The mention of the word waseela in the Qurʼān has been a major excuse for Nizārī-Ismāʿīlīs calling upon, and seeking help of their Hazar Imam instead of the Almighty Allāh ﷻ. This is a concept drilled into their minds by the Ismāʿīlī missionaries. Ismāʿīlīs themselves have never laid their hands upon a copy of the the Qur’an. A vast majority of Nizārī-Ismāʿīlī homes are devoid of even a single copy of the Qur’an.
Occurrences of Waseela in the Quran
For addressing the issue of waseela, we will start by looking the the verse of waseela in the Qur’ān in Surah Al-Mā’idah (The Table Spread), Chapter 5, Verse 35:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَابْتَغُوا إِلَيْهِ الْوَسِيلَةَ وَجَاهِدُوا فِي سَبِيلِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
O you who believe! Do your duty to Allah (swt) and fear Him. Seek the means (الْوَسِيلَةَ) of approach to Him, and strive hard in His Cause as much as you can. So that you may be successful.
There is another verse in the Qur’ān which also uses the word waseela in Surah Al-‘Isrā’ (The Night Journey), Chapter 17, Verse 57. However, to establish the context, let us examine the prior Verse 56 which mentions the following:
قُلِ ادْعُوا الَّذِينَ زَعَمْتُم مِّن دُونِهِ فَلَا يَمْلِكُونَ كَشْفَ الضُّرِّ عَنكُمْ وَلَا تَحْوِيلًا
Say (O Muhammad ﷺ): Call on those whom you assert besides Him – they have neither the power to remove your troubles from you nor to change them.”
The above means that asking anyone other than Allah (swt) is not allowed, as Allah (swt) says here. Look at the word ادْعُوا which means to make duʿāʾ. Allah (swt) says that He has powers to accept duʿāʾ.
Relationship Between Dua and Waseela
With the context now established having read Verse 56, you will be amazed to see the next verse where word waseela is used by Allah (swt) in Verse 57.
أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ يَبْتَغُونَ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِمُ الْوَسِيلَةَ أَيُّهُمْ أَقْرَبُ وَيَرْجُونَ رَحْمَتَهُ وَيَخَافُونَ عَذَابَهُ ۚ إِنَّ عَذَابَ رَبِّكَ كَانَ مَحْذُورًا
Those whom they call upon, themselves seek the means of access (الْوَسِيلَةَ) to their Lord, as to which of them should be the nearest: they hope for His Mercy and fear His Wrath: for the Wrath of thy Lord is something to take heed of.
Allah (swt) explains the meaning of waseela in this verse after waseela is used, as to which of them is nearest.
It is clear that here Allah (swt) is not talking about idols, or trees, sun, stars. These are humans Allah (swt) talks about, Allah (swt) is talking about Righteous people like Jesus (pbuh), Maryam (ra), Uzair (ra), etc., and in current scenario Ali (ra) can also be considered. Allāh ﷻ is saying that “they hope for His Mercy and fear His Wrath”. What is waseela of these righteous people? Think about it. Who did these people make duʿāʾ to? Of course to Allah (swt). Allah (swt) also says that they seek waseela as to which of them is near to Allah (swt). Therefore waseela is something that brings one near to Allah (swt).
“Seek to Allah (swt) Al-Wassilah” is asking the nearness to Allah (swt) with good deeds (your salah, understanding the Qur’ān, piety, patience, charity, etc. and that which pleases him. Understanding Quran will improve your relationship with Allah (swt). Waseela are deeds, not a human person.
These were the waseela for these Righteous people, their awareness of afterlife, their knowledge of Allah (swt) and their good deeds.
All these righteous people always asked directly from Allahﷻ. The Qurʼān is full of references that duʿāʾ should be made only towards Allah (swt). See the below verse excerpt from Surah Ghāfir (The Forgiver), Chapter 40, Verse 60:
وَقَالَ رَبُّكُمُ ادْعُونِي أَسْتَجِبْ لَكُمْ
And your Lord says: Call upon Me, I will answer you.”
This is clear command of Allah ﷻ to make duʿāʾ only to Him.
Duʿāʾ is specifically mentioned by Allah (swt) to be made to Him alone. There are hundreds of ayats in Quran which commands us to make Duʿāʾ to Allah (swt). Intersecssion (Shafat) is other thing that someone else makes duʿāʾ for us. Angels make Duʿāʾ for us prophet make Duʿāʾ for us or ask forgiveness for us are acceptable. We ask Allah (swt) to bless us in the name of these beloved is acceptable, but to make Duʿāʾ directly to them will invalidate 40:60. Therefore, to interpret waseela cannot violate 40:60 of the Qurʼān. Ismāʿīlīs directly make duʿāʾ to Aga Khan which is a gross misinterpretation of the verse in question. Allāh says in Qur’ān in Surah Al-‘Aĥqāf (The Wind-Curved Sandhills), Chapter 46, Verses 5 and 6:
وَمَنْ أَضَلُّ مِمَّن يَدْعُو مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ مَن لَّا يَسْتَجِيبُ لَهُ إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ وَهُمْ عَن دُعَائِهِمْ غَافِلُونَ
وَإِذَا حُشِرَ النَّاسُ كَانُوا لَهُمْ أَعْدَاءً وَكَانُوا بِعِبَادَتِهِمْ كَافِرِينَ
And who is more astray than he who invokes besides Allah (swt) those who will not respond to him until the Day of Resurrection, and they, of their invocation, are unaware. And when the people are gathered [that Day], they [who were invoked] will be enemies to them, and they will be deniers of their worship.
Allah (swt) says they are unaware of your duʿāʾ. Ali (ra) is unaware of you making duʿāʾ to him, and he can never hear you. And then Allah (swt) says they will be your enemies on on Judgement day and will deny their worship. So this should be clear from Quran that duʿāʾ is only for Allah (swt). Ali (ra) will be our enemy on the Day of Judgement if we make duʿāʾ to him.
Help in worldly matters is something different. Prophet ﷺ was helped in his mission by all the companions including Ali (ra), Bilal (ra), and all the companions helped him. Bilal’s (ra) voice was heard by Prophet ﷺ during the night journey. So can we say “Ya Bilal Madad”? No we cannot. In worship, we only seek help from Allah (swt). In worldly matters my co-worker helps me and I help him, this is not duʿāʾ of worship. If Prophet (pbuh) asked help from companions then this does not means that Prophet was making duʿāʾ to them. Duʿāʾ is your relationship with Allah (swt). This duʿāʾ of worship should be exclusively for Allah ﷻ.