The Meaning Wali, Mawla, and Wilayah
No Muslim scholar could ever cast any doubt in the documentation of the
tradition of Ghadir Khum, for it has been narrated with as much as 150
authentic chains of transmitters by the Sunnis alone. (Please see Part III
for the evidences in this regard). A Mutawatir report is a report which has
been narrated unbrokenly and independently by so many people so that no
doubt can be entertained about their authenticity. Even the students of Ibn
Taymiyyah such as al-Dhahabi and Ibn Kathir who have proven their enmity
toward the Shia, emphasized that the tradition of Ghadir Khum is Mutawatir
and Sahih (authentic) (See al-Bidayah wan Nihayah). However some people did
try to interpret the tradition in a different way. They particularly tried
to translate the words WALI (master/guardian), MAWLA (master/leader), and
WILAYAH (mastery/leadership/guardianship) as friend and friendship.
Dictionaries give a minimum of 20 meanings for the Arabic word WALI,
depending on context, most have to do with the position of leadership and
guardianship. Only in one instance it could mean a friend.
- Elias' Modern Dictionary, by Elias A. Elias, Arabic-English, p815-816,
- al-Munjid fi al-Lughah, v1.
Some suggested that what really the Prophet (PBUH&HF) wanted to say was:
"Whoever I am his friend, Ali is his friend."
There was no doubt that Imam Ali (AS) had a very high status in comparison
with all other people. He was the first male who embraced Islam (Sahih
Tirmidhi, v5, p642; Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal v4, p317; Mustadrak by al-
Hakim, v3, pp 111,136; Sirah Ibn Hisham, p345; Tabaqat by Ibn Sa'd, v3,
p71,72; al-Istiab by Ibn Abd al-Bar, v3, p30). He received the title of
the "brother" of Prophet (Sahih Tirmidhi v5, p363; Sirah Ibn Hisham, p504;
Tahdhib v4, p251). He was the one for whom Prophet said: "Loving Ali is
believing, hating Ali is hypocrisy." (Sahih Muslim, v1, p48; Sahih
Tirmidhi, v5, p643; Sunan Ibn Majah, v1, p142; Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal v1,
pp 84,95,128). Thus it does not seem to be logical for the Prophet
(PBUH&HF) to keep more than a hundred thousand people in such unbeatable
heat, and keep them waiting in such condition until those who have left
behind reach the place, and then all to tell them was that "Ali is the
friend of believers!"
Moreover how can we justify the revelation of Verse 5:67 which was revealed
before the speech of the Prophet in which Allah said:
"O Apostle! Deliver what has been sent down to you from your Lord; and
if you don't do it, you have not delivered His message (at all); and
Allah will protect you from the people ..." (Quran 5:67).
Is it logical to say that Allah warned his Prophet that if he does not
convey the message of "friendship of Ali", he has spoiled all he has done?!
Also what danger can be imagined for Prophet if he states "Ali is the
friend of believers"? Then what danger from the side of people is the above
verse referring to?
Furthermore, how can the phrase "Ali is the friend of believers" complete
the religion? Is the verse of completeness of religion (5:3) which was
revealed after the speech of Prophet suggesting that without saying "Ali is
the friend of believers" the religion is not complete?
Also, as we quoted in the first part, Umar and Abu Bakr congratulated Ali
by saying: "Congratulations O son of Abu Talib! Today you became the MAWLA
of all believing men and women." If, here, the word MAWLA means friend
then why the congratulations? Was Ali the enemy of all believers before
that time, so that Umar said that this day you BECAME the friend of them?!
In fact, every WALI is a friend, but the reverse is not always true. This
is why the Arabs use "Wali al-Amr" for the rulers, meaning the master of
the affairs. Thus, logically speaking, the word MAWLA can not be
interpreted as friend, and we should rather use its other more-frequently-
used meanings which are Leader and Guardian.
Perhaps one would ask why Prophet didn't use other words to further explain
his intention. In fact, people asked him the same question, and the
following Sunni documentations are the answers of the Prophet (PBUH&HF):
1. When the Messenger of Allah (s) was asked about the meaning
of "whomever I am his MAWLA then Ali is his MAWLA". He said:
"Allah is my MAWLA more deserving of me (my obedience) than
myself, I do not dispute him. I am the MAWLA of the believers,
more deserving in them than themselves, they do not dispute me.
Therefore, whomever I was his MAWLA, more deserving in him
than himself (and) does not dispute me, then Ali is MAWLA,
more deserving in him than himself, he does not dispute him."
- Shamsul Akhbar, by al-Qurashi, Ali Ibn Hamid, p38
- Salwat al-'Arifin, by al-Muwaffaq billah, al-Husain Ibn Isma'il al
2. During the reign of Uthman, Ali protested by reminding people the
following tradition. Also, he reminded it again during the war of
When the Messenger of Allah spoke of (Tradition of Ghadir)...,
Salman stood up and said: "O' Messenger of Allah! What does WALAA
mean? and how?" Prophet replied: "The same way that I am your WALI
(Wala-un ka wala'i). Whomever (considered me) I was more deserving in
him than himself, then Ali is more deserving in him than himself."
Sunni reference: Fara'id al-Samtain, by Hamawaini (Abu Is'haq Ibrahim Ibn
Sa'd al-Din Ibn al-Hamawiyia), section 58.
3. Ali Ibn Abi Talib was asked about the saying of the Messenger
of Allah "Whomever I am his MAWLA then Ali is his MAWLA". He said:
"He erected me chief ['alaman]. To the time I am up there, whomever
contradicts me then he is lost (misguided in religion)."
Sunni reference: Zain al-Fata, by al-Hafiz al-'Asimi
4. On the commentary of Verse: "And stop them, they are to be asked
(Quran 37:24)", al-Daylami narrated that Abu Sa'id al-Khudri said: The
Messenger of Allah (PBUH&HF) said: "And stop them, they will be asked
of WILAYAH of Ali."
Also, al-Hafiz al-Wahidi commented on the above verse saying:
"This WILAYAH that the Prophet (PBUH) affirmed to Ali, will be asked
about on the Day of Judgment. It is said that WILAYAH is what Allah
meant in the verse 37:24 of Quran where He said: "And stop them, they
are to be asked [37:24]". This means that they will be asked about the
WILAYAH of Ali (RA). The meaning is: They will be asked if they truly
accepted him as their WALI as they were instructed by the Prophet
(PBUH)? or did they loose and ignore it?"
- al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar al-Haythami, Ch. 11, subheading 1,
p229 quoted from al-Wahidi; also quoted from al-Daylami on the authority
of Abi Sa'id al-Khudri.
- Fara'id al-Samtain, by Hamawaini (Abu Is'haq Ibrahim Ibn Sa'd al-Din Ibn
al-Hamawiyia), section 14
- Nudhum Durar al-Samtain, by Jaml al-Din al-Zarandi
- al-Rashfah, by al-Hadhrami, p24
Countless scholars of Quran, Arabic grammar, and literature have
interpreted the word MAWLA as Awla which means "having more authority."
The following Sunni specialists all confirmed the above meaning:
1. al-Wahidi (d. 468), in "al-Wasit"
2. al-Akhfash Nahwi (d. 215), in "Nihayat al-Uqul"
3. al-Tha'labi (d. 427), in "al-Kashf wal Bayan"
4. Ibn Qutaybah (d. 276), in "al-Qurtayan", v2, p164
5. al-Kalbi (d. 146, quoted in "Tafsir al-Kabir", by al-Razi, v29, p227)
6. al-Farra' (as quoted in "Ruhul Ma'ani", by al-Alusi, v27, p178)
7. al-Nasafi (d. 701), in his "Tafsir", v4, p229
8. al-Tabari (d. 310), in "Tafsir al-Tabari", v9, p117
9. al-Bukhari (d. 215), in "Sahih al-Bukhari", v7, p271
10. al-Zamakhshari (d. 538), in "Tafsir al-Kashshaf", v2, p435
11. Qazi Nasiruddin al-Baydawi (d. 692), in "tafsir al-Baydawi", v2, p497
12. al-Khazin al-Baghdadi (d. 741), in his "Tafsir", v4, p229
13. Muhib al-Din al-Afandi, in "Tanzil al-Ayat"
14. Mu'ammar Ibn Muthanna al-Basri (as quoted in "Sharh al-Mawaqif", by
al-Sharif al-Jurjani, v3, p271)
15. Abul Abbas Tha'lab (as quoted in "Sharh al-Sab'ah al-Mu'allaqah", by
16. Ibn Abbas, in his "Tafsir" written on the margin of Durr al-Manthur,
17. Abu al-Saud al-Hanafi (d. 972), in his "Tafsir"
18. and many more such as Yahya Ibn Zaid Kufi (d. 207), Abu Ubaida Basri
(d. 210), Abu Zaid Ibn Aus Basri (d. 125), Abu Bakr Anbari (d. 328),
Abul Hasan Rummani (d. 384), Sa'd al-Din Taftazani (d. 791), Shaba
Uddin Khafaji (d. 1069), Hamzawi Maliki (d. 1303), Husain Ibn Mas'd
(d. 510), Abu Baqa Ukbari (d. 616), Ibn Hajar al-Haythmai (d. 974),
Sharif Jurjani (d. 618), Abdul Abbas Mubarrad (d. 285), Abu Nasr Farabi
(d. 393) and, Abu Zakariya Khateeb Tarizi (d. 502),...
Thus the word WALI or MAWLA in the tradition of Ghadir Khum does not mean a
simple friend, rather it means master and guardian who has more authority
over believers than what they have over themselves as Prophet himself
mentioned by saying "Don't I have more authority (Awla) on believers than
what they have over themselves?". At least 64 Sunni traditionists have
quoted this preceding question of the Prophet, among them are al-Tirmidhi,
al- Nisa'i, Ibn Majah, Ahmad In Hanbal. Therefore, the opinion of the above
Sunni scholars accords with what Prophet (PBUH&HF) said by using the word
Awla before the word MAWLA. In fact, when a word has more than one meaning,
the best way to find out its true connotation is to look at the association
(qarinah) and the context. The word Awla (having more authority) used by
the Prophet gives a good association for the word MAWLA.
Also the prayer of Prophet after his declaration in which he said:
"O' God, love those who love him, and be hostile to those who are
hostile to him. Help those who help him, and forsake those who
shows that Ali (AS) on that day was entrusted with a responsibility
(rulership) which, by its nature, would make some people his enemy, and in
carrying out that responsibility he would need some helpers and supporters.
Are helpers ever needed to carry on a "friendship"?
Moreover, The declaration of Prophet (PBUH&HF) that "It seems the time is
approached when I will be called away (by Allah) and I will answer that
call" clearly shows that he was making arrangements for the leadership of
Muslims after his death.
Also when at the end of his speech, the Prophet (PBUH&HF) said twice:
"Behold! Haven't I conveyed the message of Allah?" or "It is incumbent upon
every one who is present to inform the absent for they may understand it
better than those who are present" (Sahih al-Bukhari, Arabic-English,
traditions 5.688, 7.458, and 9.539) shows that the Prophet was conveying
a very important message which was going to be transferred to all coming
generations. This matter could not have been a simple friendship.
It is worth mentioning that Prophet did use the word Caliph in his speech
in Ghadir Khum, but it does not appear in the majority of Sunni documents
since there is no way to tamper the meaning of that word. However the
Prophet (PBUH&HF) also used the word MAWLA in his speech to survive this
event from being wiped up from the historical records with no trace.
It is interesting to note that the words WALI and MAWLA are also used in
Quran frequently with the meaning of master and guardian. For instance, the
Holy Quran states:
"Allah is the WALI of those who believe; He brings them out of
darkness (and takes them) into light." (Quran 2:257)
The above verse does not mean that Allah is just a friend of believers,
because a simple friend who has no authority can not move anybody into
light. Rather it means Allah is the Master of believers and that is why He
moves them from darkness to light. In another verse Allah said:
"Surely the AWLIYAA of Allah have no fear nor do they grieve."
The word AWLIYAA is the plural form of WALI. The above verse does not mean
that whoever is the friend of Allah does not have any fear. Many good
Muslims may have experienced fear for some events in their lifetime while
they are NOT the enemies of Allah. Thus the above verse suggests something
else than a simple friend. Here the word WALI is in the form of FAEEL with
the meaning of MAF'OOL. So the above verse means: "Those whose guardian and
the master of their affairs is Allah are not subject to fear and
apprehension." So if a believer TOTALLY submits to Allah, he then will not
have any fear. But ordinary believers whose submission are not perfect,
will probably be subject to fear of this and that, while we are still
friends of Allah. Thus "WALI of Allah" is a person who has totally
submitted his affairs to Allah and therefore he is totally protected by
Allah from any kind of flaw and sin. This status is much higher than
position of being just a "Friend of Allah".
Nevertheless Allah uses the word AWLIYAA in its general meaning that is
"protectors". The Holy Quran states:
"The believers, men and women, are AWLIYAA of one to the other:
they command to what is just and forbid what is evil" (Quran 9:71).
Looking at different translations, one can find that they have used the
word "protectors" for the meaning of AWLIYAA. The above verse does not want
to say that believers are just friends of each other. Rather the believers
are under a mutual obligation to one another, and are occupied with each
other's affair. As a result of these obligations, they "command each other
what is good and forbid each other what is evil" as the rest of above verse
suggests. Thus here the meaning of AWLIYAA, though is still higher than
"friends", but it is clearly lower than "master" and "leader". Here AWLIYAA
has been used in its general meaning. But for a special meaning of WALI,
see the following verse:
"ONLY Allah is your WALI, and His Messenger and those among
believers who keep alive prayer AND pay Zakat while they are in the
state of bowing." (Quran 5:55)
The above verse clearly suggests that NOT all the believers are our WALI
with the special meaning of WALI in this verse which is "master" and
"leader". Again, here it is clear that WALI does not mean just friend,
because all the
believers are friends of each other. The above verse mentions that only
three things are your special WALI: Allah, Prophet Muhammad, and Imam Ali
for he was the only one at the time of Prophet who paid Zakat while he was
in the state bowing (ruku'). Muslim scholars are unanimous in reporting
this event. Here are just some of the Sunni references which mentioned the
revelation of the above verse of Quran in the honor of Imam Ali:
(1) Tafsir al-Kabir, by Ahmad Ibn Muhammad al-Tha'labi, under Verse 5:55
(2) Tafsir al-Kabir, by Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, v6, pp 186,288-289
(3) Tafsir Jamiul Hukam al-Quran, by Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Qurtubi, v6, p219
(4) Tafsir al-Khazin, v2, p68
(5) Tafsir al-Durr al-Manthur, by al-Suyuti, v2, pp 293-294
(6) Tafsir al-Kashshaf, by al-Zamakhshari, Egypt 1373, v1, pp 505,649
(7) Asbab al-Nuzool, by Jalaluddin al-Suyuti, Egypt 1382, v1, p73 on the
authority of Ibn Abbas
(8) Asbab al-Nuzool, by al-Wahidi
(9) Sharh al-Tjrid, by Allama Qushji
(10) Ahkam al-Quran, al-Jassas, v2, pp 542-543
(11) Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v5, p38
(12) Kanzul Ummal, by al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, v6, p391
(13) al-Awsat, by Tabarani, narrated from Ammar Yasir
(14) Ibn Mardawayh, on the authority of Ibn Abbas
... and more.
Paying Zakat during bowing (ruku') is not a Sunnah. This is accepted by ALL
Muslim scholars. Thus the above verse does not seek to set down the
desirability or the necessity of paying Zakat during bowing (ruku'), nor
does it want to lay it down as duty or something recommended legally in the
Islamic sense as a kind of Divine Law (Shari'ah). Rather it is a
reference to an action which took place when someone did something in the
external world, and now Quran is pointing that action to indicate that
person. In an indirect way, the verse wants to say that this WALI is a
special WALI whose authority has been put beside the authority of Prophet
Muhammad (PBUH&HF) since they are jointly mentioned.
One may object that even though Ali did this action, a plural form has been
used in the above verse, thus it might encompass some other people as well.
First, the history tells us that there was no other individual who did this
at the time of Prophet. Second, this way of approach in Quran which uses
plural form but actually referring to just one person who did that
particular act, is NOT uncommon in Quran. For instance Allah mentioned:
"They say: If we return to Medina the mightier (element) will soon
drive out the weaker." (63:8)
Here also Quran is referring to a story which took place, and uses the
phrase "They say" while the speaker of the above sentence was not any more
than one person. According to Shia and Sunni commentators he was Abdullah
Ibn Ubayy Ibn Salul.
Quran tries to avoid using names of people as much as possible. This is
done for many reasons such as generality to make it a universal book, and
also to make Quran safer from any possible alteration by those who hate a
special individual who has been praised in Quran, or by those who love a
person who has been denounced in Quran.
Using plural while referring to single, has another application too.
Sometimes the act of a single person is worthier than the deeds of a whole
nation. This was the case for Prophet Muhammad, Imam Ali, as well as the
case for Prophet Abraham. Quran mentions that Abraham (AS) was a nation
(Ummah), meaning that his deeds was more valuable than all other people.
"Lo! Abraham was a nation (Ummah) who was obedient to Allah,
by nature upright, and he was not of the idolaters" (Quran 16:120)
The famous and respected companion of Prophet, Ibn Abbas (RA) said:
"There is no verse in Quran in which the term `Believers', unless Ali
is at the top of them and the chief of them and the more virtuous one
among them. Surely Allah has admonished the companions of Muhammad
(PBUH) in Quran, but He did not refer to Ali except with honor."
- Fadha'il al-Sahaba, by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v2, p654, tradition #1114
- al-Riyadh al-Nadhirah, by Muhibbuddin al-Tabari, v3, p229
- Tarikh al-Khulafaa, by al-Hafidh Jalaluddin al-Suyuti, p171
- Dhakha'ir al-Uqba, by Muhibbuddin al-Tabari, p89
- al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar Haythami, Ch. 9, section 3, p196
- Others such as Tabarani and Ibn Abi Hatam
And further, Ibn Abbas said:
"There hath not been revealed in the Book of God regarding any one
what hath been revealed concerning Ali," and that "three hundred
verses have been revealed concerning Ali."
- Ibn Asakir, as quoted in:
- Tarikh al-Khulafaa, by al-Hafidh Jalaluddin al-Suyuti, p171
- al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar Haythami, Ch. 9, section 3, p196
Thus the verse (5:55) is actually saying that ONLY Allah is your WALI,
and then Prophet Muhammad, and Imam Ali. Thus we can conclude that the
WILAYAH (mastership/leadership) of Imam Ali is the same as that of Prophet
Muhammad (PBUH&HF) since Allah put them beside each other. The authority
of Prophet Muhammad is explained by the following verses of Quran:
"The Prophet has a greater priority/authority (Awla) over the
believers than what they have over themselves" (Quran 33:6)
"O' you who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger and those from
among you who are given authority (by Allah)." (Quran 4:59)
One may look at other verses with regard to the authority of Prophet such
as 4:65, 59:7, 9:103, 33:21. Putting all these verses beside the verse
5:55, one can derive that this priority and authority will also be for Imam
Ali after the demise of the Messenger of Allah.
al-Nisa'i and al-Hakim have also recorded other versions of the tradition
of Ghadir Khum with different wordings which provide more insight to the
meaning of the tradition. They narrated on the authority of Zaid Ibn Arqam
Prophet added: "Certainly Allah is my MAWLA and I am WALI (master/
guardian) of all the faithful." Then he grasped the hand of Ali and
said: "He (Ali) is the WALI of all those of whom I am WALI. O Allah!
Love those who love him and hate those who hate him."
- Khasa'is, by al-Nisa'i, p21
- al-Mustadrak, by al-Hakim, v3, p109
In another wording:
Prophet (PBUH) asked three times: "O' people! Who is your MAWLA? They
replied: Allah and His Messenger." Then he grasped the hand of Ali and
raised it and said: "Whoever his WALI is Allah and his Messenger, then
this man is his WALI also."
Sunni reference: Khasa'is, by al-Nisa'i, p6
If WALI means friend, then why people answered only Allah and His
Messenger are WALI? They should have answered all the believers are WALI.
This clearly shows that people got it right, but they later chose to act
otherwise. Now let us look at the following tradition:
Ali came to the plain of Rahbah, and some people told him "Peace on
you O' our MAWLA!" Ali replied: "How can I be your MAWLA while you are
Arabs (free men)?" They said: "We heard the Messenger of Allah (PBUH)
on the day of Ghadir Khum who said: `Whoever I was his MAWLA he (Ali)
is his MAWLA.'"
Sunni reference: Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v5, p419
If MAWLA means friend, then why was Ali (AS) asking the above question?
Was friendship new to Arabs? In fact Imam Ali was asking this question
to reiterate the importance of the word MAWLA and showing that people
at that time did not mean it friend for him, and that what they meant is
master of the believers.
Concluding the above discussion, it is clear that any individual who tries
to trivialize the tradition of Ghadir Khum by saying that Prophet just
wanted to say "Ali is the friend of believers", is neglecting the above-
mentioned traditions of prophet in which he explained what he meant by
WALI, and also neglecting the above-mentioned verses of Quran (those which
were revealed in Ghadir Khum and those which explain the importance of
WALI). Finally, the following tradition from Sunni references further
illuminates the fact that WALI means Imam since the tradition uses the
phrase "follow them" and "Imam". Ibn Abbas (RA) narrated that the
Messenger of Allah said:
"Whoever wishes to live and die like me, and to abide in the Garden of
Eden after death, should acknowledge Ali as WALI after me, and take
his WALI (i.e., Imams after him) as WALI, and should follow the Imams
after me for they are my Ahlul-Bayt and are created from my clay and
are gifted with the same knowledge and understanding as myself.
Woe unto those who deny their virtues and those who disregard their
relationship and affinity with me, for my intercession shall never
(1) Hilyatul Awliya', by Abu Nu'aym, v1, pp 84,86
(2) al-Mustadrak, by al-Hakim, v3, p128
(3) al-Jamiul Kabir, by al-Tabarani
(4) al-Isabah, by Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani
(5) Kanzul Ummal, v6, p155
(6) al-Manaqib, by al-Khawarizmi, p34
(7) Yanabi' al-Mawaddah, by al-Qunduzi al-Hanafi, p149
(8) History of Ibn Asakir, v2, p95
Ali vs. truth (right path):
In some versions of the Tradition of Ghadir Khum there is an extra sentence
that is he Prophet (PBUH&HF) said:
"Wa dara al-haqq ma'ahu haithu dar", literally: "And the truth (the
right path) turns with him (i.e. Ali) wherever way he turns."
Sunni reference: Tafsir al-Kabir, by Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, under the
commentary of "al-Bismilah"
Similarly in Sahih al-Tirmidhi, it is narrated that:
The Messenger of God said: "O God, have Thy Mercy on Ali. O God,
make the right and the truth with Ali in all situations."
Sunni reference: Sahih al-Tirmidhi, v5, p297
In Arabic, linguistically, the wording (balagha) could play tricks on the
listener. Logically, truth is absolute and not variable. A person, relative
to the truth, could be variable in action.
In this case, the person (i.e. Imam Ali) is placed as the absolute fixed
axes around which the event is taking place; such that, if anything changes
in the person's decision, the event is the thing that will change its track
-- truth in this case!!! Since, such change is not logically reasonable
due to the absolute nature of truth, then one can conclude that the two are
married and are inseparable. Hence, Ali (AS) stands for truth at all
Thus the saying of the Prophet (PBUH&HF) is a metaphoric way to stress
Ali's importance and attachment to the truth (right path) such that
Ali (AS) and the "right path" are indistinguishable.
Whereas, if put in the reverse order (i.e. Ali turns with truth...) it
would leave room, theoretically, for Ali to make other possible turns, by
virtue of Ali being the moving object. This would sound weaker, and would
imply the nature of a non-infallible person.