Ayah 85 points out to the act of shafaah under two heads, the good and the bad, a division which helps clarify its nature. The added message here is that no recommendation is universally good or bad. What has to be realized is that one who makes a good recommendation shall have a share in the reward it brings and who makes a bad recommendation shall have a share in the punishment it brings.
It will be noted that word نَصِيبٌ naseebun (share) has been used with شَفَـعَةً حَسَنَةً shafa’atan hasanatan while the word كِفْلٌ kiflun (share) has been used with شَفَـعَةً سَيِّئَةً shafa’atan sayyiatan. Lexically, both words carry the some meaning, that is, a share of something. But, in common usage, ‘naseeb’ refers to a good share while the word kifl is more than often, used to identify a bad share, although there are occasions when kifl is also used for a good share as well.
The literal meaning of shafa’ah is to meet, to join; or, cause to meet or join. This is why the word ‘shaf’ means an even number, a pair or couple in Arabic, the antonym of which is referred to as witr or odd. So, speaking literally, shafaah means the coupling of one’s strength with that of a weak seeker of justice and thus making it stronger in appeal. Or, in other words, joining in with some helpless solitary person and thus giving him the strength of a pair.
From here we find out that for recommendation to be fair and permissible the condition is that claim of the person being recommended be true and permissible. Then, in the second place, it may be that a person cannot carry his claim all by himself to those in authority because of his weakness or lack of resource, something which you may do for him. Thus, we can clearly see that making a recommendation for what is not true and rightful, or forcibly influencing others’ recommendation for what is not true and rightful, or forcibly influencing others to accept it, is included under bad recommendation. Consequently, we also know that pressure or authority exerted through the channels of one’s connections and influence is also not permissible because it is an act of injustice. Therefore, this too will be counted as ‘bad recommendation’.
From here we find out that prompting someone to do a good deed is a good deed in its own right and carries an identical reward for having done it and, by the same token, prompting someone to do an evil deed or to indulge in an act of sin is also a sin of equal gravity.
The Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam said, “Allah keeps helping His servant as long as he keeps helping his brother.”
It is on this basis that the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam has said as reported in a hadeeth of Saheeh al-Bukhari, “Recommend and be rewarded and then be pleased with whatever Allah decides through His Prophet.”
While this hadeeth declares recommendation as a source of Divine reward, it also defines the limit of such recommendation. If a weak person cannot carry his problem onward to a higher authority, or is incapable of explaining correctly what he needs, then, you do it for him. Further from that what happens is none of your business. The recommendation may be accepted or it may be rejected. What a person needs to be done may be done, or it may remain undone. These are possibilities and you should not interfere in the process of decision making in any manner whatsoever. Should the final outcome turn out to be against the recommendation made you should never end up being displeased or disgusted. The last sentence of the hadeeth quoted above means just this. Also, due to this reason, the words of the Qur’an carry a hint in this direction, that is, the reward or punishment on the making of a recommendation does not depend on a successful recommendation. Such reward or punishment relates to the initial act of making a recommendation in the absolute sense. If you make a good recommendation, you become deserving of a reward and if you make a bad recommendation, you become deserving of a reward and if you make a bad recommendation, you become liable to punishment – the approval or rejection of your recommendation does not matter.
The commentators of Tafseer al-Bahr al-Muhti and Bayan-ul-Qur’an and several others take the word, minha in ayah 85 as indicative of cause and see a hint in this direction. Al-Tafseer al-Mazhari reports from the great exegete Mujahid that one who makes a recommendation will get a reward for having made it, even though the recommendation may not have been accepted. Then, this approach is not specially related to the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam in person. Any recommendation made to any other human being should be bound by this principle – make the recommendation and be done with it. Moving any further to compel the addresses of the recommendation to accept it is not right and fair. This is illustrated by an incident in the life of Rasoolullah.
He made a recommendation to Barirah radhiAllahu anha, a bondwoman freed by Aisha radhiAllahu anha that her husband Mugheeth from whom she had dissolved her marriage was really disturbed emotionally because he loved her, so she may think of remarrying him. Barirah radhiAllahu anha said, “Ya Rasoolullah, if this is your command, I am all for it; but, if this is a recommendation, then, I just do not feel like accepting it at all.” The Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam said, “Yes, this is a recommendation and not a command.” Barirah radhiAllahu anha knew that the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam will not feel bad about what is against the set rule. Therefore, in all frankness, she said, “Then I do not accept this recommendation.” He took it very gracefully and let her stay the way she was.
This was the whole reality behind the act of recommendation, something which brought merit and reward under the legal code of Islam. But, in our day, people have so mutilated the whole thing that no shafa’ah remains what it was intended to be. What we witness now is a pushy exercise of cashing on the basis of connections, acquaintance and VIP influence for which relentless pressure is exerted. This is why people become angry when their recommendation is not accepted. Some would even stoop down to open hostility, although pressurizing a person to a limit where he is compelled to do something against his conscience and good discretion is included under compulsion and coercion and is a grave sin. This is just like someone forcibly usurping the claim, right or property belonging to the other person. Wasn’t that person free and independent as established by the law of Islam? Here comes someone who deprives him of his freedom of action by pressing him to do something against his free will and conscience. This would be like stealing from someone and giving it to a destitute in order to fulfill his need.
Receiving Payment Against a Recommendation is Bribe and is Absolutely Forbidden
A recommendation against which anything is taken in return becomes a bribe. The hadeeth declares it to be an ill-gotten property which is haram. This includes all kinds of bride whether money-oriented or job-related, for instance, harnessing someone to do a personal chore in return for having done something for him.
According to Tafseer al-Kashshaf, a good recommendation is that which aims at fulfilling the right of a Muslim, or to bring some permissible benefit to him, or to shield him from harm or loss. Furthermore, this act of recommendation should not be for any worldly expediency. It should be aimed at helping a weak person exclusively for seeking the pleasure of Allah. Then no bribe, financial or physical, should be taken against this recommendation and that this recommendation should also not be about things not permissible. In addition to all that, the purpose of this recommendation should not be to seek pardon for a proven crime the punishment for which stands fixed in the Qur’an.
It appears in Tafseer al-Bahr al-Muhit and al-Mazhari that praying to Allah that the need of some Muslim be fulfilled is also included under ‘good recommendation’, the reward for which reaches the maker of the prayer as well. According to a hadeeth, when someone prays for the good of his brother-in-faith, the angel says, “May Allah fulfill your need as well.”