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Wilãyat and Its Scope

Wilãyat and Its Scope

1. What is Wilãyat?

Wilãyat," derived from wilã', means power, authority or a right of certain kind. In Shí'a theology, "wilãyat" is the authority invested in the Prophet and the Ahlul Bayt as representatives of Almighty Allãh on this earth.

According to the late Murtaza Mutahhari, wilãyat has four dimensions:

The right of love and devotion (wilã'-e muhabbat): This right places the Muslims under the obligation of loving the Ahlul Bayt.

The authority in spiritual guidance (wilã'-e imãmat): This reflects the power and authority of the Ahlul Bayt in guiding their followers in spiritual matters.

The authority in socio-political guidance (wilã'-e zi'ãmat): This dimension of wilãyat reflects the right that the Ahlul Bayt have to lead the Muslims in social and political aspects of life.

The authority of the universal nature (wilã'-e tasarruf): This dimension reflects universal power over the entire universe that the Prophet and Ahlul Bayt have been vested with by the grace of Almighty Allãh.[1]

Using this division of wilãyat's dimensions, I would like to point out the areas of agreement and disagreement among the various Muslim groups.

[2] in the daily ritual prayers is a sufficient proof of this. See the famous anti-Shí'a books like as-Sawã'iqu l-Muhriqa of Ibn Hajar al-Makki and Tuhfa-e Ithnã-'Ashariyya of Shah 'Abdul 'Aziz Dehlawi, and you will realize that the Sunni polemicists labour painfully to explain that they are against the Shí'a people but not against the Shí'a Imams for they know that loving the Ahlul Bayt is an essential part of Islamic faith.

Love for the Ahlul Bayt is enshrined in verse 42:23 that we have already discussed in the last chapter. Here I shall just quote one more hadíth from the Sunni sources. Imam 'Ali said, "By Allãh the One who has spilt the grain and created the soul, verily the Prophet (a.s.) has promised that none shall love me but the believer and none shall hate me but the hypocrite."[3][4]

It is a common view of Shí'a scholars that whoever rejects one of the dharûriyyãt ad-dín, then he is no longer considered a member of the Islamic faith.[5] It is also based on this principle that the Khawãrij and the Nawãsib (i.e., those who express hatred or enimosity towards the Ahlul Bayt) are considered as non-Muslims by Shí'a jurists.[6]

[7][8] The Naqsbandi order traces its spiritual leadership back to Imam Ja'far as-Sãdiq and then follows the line through his mother to Muhammad bin Abi Bakr and then to Abu Bakr. This diversion from Imam as-Sãdiq to Abu Bakr is, however, not valid because Muhammad bin Abi Bakr was raised from a very young age by Imam 'Ali bin Abi Tãlib who married Muhammad's mother, Asmã' bint Umays, after Abu Bakr's death. The only spiritual master that Muhammad bin Abi Bakr knew was Imam 'Ali bin Abi Tãlib (a.s.).

It is important to note that whenever the Shí'as use the term "Imãmate" or "Imãm", it encompasses all the four dimensions of wilãyat. It excludes neither the spiritual and universal authority nor the social and political leadership.[9]

It seems necessary to explain the fourth dimension of the wilãyat in more detail for the benefit of the readers.

The fourth dimension is the universal authority that the Prophet and the Ahlul Bayt have been vested with by the Almighty Allãh. It is an authority that makes it possible for the wali to exercise his power over everything that exists. In the words of Ayatullah al-Khumayni, "It is a vicegerency pertaining to the whole of creation, by virtue of which all the atoms in the universe humble themselves before the holder of authority."[10]

If you place the imports of these two verses side-by-side (i.e., horizontal form), then you are guilty of shirk, polytheism; but if you place them in the vertical form (with the power of the angels beneath and dependent upon the power of Allãh), then you have safeguarded the tawhid.

Similarly, if we place the power and authority of the Prophets and the Imams in the vertical form (with the conviction that their power is beneath and dependent upon the power of Allãh), then we have safeguarded the tawhíd as well as the status of the chosen servants of Allãh.

The Qur'ãn gives various examples of the persons who had been given the authority on the universe.

1. Describing the powers that Allãh, subhãnahu wa ta'ãla, had given to Prophet 'Isa bin Maryam (a.s.), the Qur'ãn quotes him as follows:

"I make out of the clay the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a [real, living, flying] bird with Allãh's permission;

I heal the blind and the leprous;

and I bring the dead back to life with Allãh's permission;

and I inform you of what you are eating and what you store in your houses..."[11] All prophets and messengers had come to prepare their societies for the acceptance of the final and universal Messenger of God, Muhammad (s.a.w.). If prophets like Sulaymãn, Dãwud, 'Isa, and Musa, and also Sulaymãn's vizier, Ãsif, were blessed with powers over the nature, then it follows by necessity that Prophet Muhammad must have been blessed with greater power over the universe. Two examples have been clearly mentioned in the Qur'ãn. The ability of the Prophet of Islam to travel into space and beyond with his human body ( 17:1 ; 53:5-18 ), and the parting of the moon by pointing towards it with his finger ( 54:1 ).[12]

Imam 'Ali and the other Imams of Ahlul Bayt are believed by the Shí'as to be higher in rank than all prophets and messengers except the Prophet of Islam (s.a.w.).[13] It follows as a necessity that they also have the powers that the Prophet had been blessed with by Almighty Allãh.

At this point, I will only refer to one verse from the holy Qur'ãn on this issue. During the early days in Mecca, when the idol worshippers were rejecting the claim of the Prophet, Allãh revealed a verse to console him by saying:

"And those who disbelieve say, 'You are not a messenger.' Say, 'Allãh is sufficient as a witness (between me and you) and the one who has knowledge of the Book.'"[14]

The learned scholar's article in the Bio-Ethics Encyclopaedia (in which he wrote that the Prophet Muhammad "had left no explicit instruction regarding succession to his religious-political authority") generated heated discussion among the community. The responses that the learned scholar wrote to the community and the comments he subsequently made in the majlises of Muharram 1419 at Toronto portray the confusion about the concept of wilãyat.


The learned scholar says that nubuwwat did not include political leadership, and that the word mawla used by the Prophet in Ghadir did not mean khalifa (political successor) or hãkim (ruler). In other words, he is excluding the third dimension of wilãyat from the term "mawla" and restricting it to the second dimension (i.e., spiritual guidance). In his attempt to convince his audience, he makes up hypothetical and grammatically incorrect Arabic sentences which make no sense. For example, the sentence "man kuntu [lahu] khalifa fa hadha [lahu] khalifa - for whomsoever I am his successor, this is his successor." Was the Prophet "khalifa-successor" of any one from the audience? Of course, not; and that is why he did not use the term "khalifa" in the hadíth of Ghadir.

As discussed in one of the previous chapters, to understand the meaning of "mawla" as used by the Prophet for Imam 'Ali, one does not have to go far. Just ponder upon the question he asked the Muslims before presenting 'Ali as their "mawla": he asked them, "Do I not have more authority over you then you have over yourselves? A lastu awla bi kum min anfusi kum?"[17] When they replied by saying, "Certainly, O Messenger of Allãh," then he said, "Man kuntu mawlahu fa hadha 'Aliyun mawlahu - Of whomsoever I am the master, this 'Ali is his master." Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) is surely talking about a master who has more authority (awla) over the people than they have over themselves, and that includes authority in political matters also. And, therefore, there was no need for the Prophet to say, 'Man kuntu ['alayhi] hãkiman, fa hadha ['alayhi] hãkiman.'

The learned scholar continues his talk:

"The Prophet (s.a.w.) when he introduces Imam 'Ali's authority in the community, what does he say? 'Man kuntu mawlahu fa hadha 'Aliyun mawlahu.' What he means is that 'whoever regards me as a perfect example to be followed to the ultimate goal of salvation, 'Ali is the man who should be followed.' The question was of obedience. Mawla, one who should be obeyed, one who should not be disregarded. In that sense, Allãh is Mawla. Allãh is the Mawla of deen, that path on which you cannot afford to disobey Allãh (s.w.t.)..."[18]The Hadíth of 'Abdullãh bin Mas'ûd

In order to prove his point that the declaration of Ghadir was not explicit enough to convey the meaning of "khilãfat" in the sense of political succession, the learned scholar says:

"The Prophet never forced. After he returned to Medina from Ghadir; one night he was home with 'Abdullah bin Mas'ud. He tells 'Abdullah that the messenger has come and wants me to go; that I have received the news of my death. 'Abdullah says, by the way this is after Ghadir, 'Appoint a successor.' Yes, this exactly what he said. 'Why don't you appoint Abu Bakr?' The Prophet shakes his head and says, no. He mentions one after the other. (I don't know about the value of this hadith; Shaykh Mufid mentions it and I am mentioning it on the authority of Shaykh Mufid. I am not here to examine and judge how authentic is the hadith. But I am telling you it reflects the situation in the community. If it is authentic, it reflects the situation in the community...[19]) 'Abdullah's hadith goes; and the Prophet is asking, 'What shall I do?' 'Abdullah says, 'Why don't you appoint 'Umar; why don't you appoint 'Uthman?' And finally, 'Abdullah says, 'Why don't you appoint 'Ali?' And the Prophet says, and he is weak by this time, 'O I wish, they would obey. I wish they would obey.'"[20]

First, this conversation between the Prophet and 'Abdullãh ibn Mas'úd did not take place in Medina after the declaration of Ghadir as the learned scholar wants the audience to believe ("by the way, this is after Ghadir"). In the beginning of his narration, 'Abdullãh says, "We went out with the Messenger of Allãh (s.a.w.) the night of the delegation of jinn until we [reached and] stayed at 'Ula." 'Ula is a place where the Prophet had stopped on his way to Tabûk.[21][22]

In the same speech, the learned scholar further explains the meaning of Imamate by saying:

"The belief system says anybody who had any right to claim obedience after the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) is 'Ali bin Abi Talib. That is the meaning of Imamate; it is nothing more than that. You open any book of kalãm, you will find theologians describing Imam 'Ali as having the right to become mutã', obeyed, one should be obeyed by the people. Why should he be obeyed? Because he is exactly sitting in the place of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.)...

"Imam 'Ali was the Imam from the day the Prophet Muhammad closed his eyes. Regardless whether he became a khalifa or not. How can he become an Imam without becoming a khalifa, without sitting on the throne? That was not the requirement. Because the obedience was to the position of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.)."

In order to defend his writing in the Bio Ethics Encyclopaedia, the learned scholar has divided "imamate" and "khilãfat" into two different realms: "imãmate" becomes a spiritual position while "khilãfat" becomes a political position. He says, "Imamate is nothing more than that", and even boldly asks the audience to "open any book of kalãm [theology]..."

Well, we opened the books of kalãm from different eras and found the statement of the learned scholar to be against the mainstream Shi'a belief on the meaning and scope of "imãmate".

Shaykh Mufid (d. 413 A.H./1022 C.E.) defines an "Imam" as follows: "The Imam is the person who has the comprehensive leadership in religious as well as worldly matters as the successor of the Prophet (a.s.)."[23]

'Allãma Hilli (d. 726 A.H./1325 C.E.) defines "Imamate" as follows: "The Imamate is a universal authority (riyãsa) in the things of religion and of the world belonging to some person and derived from (niyãba) the Prophet."[24]

'Abdu 'r-Razzãq Lãhíji (d. 1072 A.H.) defines "Imamate" as follows: "Know that Imamate is an authority over all those who are of legal age in worldly as well as religious matter based on successorship of the Prophet."[25]

'Allãmah Tabãtabã'í (d. 1401 A.H. / 1981) writes, "Thus the imamate and religious leadership in Islam may be studied from three different perspectives: from the perspective of Islamic government, of Islamic sciences and injunctions, and of leadership and innovative guidance in the spiritual life. Shí'ism believes that since Islamic society is in dire need of guidance in each of these three aspects, the person who occupies the function of giving that guidance and is the leader of the community in these areas of religious concern must be appointed by God and the Prophet."[26] Even Murtaza Mutahhari states that when the Shí'as use the term "Imam", it does not only reflect the spiritual guidance and leadership, it includes the social and political leadership also.[27]



1. See, Murtaza Mtahhari, Wilayah: The station of The Master (Wala' ha wa wilayat ha), translated Yahya Cooper, Tehran: World Organization for Islamic Services, 1982.

2. Salawat means prayers for Allah's blessings on Prophet Muhammad and his Ahlul Bayt. This is included in the daily ritual prayers by all Muslims.

3. An authentic and sahih hadith narrated by an-Nasa'i, Khasa`is Amiri 'l-Mu`minin Ali bin Abu Talib (Beirut: Daru 'l-Kitab, 1987) p. 101-102; the annotator, al-Athari, has given many more quotations like Sahih of Muslim, Sahih of Tirmidhi, and others.

4. Narrated by Ahmad bin Hanbal and al-Tirmidhi, both in the section of al-Manaqib, as quoted in Muhibbu 'd-Din at-Tabari, Dhara'irul Uqba fi manaqib dhuwi-l-Qurba, ed. Akram al-Bushi (Jeddah: Maktabatu 's-Sahaba,1995) p.165.

5. On the rejection of dharuriyyat, see al-Majlisi, "Risalah fil I'tiqadaat", Manahijul Haqq wal Najat, ed. Seyyid Hassan Bani Taba (Qum: Markaz-e Athar Shi'a, 1392 solar AH) p. 308-309; Sayyid Muhammad Kadhim al-Yazdi, al-Urwatul-Wuthqa (Tehran: Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiya, 1392) p. 24.

6. As-Saduq, I'tidatul Imamiyya, p. 94; in its English translation, The Shi'ite Creed, see p. 85. Also see any standard text on Shi'a jurisprudence in the section of 'Najasaat' under 'Kafir'.

7. As quoted by the late Allamah Mir Husayn al-Musawi who then refutes it to prove the universal Imamate of Imam Ali through Hadith of Ghadir. See al-Milani, Nafahatul Azhar fi Khulasati Abaqatil Anwar, vol 9 (Beirut: Dar al-Mu'arrikhul Arabi, 1995) p. 311.

8. Sayyid Hussain Nasr, "Shi'ism and Sufism," p.103.

9. See Mutahhari, Wilayah, p. 72; also see Mutahhari's Imamate wa rahbari, p. 163 as quoted by our teacher Sayyid Muhsin al-Kharrazi, Bidayatul Ma'arifil Ilahiya vol. 2, p. 12-16.

10. The full quotation will come later in this chapter.

11. As-Saduq, I'tidatul Imamiyya, p. 92-93; in its English translation, The Shi'ite Creed, p. 84-85; al-Majlisi, 'Risala fil I'tiqadaat', p.310.

12. On parting of the moon, see in Shi'a sources, al-Tabari, Majma'ul-Bayan, vol. 5, 186; al-Tabatabai, al-Mizan fi Tafseer al-Quran, vol.19, p. 60-72 who also refutes the objections raised by the materialist minded Muslims who like to interpret all such verses in metaphorical sense. In Sunni sources, see Fakhr al-Razi, al-Tafseer al-Kabir, vol 15, p.26; al-Suyuti, al-Dur al-Manthur, vol,6, p. 133; Mawdudi, Tafhimul Quran, vol.5, p. 230-231.

13. As-Saduq, I'tidatul Imamiyya, p. 92-93; in its English translation, The Shi'ite Creed, p. 84-85; al-Majlisi, 'Risala fil I'tiqadaat', p.310.

14. Among Sunni references, see Ibn al-Maghazili al-Shafi'I, Manaqib al-Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib, p. 313 (hadith #358); al-Suyuti, al-Dur al-Manthur, vol. 4 (Beirut Dar al-Fikr, n.d) p.669; al-Qanduzi, Yanabi'ul Mawadah (Beirut;, 1390/1970) p. 121. For further references, see al-Shahid al-Tustari, Ihqaqul-Haq, vol.3 p. 280, vol. 14, p. 362-365, vol. 2 p. 765-77. For a critical review of the counter reports cited by some Sunni scholars, see al-Tabatabai, al-Mizan, vol.11, p. 423-428.

15. This is again an example of saying one thing in his academic work and saying something else when talking to the Shi'a community.Dr.Sachedina, as mentioned earlier, has written in Islamic Messianism that Islam began as a political movement and later on acquired religious emphasis; now he is saying that the Prophet was recognized fundamentally as a prophet of God and was never recognized as a political leader.

16. Dr. Sachedina's2nd speech of Muharram 1419 in Toronto. He has perhaps inadvertently quoted the Qur'anis verse incorrectly, it is not `wal kafirun laysa lahum mawla', it is `wa anna 'l-kafirin la mawla lahum.'(47:11)

17. this question of the Prophet is based on the verse 33:6 of the Qur'an.

18. 2nd speech in Toronto, Muharram 1419.

19. Although this sentence is cushioned in "if it is authentic" escape clouse, it creates more question: During the last days of Ramadhan 1418, Dr. Sachedina made the following declaration on the Internet: "I am taking this opportunity to state in the most ABSOLUTE terms that not only do I believe in the unequivocal authenticity of the event of al-Ghadir…, I believe that the statement by the Prophet 'Everyone whose master I am, also has Ali as a master,' to be the explicit designation of the Imam Ali to the office of the Leadership of Muslim Community, as upheld by the twelver Shi'a faith." Then less than four months later, in Muharram 1419, he makes such statements that cast doubt in the explicitness of the declaration of Ghadir Khum.

20. The 2nd speech in Toronto, Muharram 1419.

21. al-Turayhi, al-Majama'ul Bahrain, ed. Mahmud Adil Adil, vol. 3 (Tehran: Daftar-e Nashr Farhang-e Islami, 1408) p. 242.

22. Al-Mufid, Amali, vol. 13 (Musannafat Shaykh al-Mufid) p.35.

23. Al-Mufid, al-Nukatul I'tiqadiyya in vol. 10 of Musannafat al-Shaykh al-Mufid (Qum: Mu'assasa Alil-Bait, 1413 AH) p. 39.

24. al-Hilli, al-Baabul Hadi Ashar [Qum Nashr Nawid, 1368 AH solar] p. 84; also see its English translation A treatise on the Principles of Shi'ite thought, tr. William Miller (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1958)p.62.

25. Lahiji Sama'ya-e Iman (Qum: Intisharaat-e al-Zahra, 1372 AH solar) p. 107.

26. Tabatabai, Shi'a Islam tr. Nasr (Qum Ansariyan, 1989) p. 173.

27. Mutahhari, Wilaya, p. 72.

28. See p. 90-91.

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