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Wilayah, a nominal form of the Arabic verbal root w-l-y, carries a variety of meanings ranging from assistance and friendship to authority and power. Derived from the same root are the terms wali and mawla, which were used for a variety of concepts in the early Islamic period. The former denoted an individual's position as “next of kin,” his status as a “guardian,” or—in mystical texts—his status as a saint or “friend” of God. The latter bore similar meanings but also designated the subordinate non-Arab client in a constructed social partnership.

Wilayah in Shi’ism[edit | edit source]

In Imami Shi’ism, wilayah (or the variant form walayah) conveys the special status and devotion accorded to the twelve Imams. Specifically, the Shiʿa believe that the Prophet's son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib succeeded him as the bearer of spiritual and (ideally) temporal authority. One of the primary proofs forwarded for this claim was Muhammad's pronouncement that “Of whomever I am the mawla, Ali is the mawla” during his final pilgrimage at a place known as Ghadir Khumm. According to the Shiʿa, this event marked the designation of Ali as the Prophet's successor (wali), endowing him with an authority and spiritual guardianship over believers that subsequently passed to eleven of his lineal descendants.

The occultation of the twelfth imam in 260 AH (874 CE) presented Imami Shi’ism with a major challenge. Initially, the community upheld his sole legitimate authority in all religious and temporal matter but—as the period of occultation progressed—Imami scholars (of an Usuli or rationalist tendency) increasingly assumed the functional powers of the Imam, with some claiming that the juristic class held the position of general vicegerent (naʿib ʿamm) of the Hidden Imam. Al-Muhaqqiq al-Hilli, writing early in the thirteenth century, spoke of jurists as having a guardianship of the Imamate (walaʿ alimamah).

Wilayah after the occultation[edit | edit source]

Historically, the vast majority of Shiʿi scholars were political quietists and did not challenge the authority structures of their day. The shahs of the Shiʿi Safavid dynasty (1501–1722) in Iran went so far as to claim to be the house of wilayah or authority themselves. The great Imami jurisprudent Murtaza al-Ansari (d. 1864) rejected the notions that religious scholars enjoyed the same authority (wilayah) as the Imam or that secular governments could exercise such authority. The doctrines of the absolute sovereignty or wilayah of the Imam and the general vicegerency of the jurists on his behalf, however, provided a basis for some scholars to claim a wider breadth of secular authority even over aspects of secular governance. The anti-constitutionalist cleric Shaykh Faz¨lullah Nuri rejected the idea of modern parliamentary representation in 1907–1908 precisely on the grounds that it would intrude on the prerogative of the Imam to exercise wilayah.

From being a relatively obscure term in Imami Shiʿi theology and law, wilayah was lifted by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to worldwide prominence. In his 1971 book, Islamic Government or the Wilayah of the Jurisprudent, Khomeini argued that, as representatives of the Hidden Imam, religious jurists had a responsibility to take control of governmental authority (wilayah) in jihad and the enjoining of good and forbidding of evil—all state functions in most Muslim countries. For Khomeini, the guardianship of the jurisprudent (wilayah al-faqih) implied the end of any separation of religion and state. Whereas the general vicegerency of the jurists on behalf of the Hidden Imam had been exercised collectively, Khomeini envisaged a single jurist-guardian as a sort of Platonic philosopher-ruler. He insisted that if any jurisprudent succeeded in founding such a government and ruled according to Shiʿi law, it would be incumbent on all believers to follow him.

After the Islamic revolution of 1978–1979, the principle of wilayah al-faqih was enshrined in Article 5 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The supreme jurisprudent emerged with very broad and somewhat undefined powers; he is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and has the power to dismiss certain high officers of the state. Toward the end of his life Khomeini even suggested that the supreme jurisprudent could properly suspend laws of Islam, such as the commandment to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca. A less activist interpretation of the office has been offered since 1989 by Khomeini's successor, ʿAli Khameneʿi.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Studies, University of London, 1980. An unpublished dissertation which offers a sound overview of Shīʿī notions of authority.
  • Dien, Mawil, and Paul Walker. “Wilāya.”Encyclopedia of Islam. 2d ed., vol. 11. Edited by P. J. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C. E.
  • Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W. P. Heinrichs. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2002.
  • Khomeini, Ruhollah. Vilāyat-i faqīh: Ḥukūmat-i Islāmī. Tehran, 1979.
  • This work is a review of Sachedina's The Just Ruler.
  • Sachedina, A. A.The Just Ruler. New York and Oxford, 1988.
  • Takim, Liyakat. “From Bidʿa to Sunna: The Wilāyah of ʿAlī in the Shīʿī Adhān.”Journal of the American Oriental Society120 (2000): 166–177. A piece focusing on the evolving view of wilāyah as embodied in an aspect of Imāmī ritual law.

Source[edit | edit source]