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MAWLA. Derived from wala (“to be close to, be friends with, have power over”), the term mawla (pl., mawali) has entered other languages as a loan word. Through history it has accrued a varied set of meanings, depending largely on whether it is used in the active or passive voice. Therefore, mawla can have the reciprocal meanings of “master” or “slave, freedman,” “patron” or “client,” “uncle” or “nephew,” and “friend.” It is an epithet of God “the Protector” in the Qur’an (e.g., 8.40, 47.11), and it is used today as a title for religious and political authorities. Its Persian form, mulla (commonly rendered in English as mullah), usually denotes anyone who has attained competence in a field of Islamic learning to teach, deliver sermons, and conduct rituals, especially within the lower reaches of the `ulama’

The mawali in pre-Islamic Arabia were clients of an Arab tribe. The appearance of Islam and the seventhcentury conquests caused a shift in the significance of the term as Arab Muslims sought ways to normalize relations with their new subjects. Thus they used the term mawali to designate foreign Arabs, Persians, Greeks, Copts, Jews, Africans, and others who allied with the community as clients in Arabia itself and in the Arab settlements of Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Iran. These people entered the community voluntarily or as war captives who were subsequently emancipated. In either case, clientage was established with a specific Arab tribe, often through a male patron from that tribe; it also entailed conversion to Islam. As most of the mawali were of foreign origin, the term came to denote nonArab Muslims. Clientage afforded them the protection of members of the new Arab ruling elite-along with material benefits from the conquests-in return for loyalty, service, and gifts.

One study has estimated that 1o percent of the prophet Muhammad’s original following consisted of mawali, such as Salman the Persian, Bilal the Ethiopian, and Suhayb the Byzantine (Pipes, 1985). BY 715 they had begun to play an active role in political life and formed separate units in the Arab armies that were crucial to the conquests in Andalus and Central Asia. The widely held theory that mawdli resentment of their second-class status in the early empire was a leading cause of the conflicts that brought about the `Abbasid revolution in 75o has been disputed in recent years. Although many mawali held servile status in relation to Arabs and were regarded as little better than slaves, others took leading positions in the army and government, remaining faithful to their Umayyad and `Abbasid patrons and attaining higher status than Arab nobles (ashraf ). Individuals of mawali origins also contributed to the formation of Islamic law, Islamic tradition, and dialectical theology (kaldm), and to the development of Arabic grammar and letters. Such prominent early scholars as al-Hasan al-Basri- (d. 728), Abu Hanifah (d. 767), Ibn Ishaq (d. 767), Sibawayh (d. 791), and ai-Bukhari (d. 870) were remembered as having been of mawali descent.

By the time of the `Abbasid caliph al-Mu’tasim (r. 833-842), the practice of designating non-Arab Muslims as mawali had largely lapsed with the decline of Arab elitism and with Arab detribalization in urban areas. Other forms of clientage emerged subsequently to play a decisive role in the organization of government, warfare, learning, and economy in Muslim lands, notably in the Mamluk, Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal Empires. The place of mawali in Islamic history continued to be acknowledged in later times, however. Reflecting on the fates of states and civilizations, Ibn Khaldun (d. 14o6) concluded that mawdli and other clients are vital to the continuity of dynasties once tribal solidarity has dissipated (Muqaddima 11.8, 111.2, 12, 17, 18).

In Islamic law, the early mawla form of clientage survived only in vestigial form as wall’, which is seen as a kind of fictive kinship relationship. According to fiqh, it defines the automatic rights and duties of masters and their freedmen (in all the major Sunni and Shi`i schools), or the relations contracted formally between Muslim patrons and new client-converts (only in Hanafi and Imami law). The most important provisions of wall’ are that it gives patrons some inheritance rights against the estates of their clients, and that it obliges patrons to agree to pay blood-money on their clients’ behalf.

In later centuries, the active meaning of mawaa, “master,” has prevailed as a title for rulers, religious figures, and, of course, God. The patron saint of Fez, Idris, and members of the Sa`di (1511-1628) and `Alawi (1631-) dynasties of Morocco are designated by the title mawlay (“my master”). Jalal al-Din Rumi (d. 1273), the Persian mystic, is remembered with the sobriquet mawldnd (“our master”), and in consequence, his Sufi order is named the Mawlawiyah (Tk., Mevlevi). Its Persian form, mullah, usually denotes anyone who has attained competence in a field of Islamic learning to teach, deliver sermons, and conduct rituals, especially within the lower ranks of Shi’i `ulama’ Mawla is also a designation for Sunni scholars in India and Pakistan.

[See also Mawlawlyah; Mawlay; Mevlevi; and Mullah.]


Crone, Patricia. Slaves on Horses: The Evolution of the Islamic Polity. Cambridge, 198o. Roman, Provincial, and Islamic Law: The Origins of the Islamic Patronate. Cambridge, 1987. Two revisionist studies of mawali in relation to the early Arab conquests and the shari ah, respectively. Summarized in her article, “Mawla,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 6, pp. 874-882 (Leiden, 1960-).

Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah. 3 vols. Translated and edited by Franz Rosenthal. New York, 1958.

Morony, Michael. Iraq after the Muslim Conquest. Princeton, 1984. State-of-the-art exposition of Iraqi, Persian, Aramean, Jewish, Christian, and pagan communities and institutions on the eve of the conquests, and their subsequent transformations, with an extensive bibliography.

Pipes, Daniel. “Mawlas: Freed Slaves and Converts in Early Islam.” In Slaves and Slavery in Muslim Africa, edited by John R. Willis, vol. 1, pp. 199-248. London, 1985.


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

  • writerPosted On: August 5, 2014
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