The Prophet(Pbuh) has taught us to pray Allah for all our needs, whether they relate to this world or the hereafter. From his practice and guidance we have learned that supplication could be made at any time and in all situations. While it is often the case that we pray Allah to forgive us our slips and sins, bestow His mercy on us and admit us into heaven in the after, we are also reassured when we pray Him to help us accomplish our purposes in this life. We know that His help is the key to success in every situation. It is also natural to devote most of our supplication to our own needs and our own forgiveness. But what about supplication on behalf of others?
It is normal practice that when two Muslims are about to go separate ways, after they have been together for sometime, one of them requests the other to pray for him. This is also the case if the parting will be for sometime, as when one of them is about to travel far. If that travel takes him to Umrah or pilgrimage, he is requested by everyone he meets before his departure to remember him when he makes a supplication in the Grand Mosque in Makkah or when he attends at Arafat. Even the Prophet(Pbuh) said to Umar when he was about to leave for Umrah: “Do not forget us when you make your supplication, brother.” Umar was so elated to have this request put to him by the Prophet(Pbuh). For one thing, the prophet’s(Pbuh) request suggests that Umar’s prayer is something to be sought, because it stands a good chance of being answered. For another being called “brother” by the Prophet(Pbuh) was an honour that Umar was to cherish for the rest of his life. To us, however, this suggests that supplications by one Muslim for another is something particularly valuable. This is confirmed by Hadiths and reported statements by the Companions of the Prophet(Pbuh). Abu Bakr, the closest to the Prophet(Pbuh) of all companions, used to say: “A prayer by a brother in islam, is sure to be answered” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-adab Al-Mufrad)_. A more definitive statement is the Hadith in which Abdullah ibn Amr states that he heard the Prophet(Pbuh) saying, “The fastest supplication to be answered is that made by one person on behalf of another when they are away from each other,” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al Mufrad, At-Tirmithi and Abu Dawood).
The main point about this latter type of prayer is the fact that the two persons are not together. While it is commendable that one person prays on behalf of another when they are together as when one says to his Muslim brother, “May Allah reward you, or give you honour, or may He enhance your position in the hereafter, etc.”, it cannot be absolutely certain that this supplication is totally free from a personal element. One may pray for another to assure him that he cares for him and harbors no ill-intentions against him. Or he may try to assert his friendship by showing how keen he is that the other receives Allah’s grace. When the two are not together, such a prayer acquires special significance. No one prays for another when the latter is absent unless he is sincere and he cares for his well-being.
It is because of this sincerity that Allah answers such a supplication and rewards the supplicant as well. Abu Ad-Dardaa’ was one of the scholars among the Companions of the Prophet(Pbuh), and he was well-known for his thoughtfulness, asceticism and indifference to wordly affairs. His wife was similarly devoted to the service of Allah. We have a report that Safwan ibn Abdulmalik went to visit him at his home in Syria. Arriving home, he found only his mother-in-law. She asked him whether he was on his way to pilgrimage. When he answered in the affirmative she answered: “Then include us in your supplication; for the Prophet(Pbuh) has said: ‘A prayer by a Muslim for his brother in his absence is always answered. An angel stands close to him who is assigned a special task. Everytime he says a good prayer for his brother, the angel says: Amen, and may Allah grant you the same’. Safwan says that he went to the market where he met his father-in-law, who confirmed this report since he heard it being said by the Prophet(Pbuh).” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, Muslim, Abu Dawood and others).
This Hadith encourages us to pray for our relatives and friends and other Muslims. We are certain that our supplication on their behalf will be answered and a similar prayer is granted by Allah to us. Hence, if we act on this Hadith, we are bound to cement brotherly relations within Muslim society. We know that Allah can answer every prayer and give everyone of his creation everything he requests of Him. This point may not be very clear to some people. They may imagine Allah in the same light of a king or an emperor. They seek to have the maximum they can get from Him before anybody else can have a share, as if they fear that what Allah has to give away to His servants may be exhausted. They do not realize that it is inexhaustible. A well-known incident took place at the time of the Prophet(Pbuh). A Bedouin came to the Mosque and prayed when the Prophet(Pbuh) was sitting nearby. When the man finished his prayers, he said in his supplication: “My Lord, bestow your mercy on me and Muhammad and do not bestow your mercy on anyone besides us.” The Prophet turned to him and said: “You have narrowed a great expanse.” In another version of this Hadith, related by Al-Bukhari in al-Adab Al-Mufrad, the man is reported to have said in his prayer: "My Lord, forgive me and Muhammad(Pbuh) only," The Prophet(Pbuh) said to him: "You have deprived many people of that."
This is certainly a very narrow view. Allah's mercy is sufficient to wipe off every sin committed by mankind. He may bestow it on whomsoever He will. To fear that it may be exhausted is contrary to Islamic teachings, because we are required to always think well of Allah. With regard to this particular point of Allah's mercy we have to remember the Hadith which tells us that when Allah created mercy, He divided it into one hundred portions. He kept ninety-nine portions for Himself and distributed the last portion among His creation. All the mercy and compassion we see in this world and all the mercy that is exercised by every species of creatures anywhere in the universe is part of that last share. The Prophet(Pbuh) says that "Even when an animal lifts its leg to allow its youngsters to pass" it does so as a result of having a share of that last portion of mercy which Allah has distributed among all His creatures.
Someone may ask: What does Allah do with those ninety-nine portions. The answer is that He may bestow His mercy on His creatures in this world, but He certainly withholds much of it for the day of Judgment where He forgives His servants and bestows His mercy on them.