Someone from Canada wrote to Hazrat Amirul Momineen, Khalifatul Masih Vaa, saying that Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh had stated in a question-and-answer session that there is no evidence to confirm that Hazrat Abu Talib was a polytheist, nor is there any evidence to suggest that he was a Muslim; he had not proclaimed the kalimah. However, labelling him as a polytheist and damned is sinful.
The person wrote that, on the other hand, there is a hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari that states the Holy Prophetsa said that fire will reach Abu Talib up to his ankles, which will cause his brain to boil. These two statements appear contradictory. Hence, guidance on this matter is requested. Huzoor-e-Anwaraa, in his letter dated 19 July 2022, provided the following reply to this question:
“It is absolutely accurate to say that there is no evidence anywhere to substantiate that Hazrat Abu Talib was a polytheist. It is also true that Hazrat Abu Talib offered extraordinary support and assistance to the Holy Prophetsa, whether it was the gruelling period of confinement in the Sha‘b Abu Talib or the relentless opposition from the polytheists of Mecca; he never abandoned the Holy Prophetsa under any circumstance. Mentioning an incident involving the antagonism directed towards the Holy Prophetsa by the disbelievers of Mecca, and the support he received from Hazrat Abu Talib, the Promised Messiahas states:
“‘When these verses were revealed, declaring the polytheists as impure, foul, the worst of creation, foolish, and progeny of Satan, with their gods as fuel for the Fire and firewood of Hell, Abu Talib called the Holy Prophetsa and said, ‘O my nephew, your vilification has deeply angered the people. They are likely to kill you and me as well. You have called their intellectuals foolish and their elders the worst of creation. You have termed their revered gods as fuel for the Fire and firewood for Hell and their entire populace as impure and progeny of Satan. I counsel you with goodwill to restrain your tongue and desist from this vilification; otherwise, I have no strength to face the people.’ In response, the Holy Prophetsa said, ‘O uncle, this is not vilification but a statement of facts, presented in the most appropriate and befitting manner, and that is the very purpose for which I have been sent. If this leads to my death, I gladly accept it. My life is committed to this path. I cannot desist from expressing the truth out of fear of death. O uncle, if you are concerned about your own vulnerability and inconvenience, then you are welcome to withdraw your support. By God, I have no need for it. I will never cease from conveying God’s commands; they are dearer to me than life itself. By God, if I am killed in this path, I would wish to be resurrected and killed again and again. This does not cause me any fear; rather, I derive immense pleasure in facing hardship in this path.’ As the Holy Prophetsa was speaking, his face was radiating truth and luminosity, while he was also being overwhelmed by emotions. When he concluded, Abu Talib was moved to tears by the evident light of truth and said, ‘I was unaware of this lofty state of yours. You are indeed in a different realm and stature. Go, pursue your mission. As long as I live, and within my means, I will stand by you.’
“‘This entire content, although part of Abu Talib’s story recorded in books, is divinely inspired which God has revealed to this humble servant. Only a few phrases are added by me for explanatory purposes. This inspired statement clearly illustrates Abu Talib’s compassion and empathy; however, it establishes with absolute certainty that this empathy was born after witnessing the Holy Prophet’ssa prophetic light and steadfastness.’ (Izala-e-Auham, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 3, pp.110 to 112 and footnote)
“Thus, Hazrat Abu Talib extended his utmost support to the Holy Prophetsa to the extent that he was willing to face the opposition of his own tribe for the sake of the Holy Prophetsa. However, he did not renounce the religion of his people, and despite the insistence of the Holy Prophetsa, he refrained from proclaiming the kalimah to affirm monotheism [Tawhid]. Hence, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra writes regarding what happened upon the complaint of the chieftains of Mecca, who had advised Hazrat Abu Talib to deter the Prophetsa from his mission, the Holy Prophet’ssa response thereto, and Hazrat Abu Talib’s eventual announcement of his support for the Holy Prophetsa:
“‘The significance of Abu Talib’s response cannot be fully comprehended by those who are not acquainted with history, for they are unaware of another incident that sheds light on Abu Talib’s emotional state and reveals how deeply he loved his tribe. When the time of his demise drew near, the Holy Prophetsa, who had immense love for him due to his sacrifices and benevolent conduct, was profoundly distressed that he would die without embracing Islam. The Holy Prophetsa would sit beside him, sometimes on his right, sometimes on his left, urging, ‘O Uncle! The time of death is near; please pronounce ‘لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ مُحَمَّدٌ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ’ [There is none worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger.].’ However, Abu Talib remained silent and offered no response. Ultimately, the Holy Prophetsa insisted vehemently; being overwhelmed by emotions, and he would repeatedly urge, ‘O Uncle! Just pronounce the kalimah once, so that I may testify before God that you accepted Islam.’ However, in the end, Abu Talib replied that he could not abandon the religion of his people. In other words, his love for his tribe was so intense that he did not even desire Heaven without them. A man who held such intense love for his tribe was so affected by the courageous response of the Holy Prophetsa that he declared, ‘Fine, if my tribe forsakes me, let them. I will not forsake you.’’ (Khutbat-e-Mahmud, Vol. 17, p. 264, 1 May 1936)
“Thus, on the one hand, Hazrat Abu Talib supported the Holy Prophetsa until his final moments; yet, on the other hand, despite acknowledging the veracity of the Prophetsa and his faith, he refrained from pronouncing the kalimah to affirm the Oneness of God [Tawhid]. Considering this in the light of God Almighty’s justice and equity, the Prophetsa expressed the hope that on the Day of Judgment, his intercession might offer some benefit to Hazrat Abu Talib. He said it is hoped that Abu Talib will be placed in the intermediate level of the Fire, which will rise only up to his ankles, causing his brain to boil. Had I not existed, he would have been in the lowest level of Hell. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab manaqibi l-ansar, Bab qissati abi talib)
“In discussing Hell, one should remember that, as explicitly stated in the Holy Quran and ahadith of the Holy Prophetsa, it serves a function akin to that of a hospital, where sinners are sent for treatment. Now, just as in a hospital, patients seeking treatment for cancer are admitted alongside those receiving minor first aid; similarly, the statement of the Holy Prophetsa should be understood in the same vein. Those opponents of Islam who tirelessly worked day and night to counteract and eradicate it, applying all their might and resources in hostility, will go to Hell much like a person afflicted with a grievous illness goes to a hospital and stays there for an extended period. Conversely, Hazrat Abu Talib’s placement in Hell can be likened to a person who goes to a hospital for a minor wound, receives the necessary dressing, and then promptly returns home.
“In the exegesis of verses 113 and 114 of Surah at-Tawbah, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh elucidates the various categories of polytheists, stating:
“‘Allah, the Exalted, states that this injunction does not apply to every polytheist. Some of them engage in polytheism out of ignorance and are influenced by customs and traditions, yet they also fear Allah and do not engage in active enmity against Him. For instance, among Hindus, there are abundant examples of people who, while categorised as polytheists, possess the fear of God, seek prayers, and for whom believers also pray. Numerous Hindus frequently visited the Promised Messiahas acknowledging his piety and his evident and clear connection with Allah. They sought prayers from him, and he prayed for them, having borne witness to the fulfilment of his true dreams and revelations. As the Community’s reach expands, I increasingly receive letters from Hindus of India, and some Hindus even write to me after seeing me on television, expressing their impression that my prayers are answered and then request prayers for themselves.
“‘Therefore, there are categories of polytheists: some are adamant in their shirk [associating partners with God] and eventually become enemies of monotheism [Tawhid]. For such individuals, it is strictly prohibited to pray or seek forgiveness. This subject has been elaborated in these verses, stating that it is not appropriate for them to seek forgiveness for the polytheists, لَوْ كَانُوا أُولِي قُرْبَىٰ مِن بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُمْ (‘[…] even though they may be kinsmen, after it has become plain to them that they are the people of Hell.’) [Surah at-Tawbah, 9:113]
“‘However, their polytheism was already evident. What, then, ‘became plain’ (تَبَيَّنَ)? If these individuals were well-known polytheists, were their children not aware that they were polytheists? So, when do they cease to pray for them? It is مِن بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُمْ, i.e., after it has become plain to them that they are condemned to Hell.
“‘Commonly, it is understood that a polytheist is destined for Hell; however, a polytheist who becomes a believer shall not go to Hell. How can one discern that they are indeed doomed to Hell? The way to understand this has been elucidated through the example of Prophet Abrahamas by Allah the Exalted. He states:
وَمَا کَانَ اسۡتِغۡفَارُ اِبۡرٰہِیۡمَ لِاَبِیۡہِ اِلَّا عَنۡ مَّوۡعِدَۃٍ وَّعَدَہَاۤ اِیَّاہُ
“‘(‘And Abraham’s asking forgiveness for his father was only because of a promise he had made to him […]’) [Surah at-Tawbah, 9:114]
“‘His supplication for his father was solely based on a promise he had made to him. Knowing his father was a polytheist, Prophet Abrahamas still made the commitment to pray for him, a commitment that Allah Almighty allowed him to fulfil. Silence was maintained until Prophet Abrahamas had completed his promise. It was then that God Almighty informed him that that individual [his father] was not only a polytheist but also an enemy to Allah. God stated:
فَلَمَّا تَبَیَّنَ لَہٗۤ اَنَّہٗ عَدُوٌّ لِّلّٰہِ تَبَرَّاَ مِنۡہُ
“‘[‘…but when it became clear to him that he was an enemy to Allah, he dissociated himself from him.’ (Ibid.)]
“‘Therefore, a polytheist who actively opposes Tawhid is in a different category compared to a simple-minded, good-natured polytheist who merely follows in the footsteps of his parents. One distinction here is that if the latter seeks prayers in his lifetime, it is permissible to pray for him; it is not prohibited. This is evident from the interpretation of this verse. Secondly, his damnation is not conclusive. A polytheist who becomes an enemy of God is certainly destined for Hell. However, a polytheist who is not an enemy of God but is conventionally engaged in polytheism still has a chance.
“‘Another facet to consider is that if you separate the subject of shirk from religious labels—be it Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, or Christian—there are many Muslims who openly commit shirk, yet they are not enemies of God. Consequently, their funeral prayers are offered, and supplications for their forgiveness are also made. If you visit Multan [in Pakistan], for instance, the veneration of graves is so pervasive that one would be bewildered as to whether it is a Muslim country or a Hindu one. Similarly, among Christians, who are also regarded as ‘People of the Book,’ shirk is prevalent. Yet, despite the shirk, interactions with them are still permissible as prescribed by the Holy Quran for the People of the Book.
“‘In light of these two verses, my understanding—regardless of the stance of Islamic jurists [fuqaha]—is that one should unhesitatingly recite the supplication taught by the Holy Prophetsa [to be recited at the end of salat, i.e., رَبِّ اجۡعَلۡنِیۡ …]. This holds whether such a person is emerging from the Barelvi sect, known for seeking intercession from the deceased and prostrating before saints, because God has imposed a condition that only if it is proven that such people are enemies of God and detest Tawhid then it becomes impermissible to pray for them. However, since these people simultaneously declare themselves as muwahhidun (believers in the Oneness of God), while also initiating acts of shirk, they are in a state of ambiguity. In their case, there is no prohibition in offering the supplication taught by the Holy Prophetsa to be recited during salat.
“‘Indeed, if there exists an individual who is aware that his parents are foremost in the act of shirk and are adversaries of Tawhid, then in such circumstances, my understanding is that one should abstain from offering this particular supplication for them. This is because that prayer would be in direct conflict with a clear injunction of the Holy Quran. Consequently, such an individual may complete his salat even without this supplication. One can still say, رَبَّنَا اغۡفِرۡ لِیۡ ۔۔۔ وَلِلۡمُؤۡمِنِیۡنَ’ [‘Our Lord, grant forgiveness to me … and to the believers’, thereby omitting the contentious part of the supplication during salat.]
“‘[…] In any case, this is a matter on which differing opinions hardly make any difference. I have made my stance clear: As far as I am concerned, a Muslim who knows that their parents engaged in polytheistic practices, or they were even such Hindus who were virtuous and devoted to God but were born into a polytheistic tradition and thus did not get the chance to convert to Islam, one can legitimately pray for their forgiveness.’ (Tarjamatul Quran Class, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh, Surah at-Tawbah, Verses 113 to 122).
“As for Hazrat Abu Talib, although he was born during a period of polytheism and despite his earnest endeavours and wishes, did not proclaim the Oneness of God, he was not ensnared in the kind of polytheism practised by those who were outright enemies of Tawhid and Allah the Exalted. These people would openly express their polytheism and were engrossed day and night in opposing Allah and His Messengersa. Therefore, due to his virtuous nature and his support and assistance to the Holy Prophetsa, Hazrat Abu Talib will neither serve as fuel for Hell like the enemies of Allah, nor will he remain there for an extended period. Yes, for a brief period, just as one who suffers from a minor illness may go to the hospital for some time, Hazrat Abu Talib may also face the fire of Hell briefly for treatment. This fact has been articulated in the statement of the Holy Prophetsa.”