to the Gardens of Eden that Thou hast promised them and those who were righteous of their fathers, and their wives, and their seed; surely Thou art the All-mighty, the All-wise. And guard them against evil deeds; whomsoever Thou guardest against evil deeds on that day, on him Thou hast had mercy; and that is indeed the mighty triumph. S. 40:7-9

The hadith provides some additional information:

… ‘Surely! Allah wrongs not even of the weight of an atom (or a smallest ant) but if there is any good (done) He doubles it.' (4.40) The Prophet added, "Then the prophets and Angels and the believers will intercede, and (last of all) the Almighty (Allah) will say, ‘Now remains My Intercession." He will then hold a handful of the Fire from which He will take out some people whose bodies have been burnt, and they will be thrown into a river at the entrance of Paradise, called the water of life …’ (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 532s)

Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: I shall be pre-eminent amongst the descendants of Adam on the Day of Resurrection and I will be the first intercessor and the first whose intercession will be accepted (by Allah). (Sahih Muslim, Book 030, Number 5655)

Now the Muslims are faced with several dilemmas. First, if intercession implies an imperfection in the knowledge of Allah then how can the Quran and certain Islamic narratives claim that Allah grants intercession? Are the Quran and the so-called sound ahadith implying that Allah doesn’t have perfect knowledge, and that he is in fact ignorant of certain necessary information?

Second, if intercession doesn’t suggest that Allah has any shortcomings then what was the whole point of Q. 10:18? Why did Muhammad or the author(s) of the Quran tell the unbelievers that their belief in intercessors was basically an assault on Allah’s perfection, undermining his omniscience? Was Muhammad and/or the author(s) misinformed or were they using lies and deception in order to dissuade the unbelievers from praying to others besides Allah? Was this nothing more than a scare or bullying tactic, an attempt to frighten the disbelievers, even though Muhammad knew that intercession does not negate Allah’s omniscience?

Third, what will the Muslims do with all these gross contradictions in the Quran? How will they reconcile these conflicting statements from their religious texts, passages which cannot be harmonized? After all, if Q. 10:18 is correct that intercession undermines Allah’s knowledge then all of those citations which affirm the permissibility of individuals interceding before Allah are assaulting his perfection, or at least denying that his knowledge and wisdom are complete. Yet to accept the references which affirm intercession means that the assertion of Q. 10:18 is wrong, since intercession doesn’t end up denying Allah’s omniscience, and that all those other verses which say that Allah will not permit anyone to intercede are grossly mistaken.

Sidenote – Seeing that Muslim polemicists have a habit of always attacking the Holy Bible, especially when they cannot address or defend their own beliefs, we would like to address a potential objection here which we are certain will be raised against our position. A Muslim may argue that the Holy Bible also teaches that God allows for intercession and has often delayed his wrath and withheld destruction because of the mediation of his inspired and holy prophets and apostles. If the argument we raised against the Islamic viewpoint is valid wouldn’t this also undermine the Biblical position?

The problem with this potential objection is that the Holy Bible, unlike the Quran, never says that intercession undermines the perfection of the knowledge of God. Rather, the Holy Bible expressly teaches that God has included the prayers of his people in the fulfillment of his plan and purposes for creation. In fact, in certain places he even tells individuals that they will be forgiven due to the intercessory prayers of those he has appointed as his representatives:

"Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, ‘She is my sister.’ Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, ‘You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.’ Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, "Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, "She is my sister," and didn't she also say, "He is my brother"? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.’ Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die.’" Genesis 20:1-7

"After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.’ So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the LORD told them; and the LORD accepted Job's prayer. After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before." Job 42:7-10

Notice how in both of these examples it is God who is announcing in advance and prescribing the means by which he will grant forgiveness, showing that God in his perfect knowledge has already factored in the prayers of his people in accomplishing his purposes and in the bringing about the redemption of his chosen ones.

Thus, any Muslim who tries to raise this objection against the inspired teaching of God’s Word would only be committing the fallacy of false analogy.

Further Reading


Contradictions in the Qur'an
Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page