In this article we shall look at the origin and reliability of this supplication
Content of the supplication
While the concept of Tawassul is established according to the Shi’a, this supplication contains passages which deviate from the correct method of supplicating and seeking nearness [wasīlah] to Allah (swt).
The supplication begins with the passage:
اَللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْأَلُكَ وَأَتَوَجَّهُ إِلَيْكَ
بِنَبِيِّكَ نَبِيِّ ٱلرَّحْمَةِ
مُحَمَّدٍ صَلَّىٰ ٱللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَآلِهِ
O Allah, I beseech You and turn my face toward YouDua Tawassul – duas.org
in the name of Your Prophet; the Prophet of Mercy,
Muhammad—may Allah send blessings to him and his Household.
The addressee in this passage is Allah (swt), and He is beseeched “by” the Prophet ﷺ often translated as “in the name of / by virtue of”, supplicating in a similar manner has been recorded in reliable narrations:
عن معاوية بن عمار قال: قلت لأبي عبد الله (عليه السلام): إلا تخصني بدعاء؟ قال: بلى قال: قل: ” يا واحد يا ماجد يا أحد يا صمد يا من لم يلد ولم يولد ولم يكن له كفوا أحد يا عزيز يا كريم يا حنان يا منان يا سامع الدعوات يا أجود من سئل ويا خير من أعطى يا الله يا الله يا الله قلت: ولقد نادينا نوح فلنعم المجيبون ” ثم قال أبو عبد الله (عليه السلام): كان رسول الله (صلى الله عليه وآله) يقول: ” [نعم] لنعم المجيب أنت ونعم المدعو ونعم المسؤول أسألك بنور وجهك وأسألك بعزتك وقدرتك وجبروتك وأسألك بملكوتك ودرعك الحصينة وبجمعك وأركانك كلها وبحق محمد وبحق الأوصياء بعد محمد أن تصلي على محمد وآل محمد وأن تفعل بي كذا وكذا “.
From Muʿāwīya b. ʿAmmār who has said the following: “Once I said to Abi ʿAbdallāh (as) ‘Will you instruct me with a special supplication?’al-Kāfi, vol 2, pg 584 – thaqalayn.net
The Imam said: « Yes, I will do so, say: »
« O the One, the Glorious, the Only, O self-sufficient. Who has not given birth to anyone and is not born from anyone and Who has no partner, O Majestic, O Magnanimous, O Compassionate, O Obliging, O Hearer of supplications, O the Most Generous of those who are asked for help, O the Best of those who give, O Allah, O Allah, O Allah, You have said, ‘Noah pleaded before Us for help and We are the best to answer. »
Abu ʿAbdallāh (a.s.) then said: « The Messenger of Allah ﷺ would say: “Yes, indeed. You are the best Who answers, the best to be called for help, and the best to plead with, I plead before You through the light of Your face, through Your majesty, Your power, Your might, I plead before You through Your kingdom, through Your formidable coats of arm and Your community, the members of Your community all of them, by the right of Muhammad and the successors [Awsiyah] after Muhammad to grant al-Salat (favors) upon Muhammad and his family and provide me help in such and such matters. (One should mention one’s needs). »
Grading: Ṣaḥīḥ [Mir‘at al ‘Uqul Fi Sharh Akhbar Al al Rasul (2/458)]
The problem appears in the later passages of the supplication where the Prophet ﷺ and every Imam is invoked one after the other in this manner:
يَا أَبَا ٱلْحَسَنِ
يَا أَمِيرَ ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ
يَا عَلِيُّ بْنَ أَبِي طَالِبٍ
يَا حُجَّةَ ٱللَّهِ عَلَىٰ خَلْقِهِ
يَا سَيِّدَنَا وَمَوْلاَنَا
إِنَّا تَوَجَّهْنَا وَٱسْتَشْفَعْنَا
وَتَوَسَّلْنَا بِكَ إِلَىٰ اللّهِ
وَقَدَّمْنَاكَ بَيْنَ يَدَيْ حَاجَاتِنَا
يَا وَجِيهاً عِنْدَ ٱللَّهِ
إِشْفَعْ لَنَا عِنْدَ ٱللَّهِ
O Abu’l-Hasan!Dua Tawassul – duas.org
O commander of the Believers!
O `Ali, son of Abu-Talib!
O Allah’s Argument against His creatures!
O our master and chief!
We are turning our faces toward you, seeking your intercession
and your advocacy for us before Allah;
and we are presenting you [as our intermediary] for the settlement of our needs.
O well-esteemed with Allah,
intercede for us before Allah.
This manner of invoking other than Allah (swt) has not been established in any reliable narrations including this narration as we will showcase soon. This in addition to its apparent opposition to the Quran:
وَأَنَّ ٱلْمَسَـٰجِدَ لِلَّهِ فَلَا تَدْعُوا۟ مَعَ ٱللَّهِ أَحَدًۭا
And [He revealed] that the masjids are for Allah, so do not invoke with Allah anyone.Quran 72:19
ʿAllāmah Muḥammad Jawād Mughnīyya (d. 1979 CE) comments on the verses following it:
(قل إني لا أملك لك ضرا ولا رشدا)
أي نفعا. وأيضا قل يا محمد للمشركين : أنا بشر مثلكم لا أدعي القدرة على التحكم في مصيركم وضركم أو نفعكم ، فالأمر كله لله وحده.
(قل إني لن يجيرني من الله أحد ولن أجد من دونه ملتحدا إلا بلاغا من الله ورسالاته)
لا مفر ولا ملجأ لرسول الله من الله إذا قصر في تأدية الرسالة التي ائتمنه عليها .. وهذه آية من عشرات الآيات التي تدل بصراحة ووضوح على ان الإسلام يرفض فكرة الواسطة بين الله وعباده ، ويضع الإنسان أمام خالقه مباشرة يخاطبه ويناجيه بما شاء ، ويتقرب اليه بفعل الخيرات من غير شفيع ووسيط.
« Say: “It is not in my power to cause you harm nor to bring you to the Straight Path.” »Al-Tafsir Al-Kashif, Volume 7, Page 441-442
And also say, O Muhammad, to the mushrikeen: I am a human being like you, I do not claim the ability to control your fate nor can I harm you or benefit you. This ability belongs to Allah alone.
« Say: “None can protect me from Allah’s chastisement [if I disobey Him], nor can I find refuge except in Him. But [I have for you] only notification from Allah, and His messages. »
There is no escape for the Prophet of Allah from Allah if he had a limitation in delivering the message that has been entrusted to him
These verses, like many other verses, explicitly and unequivocally prove that Islam rejects the idea of a medium between Allah and his servants, and places man directly before his Creator in such a way that he (man) turns to him unhindered and can address him and call on to him, however he wishes or however he feels and he can seek nearness to Him (the Creator) by righteous deeds without any intercessor or medium.
The questionable teachings of this supplication was also reason for several scholars to criticize it, including Ayatollah Shaykh Muḥammad Hādī Yusufī Gharawī a Qummi hawza professor, historian, and researcher.
In an interview discussing his “Minhāj al-H̪ayāh fi al-Ada’iya al al-Ziyārāt ‘an Ahl al-Bayt al-Hudāh” – a filtered version of the famous Mafātīh̪ al-Jinān by Shaykh ‘Abbas Qummi, he says:
A manmade so-called dua omitted from my book is “Tawassul,” unfortunately oft-labeled “Dua Tawassul” when, in fact, it is not a supplication whatsoever. It does not even bear the scent of the infallibles (a) and it is the most clear-cut example of a fabrication. It is commonly stated that Tawassul is the creation of Nasir al-Deen al-Tusi, however, this is a weak opinion. It should not be assumed that this originates from the infallibles (a). Even calling it a “dua” is a mistake, providing ammunition for Salafis to criticize Shi’ism. Dua means beseeching the Lord. Dua means giving one’s attention solely to the Creator. However, this manmade dua is an intercession to the infallibles (a).Prof. Ayt. Gharawi, Dua Tawassul, Shirk, Wilayat e Takwini, and the Errors in Mafatih al-Jinan – shiismandislamichistory
The Marja’ Sayed Muḥammad Ḥusayn Faḍlullāh (d. 2010 CE) also voiced his disapproval of this dua in response to a question:
السؤال: ما هي الملاحظة الأساسية في دعاء التوسل حيث أغلب العلماء يوصون بالمداومة عليه وهو محل آثار عجيبة، وما هي ميزة ليلة الأربعاء لهذا الدعاء؟
الجواب المنشور بتاريخ 11 / 6 / 2005م:
‘لم نرَ أغلب العلماء يوصون به، وهو من ناحية السند غير ثابت ومن ناحية المضمون يلاحظ عليه التوجه بالخطاب لغير الله تعالى وهذا ليس راجحا، وإن كان المراد الاستشفاع بالنبي واهل بيته ع لكن أسلوبه غير معهود في أدعيتهم ع، ولا ميزة لليلة الأربعاء فيه فإن ذلك ليس ناشئاً من السنة والمأثور’. انتهى
Question: What is the principal observation on Dua Tawassul, since most of the scholars advise us to recite it regularly and that it has surprising effects, and what is the special link of this dua with Tuesday night?
Answer (published 11/06/2005): We have not found majority of the scholars recommending it, and from the point of view of the chain of narrators, it is not established (as being authentic) and from the perspective of content, it should be noted against this dua that it is addressed to other than Allah (swt), and this is not plausible, even if the aim is to seek the intercession of the Prophet ﷺ and his Ahlulbayt (as), but the style of this dua is very different from the duas of the Ahlulbayt (as), and Tuesday night does not have anything that distinguishes it (from the rest), and that (i.e. the tradition of reciting it on Tuesday night) does not stem from the Sunnah and the traditions received from the Ahlulbayt (as). The End.
Tawassul in the Quran
Often the following verse in the Quran mentioning wasīlah is utilised to justify these practices:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ اتَّقُواْ اللّهَ وَابْتَغُواْ إِلَيهِ الْوَسِيلَةَ وَجَاهِدُواْ فِي سَبِيلِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
O’ you who have Faith! Be in awe of Allah, and seek the means (of nearness) to Him; and strive hard in His way, that you may be prosperous.Quran 5:35
But the meaning of wasīlah here is not to seek a person as medium and present them your needs, rather it is a means of getting closer to Allah (swt) which the sources tell us to mean complying with His demands.
ʿAllāmah Sayed Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabāṭabāʾī mentions in his tafseer:
“al-Wasīlah (اَلْوَسِيْلَةُ ) means attaining something with longing; it is more particular than al-wasilah (اَلْوَصِيْلَةُ = joining, attaining) as it has added connotation of longing. Allãh says: and seek means of nearness to Him; the reality of this means of nearness to Allãh is to comply with demands of His path with knowledge and worship, and pursuit of virtues of the sharī‘ah , and it is like al-qurbah (اَلْقُرْبَةُ = nearness).”
Tafsir Al Mizan, English translation by Allamah Sayyid Sa’eed Akhtar Rizvi, Volume 10, pg 132
It is a sort of joining together, i.e. a spiritual joining which connects the slave with his master; there is no link that connects man with his Lord except the submissiveness of worship and veneration. Therefore, the means of nearness means ensuring the reality of veneration and turning the face of humility and poverty to His direction – this is then the connecting link that joins the servant to his Lord. As for knowledge and good deed, these are obviously its tools and concomitants, except if knowledge and deed are used to this very condition.
We can also find this explanation in a famous narration in which Imam Ali (as) explicitly mentions the best means by which seekers of nearness to Allah (swt), seek nearness (tawassul):
إِنَّ أَفْضَلَ مَا تَوَسَّلَ بِهِ الْمُتَوَسِّلُونَ إِلَى اللهِ سُبْحَانَهُ: الاْيمَانُ بِهِ وَبِرَسُولِهِ، وَالْجِهادُ فِي سَبِيلِهِ فَإِنَّهُ ذِرْوَةُ الاْسْلاَمِ، وَكَلِمَةُ الاْخْلاَصِ فَإِنَّهَا الْفِطْرَةُ، وَإِقَامُ الْصَّلاَةِ فَإِنَّهَا الْمِلَّةُ، وَإِيتَاهُ الزَّكَاةِ فَإِنَّهَا فَرِيضَةٌ وَاجِبَةٌ، وَصَوْمُ شَهْرِ رَمَضَانَ فَإِنَّهُ جُنَّةٌ مِنَ الْعِقَاب، وَحَجُّ الْبَيْتِ وَاعْتِمارُهُ فَإِنَّهُمَا يَنْفِيَانِ الْفَقْرَ وَيَرْحَضَانِ الذَّنْبَ، وَصِلَةُ الرَّحِمِ فَإِنَّهَا مَثْرَاةٌ فِي الْمَالِ وَمَنْسَأَةٌ في الاْجَلِ، وَصَدَقَةُ السِّرِّ فَإِنَّهَا تُكَفِّرُ الْخَطِيئَةَ، وَصَدَقَةُ الْعَلاَنِيَةِ فَإِنَّهَا تَدْفَعُ مِيتَةَ السُّوءِ، وَصَنَائِعُ الْمَعْرُوفِ فَإِنَّهَا تَقِي مَصَارعَ الْهَوَانِ.
The best means by which seekers of nearness [mutawassilun] to Allah, the Glorified, the Exalted, seek nearness [tawassul], is the belief in Him and His Prophet, fighting in His cause, for it is the high pinnacle of Islam, and (to believe) in the kalimatu’l-‘ikhlas (the expression of Divine purification) for it is just nature and the establishment of prayer for it is (the basis of) community, payment of zakat (Islamic tax) for it is a compulsory obligation, fasting for the month of Ramadan for it is the shield against chastisement, the performance of hajj of the House of Allah (i. e . Ka’bah) and its ‘umrah (other than annual visit) for these two acts banish poverty and wash away sins, regard for kinship for it increases wealth and length of life, to giving alms secretly for it covers shortcomings, giving alms openly for it protects against a bad death and extending benefits (to people) for it saves from positions of disgrace.Kitāb al-Zuhd by al-Ḥusayn b. Saʿeed, pg 13
Al-Maḥāsin, vol 1, pg 289
Man lā yaḥḍuruh al-faqīh, vol 1, pg 205
ʿIlal al-Sharāiʿ, vol 1, pg 247
Tuḥaf al-ʿUqūl, pg 149
Nahjul al-Balāgha, vol 1, pg 215; Sermon 113
Al-Amālī by Shaykh al-Ṭūsī, pg 216
Explanation of the ḥadīth by Sayed Muṣṭafā Ḥusayni al-Ṭabāṭabāʾī
I say: The ‘waseela’ to Allah (swt) is the means by which the worshiper gets closer to Him (swt), and Imam Ali (as) has explained in this sermon called “Khutabah al Dibaj” the best way to gain nearness to Allah (swt), which is: To belive in Allah (swt) and His prophet (pbuh), and following the laws of Allah (swt) in terms of the obligations and rules.Fatḥ al-Bayān, part 1, section 18
As can be seen from some of the earliest extant sources of Shiʿite ḥadīth, such as Kitāb al-Zuhd by al-Ḥusayn b. Saʿeed (d. 254 AH)’s and Al-Maḥāsin of Shaykh al-Barqī (d. 280 AH), and the succeeding books from Qummi and Baghdadi scholars such as Shaykh al-Ṣaduq, Shaykh al-Mufīd, al-Sharīf al-Raḍī and Shaykh al-Ṭūsī; the tawassul taught by the Ahlulbayt (as) is to believe in Allah (swt) and His Messenger ﷺ, and to follow the Islamic laws and obligations. There is no mention of calling on / invoking the Ahlulbayt (as) for wasīlah.
In addition to the lack of corroboration for the content of the supplication in reliable sources, when we look at the sources of this text we will find that the first time it appeared is with ʿAllāmah Muḥammad Bāqir al-Majlisī (d. 1110 AH / 1699 CE) prior to him nobody has mentioned this text before.
None of the later scholars known for their books regarding supplication mentioned it, such as al-Kafʿamī (d. 905 AH), Ibn Fahd al-Ḥillī (d. 841 AH), Ibn Ṭāwūs (d. 664 AH). Let alone the classical scholars such as Shaykh al-Ṭūsī (d. 460 AH)  or those before him.
al-Majlisī mentions it as follows:
أقول: وجدت في نسخة قديمة من مؤلفات بعض أصحابنا رضي الله عنهم ما هذا لفظه: هذا الدعاء رواه محمد بن بابويه رحمه الله عن الأئمة عليهم السلام وقال: ما دعوت في أمر إلا رأيت سرعة الإجابة وهو:
I [al-Majlisī] say: I found in an old copy of the works of our companions (ra) the following: This supplication was narrated by Muḥammad b. Bābawayh [al-Ṣaduq] (rah) on the authority of the Imams (as) and he [al-Ṣaduq] said: Everything I’ve ever supplicated for was quickly answered and it goes as follows: […]Biḥār al-Anwār, vol 99, pg 247
We find that al-Majlisī does not provide any chain of narrators for this supplication, which is likely because in the book he found it in there was no chain either.
Many problems arise when analysing the words of al-Majlisī in attempt to uncover the reliability of the text, namely;
- al-Majlisī attributes the supplication to Shaykh al-Ṣaduq (d. 381 AH) which creates a gap of over 700 years between them with no intermediaries provided. This a red flag when it comes to the reliability of this report, not to mention that we cannot find this report in the books of Shaykh al-Ṣaduq, in fact not in any other book before al-Majlisī.
How is it possible that for 7 centuries this supplication was hidden and not found anywhere?
- al-Majlisī mentions he found it in a book, who authored this book? Was the person reliable? How did the book reach al-Majlisī? These are all questions we don’t get an answer to because there is no chain. 
It appears that al-Majlisī narrates by wijada of an unknown book. This type of transmission brings risks with it such as the possibility of the manuscript being tampered with.
- al-Majlisī does not provide a chain to the book he quotes from, nor does the book provide a chain to al-Ṣaduq, nor is there any path from al-Ṣaduq to the Imam. We don’t even know which Imam the text is attributed to.
Some people allege that there is a similar earlier source narrated by Ibn Ṭāwūs (d. 664 AH), however we will see that this does not strengthen the supplication at all, rather the opposite.
First, if one actually goes to the supplication which is not in Muhaj al-daʿawāt rather it is quoted from Al-Mujtanā fī al-du’ā’ al-mujtabā in some prints of the former, you will find that the supplication was not attributed to the Imams by Ibn Ṭāwūs, rather to the scholar Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī (d. 672 AH).
Second, if one submits to this similar earlier text being Dua Tawasul; this would show that there has been distortion to the supplication that reached us, attesting to weak transmission. Not to mention the fact that the earlier source is not at all attributing it to the Imam, which actually strengthens the possibility that it is a manmade supplication that was only later attributed to the Imam.
As for what al-Kafʿamī (d. 905 AH) transmitted, the fact that it contains some of the passages does not strengthen Dua Tawasul especially since it is quoted in Al-Balad al-amīn without any chain. Al-Kafʿamī is also not a classical scholar for his disconnected narrations to have any sort of weight, the gap between him and the Imam is ~700 years. As result of this weakness it is not considered an authoritative proof.
Principle of leniency
The principle of Principle of Leniency in Deducing Proofs for Recommended Acts (al-Tasamuh fi Addilat al-Sunan) is in no way a principle to authenticate supplications or rule on their authority, this principle regards the question if someone accrues reward for a recommended act regardless if it was actually legislated. Thus he who calls on to this principle in an attempt to authenticate this supplication, we say that this is not possible. 
The narration is extremely unreliable, rather even clearly fabricated according to some, and cannot be relied on whatsoever, nor is there other authentic evidence which justifies this manner of supplication.
Even when considering weak narrations this is an alien concept of supplicating in the general Shiʿi corpus, one look at the chapters of supplications in al-Kāfi  would give someone a better impression of the method of supplicating to Allah (swt) that was taught and recommended by the Ahlulbayt (as), which is directly addressing Allah (swt) as is in accordance with the Quran:
وَقَالَ رَبُّكُمُ ادْعُونِي أَسْتَجِبْ لَكُمْ
And your Lord says: Call upon Me, I will answer youQuran 40:60
والحمد لله رب العالمين وصلى الله على محمد وآله الطاهرين
|↑1||The website duas.org mentions that he narrated it in his Miṣbāḥ but this is incorrect.|
|↑2||This is not the first time al-Majlisī cites from seemingly obscure books, see for example: |
أقول: رأيت في بعض الكتب المعتبرة روى مرسلا
I [ʿAllāmah Majlisī] say: I saw in some reliable books, that it is narrated in Mursal [disconnected] form
Ref: Did Sayeda Zainab practice bloodletting rituals? | by Shaykh Abbas al-Musa
أقول: ذكر والدي رحمه الله أنّه رأى في كتاب عتيق جمعه بعض محدّثي أصحابنا في فضائل أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام هذا الخبر، ووجدته أيضاً في كتاب عتيق مشتمل على أخبار كثيرة..
I [Bāqir al-Majlisī] say: My father [Taqī al-Majlisī], may God have mercy on him, mentioned that he saw this ḥadīth in an old book compiled by some of our companions, whom are speakers of the virtues of the Commander of the Faithful (as), and I also found it in an old book that includes many reports [..]
Ref: “Say about us whatever you like, and excuse us from Divinity” – Hadith Analysis | by Shaykh Hobbollah
The reason he does not mention the names of the books is not because they are well known books, rather what we find is that many dubious narrations are introduced in this way by al-Majlisī, very likely because he himself does not know the author of the books which he found.
|↑3||For reading on this principle and its different interpretations refer to:|
|↑4||Al-Kāfi – Volume 2 – The Book of Supplication|
Supplications for Sustenance
Concise Supplications for Worldly Needs and the Hereafter