Before proceeding it should be made clear that:
In Islaam, worship (ibaadah) has been thoroughly explained, its definition, its pillars, its conditions, its types and forms. And as such there is a clear criterion in the matter of legitimate and illegitimate worship. With respect to "tawassul" which simply means to seek a means of nearness and approach, and then there is a legitimate form of tawassul, which is seeking nearness to Allaah through a) Calling upon Him by way of His Names and Attributes b) Doing sincere, righteous correct deeds and calling upon Him by way of them, and these righteous deeds include having faith in the Prophets and having love of them, all of which can be used as a means of nearness to Allaah c) the supplication of a righteous person. As for the innovated forms of tawassul, some of which are avenues leading to major shirk and some of which constitute major shirk (and these are covered in other articles), then they involve the physical bodies, or the "status", or the "honour", or the "right", of the Prophets or the Righteous, and this is not the place to go into this subject in detail, but will be addressed in other articles inshaa'Allaah, however it is important to realize some of them fall into the ruling of innovation (which open up the avenues that lead to shirk) and others are major shirk (giving worship to others besides Allaah).
Those who fall into these illegitimate forms of tawassul have their doubts and misconceptions and they often attempt to argue through certain narrations to justify their practices. There are also a restricted number of isolated sayings on this subject from some of the Scholars of the past which these people have misunderstood and misapplied, and that will be the subject of a separate set of articles.
Also an act of worship is established by a verse of the Qur'an or an authentic hadeeth of the Messenger (alayhis salaam), and as you will see, in most of these examples, these doubts are simply alleged actions of some of the Scholars - and that is not an independent proof for an act of worship - but that's discounting the fact that most of these alleged actions are reported through unacceptable inauthentic narrations.
The Alleged tawassul Of al-Haafidh Ibraaheem al-Harbee
Here is the allegation:
الحافظ إبراهيم الحربى : توسل بقوله " قـبر معروف الكرخى هو الترياق المجرب" - تاريخ بغـداد 1/122
Al-Hafidh Ibraaheem al-Harbee made tawassul by his saying, "The grave of Ma'roof al-Karkhee is a tried and tested antidote." (Taarikh Bagdhaad 1/122)
Al-Khateeb al-Baghdaadee relates it as follows:
أخبرنا إسماعيل بن أحمد الحيري قال أنبأنا محمد بن الحسين السلمي قال سمعت أبا الحسن بن مقسم يقول سمعت أبا علي الصفار يقول سمعت إبراهيم الحربي يقول قبر معروف الترياق المجرب
The chain of narration includes: (أبو عبد الرحمن السلمي محمد بن الحسين), Abu Abdur-Rahmaan as-Sullamee Muhammad bin al-Hussain.
The ruling upon him is that he is "da'eef" at least. And here are the views of the Scholars regarding him:
- Ibn al-Jawzee: (كان السلمي غير ثقة وكان يضع للصوفية الأحاديث), "As-Sullamee was not trustworthy, and he used to fabricated ahaadeeth for the Sufis". (Ad-Du'afaa wal-Matrookeen, 3/52).
- Adh-Dhahabi: (محمد بن الحسين أبو عبد الرحمن السلمي الصوفي صاحب المصنفات تكلم فيه وما هو بالحجة وقال الخطيب قال لي محمد بن يوسف القطان كان يضع الأحاديث للصوفية، قلت: وله في حقائق التفسير تحريف كثير), "Muhammad bin al-Hussain Abu Abdur-Rahmaan as-Sullamee as-Sufi, the author of works, they spoke about him, and he is not a proof. And al-Khateeb said: Muhammad bin Yusuf al-Qattaan said: "He used to fabricate hadeeths for the Sufis." I say: And he has, in regard to the realities of tafseer, a great deal of distortion (deviance)." (Al-Mughni 2/571)
- Ibn Hajar: (تكلموا فيه وليس بعمدة), "They spoke about him and he is not to be relied upon." (Lisaan ul-Meezaan 5/140).
Then there is a second person in the chain of narration: ( أبو الحسن أحمد بن محمد بن يعقوب بن مقسم المقري), Abu al-Hasan Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Ya'qub bin Muqsim al-Muqri, and his condition is worse than as-Sullamee.
- al-Khateeb al-Baghdaadee: (وكان يظهر النسك والصلاح ولم يكن في الحديث ثقة), "He used to display devotion and rectitude, and he was not trustworthy in hadeeth." (Tareekh Bagdhaad 4/429). He also narrates from Abu Nu'aym al-Haafidh, ( سألت أبا نعيم الحافظ عن احمد بن محمد بن مقسم فقال لين الحديث سمعت أبا القاسم الأزهري يقول لم يكن أبو الحسن بن مقسم ثقة وقد رايته وسمعته ذكره مرة أخرى فقال كان كذابا), "I asked Abu Nu'aym al-Haafidh about Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Muqsim, so he said, 'He is layyin [in] hadeeth (meaning a low status in his acceptability), I heard Abu al-Qasim al-Azhari say: Abu al-Hasan bin Muqsim was not trustworthy, and I saw him and heard him another time, he said, he (Abu al-Hasan bin Muqsim) was a liar'." (Taareekh 4/429), and al-Khateeb also wrote, (وقال بن أبى الفوارس أيضا كان سيء الحال في الحديث مذموما ذاهبا لم يكن بشيء البتة), "And also Bin Abi al-Fawaaris said, 'He was of a bad status with respect to hadeeth, blameworthy, a departer, he was not anything at all, ever." (Taareekh 4/429).
- Hamzah bin Yusuf as-Sahmee: (حدث عن من لم يره ، ومن مات قبل أن يولد), "He narrated from the one he never saw and from the one who died before he (Abu al-Hasan) was even born." (Su'aalaat as-Sahmee, p. 152). And he also said, (وسمعت الدارقطني وجماعة من المشايخ تكلموا في بن مقسم وكان أمره أبين من هذا ), "And I heard ad-Darqutnee and a group amongst the Mashaayikh (Scholars) [who] spoke about bin Muqsim and his affairs was more apparent than this." (p. 153).
From what has preceded, the narration is not authentic regarding Ibraaheem al-Harbee, and even if it was authentic, there is nothing within it that is evidence for the permissibility of tawassul or istighaathah (seeking rescue) by way of the physical essences (which is what the dispute is about).