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MAWLAY. The Arabic word mawlay (also transliterated moulay and mulay) means “my lord” or “my master”; in North Africa it is frequently used in this sense, although the word is pronounced mulay. Various honorific titles are derived from the term mawla in combination with pronominal or adjectival suffixes. Mawla is in turn derived from the Arabic verb waliyah, “to be close to” or “to be connected with something or someone,” and by extension to be proximate in terms of power or authority. In the Qur’an, in the hadith, and in early Islamic history, mawla had several meanings. First, it was employed in the sense of “tutor,” “preceptor,” “trustee,” or “helper”; for example, God is the mawla of the community of the faithful, according to the Qur’an. Second, it denoted “lord” or “master,” and thus God is referred to as “Mawlana” or “our lord”; here the term is synonymous with sayyid. Finally, it can signify “client,” “affiliate,” or “freedman,” thus designating a relationship of inferiority or dependence. In the early Islamic period, mawlh (the plural of mawla referred at first to non-Arab converts to Islam who became clients of one of the Arab Muslim tribes and were regarded as socially inferior. In the `Abbasid period, however, the term more commonly designated freedmen, although it had passed out of general use by the tenth century.

As a title or honorific, mawlay has been and is still used in various regions of the Muslim world. In the Maghrib and Andalusia, it was applied to saints or Sufis, as well as to various ruling houses that based their legitimacy upon descent from the prophet Muhammad. The Hafsid dynasty of Tunisia (1207-1574) employed this title, as did high dignitaries both secular and religious. Originally in the Moroccan context, mawlay was a title conferred upon all those belonging to the shurafa’ (descendants of Muhammad). Since the sixteenth century, however, it has been employed as a prenominal title applied to the sultans of the two Moroccan Sharifi dynasties-the Sa’dis (c.1510-1654) and the `Alawis (c.1660-); both dynasties have claimed descent from Muhammad through al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali.

In the Sufi sense, mawlay is related to the terms wall and wilayah; the former is often inadequately rendered as “saint,” although a better definition would stress the holy person as being close to God or His protege, while the latter signifies something approximating sanctity. In both Sufism and Shiism mawla can be understood as a spiritual protector or patron as well as a client. The great thirteenth-century Persian Sufi and poet Jalal alDin Rumi is still referred to as Mawlana, “our master,” because of his immense piety and uncommon spirituality. In the Turco-Iranian world and in South Asian Islam, mawlana (or mawlawi) is a title in widespread use even in the 1990s and can denote Muslims of high religious status, such as Sufis or members of the `ulama’. In the Indian subcontinent it is applied to scholars of the Islamic religious sciences-meaning once again “my tutor” or “my lord”-or to saints, implying spiritual lordship and hence protection.

[See also Mawla; Sainthood; Sayyid; Sufism.]


Trimingham, J. Spencer. The Sufi Orders in Islam. Oxford, 197 I. Westermarck, Edward A. Ritual and Belief in Morocco. 2 vols. London, 1926. Volume one contains a brief discussion of the various uses of sayyid, sharif, and mulay (mawlay) in the North African context.


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

  • writerPosted On: August 5, 2014
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