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Wilaya (Arabic:الولاية) literally means having guardianship and having the right to administer the properties of others. In Shi'a terminology it usually has the meaning and refers to the divine sanctioned guardianship of the Imams (a) over people. Wilaya Tashri'i, Wilaya Tafsiri, Wilaya Takwini and Wilaya Siyasi are all branches of the core wilaya. The Holy Qur'an confines the right of wilaya to Allah; it is He who gives this right to whomever He pleases. Additionally, based upon Islamic sources, Allah has granted this right of wilaya to the Prophets, the Imams and to the scholars.
Even thou Wilaya Tashri'i, which is that wilaya that determines and establishers the divine law, is the sole property of Allah except in a few instances when this wilaya was put at the disposal of the Holy Prophet (s); this wilaya and right has not been given to any other creation.
One of the most important characteristics of wilaya is the finality of the guardian's (wali) speech and the necessity of obeying his commands and orders.
Definition of Wilaya
Wilaya is the root word that has been derived from the verb waliya. The primary meaning of this word is to place an object next to another object in such a way that there is no gap or space between them. It is because of this meaning that the word has also been used to mean 'closeness', be it a positional and material closeness or a spiritual one.
The word wali is also derived from this verb and is from amongst the Names of Allah and has twenty seven different meanings. Some of these meanings are as follows: protector, judge, manager and the administrator of affairs, devotee, the most appropriate, close, friend, helper, loyal follower, partner is a promise, partner in a contract, neighbour, protected ancestry, extended family, cousin, the freer and the freed.
From a terminological viewpoint, wilaya is a form of closeness and proximity that gives a specific type of permission in the administrating of the affair associated with others.
The Possibility of Wilaya in Man
According to the Qur'an, Allah, who is the creator of man and his Lord, has the right to express his wilaya over him and it is Him alone who is the Wali of man. Therefore, wilaya in all its forms is only for Allah and it is He alone who is their Wali and other than Him, no one else has the right to have wilaya over his servants.
Some people accept this wilaya and place themselves under the guardianship of Allah, whereas others flee from his guardianship and place themselves under the guardianship of Satan. It is the believers who have accepted His wilaya. Allah then protects and guards them, and takes them towards eternal bliss; he diverts them from the darkness of going astray and guides them towards the valley of light and guidance.
However, those who have not accepted His guardianship, in reality have accepted the guardianship of idols and oppressors, while their thinking is incorrect as the guardians of unbelievers have no authority over others. It is only Allah who has the ability to express wilaya and authority, and has the right and capacity to interfere and control the affairs of the created world. It is He alone who can determine and define the divine laws and principals that form the basis and backbone of religion; remove the differences in society and guide mankind towards the eternal life of happiness.
Allah at times entrusts His wilaya to some of his deserving servants, however this wilaya is not parallel to the wilaya of Allah but rather an offshoot of it. These individuals implement this wilaya in a way that Allah both wants and is pleased with.
Forms of Wilaya
Wilaya Takwini is that wilaya which allows the wali or guardian to administer and plan the affairs of all things in any way that he pleases. It also means to possess the power and ability to affect ontological affairs and to have the ability to administer the natural order of the World and to disrupt its usual system.
Wilaya in ontology (takwin) is specific to Allah and according to Tawhid Rabubi it is He alone, by means of His Wilaya, who has the power to control the world and thus manifests His guardianship and lordship in many different forms. Concerning the ontological wilaya of Allah, the Holy Qur'an says that He is the guardian (wali) of the believers and it is He who takes them out of darkness and into light.
Allah in the Holy Qur'an, on many occasions, proclaims that Wilaya is confined solely to Him and that looking towards others is no benefit and only brings about lose and disappointment. In a verse He says that the oppressors have no guardian or helper and has severely reprimanded those people who take others as their guardian and helper instead of Him; He then says that only Allah is the guardian of the servants and it is Him who will bring the dead back to life and has power over all things.
Wilaya Tashri'i has both a general and a specific meaning. Its general meaning is any form of guardianship that does not necessitates the interference in the ontological affairs of the World. This definition of Wilaya comprises Wilaya Tafsiri, Wilaya Siyasi and the specific meaning of Wilaya Tashri'i; this wilaya is the opposite of Wilaya Takwini in that its acceptance is voluntary and has no enforcement at all. In this way the Holy Qur'an explains that the acceptance of Allah's religion and Wilaya is voluntary and that those who reject and do not accept His Wilaya are outside of it i.e. His guardianship and introduces Himself as the guardian of only those who believe.
Allahmah Tabatabai, in explaining this form of wilaya, says: Wilaya Tashri'i means to legislate and propagate, develop the Ummah and to rule and judge in their affairs and differences. It is this meaning that Allah calls His prophets the guardians of the believers.
In its specific meaning, Wilaya Tashri'i means to establish and set the legislations and rules of religion. This form of wilaya has many different forms, of which some are specific to the Holy Prophet (s), whilst others are specific to religious leaders. According to narrations, this right has also been entrusted to the Imams (a).
In some narrations it states that the Holy Prophet (s) on a few occasions, himself, established the religious ruling. For example, the third and fourth units of a four unit prayer where made compulsory by the Holy Prophet (s). However, this form of Wilaya Tashri'i at times encompasses the setting of a ruling as a primary ruling and at other times is it a specific governmental instance or an external referent or the collaboration of an external referent with a ruling that needs to be established. An example of this was during a specific era during the Caliphate of Imam Ali (a) who, because of the requirements of the government at that time, place zakat on horses, that who according to the primary ruling should not have zakat paid on them. This action of Imam Ali (a) was in the form of a governmental ruling and not primary ruling.
There is however, a difference of opinion on how this wilaya is implemented. Some are of the opinion that this wilaya i.e. Wilaya Tashri'i in establishing primary rulings is solely in the possession of Allah and no one else, not even the Holy Prophet (s) has the ability to establish primary religious rulings. However, others are of the opinion that there are exceptions to the rule, and that the Holy Prophet (s) and the Infallible Imams (a) are a part of this exception.
Wilaya Ijtama'i means that a person has the right of guardianship and leadership over a society and its political structures. According to the verses of the Holy Qur'an, it is only Allah who has the right to rule and it is He alone who possesses the station of guardianship and wilaya over His servants. This matter includes all the forms and types of wilaya and hence also political and societal wilaya. However, from the point of view that Allah cannot govern the material world directly, he has entrusted this wilaya to a few of His servants, Therefore, Allah has raised a few individuals to this position and based upon His directions and commands, they guide and lead the society towards perfection.
This station was not confined to only a few prophets, even thou only a handful of them had the governance of the society at their disposal and were the leaders of the society. The Holy Prophet (s) was the last prophet who, for the period of ten years while in Medina, was also able to possess the political leadership of the society. After him (s), and according to narrations, this station was given to the Imams (a) by the command of Allah. This command occurred at Ghadir Khum, when the Holy Prophet (s) was ordered to inform the masses of the leadership and Imamate of Imam Ali (a) and take the oath of allegiance from them for him (a). This order held such importance, that in the continuation of the verse it was revealed to the Holy Prophet (s) that if he did not perform this order, all his previous efforts would have been wasted and it would have been as if he never performed the message of Allah. It is upon this basis that the Shi'a believe that after the Holy Prophet (s), the position of societal leadership is entrusted to the Infallible Imams only and no one else has a right to claim such a position.
This form of wilaya is given to a special group of Allah's servants, who by means of 'Ilm Ladunni and God inspired knowledge, have the responsibility of explaining and clarifying the verses of the Revealed Books, removing any misconceptions about them and to guard and protect the religion of Allah from interpolation and alteration in its teachings and rulings. During their lifetimes, the Prophets of Allah, who were assigned to partake in propagation, had the responsibility of performing this task. This responsibility and duty was placed on the shoulders of the majority of prophets who were sent for the guidance of people. These individuals were occupied with explaining the Words of Allah and the laws of the previous prophets.
This position, that is a due to them being the religious authority and which necessitates the decisive proof of their speech in explaining the Book of Allah and the propagation of His religion, after the Holy Prophet (s) was compounded as one of the responsibilities and duties of the Twelve Imams.
- Allah: Based upon religious edicts, it is Allah who is the essential and primary guardian, whose wilaya has not been taken from anyone or anything else. The Holy Qur'an in many verses alludes to this matter as can be seen in verse 257 of Sura al-Baqara.
- The Prophets (a): Their wilaya is an extension of the wilaya of Allah and it is only by means of His permission that they are able to implement it over His creation. This wilaya includes all the forms of wilaya except Wilaya Tashri'i in its specific meaning concerning the setting of primary legislation. However, the Holy Prophet (s) was the only prophet who, on certain occasions, was allowed to exercise this wilaya in setting primary legislation. Occasions such as the adding of the third and fourth units of a four unit prayer, the third unit of the Maghrib prayer, the daily recommended prayers and the recommendation of fasting for three days in every month.
- The Infallible Imams (a): Their wilaya is an extension of the Holy Prophet's (s) wilaya and they have the authority to implement it. Their wilaya includes Wilaya Takwini, Wilaya Tafsiri, Wilaya Siyasi and the leadership of the Ummah.
- A Qualified Jurist: According to narrations, some jurists, who possess the relevant characteristics, have the permission to implement wilaya. This type of wilaya is known as Wilaya Faqih or the Guardianship of the Jurist.
In jurisprudential sources, a limit type of wilaya has been ordained for a special group of people, for example the wilaya that a father or paternal grandfather have over their child or grandchild or the wilaya of a believer over a mentally challenged or foolish person. The difference between this wilaya and the previous ones is in its confinement to specific instances.
The Fundamental Characteristic
One of the characteristics that cannot be separated from the guardian and the person who has wilaya is that his speech and words must be a decisive proof. A person, who has wilaya in any of its forms, be it essential or extensional, must be followed and obeyed as his words and speech must be taken to be a decisive proof.
A Contemporary Discussion
Recently a discussion has been proposed in discussing the wilaya of the Imams (a) and its relationship to the finality of the Holy Prophet (s). Some are of the opinion that belief in the wilaya of the Imams (a), be it Wilaya Takwini, Tashri'i or even Tafsiri, is in contradiction to the finality of the Holy Prophet (s).
In response, answers have been given by the theologians in opposition to this opinion. Based on those answers, wilaya does not contradict finality in any way but is also the most important characteristic of the Infallible Imams (a). Therefore, by means of the continuation of Islam and its perfection and completion, and by taking into consideration the small amount of time the Holy Prophet (s) had to propagate the roots and branches of Islam, it is in need of an Imam whose speech and words will be a decisive proof for people to hold onto. So this Imam must possess wilaya in both explaining and interpreting the religion and its laws.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from ولایت in Farsi Wikishia.