At MuslimHymns.com, we clearly mark songs and poems that contain within their lyrics tawassul (invoking the sanctity of a pious person in one’s prayer) or istighātha (directly beseeching a pious person for help). This page provides some guidance on this topic, respecting scholarly differences of opinion.
Tawassul, literally “taking as an intermediary”, refers to the act of supplicating to Allah while invoking some pious person (or sacred place, etc.) as an intermediary. That is, one says “O Allah, by X, I ask you for Y” (or “for the sake of X”, “by the sanctity/status of X”, etc.). The majority of classical scholars, within all four schools of Sunni Islam, agreed that such formulations are valid and permissible, citing hadith evidence where the Prophet instructed companions to invoke him in their prayers. A small minority of scholars, including Ibn Taymiyya, held tawassul to be impermissible. (Sometimes, tawassul through the Prophet ﷺ was considered a solitary exception to this prohibition.) Several modern Salafi scholars follow this latter view and prohibit tawassul. However, the majority classical view remains that tawassul is permissible.
Istighātha, literally “asking for help”, differs from tawassul in that instead of saying “O Allah, by X, I ask you for Y” one addresses the request directly to the saint: “O X, grant me Y”. The most common form is beseeching the Prophet ﷺ or one of the awliyā’ for help (madad).
All Muslims agree that if the supplicant in such a case were genuinely to believe that the person they are addressing is capable, independently of Allah, to grant them some benefit, such a belief would amount to kufr. It is highly doubtful, however, that anyone who engages in istighātha actually holds such a belief. Rather, they intend to invoke the sanctity of the person being addressed, and maintain that it is Allah who is the one that answers their prayers and meets their needs.
Scholars within all four classical schools of Sunni Islam differed regarding the permissibility of istighātha. Many scholars considered it permissible, arguing based on common metaphorical language – we say, for example, that the rain makes the crops grow, knowing full well that it is Allah who is the true cause of the crops’ growth, while the rain is just a means. Many other scholars, however, prohibited istighātha since it can give the wrong impression and confuse people’s beliefs. Both opinions are to be found among the ulama, and both are based on reliable reasoning from the sources of the religion. It is therefore not permissible to rebuke or harass someone for following one of the two positions, since both are religiously valid.