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GUARDIANSHIP. The term walayah (guardianship) literally means having “contiguity to something.” The root is frequently found in Islamic religious thought: walis are “proteges” of God, or saints; the wali is the guardian of a minor or the member of a family deputed to act on his or her behalf; a tribal client is a mawla; and wali is also a straightforward political term, usually translated as “governor” or “regent.”

The term is particularly important in Twelver Shi’i) 1 political theory, where it signifies the legitimacy of `All’s claim, together with that of his successor imams, to lead the Islamic community. When the Prophet at Ghadir Khumm held `All’s hand aloft and said, “he who is my mawla, is now `All’s mawla; he was, according to the Shl’ah, declaring that the authority over the community, in matters temporal and religious, belonged to ‘Ali. The legitimacy of the claim of walayah is distinguished from a claim based solely on saltanah (force).

The notion of walayah is justified from the Qur’an, where it is declared that “God is your wali, and His Apostle, and those who are faithful” (surah 5.55). The Prophet’s guardianship is by delegation from God, and he in turn delegated his authority to the house of `Ali. “Those who are faithful,” are understood then to be the imams.

Throughout the first half of Islamic history, Shi`i claimants invoked the concept of walayah as part of their claim to replace whatever dynasty they opposed. This was particularly true with the ideological claims of the Fatimid-Isma’ili imams in Cairo who opposed the Sunni claims of the `Abbasids. The great Fatimid jurist, al-Qadi Nu’man, wrote extensively on walayah in his magnum opus, the DaWim al-Islam. There he used historical and exegetical evidence to argue that Islamic political history had been awry from the time of the Prophet’s death. Only now was a rightful claimant once more in a position to join saltanah with walayah, and lead the Muslim community.

The concept of walayah has recently attracted considerable attention because it has been deployed by Imam Khomeini to justify the hierocratic state structure evoked in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. According to this theory, the imams deputed jurists and judges to act on their behalf even during their lifetimes. That guardianship does not end with the occultation of the Twelfth Imam, but rather requires an enhanced role for the scholars who were his heirs. Accordingly, Khomeini and his followers have argued that the guardianship of the jurist is “general” in its scope, and not restricted; that it applies to all phases of the law, and that such efficacy must be realized with power as well. Accordingly the foremost jurist is to be regarded as the wali al-amr (“guardian of command”) with temporal authority over the state. [See also Mawla; Sainthood.]


Corbin, Henry. “Sur la notion de ‘walayat’ en Islam ShVite.” In Normes et valeurs dans l’Islam contemporain, edited by Lean-Paul Charnay, pp. 38-47. Paris, 1966.

Nanji, Azim A. “An Isma`ili Theory of walayah in the Da`a’im alIslam of Qadi al-Nu’man.” In Essays on Islamic Civilization: Presented to Niyazi Berkes, edited by Donald P. Little, vol. I, pp. 26o2’73. Leiden, 1976.

Sachedina, A. A. The Just Ruler (al-Sultan al-`Adil) in Shi’ite Islam: The Comprehensive Authority of the Jurist in Imamite Jurisprudence. New York, 1988.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/guardianship/

  • writerPosted On: June 8, 2013
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