Question 59: What is the affirmed and nullified intercession?
Ash-Shafaa’ah is derived from ash-Shaf’a and it is the opposite of witr (one), and it is to make a single thing one of a pair or couple, for example to make the one two, the three four and so forth. This is as far as its linguistic derivation is concerned.
Traditionally, however, it means the laying of a petition (interceding, mediating) with someone in favor of another, in procuring a benefit or warding off a harm, i.e. the intercessor lays down a mediation between the one on whose behalf an intercession is sought (al-mashfoo’ilahu) and the one pleaded with (al-mashfoo’ ilayh), in order to procure a benefit for al-mashoo’ilahu or repel from him something harmful.
Intercession is two types, confirmed and correct intercession, and a false one that is of no benefit to its people.
As to the confirmed and correct intercession, then it is the one which Allaah, The Most High, has confirmed in His Book, and which His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) has confirmed. And it is approved only for the people of Tawheed and those of pure intentions. Since Aboo Hurayrah (رضي الله عنه) said: “O Messenger of Allaah! Who will be the luckiest person, who will gain your intercession on the Day of Resurrection?” He (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “The one who says la ilaaha illallaah (none has the right to be worshipped except Allaah) purely from his heart.” 
And this type of intercession has three conditions to it:
- First condition: Allaah being pleased with the intercessor.
- Second condition: Allaah being pleased with the one on whose behalf intercession is being sought, and the
- Third condition: Allaah’s permission for the intercessor to intercede.
These conditions are collectively stated in the Saying of Allaah, The Most High:
“And there are many angels in the heavens, whose intercession will avail nothing except after Allaah has given leave for whom He Wills and is Pleased with.” [Qur’aan, soorat an-Najm (53): 26].
And they are mentioned in details in the following Sayings of Allaah, The Most High:
“Who is he that will intercede with Him except by His Permission?” [Qur’aan, soorat al-Baqarah (2): 255)].
“On that day no intercession shall avail, except the one for whom Ar-Rahmaan has given permission and whose word is acceptable to Him.” [Qur’aan, soorat Taha (20): 109].
“And they cannot intercede except for him with whom He is Pleased.” [Qur’aan, soorat al-Anbiyaa’ (21): 28].
It is inevitable that these three conditions be met in order for intercession to take place. And based upon this, then we come to know the second type of intercession. And this is the annulled intercession, which avails not its people, and which the Mushriks (polytheists) claim to be the intercession of their gods for them, with Allaah (عز و جل). Indeed, this intercession avails them not, as Allaah, The Most High, Says:
“And so no intercession of intercessors will be of any use to them.” [Qur’aan, soorat al-Muddath-thir (74): 48].
This is since Allaah, The Most High, accepts not the Shirk of those Mushriks, and that He would not give Permission for them to intercede. Since there is no intercession except for those whom Allaah is Pleased with, and Allaah accepts not Kufr for His servants and He Loves not mischief. So, the Mushrik’s attachment of importance on the gods that they worship whilst they say, “these are our intercessors with Allaah”, is false and has no benefit. Rather this will only keep them farther away from Allaah.
Furthermore, the confirmed shafaa’ah, as the scholars, may Allaah’s Mercy be upon them, mentioned, is divided into two kinds: General and Special.
The meaning of General is that Allaah (عز و جل) Permits whom He Wishes from His righteous servants to intercede on behalf of those whom Allaah has given the Permission for intercession.
And the Special [means] the intercession particular to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم), and the greatest of which is ash-Shafaa’atul-‘Uthmaa (the greatest intercession) and which takes place on the Day of Resurrection when the people will suffer such distress and trouble as they will not be able to tolerate. So they will look for someone who will intercede for them with Allaah (عز و جل) to relieve them from this greatly distressing and long-standing situation. So they go to Aadam, then to Noah, Ibraaheem, Moosaa, and then to ‘Eessa. None of them intercede, until the matter reaches Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم). So he (صلى الله عليه و سلم) stands up and intercedes with Allaah (عز و جل) to save His slaves from this immense situation. So Allaah responds to his supplication and accepts his intercession. And this is part of al-Maqaam al- Mahmood (the highest station of praise and glory) which Allaah, The Most High, has Promissed to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) in His Saying:
“And in some parts of the night offer the salaat with it (i.e. recite the Qur’aan in the prayer), as an additional prayer (tahajjud) for you (O Muhammad). It may be that your Rabb will raise you to al-Maqaam al-Mahmood.” [Qur’aan, soorat al- Israa’ (17): 79].
And from the intercession that is particular to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) is hisintercession for ahlul-Jannah (the people of Paradise) to enter al-Jannah. Because after they cross the siraat (the bridge over Hell) the people of al-Jannah will be stopped at a bridge between Paradise and Hell, and here their hearts will be rendered free from the wrongs they have committed against each other until they are cleaned and purified. Then after that they will be granted permission to enter into al-Jannah. However, they will not be admitted therein until after the Prophet’s (صلى الله عليه و سلم) intercession with Allaah for them to enter Paradise. Therefore the gates of al-Jannah will open by virtue of the Prophet’s (صلى الله عليه و سلم) intercession.
As regard the general intercession by the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and by others besides him from the righteous slaves of Allaah, then it is to intercede for the People of the Fire from the sinful believers who do not deserve the endless dwelling therein. He (صلى الله عليه و سلم) intercedes on their behalf for them to get out of the Fire. And this type of intercession is confirmed for him (صلى الله عليه و سلم) as well as for others from the Prophets, the martyrs, and the righteous, and Allaah knows best.
 Reported by al-Bukhaaree. See Saheeh al-Bukhaaree, vol.1, no.98.
Translated by Dr Saleh as Saleh rahimahullaah
Source : Understanding Worship – Fiqh ul-‘Ibadah – Shaykh ibn Uthaymeen