Home / All / Key Elements of Imam Ali’s (ʿa) Wilāyah from the Perspective of Ayatollah Makarim Shirazi

Key Elements of Imam Ali’s (ʿa) Wilāyah from the Perspective of Ayatollah Makarim Shirazi

The issue of Wilāyah is one of the most important of precepts. The reason behind its importance can be found in a statement made by Imam Ali (ʿa) where he said that Wilāyah guarantees the implementation of other Islamic precepts.‌

The event of Ghadīr is one of the most important historical realities in relation to the establishment of the Imamate of the Ahl al-Bayt (a). This historical event, which took place on the 18th of Dhī al-Ḥijjah in10 AH, played an integral role in the safeguarding of the true Islam. There is always a need to further reflect and contemplate on the realities of this event and its impliations for the issue of Wilāyah. In this article, we will engage in the most important facets and angles of the issue of Wilāyah through the valuable guidance and viewpoints of Ayatollah Makarim Shirazi.

A Summarized History of Ghadīr Khum According to Ayatollah Makarim Shirazi

During the last year of the Prophet (s)’s life, he performed his final Ḥajj pilgrimage, which was known as the Ḥajjat al-Widā‘. Everyone went alongside the Prophet (s) on this journey and the Muslims came from all points of the Muslim world of that time. The Muslims felt that this was a historic opportunity for them to perform the Ḥajj pilgrimage alongside the Prophet (s). On a Thursday, eight days after the ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā, the Prophet (s) gave the command for the Muslims to stop in the middle of a hot and dry desert known as Ghadīr Khum.

The Prophet (s) then told the Muslims to prepare themselves to hear a new message from Allah (swt)… The saddles of camels were used to create a type of pulpit and the Prophet (s) climbed to the top of it and began to speak. He first began by praising Allah (swt). He then addressed the people and said to them: I will soon depart this world to meet my Lord and I will go from amongst you. I am responsible and you are also responsible (before Allah). How will you testify in regards to me?

The people loudly replied and said: We testify that you conveyed your message, and you fulfilled the condition of wishing the best for us, and you struggled in guiding us to the Straight Path; may Allah give you the best of rewards.  The Prophet (s) then said to them: Do you testify to the oneness of Allah, and to my Divine Mission, and to the truth of the Day of Judgment and the resurrection of the dead? Everyone replied back: Yes, we testify to this! The Prophet (s) then said: Oh Lord, be witness…

The Prophet (s) again asked: Oh people, do you hear my voice? They all replied: Yes. At this point, silence overtook the desert and the only sound which could be heard was the blowing of the wind. The Prophet (s) then began to speak and said: …So how will you treat these two weighty and valuable things which I am going to leave amongst you? One person cried out in the crowd: What two valuable things, Oh Messenger of Allah (s)?

The Prophet (s) immediately replied: The first is the greater of the weighty things and it is the Book of Allah. It is rope, one side of which is held in the hands of the Lord, and the other side is in your hands; do not leave it or else you will be misguided. My second valuable bequest is my family. My Lord, who is Most Kind and well-acquainted with all things, has given me news that these two valuables will never separate from one another, until they reach me in Paradise. Do not you step ahead of these two things, for you will perish and do not lag behind them, for you will also perish if you do.

The people suddenly saw that the Prophet (s) was looking around as if he were looking for someone. The Prophet (s)’s eye finally fell on Ali (a), and he leaned forward and took his hand. He then lifted the hand of Ali (a) very high above them so that the people would recognize who he was.  At this point, the Prophet (s) began to speak even louder and he said: Oh people, who has the most priority over the Muslims? The people all replied: Allah and his Prophet (s) know better.

The Prophet (s) then said to them: Allah is my master and leader and I am the master and leader of the believers and I am worthier (to make decisions for them) than they themselves (meaning that the Prophet’s decisions and orders must be given precedence over the personal decisions and desires of the people). The Prophet (s) then said: So whoever I am a master and leader over, Ali (a) is also their master and leader. This was repeated three times (according to some narrators, it was repeated four times)…

The sermon of the Prophet (s) then finished, while everyone there, was sweating profusely (from the heat). The people had not yet dispersed when the Angel Gabriel came down and revealed the following verse to the Prophet (s): ‘Today I have perfected your religion for you and completed my blessings (over you).’  The Prophet (s) then said: Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest; Allah is He who perfected His religion and completed His blessings upon us and was pleased with my messengership and the Wilāyah of Ali (a) after me. This is a summary of the well known tradition of Ghadīr which has been narrated both in the Shias, as well as the Sunnis references.

Conveying the Message of the Wilāyah: the Most Important Duty of the Prophet (s) at Ghadīr Khum

It must be noted that the duty of the Prophet (s) at Ghadīr Khum was in reality a political matter and those who have always opposed this Divine decree are willing to go against the Prophet (s) himself in order to reach their goals.  When we look at all the various facets of this issue and we do so without any prejudice, we come to the clear conclusion that the Prophet (s) was openly declaring the succesorship of Imam Ali (a).

This was something which the Prophet (s) had not formally declared until the very last year of his life but it was such an important matter which equaled the entire efforts of the Prophet (s) during his life to fulfill his Divine Mission… yet, a large group had sworn to oppose this last duty of the Prophet (s) and Allah (swt) had promised to protect him in the fulfillment of his duty against the enemies. It is noteworthy that the Prophet (s) had mentioned the succesorship of Imam Ali (a) many times before that but he had never announced it in a formal manner to all of the Muslims. This was why the Prophet (s) was commissioned to announce this matter at Ghadīr Khum, when all of the Muslims were returning from the Ḥajj pilgrimage. This was the best place for such an announcement and so the Prophet (s) chose to announce the successorship of Imam Ali (a) there and thus complete his prophetic message.

The Necessity of Conveying the Matter of Wilāyah in Islam

It is evident that the issue of Wilāyah is a guarantee for the fulfillment of various matters such as prayers, fasting, the Ḥajj, Zakāt and other such religious necessities. These acts of worship are put in to practical effect through the blessings of Wilāyah. This means that without Wilāyah in Islam, there would be no guarantee for these acts of worship to be properly practiced, and in such a case they would only be an empty shell. Such a matter can be likened to a doctor’s pres c r i p tion which is only a piece of paper until it is put in to practical effect.

In essence, the issue of Wilāyah refers to the implementation of Islamic law through means of the Infallibles (a). This means that the issue of Wilāyah, when refers to the establishment of an Islamic rule, is of more importance than acts of worship such as prayer, fasting, Ḥajj, and Zakāt; the practical end result of Wilāyah is that of governance and rule by the Infallibles (a). Such governance and rule has its roots in the Wilāyah which was given to Imam Ali (a) on the day of Ghadīr Khum.

Through such an explanation, it is easy to understand why Wilāyah is more important than other aspects of Islam. According to the tradition narrated by the Imam (a), Wilāyah is what guarantees the implementation of other key Islamic precepts. If an Islamic government is not established, then it will not be possible for acts of worship such as prayer, fasting, Ḥajj, or Zakāt to be properly implemented in the manner intended by Allah (swt). The true essence of these acts of worship will remain unfulfilled, while only a shell of them will remain.

In light of this reality, Wilāyah is not to be interpreted merely as love of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) or imploring them for help (Tawassul); it is rather acceding to the Islamic authority of the Infallibles (a) and being obedient to them. When we look back in history, we find that whenever any of the prophets gained sufficient power, they would establish a government based on divine teachings. Prophet David (a), Prophet Soloman (a), Prophet Moses (a), and the Prophet of Islam (s) are all examples of the Prophets who strove to fulfill this great divine duty. Moreover,  the reason why prophets such as Prophet Abraham (a) or Prophet Jesus (a) did not establish their own governments was that they did not have the proper opportunity or means to do so.

The Practical Realization of Wilāyah is Conditional upon the Participation and Ac-ceptance of the People

Some people who are unaware of certain realities have written that: ‘It is an accepted fact that whenever a majority of a group elects an individual (or group of individuals) to the seat of power and supports them, then such people will become their rulers. The true power of any society lies with the people… it is the people who give over their rule to their rulers and it is their will which brings this issue to fulfillment.’ However, this view is in sharp contrast with monotheistic principles.

We believe that the essence of monotheism expresses the complete opposite of this idea. Our belief is as follows: ‘It is Allah (swt) who best chooses who should rule and it is Him who gives practical fulfillment to this issue. If the people have any rights in regards to this matter, then that is also with the permission and consent of Allah (swt).’  At the same time, it cannot be denied that it is the participation of the people in regards to the issue of the rule which gives it power and strength. Without the participation of the people, the government would be unable to do anything.

Imam Ali (a) mentioned the following in regards to this issue in his sermon of Shiqshiqīyyah: ‘Behold, by Him who split the grain (to grow) and created living beings, if people had not come to me and supporters had not exhausted the argument and if there had been no pledge of Allah with the learned to the effect that they should not acquiesce in the gluttony of the oppressor and the hunger of the oppressed I would have cast the rope of Caliphate on its own shoulders, and would have given the last one the same treatment as to the first one. Then you would have seen that in my view this world of yours is no better than the sneezing of a goat.’

This shows us very clearly that the support of the people is necessary when it comes to the issue of the fulfillment of governance.  Without any doubt, the rank and position of Wilāyah was given to Imam Ali (a) by Allah, and the Prophet (s) had announced it to the people; at the same time, its practical implementation required people who were willing to obey and follow him as a leader. Without this aspect, this governance and rule would not have taken on its active form.

The Realization of the Strategic Principle of Wilāyah in the Tradition of Ghadīr

There is a widely transmitted tradition (Mutawātir) from the Prophet (s) in regards to Ghadīr which states: ‘Whoever I am a master of, then Ali (a) is also his master.’ This is a tradition which has been narrated in both Shia and Sunni sources and it clarifies many things in regards to the Wilāyah of Imam Ali (a).   Many Sunni scholars insist on interpreting the word master (Mawlā) in this tradition as meaning a friend and companion, which is one of the many meanings of this word. We Shias accept that this is one of the lexical possibilities of this word; however, there are a lot of pieces of evidence within the context of Ghadīr which make it  totally clear that the term ‘master’ as used in this tradition is a reference to the issue of Wilāyah and leadership. Let us examine these contextual proofs in more detail :

  1. The friendship of Imam Ali (a) with the believers was not a hidden or complex issue which needed to be expressed or emphasized. There was also no need to halt the entire Muslim community in the middle of the hot and dry desert in order to acknowledge this issue.  The Quran has clearly stated in this regard: ‘The believers are the brothers of one another.’  Another verse states : ‘The believing men and women are the friends and helpers of one another.’  In conclusion, it can be said that brotherhood amongst the Muslims is a self evident issue. It is something which has existed from the very beginning of Islam and the Prophet (s) propagated it as an Islamic precept continuously. In light of this, it wasn’t something which required a verse with such wording to be revealed and it wasn’t something over which the Prophet (s) would feel threatened.
    2.    When we look at the line in the sermon which states: ‘Do I not have priority over you?’ it is clear that such a line has nothing to do with the issue of simple friendship. This is a line which has been narrated in many of the versions of this tradition as found in various texts. This line is clearly telling us that just as the Prophet (s) has command over the believers as their leader and he has priority over their own wills, thus Imam Ali (a) has now been given this same rank and position. There is no other possible interpretation to this line other than what has been mentioned.
    3.    Another piece of evidence is found in the congratulations which many Muslims, including ʿUmar and Abū Bakr, offered to Imam Ali (a) after the event of Ghadīr Khum. The words which were used in congratulating Imam Ali (a) clearly show that the people understood that this was an issue of successorship and rule. A simple statement of friendship is not something which would have brought about this type of congratulations from various individuals.

The Acknowledgement of the Appointment of Imam Ali (a) as the Successor of the Prophet (s) at Ghadīr in Various Sunni References

In the Musnad of Imam Aḥmad, it has been narrated that: ‘After the Prophet’s (s) declaration, ʿUmar said to Ali: Congratulations to you, oh son of Abi Talib, you went through the morning and the night while you are the master (Mawlā) of every faithful man and woman!’  Similarly, while discussing the verse ‘O Apostle! Communicate that which has been sent down to you from your Lord…’ Fakhr al-Rāzī has stated that: ʿUmar said- «هَنيئاً لَكَ أَصْبَحْتَ مَوْلاىَ وَ مَوْلى‏ كُلِّ مُؤمِنِ وَ مُؤمِنَةٍ» and so he considered him to be his master (Mawlā) and the master of all the believers.
In the book Tārikh al-Baghdād, the above-mentioned remarks by Omar have been narrated  as follows: ‘Congratulations, congratulations oh son of Abū Ṭālib… you have become my master and the master of all the Muslims.’   In two other refrences meaning Fayḍ al-Qadīr and al-Ṣawāʿiq, it has also been narrated that Abū Bakr and ʿUmar both congratulated Ali (a) by saying : “Oh Ibn Abi Talib, you have become the master (Mawlā) of every believing man and woman.”  Needless to say, that a friendship which had already existed amongst the believers did not need such congratulations. Thus, considering the context of Ghadīr Khum and the various narrations in regards to the actions of the people after its conclusion, it is very clear that the term Mawlā is a reference to the issue of successorship and governance, and not the issue of simple friendship.

A Quranic Reflection on the Wilāyah of Imam Ali (a) Announced in the Event of Ghadīr Khum

Surah al-Māʾidah contains many of the important verses on the issue of Wilāyah. This Quranic chapter was one of the chapters revealed in the last part of the Prophet’s (s) life and so it coincided with the events related to the Prophet (s)’s successorship. This is why so many of the verses in regards to Wilāyah are contained within it.  For instance, the 55th verse of Surah al-Māʾidah, reads : ‘Your guardian is only Allah, His Apostle, and the faithful who maintain the prayer and give the zakat while bowing down.’ This is one such verse which clearly point to the guardianship of Imam Ali (a).

It should be noted that, contrary to the typical usage of the word Walī (Friend/guardian) in the Quran, it is definitely being used here with the meaning of guardian. This is something which is very clear and easy to understand from the context of the verse for the following reasons:
Firstly, the word ‘Innamā’ which has been used in the beginning of the verse is a restriction placed on the meaning of this word. In other words, this verse indicates that only these three are the guardians (Walī) of the believers and no one outside of this group can be considered as such. Yet, if the term Walī were used here to signify friendship, then obviously this restriction would not make any sense for obvious reasons. In addition, if the term Walī was referring to friendship in general, then why the need to further explain who this last category is actually referring to.

The verse states in this regard: ‘…and the faithful who maintain the prayer and give the zakat while bowing down.’ So in essence, the verse first mentions ‘the faithful’ and it then goes on to explain that they are those who maintain the prayer and give charity while they are in a state of genuflection. This is a very specific explanation for the verse. If the verse was simply referring to the general body of pious believers, then it would not have brought this extra set of des c r i p tions— it would have sufficed by saying believers.

Therefore, we can understand that the term ‘Innamā’, which acts as a grammatical restricting factor, and the various conditions which have been listed for the faithful are all to be in ref-erence to a different meaning for Walī than simple friendship or companionship. We can easily deduce that this verse is using the term Walī to mean guardianship and authority. Therefore, Allah (swt), his Prophet (s), and the believers (who meet the condition mentioned in the verse) hold authority over the Muslims and they are their guardians.

Secondly, the 56th verse of Surah al-Māʾidah, which follows the aforementioned verse, is one of the best proofs for our claim. In this verse, Allah (swt) has said: ‘Whoever submits to the authority of Allah, His Apostle and the faithful [should know that] the party of Allah are indeed the victorious.’  The term party is a reference to an organized group and the victory of such a group refers to domination and victory in the sense of a socially based movement. From these two verses (this one and the one which came before it), which were apparently revealed at the same time, it can be understood that the Wilāyah which was mentioned is a type of political and governance-based authority and leadership.

Therefore, this verse is in essence indicating that whoever accepts the rule of Allah (swt), His Prophet and the rule of ‘those who believe’, then such a group will be the victorious ones. If we reflect on the words used in these verses, and if we reflect on the sentence structure (even if we refrain from looking at the traditions on this subject), it will be very clear that they are in reference to the Imam and the leader of the Muslims; whoever in turn accepts the rule of Allah (swt), His Prophet (s), and ‘those who believe’ with the conditions given will be with this victorious group.

Thirdly, when we examine the term ‘…the faithful who maintain the prayer and give the zakat while bowing down’ , it is clear that in history, there is no one who fits this des c r i p tion except for Imam Ali (a) There is a consensus among all of the Muslim scholars that this verse was indeed revealed in honor of Imam Ali (a). From another angle, if we think about this issue logically, and we know that there was someone in history who gave charity in the state of genuflection, then we have to acknowledge that the verse was revealed in regards to them. When we have such a clear example, we cannot make the claim that it refers to the general body of believers.

In reality, Imam Ali (a) was appointed by Allah (swt) as the leader of the Muslims before the pledge of the people and this is a fact which is explicitly stated in the verse: ‘Your guardian is only Allah, His Apostle, and the faithful who maintain the prayer and give the zakat while bowing down’ . In addition, according to the widely transmitted tradition of Ghadīr, and the sentence “So whoever’s master I am, Ali is also his master” in it, the Prophet (s) formally an-nounced Imam Ali (a) as his successor on that day.

The Perfection of the Religion under the Leadership (Wilāyah) of Imam Ali (a) at the Event of Ghadīr Khum

The event of Ghadīr Khum and the issue of the Wilāyah of Imam Ali (a) is something which fits completely in relation to the commentary of the Quranic verse which states: ‘Today the faithless have despaired of your religion. So do not fear them, but fear Me. Today I have perfected your religion for you, and I have completed My blessing upon you, and I have approved Islam as your religion.’  In reality, the only event which this verse can be referring to is that of Ghadīr Khum. When the Prophet (s) stopped the Muslims at Ghadīr Khum and announced the successorship, the hypocrites lost all hope that the religion of Islam could be defeated.

Similarly, the traditions in regards to the revelation of this verse can be found in many well-known Islamic sourcebooks and these include both Shia and Sunni books. These traditions explicitly mention that this verse was revealed on the day of Ghadīr Khum following the announcement of the successorship of Imam Ali (a).  These sources include:

  1. The well known Sunni scholar, Ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī, has mentioned this issue in his Book of Wilāyah. He has narrated from Zayd ibn Arqam (a well-known companion of the Prophet (s)) that this verse was revealed on the Day of Ghadīr Khum in regards to Ali (a).
    2.    Ḥāfiẓ Abū Naʿīm al-Iṣfahānī, has narrated in his book ‘Mā Nazala Min al-Qurʿān Fī Ali (a)’ from Abū Saʿīd al-Khudrī (a well-known companion of the Prophet (s)) that the Prophet (s) announced Ali (a) at Ghadīr Khum as  the leader (Walī) of the people. The people had not yet dispersed when the verse ‘Today I have perfected your religion for you, and I have completed My blessing upon you, and I have approved Islam as your religion’ was revealed. At this juncture, the Prophet (s) is narrated to have said: ‘Allah is the greatest in that He has perfected the religion and completed his blessings, and He is satisfied with my prophetic mission and the Wilāyah of Ali (a) after me. He then said: Whoever I am the master of, so Ali (a) is also his master. Oh Lord, love whoever loves him and consider as an enemy whoever is his enemy, help whoever helps him, and withhold your help from anyone who withholds their help from him.’
    3.    The late ʿAllāmah Sayyid Sharaf al-Dīn has made the following remarks in his book al-Murājiʿāt: The revelation of the third verse of Surah al-Māʾidah occurred on the day of Ghadīr. There are many authentic traditions from Imam al-Baqir (a) and Imam al-Sadiq (a) which corroborate this fact; the Sunnis have also narrated six traditions (with various chains of narration) from the Prophet (s) in regards to this issue which reference the revelation of this Quranic verse.

The Meaning of Yawm (Day) in the Verse of ‘The Perfection of the Religion’ in Relation to the Realization of Wilāyah

The first meaning refers to a day which caused the disbelievers to lose hope. The second meaning is of a day which brought about the perfection of the religion. The third meaning is of a day wherein Allah completed his blessings upon the Muslims. The fourth meaning is of a day where Allah (swt) became pleased and satisfied with the religion of Islam as an eternal religion for the people.

According to the Late ʿAllāmah Ṭabarsī, one of the well-known Shia commentators of the Quran, it has been mentioned that this day, which brought about the hopelessness of the disbelievers, and caused the pleasure of Allah (swt), and made complete his blessings and religion is the 18th day of Dhī al-Ḥijjah of the year 10 AH, which is the day of Ghadīr Khum. This was the day when the Prophet (s), in obedience with the command of Allah (swt), formally announced Ali ibn Abi Talib (a) as his successor and the leader of the Muslim community after him.  From the traditions which we have narrated (and the many which we did not for the sake of brevity), it is very clear that the aforementioned verse was revealed in regards to the event of Ghadīr Khum and it is a clear proof for the succesorship, leadership, and caliphate of Imam Ali (a).

Another verse which was revealed in regards to the successorship of Imam Ali (a) is the verse of ‘Tablīgh’, which states: ‘O Apostle! Communicate that which has been sent down to you from your Lord, and if you do not, you will not have communicated His message, and Allah shall protect you from the people. Indeed Allah does not guide the faithless lot.’ This verse clearly reveals the issue of the successorship of Imam Ali (a) and there are also many other traditions which have been narrated in regards to this issue which need to be discussed in another paper.

A Final Word

In light of the traditions and commentary in regards to these verses, there is no question that they are in reference to the issue of Wilāyah and not to the issue of friendship. We hope that this will enlighten the Muslims in regards to the rank and position of Imam Ali (a) and that the people will choose to live under his leadership (Wilāyah) and the leadership of the Ahl al-Bay (a). Through such a means, we will be able to resist the encroachment of the enemies of Islam and rid the Muslim world of their evil.

It must also be acknowledged that the ʿĪd al-Ghadīr, which is the day of celebration for the successorship of Imam Ali (a), has also been named as the ʿĪdullah al-Akbar.  The reason for this name is that the people must give importance to this day, for it possesses great benefits and blessings. Thus, the more importance which we give to this day, will result in ever greater levels of blessings for ourselves from Allah (swt).  Due to this reason, the day of Ghadīr must be celebrated with ever more splendor and energy. One suggestion which can also be implemented is that the otherworldly rewards for this day be gifted to the people who have passed away, particularly those who were killed in the disaster of Minā during the Ḥajj pilgrimage. In any case, everyone must note that the day of Ghadīr must not be taken lightly, for this is one of the wishes of the enemies.  We hope that through the blessings of Ghadīr and the blessings of the master of this day, the evil plans and acts of the enemies are disrupted and neutralized in all of the Muslim countries.


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