The Quran has much to say about intercession on the Day of Judgment. In fact, the Quran says contradictory things regarding intercession as the following passages show.
1. There Will Be No Intercession
a. The Quran
O children of Israel! call to mind My favor which I bestowed on you and that I made you excel the nations. And be on your guard against a day when ONE SOUL shall not avail ANOTHER in the least, neither shall intercession on its behalf be accepted, nor shall any compensation be taken from it, nor shall they be helped. S. 2:47-48
O children of Israel, call to mind My favor which I bestowed on you and that I made you excel the nations. And be on your guard against a day when NO SOUL shall avail ANOTHER in the least neither shall any compensation be accepted from it, nor shall intercession profit it, nor shall they be helped. S. 2:122-123
These two passages make it clear that intercession will not avail ANY person, not just the Israelites, since the references to "NO SOUL" and "ONE SOUL" not availing another naturally includes every human being.
O you who believe! spend out of what We have given you before the day comes in which there is no bargaining, neither any friendship nor intercession, and the unbelievers - they are the unjust. S. 2:254
"Not your desires, nor those of the people of the Book (can prevail): Whosoever works evil, will be requited accordingly. Nor will he find, besides God, any protector or helper. If any do deeds of righteousness, - Be they male or female - and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them" S. 4:123-124
And warn with it those who fear that they shall be gathered to their Lord - there is no guardian for them, nor any intercessor besides Him - that they may guard (against evil). S. 6:51
Leave alone those who take their religion to be mere play and amusement, and are deceived by the life of this world. But proclaim (to them) this (truth): that every soul delivers itself to ruin by its own acts: it will find for itself no protector or intercessor except Allah: if it offered every ransom, (or reparation), none will be accepted: such is (the end of) those who deliver themselves to ruin by their own acts: they will have for drink (only) boiling water, and for punishment, one most grievous: for they persisted in rejecting Allah. S. 6:70
Say: "Nothing will happen to us except what Allah has decreed for us: He is our protector": and on Allah let the Believers put their trust. S. 9:51
Allah it is Who created the heavens and the earth, and that which is between them, in six Days. Then He mounted the Throne. Ye have not, beside Him, a protecting friend or mediator. Will ye not then remember? S. 32:4
Verily We have revealed the Book to thee in Truth, for (instructing) mankind. He, then, that receives guidance benefits his own soul: but he that strays injures his own soul. Nor art thou set over them to dispose of their affairs. It is Allah that takes the souls (of men) at death; and those that die not (He takes) during their sleep: those on whom He has passed the decree of death, He keeps back (from returning to life), but the rest He sends (to their bodies) for a term appointed verily in this are Signs for those who reflect. What! Do they take for intercessors others besides Allah? Say: "Even if they have no power whatever and no intelligence?" Say: Unto Allah belongeth all intercession. His is the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth. And afterward unto Him ye will be brought back. S. 39:41-44
Again, what will explain to thee what the Day of Judgment is? (It will be) the Day when no soul shall have power (to do) aught for another: For the command, that Day, will be (wholly) with Allah. S. 82:18-19
The Quran asks:
Is he on whom the word of doom is fulfilled (to be helped), and canst thou (O Muhammad) rescue him who is in the Fire? S. 39:19 Pickthall
This verse evidently implies that Muhammad cannot save anyone from hell.
Amazingly, the Quran says that even prophets and angels can only hope for Gods mercy:
Say: Cry unto those (saints and angels) whom ye assume (to be gods) beside Him, yet they have no power to rid you of misfortune nor to change. Those unto whom they cry seek the way of approach to their Lord, which of them shall be the nearest; they hope for His mercy and they fear His doom. Lo! the doom of thy Lord is to be shunned. S. 17:56-57 Pickthall
b. The Hadith
Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, "(On the Day of Resurrection) camels will come to their owner in the best state of health they have ever had (in the world), and if he had not paid their Zakat (in the world) then they would tread him with their feet; and similarly, sheep will come to their owner in the best state of health they have ever had in the world, and if he had not paid their Zakat, then they would tread him with their hooves and would butt him with their horns." The Prophet added, "One of their rights is that they should be milked while water is kept in front of them." The Prophet added, "I do not want anyone of you to come to me on the Day of Resurrection, carrying over his neck a sheep that will be bleating. Such a person will (then) say, O Muhammad! (please intercede for me,) I will say to him. I can't help you, for I conveyed Allah's Message to you. Similarly, I do not want anyone of you to come to me carrying over his neck a camel that will be grunting. Such a person (then) will say O Muhammad! (please intercede for me). I will say to him, I can't help you for I conveyed Allah's message to you." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Book 24, Number 485)
Narrated Abu Huraira:
When Allah revealed the Verse: "Warn your nearest kinsmen," Allah's Apostle got up and said, "O people of Quraish (or said similar words)! Buy (i.e. save) yourselves (from the Hellfire) as I cannot save you from Allah's Punishment; O Bani Abd Manaf! I cannot save you from Allah's Punishment, O Safiya, the Aunt of Allah's Apostle! I cannot save you from Allah's Punishment; O Fatima bint Muhammad! Ask me anything from my wealth, but I cannot save you from Allah's Punishment." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 51, Number 16)
Narrated Um Al-Ala:
That when the Ansar drew lots as to which of the emigrants should dwell with which of the Ansar, the name of Uthman bin Mazun came out (to be in their lot). Um Al-Ala further said, "Uthman stayed with us, and we nursed him when he got sick, but he died. We shrouded him in his clothes, and Allah's Apostle came to our house and I said, (addressing the dead 'Uthman), O Abu As-Sa'ib! May Allah be merciful to you. I testify that Allah has blessed you. The Prophet said to me, "How do you know that Allah has blessed him?" I replied, I do not know O Allah's Apostle! May my parents be sacrificed for you. Allah's Apostle said, As regards Uthman, by Allah he has died and I really wish him every good, yet, by Allah, although I am Allah's Apostle, I do not know what will be done to him. Um Al-Ala added, By Allah I shall never attest the piety of anybody after him. And what Allah's Apostles said made me sad. Um Al-Ala further said, "Once I slept and saw in a dream, a flowing stream for Uthman. So I went to Allah's Apostle and told him about it, he said, That is (the symbol of) his deeds." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 48, Number 852)
Narrated Kharija bin Zaid bin Thabit:
Um Al-'Ala an Ansari woman who had given the Pledge of allegiance to Allah's Apostle said, "'Uthman bin Maz'un came in our share when the Ansars drew lots to distribute the emigrants (to dwell) among themselves, He became sick and we looked after (nursed) him till he died. Then we shrouded him in his clothes. Allah's Apostle came to us, I (addressing the dead body) said, "May Allah's Mercy be on you, O Aba As-Sa'ib! I testify that Allah has honored you." The Prophet said, How do you know that? I replied, I do not know, by Allah. He said, As for him, death has come to him and I wish him all good from Allah. By Allah, though I am Allah's Apostle, I neither know what will happen to me, nor to you." Um Al-'Ala said, "By Allah, I will never attest the righteousness of anybody after that." She added, "Later I saw in a dream, a flowing spring for 'Uthman. So I went to Allah's Apostle and mentioned that to him. He said, That is (the symbol of) his good deeds (the reward for) which is going on for him." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 87, Number 145)
These hadiths state that Muhammad cannot and/or will not intercede for Muslims, especially those who failed to pay the Zakat.
The preceding passages are quite clear and unambiguous that no intercession will avail any soul on Judgment Day, and that Allah is the only intercessor since all intercession belongs entirely to him.
This has led some Muslims to deny that the intercession of prophets and messengers will be permitted on the Day of Judgment. Shaikh Gamal al-Banna, in an article titled The Islamic Concept of God and Prophet, writes:
Islam stresses the human character of the Prophet ... Therefore, any kind of mediation is not permissible or recognized in Islam. Prophets are mere messengers of God; they cannot forgive anyone if he commits a sin or exempt him from the punishment he deserves. They cannot also intercede with God on anybody's behalf, for Islam does not recognize the idea of intercession as such." (The Muslim World League Journal, May-June 1983, Volume 10, Number. 8, p. 9)
The following Muslim article states:
There is a traditional view which exists among present day Muslims regarding the concept of intercession which is based on hadith literature. This view is not supported by the Quran. The Quran repeatedly holds each individual responsible for his or her own conduct ...
The true concept of God who is running the affairs of the universe is only contained in the Quran, as it is given by god Himself to mankind. One of the attributes frequently mentioned by god about himself is 'Aziz-ul-Hakeem' which is translated as the Exalted in Power, the Wise. The very concept of intercession means to give someone advantage which one does not deserve and is against the concept of justice. God the Wise can never be expected to do that. This concept if accepted, brings down the whole building block of 'din' as presented in the Quran by god. We all know that a person who accepts intercession in worldly life can never expected to deliver justice. (Source; bold emphasis ours)
Another Muslim article, in trying to refute the claim that the Quran contradicts itself regarding this issue, argues:
The concept of intercession, which is strictly prohibited in the Quran, is the act of interceding on behalf of another person to have his/her sins forgiven on Judgement Day ...
The myth of intercession is one of Satan's most effective tricks to dupe millions of people into idol worship. Millions of Christians believe that Jesus will intercede for them with God, and millions of Muslims believe that Muhammad will not only intercede on their behalf, but will actually take them out of hell!
Consequently, these people have made Jesus and Muhammad their Saviours and as a result have idolized them! (Source; bold and underline emphasis ours)
Someone may claim that these verses are referring to unbelievers such as the idolaters who will not be given any intercession. This claim cannot be sustained since some of these passages make no mention of idolaters or unbelievers. In fact, some of them are actually directed towards the God-fearing believers (cf. 2:254; 6:51).
2. There Will Be Intercession
a. The Quran
The next set of passages contradict the preceding passages regarding the permissibility of intercession:
Allah! There is no god but He,- the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede in His presence except as He permitteth? He knoweth what (appeareth to His creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He willeth. His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory). S. 2:255
Verily your Lord is Allah, who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly established on the throne (of authority), regulating and governing all things. No intercessor (can plead with Him) except after His leave (hath been obtained). This is Allah your Lord; Him therefore serve ye: will ye not receive admonition? S. 10:3
On the day when We shall gather the righteous unto the Beneficent, a goodly company. And drive the guilty unto hell, a weary herd, They will have no power of intercession, save him who hath made a covenant with his Lord. S. 19:85-87
On that Day shall no intercession avail except for those for whom permission has been granted by (Allah) Most Gracious and whose word is acceptable to Him. S. 20:109
And We did not send before you any messenger but We revealed to him that there is no god but Me, therefore serve Me. And they say: The Beneficent Allah has taken to Himself a son. Glory be to Him. Nay! they are honored servants They do not precede Him in speech and (only) according to His commandment do they act. He knows what is before them and what is behind them, and they do not intercede except for him whom He approves and for fear of Him they tremble. And whoever of them should say: Surely I am a god besides Him, such a one do We recompense with hell; thus do, We recompense the unjust. S. 21:25-29
"No intercession can avail in His Presence, except for those for whom He has granted permission. So far (is this the case) that, when terror is removed from their hearts (at the Day of Judgment, then) will they say, what is it that your Lord commanded? they will say, That which is true and just; and He is the Most High Most Great." S. 34:23
Those who sustain the Throne (of Allah) and those around it Sing Glory and Praise to their Lord; believe in Him; and implore Forgiveness for those who believe: "Our Lord! Thy Reach is over all things, in Mercy and Knowledge. Forgive, then, those who turn in Repentance, and follow Thy Path; and preserve them from the Penalty of the Blazing Fire! And grant, our Lord! that they enter the Gardens of Eternity, which Thou hast promised to them, and to the righteous among their fathers, their wives, and their posterity! For Thou art (He), the Exalted in Might, Full of Wisdom. And preserve them from (all) ills; and any whom Thou dost preserve from ills that Day,- on them wilt Thou have bestowed Mercy indeed: and that will be truly (for them) the highest Achievement." S. 40:7-9
And those unto whom they cry instead of Him possess no power of intercession, saving him who beareth witness unto the Truth knowingly. S. 43:86
How many-so-ever be the angels in the heavens, their intercession will avail nothing except after Allah has given leave for whom He pleases and that he is acceptable to Him. S. 53:26
b. The Hadith
Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Umar:
The Prophet said, "A man keeps on asking others for something till he comes on the Day of Resurrection without any piece of flesh on his face." The Prophet added, "On the Day of Resurrection, the Sun will come near (to, the people) to such an extent that the sweat will reach up to the middle of the ears, so, when all the people are in that state, they will ask Adam for help, and then Moses, and then Muhammad (p.b.u.h)." The sub-narrator added "Muhammad will intercede with Allah to judge amongst the people. He will proceed on till he will hold the ring of the door (of Paradise) and then Allah will exalt him to Maqam Mahmud (the privilege of intercession, etc.). And all the people of the gathering will send their praises to Allah. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 2, Book 24, Number 553)
... 'Surely! Allah wrongs not even of the weight of an atom (or a smallest ant) but if there is any good (done) He doubles it.' (4.40) The Prophet added, "Then the prophets and Angels and the believers will intercede, and (last of all) the Almighty (Allah) will say, Now remains My Intercession. He will then hold a handful of the Fire from which He will take out some people whose bodies have been burnt, and they will be thrown into a river at the entrance of Paradise, called the water of life ... (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 532s)
Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Apostle said, "For every Prophet there is one invocation which is definitely fulfilled by Allah, and I wish, if Allah will, to keep my that (special) invocation as to be the intercession for my followers on the Day of Resurrection." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 566)
Narrated Mabad bin Hilal AlAnzi:
We, i.e., some people from Basra gathered and went to Anas bin Malik, and we went in company with Thabit Al-Bunnani so that he might ask him about the Hadith of Intercession on our behalf. Behold, Anas was in his palace, and our arrival coincided with his Duha prayer. We asked permission to enter and he admitted us while he was sitting on his bed. We said to Thabit, "Do not ask him about anything else first but the Hadith of Intercession." He said, "O Abu Hamza! There are your brethren from Basra coming to ask you about the Hadith of Intercession." Anas then said, "Muhammad talked to us saying, On the Day of Resurrection the people will surge with each other like waves, and then they will come to Adam and say, Please intercede for us with your Lord. He will say, I am not fit for that but you'd better go to Abraham as he is the Khalil of the Beneficent. They will go to Abraham and he will say, I am not fit for that, but you'd better go to Moses as he is the one to whom Allah spoke directly. So they will go to Moses and he will say, I am not fit for that, but you'd better go to Jesus as he is a soul created by Allah and His Word. (Be: And it was) they will go to Jesus and he will say, I am not fit for that, but you'd better go to Muhammad.
They would come to me and I would say, I am for that. Then I will ask for my Lord's permission, and it will be given, and then He will inspire me to praise Him with such praises as I do not know now. So I will praise Him with those praises and will fall down, prostrate before Him. Then it will be said, O Muhammad, raise your head and speak, for you will be listened to; and ask, for your will be granted (your request); and intercede, for your intercession will be accepted. I will say, O Lord, my followers! My followers! And then it will be said, Go and take out of Hell (Fire) all those who have faith in their hearts, equal to the weight of a barley grain. I will go and do so and return to praise Him with the same praises, and fall down (prostrate) before Him. Then it will be said, O Muhammad, raise your head and speak, for you will be listened to, and ask, for you will be granted (your request); and intercede, for your intercession will be accepted. I will say, O Lord, my followers! My followers! It will be said, Go and take out of it all those who have faith in their hearts equal to the weight of a small ant or a mustard seed. I will go and do so and return to praise Him with the same praises, and fall down in prostration before Him. It will be said, O, Muhammad, raise your head and speak, for you will be listened to, and ask, for you will be granted (your request); and intercede, for your intercession will be accepted. I will say, O Lord, my followers! Then He will say, Go and take out (all those) in whose hearts there is faith even to the lightest, lightest mustard seed. (Take them) out of the Fire. I will go and do so."
When we left Anas, I said to some of my companions, "Let's pass by Al-Hasan who is hiding himself in the house of Abi Khalifa and request him to tell us what Anas bin Malik has told us." So we went to him and we greeted him and he admitted us. We said to him, "O Abu Said! We came to you from your brother Anas Bin Malik and he related to us a Hadith about the intercession the like of which I have never heard." He said, "What is that?" Then we told him of the Hadith and said, "He stopped at this point (of the Hadith)." He said, "What then?" We said, "He did not add anything to that." He said, Anas related the Hadith to me twenty years ago when he was a young fellow. I don't know whether he forgot or if he did not like to let you depend on what he might have said." We said, "O Abu Said! Let us know that." He smiled and said, "Man was created hasty. I did not mention that, but that I wanted to inform you of it.
Anas told me the same as he told you and said that the Prophet added, I then return for a fourth time and praise Him similarly and prostrate before Him me the same as he O Muhammad, raise your head and speak, for you will be listened to; and ask, for you will be granted (your request): and intercede, for your intercession will be accepted. I will say, O Lord, allow me to intercede for whoever said, None has the right to be worshiped except Allah. Then Allah will say, By my Power, and my Majesty, and by My Supremacy, and by My Greatness, I will take out of Hell (Fire) whoever said: None has the right to be worshipped except Allah." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 601)
It is reported on the authority of Abu Zubair that he heard from Jabir b. 'Abdullah, who was asked about the arrival (of people on the Day of Resurrection). He said. We would come on the Day of Resurrection like this, like this, and see, carefully, that which concerns "elevated people". He (the narrator) said: Then the people would be summoned along with their idols whom they worshipped, one after another. Then our Lord would come to us and say: Whom are you waiting for? They would say: We are waiting for our Lord. He would say: I am your Lord. They would say: (We are not sure) till we gaze at Thee, and He would manifest Himself to them smilingly, and would go along with them and they would follow Him; and every person, whether a hypocrite or a believer, would be endowed with a light, and there would be spikes and hooks on the bridge of the Hell, which would catch hold of those whom Allah willed. Then the light of the hypocrites would be extinguished, and the believers would secure salvation. and the first group to achieve it would comprise seventy thousand men who would have the brightness of full moon on their faces, and they would not be called to account. Then the people immediately following them would have their faces as the brightest stars in the heaven. This is how (the groups would follow one after another). Then the stage of intercession would come, and they (who are permitted to intercede) would intercede, till he who had declared: "There is no god but Allah" and had in his heart virtue of the weight of a barley grain would come out of the Fire. They would be then brought in the courtyard of Paradise and the inhabitants of Paradise would begin to sprinkle water over them till they would sprout like the sprouting of a thing in flood water, and their burns would disappear. They would ask their Lord till they would be granted (the bounties) of the world and with it ten more besides it. (Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0367)
'Abdullah b. 'Abbas reported that his son died in Qudaid or 'Usfan. He said to Kuraib to see as to how many people had gathered there for his (funeral). He (Kuraib) said: So I went out and I informed him about the people who had gathered there. He (Ibn 'Abbas) said: Do you think they are forty? He (Kuraib) said: Yes. Ibn 'Abbas then said to them: Bring him (the dead body) out for I have heard Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: If any Muslim dies and forty men who associate nothing with Allah stand over his prayer (they offer prayer over him), Allah will accept them as intercessors for him. (Sahih Muslim, Book 004, Number 2072)
Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: I shall be pre-eminent amongst the descendants of Adam on the Day of Resurrection and I will be the first intercessor and the first whose intercession will be accepted (by Allah). (Sahih Muslim, Book 030, Number 5655)
These hadiths say that Muhammad will not only be permitted to intercede, but that many Muslims undeserving of Paradise will be taken out of hell because of his intercession!
Now there are some Muslims who also point to the following passages as proof that Allah will accept the intercession of his prophets:
Thus it is due to mercy from Allah that you deal with them gently, and had you been rough, hard hearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you; pardon them therefore and ask pardon for them, and take counsel with them in the affair; so when you have decided, then place your trust in Allah; surely Allah loves those who trust. S. 3:159
(Abraham) "O our Lord! cover (us) with Thy Forgiveness - me, my parents, and (all) Believers, on the Day that the Reckoning will be established!" S. 14:41
(Abraham) "Forgive my father, for that he is among those astray;" S. 26:86
So know (O Muhammad) that there is no Allah save Allah, and ask forgiveness for thy sin and for believing men and believing women. Allah knoweth (both) your place of turmoil and your place of rest. S. 47:19 Pickthall
And when it is said to them, "Come, the Messenger of Allah will pray for your forgiveness", they turn aside their heads, and thou wouldst see them turning away their faces in arrogance. S. 63:5 cf. 4:64; 9:103; 24:62; 60:12
Several comments are in order. First, even though the Quran commands the prophets and messengers to pray on behalf of others, there are other passages which show that their prayers are not always accepted by Allah:
And do not plead on behalf of those who act unfaithfully to their souls; surely Allah does not love him who is treacherous, sinful; S. 4:107
Ask forgiveness for them (O Muhammad), or ask not forgiveness for them; though thou ask forgiveness for them seventy times Allah will not forgive them. That is because they disbelieved in Allah and His messenger, and Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk. S. 9:80 Pickthall
And never (O Muhammad) pray for one of them who dieth, nor stand by his grave. Lo! they disbelieved in Allah and His messenger, and they died while they were evil-doers. 9:84 Pickthall
And Noah called upon his Lord, and said: "O my Lord! surely my son is of my family! and Thy promise is true, and Thou art the justest of Judges!" He said: "O Noah! He is not of thy family: For his conduct is unrighteous. So ask not of Me that of which thou hast no knowledge! I give thee counsel, lest thou act like the ignorant!" Noah said: "O my Lord! I do seek refuge with Thee, lest I ask Thee for that of which I have no knowledge. And unless thou forgive me and have Mercy on me, I should indeed be lost!" S. 11:45-47
Interestingly, the following hadith demonstrates that Abrahams alleged prayer for his parents in S. 14:41 and 26:86 was not accepted:
Narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, "On the Day of Resurrection Abraham will meet his father Azar whose face will be dark and covered with dust. (The Prophet Abraham will say to him): Didn't I tell you not to disobey me? His father will reply: Today I will not disobey you. Abraham will say: O Lord! You promised me not to disgrace me on the Day of Resurrection; and what will be more disgraceful to me than cursing and dishonoring my father? Then Allah will say (to him): I have forbidden Paradise for the disbelievers." Then he will be addressed, O Abraham! Look! What is underneath your feet? He will look and there he will see a Dhabh (an animal,) blood-stained, which will be caught by the legs and thrown in the (Hell) Fire." (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 55, Number 569)
This hadith also provides support that the prophets' intercession will be of no avail, even though this refers to an unbeliever. At the same time, this contradicts those traditions stating that their intercession does avail!
Second, the prayers in these references do not take place at the Day of Judgment. As such, they cannot be used to establish that Allah will allow prophets and messengers to intercede on behalf of others.
Finally, these passages only add to the confusion since they do absolutely nothing to resolve the problem. They simply provide further proof that there are irreconcilable contradictions within the Quran.
A Muslim may bring out an additional argument to resolve the issue. There are two contradictory passages that actually appear alongside side each other, namely S. 2:254-255:
O you who believe! spend out of what We have given you before the day comes in which there is no bargaining, neither any friendship nor intercession, and the unbelievers - they are the unjust. Allah! There is no god but He,- the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede in His presence except as He permitteth? He knoweth what (appeareth to His creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He willeth. His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory). S. 2:254-255
A Muslim may claim that this passage demonstrates that there is no contradiction in the Quran, since it explains that no intercession can avail unless Allah permits it.
Again, a couple of comments are in order. First, even if we were to accept such an explanation for this passage, seeing that the two verses exist side-by-side, it wouldnt solve the other set of conflicting passages which are often far removed from each other. Based on the laws of logic, however, a contradiction remains a contradiction whether the contradictory statements are several chapters apart or found in the same paragraph.
Second, there is a debate regarding the proper understanding of this passage. For instance, does this passage teach that the only intercession acceptable to God is that which he permits? Or does this passage actually mean that God can permit intercession if he wanted to, but wont do so since he has determined that all intercession belongs exclusively to him?
For an example of the latter interpretation, note the following comments taken from a Muslim article:
Those who support intercession, however, quote the following verse from the Quran to support their views: 'God! There is no God but He, - the living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there to intercede in His presence except as he permitteth? He knoweth what (appeared to His creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He willeth. His throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and he feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them. For He is the most High the Supreme (in glory)' (2:255). It is instructive to quote the verse immediately prior to the above from the Quran:
"O ye who believe! Spend out of (the bounties) We have provided for you, before the Day comes when no Bargaining (will avail), nor Friendship nor Intercession. Those who reject faith - they are the wrong-doers" (2:254).
This verse puts beyond doubt that there is no intercession, as is repeated in the verse (4:123-124) quoted above. Clearly, there is no need to go into more detail regarding the interpretation of the verse (2:255), otherwise there appears to be a contradiction in the Quran which is not possible. According to the Law of Requital every human deed leaves its effect on the human personality. The Quran has used metaphor to draw parallels with our experience in society. For example, we see in a court how the accused is tried in the presence of witnesses for both the defence and the prosecution. Sentence is then pronounced based on the evidence produced. (Source; bold emphasis ours)
Such glaring contradictions make it hard for any open minded and intelligent person to take seriously the claim that the Quran is the word of the true God.
Contradictions in the Qur'an
Answering Islam Home Page