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WiIaya of Imam Ali and its Theological-Juridical Implications for the Islamic Political Thought

This paper examines the Qur’anic origins of the concept of wilaya in light of its connection with the historical wilaya of Imam Ali.

Various explanations of the concept in the Qur’anic exegesis, written by different schools of thought in Islam, have been studied to investigate the theological importance of wilaya to the fundamental doctrine of the leadership (imama) in Islam.The close relationship between the doctrines of divine justice (al-‘Adl) and the necessity of the divinely-appointed imam in the Shi’i school of thought underscore the pivotal status of the acceptance of the wilaya of Imam Ali as imperative to the faith of believers.

At the same time, recognition of this wilaya of Imam Ali is regarded as a precondition to the establishment of the ideal public order based on the divine scale of justice. Consequently, no ideal public order is conceivable in Islam without the imama being invested in the person in whom this wilaya is validated through a divine designation.

This theological relationship between the imama and wilaya through divine designation made it juridically problematic for anyone other than the divinely appointed Imam to assume the absolute wilaya in the Muslim Ummah. This problem of assuming the wilaya by other than the Imam himself was duly treated in the Shi’i jurisprudence, which carefully defined the limits of juridical wilaya in relation to the theological wilaya of the Imam.

The paper, thus, demonstrates the significance of the wilaya of Imam Ali in the Qur’anic context of establishing the public order and the necessity of accepting the interdependency between imama and waliya in Islamic leadership while differentiating between theological and juridical forms of wilaya.


When he (the Prophet) had completed its (Hajj) ceremonies, he left for Medina accompanied by the multitudes previously mentioned. He arrived at the pool of Khumm (Ghadir Khumm) in al-Juhfa, where the roads of the people of Medina, the people of Egypt and the people of Iraq cross. That was on Thursday, Dhil-Hijjah 18th, when Jibreel (Gabriel), the faithful, brought down Allah’s revelation saying:

“O Messenger! Deliver that which has been sent down to thee from thy Lord” (Quran 5:67).

And he commanded him to point out Ali to the people and proclaim to them the revelation concerning him about the wilaya and the obligation of obedience upon everyone. Those of the people who were in front were near al-Juhfa. The Prophet of Allah commanded that those who advanced should be halted at that place. He forbade them to sit down under five gum acacia trees (sumurat) which were close to each other. When the summons to prayer was given for the noon prayers, he went towards them (the trees) and prayed at the head of the people under them. When he had completed his prayers, he stood delivering a speech in the middle of the people, on the saddles of the camels. He made them all hear, raising his voice, saying:

“O people, the Kind, the Knower, informed me that a Prophet has not lived but half the age of his predecessor and that I am about to be recalled and I responded. I am to be interrogated and you are to be interrogated. What will you say?”

The people said, “We bear witness that you have proclaimed the message and that you have given the advice and that you have made the endeavour, may Allah reward you!”

He said, “Would you not bear witness that there Is no deity but Allah and that Muhammad is His Servant and His Messenger; that His Garden is true; that His Fire is true; that death is true; that the hour comes of which there is no doubt; and that Allah will resurrect those in the graves?” They said, “Yes. We bear witness to that.” Then he said, “O Allah, bear witness (to that),” and he continued, “O people! Do you hear?” They said, “Yes.” He said, “I am preceding you to the Pond (al-Hawd) and you will rejoin me at the Pond… See to it how you will look after the Two Treasures (ath-Thaqalayn) after me.”

A caller called out, “What are the Two Treasures, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “The Bigger Treasure (ath-Thaqlu’l-Akbar) is the Book of Allah, one end of it is in the Hand of Allah and one end is in your hands. If you adhere to it you will not go astray. The Smaller Treasure (ath-Thaqlu’l -Asghar) is my Family (‘Itrati). The Kind, the Knower, informed me that they will not separate until they rejoin me at the Pond. I wished that from Allah for them. Do not precede them so that you may not perish. Do not fail to reach them so that you may not succumb.”

Then he held the hand of Ali and raised it until the white of the armpit could be seen and all the people recognized him. He said, “O people, who is more worthy (‘awla) (in the eyes of) the believers than their own selves?” They said, “Allah and His Messenger know better.” He said, “Allah is my Master and I am the master of the believers and I am worthier in their eyes than their own selves. Whoever has me for his master has Ali for his master.” He said it thrice, and according to Ahmad, the imam of the Hanbalis, four times.