Shafa'at (intercession) is an important concept in the Islamic faith. Though being an important issue, it's surrounded by controversy. In general, Shias and Sunnis believe in intercession while some others, such as Wahabbis, do not believe in it and reject the concept.
The word "Shafa'at" has been derived from "ash-shaf ", which means "even". In common parlance, intercession refers to the interceder taking advantage of his power, influence or nearness with the authorities to change their view on the guilty or criminal. In this type of intercession, there is no change in the condition or state of the guilty person; rather, the change is in the person holding authority. Sometimes the interceder may add facts about the person to be punished which may alter the intellectual foundations for the punishment. But this kind of intercession is not possible in Islam as Allah does not lack in knowledge about the criminal, and His knowledge cannot be added to.
The religious meaning of intercession refers to the interceder making a distinctive and qualitative transformation in the state and condition of the guilty person. This change, because of connection and nearness with interceder, transforms the guilty person into a cleaned state in which he/she becomes eligible for intercession.
Intercession cannot benefit the person for whom the intercession is asked, yet does not deserve it. Allama Tabatabai stated in Al-Mizan: "The effect of an intercessor's words depends on one or the other factor which may have some influence upon the concerned authority; in other words, intercession must have a solid ground to stand upon. The intercessor endeavors to find a way to the heart of the authority concerned, in order that the said authority may give the reward to, or waive the punishment of, the person who is the subject of intercession. An intercessor does not ask the master to nullify his mastership or to release the servant from his servitude; nor does lie plead with him to refrain from laying down rules and regulations for his servants or to abrogate his commandments (either generally or especially in that one case), in order to save the wrong-doer from the due consequences; nor does he ask him to discard the canon of reward and punishment, (either generally or in that particular case). In short, intercession can interfere with neither the institution of mastership and servitude nor the master's authority to lay down the rules; nor can it affect the system of reward and punishment. These three factors are beyond the jurisdiction of intercession.
"...But intercession is effective only if the person for whom one intercedes is otherwise qualified to get the reward and has already established a relationship with the authority. If an ignorant person desires appointment to a prestigious academic post, no intercession can do him any good; nor can it avail in case of a rebellious traitor who shows no remorse for his misdeeds and does not submit to the lawful authorities. It clearly shows that intercession works as a supplement to the cause; it is not an independent cause."
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