What Are Saints?

Question and answer details
Asad Khan
I like to learn about different religions. Why do Christians have so many saints?
Idris Tawfiq

Salam Dear Asad,


Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.


You are right to want to know about other religions. If we want to engage in any sincere dialogue with other people of faith, we need to know and understand what they believe.


We all have heroes in life, don't we? As children, we want to be Superman or a police officer or even be like our own father or mother. As adults, we look up to people who have set a good example and we want to try to be like them.


Muslims look to the perfect life and example of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and strive to be like him. They see that Muhammad was able to live as the perfect Muslim man and are encouraged by this to strive towards goodness.


There are other heroes in our own Islamic history, too, whom we strive to imitate, thereby becoming better Muslims. We can think of people like Hamzah or `Ali or any of the Companions of our Prophet.


In the end, though, Muslims are called to give an account to Almighty Allah of how they have lived their lives. Did they do good deeds? Were they faithful to the prayers? On the Day of Judgment, there will be no one else to save them. Their deeds will speak for themselves.


In fact, in Islam there are no intermediaries at all between Allah and ordinary men and women. There are no popes or priests who act on their behalf, dispensing special knowledge or hidden secrets.


Islam is very simple. When Muslims prostrate themselves in prayer, they are able to speak directly to Almighty Allah. It is to Almighty Allah that they will give account. So many people are attracted to the beauty of Islam by this very simplicity.


Muslims respect the beliefs of others. In the case of Christians, we have a special reverence for their belief because they honor Prophet Jesus and many of the other prophets of Islam (peace be upon them all). We should never forget this.


Although we do differ on many things, there is much that unites all people of faith. Prophet Muhammad was Almighty Allah's final messenger to mankind, and he was the Seal of the Prophets, giving the final revelation to the human race.


The message given to Moses and to Jesus (peace be upon them) was given to a specific people at a specific time. The message given to Muhammad was for all people and for all times.


Christians, as you rightly say, believe in saints. They seem to have so many saints. There are different branches of Christianity, and some of these honor saints more than others do. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, for example, hold saints in very high regard. The Protestant churches, less so. So what, then, are saints and what is their function? There is really no mystery about it at all.


A saint, according to Christian belief, is someone who has died and gone to heaven. It is as simple as that! Many ordinary Christians might not quite understand this, but this is exactly what the doctrine of saints is about.


In fact, if we avoided the term saint and used another word instead, Muslims would have no problem with this part of the doctrine. As Muslims, we believe that people die and are rewarded with Heaven or Hell, according to how they have lived their lives.


Righteous Muslims who die and are received into Paradise would be in this category which Christians call saints.


There is, though, more to Christian belief about saints, and it is here that our beliefs would diverge. For example, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox believe that once in Heaven, these people can intercede on our behalf, praying for us to be better people.


When new saints are created, what the Church is doing is simply holding up for veneration certain people who it believes have gone to Heaven and who should be looked up to and imitated and prayed to.


The Church believes that some of these people who have died and gone to Heaven perform miracles by which they prove to people on earth that they are, indeed, in Heaven.


Christians then pray to them, since they believe them to be near the throne of God. There is a very elaborate process whereby the Church investigates a person's life, and then the pope, speaking with what he claims to be an infallible authority, declares that this or that person is in Heaven.


While respecting the belief of Christians, Muslims reject this notion of saints interceding on our behalf. In fact, Muslims reject the very idea that we need others to approach Almighty Allah for us, since we alone can approach Him directly.


The idea of making statues of saints or setting up special altars to them or having pictures or icons of them is totally outside the belief of Islam.


In fact, such practices are very close to what we would call shirk (associating other beings or gods with Allah). The Christian doctrine of saints is not to worship them, but simply to honor them and ask them for help, but the practical reality of having statues and altars is beyond the bounds of what Muslims can accept.


It is true that some simple people, we might even call them uneducated people, who are Muslim, look to people who have died to give blessings to us in this life, but this belief is not a part of Islam.


We might call it a cultural practice, but it is not a Muslim practice. In fact, our beloved Prophet forbade Muslims to visit graves with the specific intention of praying to those who are in them.


So, as we can see, the doctrine of saints comes from the belief that good people are rewarded with Heaven when they die, but it becomes exaggerated to such an extent that it can lead people away from Almighty Allah, rather than drawing them to Him.


Islam rid the world of idol worship and returned our worship of Almighty Allah to its simplest form, as it had existed in the beginning. Islam, as you know, is the natural religion of mankind and has existed since the beginning of time.


In Islam, there is no need for saints or any intermediaries at all. We pray to Almighty Allah and He listens to our prayers.


I hope that this answer is helpful.




Useful Links:


Sainthood of the Pious


Who Will Go to Heaven?


The Road to Heaven


The Way to Heaven


What Do Christians Believe About God?


Visiting the Shrines of Saints


Calling Upon Saints: Is It Permissible?

Visiting the Graves of Saints and Pious People