As-salaam alaikum wa rahmatullahi wabarakatuh.
I hope you are all in the best state of health and iman.
Being raised in a catholic home, I was confused by the idea of 'islamic saints' as well. Having looked into the subject a little bite it seems as though it is the exact same idea (with no formal canonization process) -- praying to/through 'holy people' to gain favours from or nearness to Allah (swt).
It is clearly innovative in nature.
Here is a ruling on the subject:
It is known, from the proofs of the Quran and Sunnah that seeking nearness by slaughtering or acts of worship to other than Allah, such as pious people, Jinn, idols or other creatures is Shirk and the practices of pre-Islamic era and the pagans. Allah, the exalted says:Say, 'My Salah, and my offering, and my life, and my death are all for Allah, the Lord of the worlds. He has no partner. And so I am commanded, and I am the first of the Muslims.'
(Al An'am 6:162, 163)
Allah, Glorious is He, clarifies in this Verse that sacrificing to other than Allah is Shirk, just as performing the prayer to other than Him. Allah, the Exalted, says:We have given you Al-Kawthar. So, pray to your Lord and offer sacrifice.
(Al Kawthar 108: 1,2)
In this Surah Allah, Glorious is He, instructed his Prophet (saws) to pray to His Lord, and sacrifice to Him, contrary to the people of Shirk, who pray and slaughter to other than Allah. Allah, the Exalted says:And your Lord has decreed that you should worship none other than Allah
(Al Isra 17:23),
He also says:And they are commanded only to worship Allah, being sincere to Him.
(Al Bayyinah 98:5)
There are many Verses that convey this meaning.
Since sacrifice is an act of worship, then it must be dedicated sincerely to Allah. Imam Muslim narrated in his Sahih that the Commander of the Believers. Ali said that the Messenger of Allah (saws) said:
"Allah curses him who sacrifices to other than Allah" (Muslim No. 1978)
As for those who say: "I adjure Allah by the right of His beloved believers, or by the honour of His beloved believers, or by the right of the Prophet, or by his honour." Such adjuration does not constitute Shirk, but it is innovation, according to the assemble of people of knowledge, and a means of Shirk, because the supplication is an act of worship, and the way it should be made is not subject to opinion. There is no proof related to the Prophet (saws) denoting legality, or permissibility of adjuration by the right or honour of any human.
Hence, it is not permissible for the Muslims to innovate a type of Tawassul which Allah, the Exalted, does not legitimize. Allah, the Exalted, says:
Or do they have partners who legalize for them acts of worship which Allah does not permit. (Ash Shura 42:21)
And the Prophet (saws) said:
"He who initiates something in this matter of ours that is not from it, shall have it rejected." (Bukhari No. 2697 & Muslim No. 1718)
His statement 'shall have it rejected', means that it shall not be accepted by Allah from the one who introduces it.
It is incumbent upon the Muslims to restrict themselves only to what Allah has legitimized, and beware of what people innovate.
As for the legitimate Tawassul, it is adjuring Allah by His Names and Attributes. It can be effective by up holding the beliefs in His Oneness, doing good deeds, charitable donations and by believing in Allah and His Messengers. It is Allah who grants success.
- ibn Baz
May Allah grant us all Tawfiq. Ameen.