What is meant by intercession (tawassul) and is seeking intercession an act of innovation (bidʻa)?
The doctrines of tawassul and shafāʿa are closely tied together and commonly translated as intercession.
A believer is obliged to worship none other than Allah. One of the forms of worship is supplication (duʿā) that is reserved strictly for Him. Seeking intercession is an act where, during supplication, a person seeks an intermediary between themselves and Allah, either through Allah’s own names and attributes or through means that are permitted by Allah.
The notion of intercession is established in the Quran. For example, on two different occasions the Quran encourages believers to seek the (lawful) means of nearness to Him (5:35) and criticises those who seek intercession from whom they ought to disbelieve. (17:57)
Additionally, the following verses explicate that an individual can only seek intercession through other than Allah by His consent. For example, “There is no intercessor except after His permission" (10:3) and, “None will have power of intercession except the one who has a covenant with the Most Merciful.” (19:87)
The method of seeking intercession through the means deemed right by Allah can be done by either:
1. Beseeching Allah for the sake of His chosen individuals. For example, this can be done by constructing a statement that says, “O Allah, fulfil my desires for the sake of your Prophet.” (al-Muʿjam al-kabīr, 9:31)
2. Beseeching Allah’s chosen individuals to intercede with Him on behalf of one’s self. For example, by constructing a statement that says, “O Allah, allow your Prophet to intercede on my behalf.” (4:64, 12:97-98)
3. Through acts such as praying or giving charity. For example, an individual can recite Quran or offer two units of prayer as a means of seeking intercession. (Musnad Aḥmad, 2:174; al-Kāfī, 2:601)
As the aforementioned method is established through both the Quran and the prophetic traditions, seeking intercession is not an innovation and therefore it is permitted in Islam.