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The Trust (al-amana) In The Qur'an And The Wilaya


Wilaya in the Qur'an is intrinsically related to the moral vision of Islamic revelation. Wilaya in this regard is the faculty of the legal and moral authority, which enables a person in whom this authority is invested to exact obedience to fulfill this moral vision. Accordingly, the concept of wilaya is directly connected with the fundamental question of saltana - exercise of that legal and moral authority by demanding obedience. Islamic revelation regards the creation of an ethical order as an inevitable projection of personal response to the moral challenge of accepting Islam. Personal devotion to Allah implies the responsibility of furthering the realization of a just society, embodying all the manifestations of religious faith in the material as well as spiritual life of humankind.

This responsibility of striving for one's own welfare and that of the society in which one lives derives from the fact that, according to the Qur'an, humankind has boldly assumed 'the trust' that Allah had offered 'unto the heavens and the earth and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And man assumed it. Lo! he has proved a tyrant and a fool' (33:72).

Shaykh Tusi in his Al-Masa'il al-Ha'iriyat4 explains amana as taklif(religious-moral obligation imposed by Allah on humanity) and cites the Shi`i opinion as the one in which amana is equated 


4 Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Tusi, Al- Masa'il al-Ha' iriyat, Najaf, 1969, pp 312-313. 


with wilaya. However, he argues that such an equation of amana with wilaya is unnecessary, because the general sense derived from taklif also includes acknowledgement of the person in whom wilaya is invested. In his Qur'anic exegesis, Shaykh Tusi explains amana as the contract (al-"aqd) that humankind must fulfill because it has been entrusted to humankind by Allah.5 He cites several early authorities to show the complication in interpreting the amana verse which has theological implications in the realm of human volition and responsibility as the recipient of this 'trust.6 However, as Tusi explains it is in the early traditions dealing with the wilaya that the amana verse has been interpreted as pointing to the wilaya of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib.


Allama Tabataba'i's detailed exegesis on this verse should be regarded as the recapitulation of all these early materials, including those written by the Sunni scholars, and his interpretation is derived in light of the early traditions regarding the wilaya. According to him, the `trust' is al-wilayat al-ilahiyya, meaning the divine sovereignty which Allah offered to all creatures.7 Only human beings, having assumed the trust, have the potential to attain perfection and perfect their environment. The crux of the problem in the exegesis of the verse is that if man was the only creature of Allah who accepted the 'trust', why should he be described as a 'tyrant' anci 'fool'? AL his point, Allama Tabataba'i's interpretation draws upon the main tenets of Imami theology, which regard the 'trust' in the sense of wilaya as a special favour to humanity entailing enormous responsibility to stand by the obligation of guarding it. Accordingly, only human beings are not afraid to bear the burden of this trust, and to accept the consequences of being a 'tyrant' and 'ignorant', because they only can acquire the opposite attributes 


5 Tusi, Tafsir al-Tibyan, Najaf, 1957, 8/368.


6 See also, Al-Fadl ibn al-Husayn al-Tabarsi, Majma' al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur'an, Beirut, 1379, 8/373-374; Zamakhshari, Al-Kashshaf, 3/276-277.


7 Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i, Al-Mizan fi Tafsir al-Qur'an, Beirut, 1960, 6/10ff. 


- namely, those of being 'just' (`adil) and 'knowledgeable' ('aUm). In fact, both 'tyranny' and `ignorance' are the primary counterpoise of human responsibility in accepting al-wilaya alilahiyya, especially as it concerns Allah's providential purpose in allowing imperfect humanity to accept this responsibility. The acceptance of this wilaya, furthermore, makes human beings acquire both the responsibility for their actions as well as superiority over all other creatures in the world. It is al-wilayat al-ilahiyya that enables them to put society into order in accordance with their unique comprehension of religion.


However, the wilaya is given to humankind with a clear warning that it will have to rise above `tyranny' and 'ignorance' by heeding the call of divine guidance. Human beings, according to the Qur'an, have been endowed with the cognition needed to further their comprehension of the purpose for which they are created, and violation to realize it by using their knowledge. It is through divine guidance that human beings are expected to develop the ability to judge their actions and choose what will lead them to prosperity. But this is not an easy task. It involves spiritual and moral development, something that is most challenging in the face of basic human weaknesses indicated by the Qur'an in the following passage:


'Surely man was created fretful, When evil visits him, impatient, When good visits him, grudging' (70:19-20).


This weakness reveals a basic tension that must be resolved if human beings are to attain the purpose for which they are created. It is at this point that divine guidance is sent through the prophets and revealed messages to provide either the sources and principles or basic norms of social organization under which a divinely sanctioned public order is to be established. The Prophet thus becomes a representative of the divine authority on earth and exercises that authority in conformity with the divine plan for human conduct.8 


8 John Wansborough, The Sectarian Milieu: Content and Composition of Islamic Salvation History, Oxford, 1978, has discussed the development of the practical application of the Qur'an during the process of community formation. In his section dealing with authority he describes the Islamic concept of authority as 'apostolic.' The charismatic figure of the Prophet is depicted therein in an essentially public posture in the emergence of Islamic polity. See especially pp 70-71. 


In this Qur'anic context of the divine guidance for humanity the Prophet's role should be understood as the head of a State and the founder of a religious order. The sense in which the Qur'an speaks about the wilaya of the Prophet is necessarily in conformity with the Qur'anic view of divine guidance governing the whole of human life, not just a limited segment of it. As a consequence, the wilaya of the Prophet meant not merely that the Muslim Ummah be organized in the context of religious devotion to Allah as explained by the Prophet, but also that it acknowledges his political leadership as well. Thus, the wilaya of the Prophet establishes an authoritative precedent regarding the relationship between religion and political leadership in Islam.


It is on the basis of this concept of wilaya in the Qur'an that one can say that in Islam religious and political authority are one and the same. This wilaya is concerned with the whole life of the Muslim Ummah, with the result that it never relinquished its belief in the identity of religion and government as it saw them in the founder of Islam. The Prophet's emergence, the Muslims believe, had a fundamental purpose behind it: to transform the tribal structure of the Arab society at that time into a Muslim Ummah - a religious-social-political community under the divinely planned al-wilayat al-ilahiyya.


The social transformation envisioned and initiated by the Prophet was the necessary consequence of this wilaya, which had to be acknowledged by society as a whole, not merely by individuals as a logical outcome of their faith in Allah. Acknowledgement of the wilaya of the Prophet, necessary to live a new life based on divine norms, led to the emphasis on a crucial requirement for the fulfillment of social responsibility of the Muslim Ummah - namely, that the Ummah always needs to acknowledge a leader, divinely designated, who would exercise 


wilaya in order to unite its members in their purpose of creating a just social order under the guidance of Islamic revelation.9


Thus, the question of leadership (imama) is of utmost significance in attaining the purpose of Islam, because it is only through divinely guided leadership that the creation of an ideal society could be realized. The need for the divinely guided leadership in the fulfillment of divine planning, under the aegis of al-wilayat al-ilahiyya, consequently, assumes a central position in the Islamic belief system or worldview, in which the Prophet, as the active representative of the transcendental Allah on earth, is visualized as possessing the divine wilaya. If the ultimate objective of Islam was conceived as the creation of an ideal community living under a fitting moral, legal, and social system of Islam on earth, then such an ideal, as enhanced by the Qur'an and shown by the example of the Prophet himself, was dependent on leadership that could assure its realization.


This fact was so important that, both during the Prophet's lifetime and immediately following his death in 632 AD, the question of Islamic leadership became inextricably interwoven with the purpose of Islamic revelation, namely, the creation of an Islamic order. Islamic revelation unquestionably presumed divine guidance through the divinely appointed mediatorship of the Prophet for the realization of Islamic public order. This mediatorship of the Prophet in human affairs was the logical consequence of the strict monotheistic nature of Islam, which precluded the possibility that Allah assume human form, ruling directly over humanity and governing its affairs. Thus, a ruler to represent Allah on earth and to exercise al-wilayat aI-ilahiyya was deemed necessary in order to achieve the ultimate goal of Islam. 


9 However, in the composition of Islamic salvation history, it was in Shi'ism that the wilaya of the Prophet, as I have elaborated in this paper, was repeatedly and consistently expressed by Shi'i scholars; whereas in Sunnism the wilaya (authority in the form of exemplum [imam]) of the Prophet, in the absence of the charismatic authority following the death of the Prophet, came to be located in the Sunnah, which became the imam of the community. See: Wansborough, Sectarian Milieu, pp 70ff. 


Moreover, in light of the basic human weaknesses indicated in the Qur'an, there had always existed an underlying tension between the purpose of creation and the obstacles to its achievement. This tension was to be resolved, according to the Qur'an, by further acts of divine guidance through the Prophet, who became the 'pattern of moral behaviour (uswa hasana) for human beings, showing them how to reform their character and bring it into conformity with the divine plan.


Studying the Qur'an in its entirety, it becomes evident that the question of divine sovereignty - al-wilayat al-ilahiyya - is the integral element in the creation of an ideal society. It is through such a wilaya that the divinely appointed leader is able to provide a set of religious and moral laws and rules by which believers manage their affairs, and through which their public order is governed and should govern itself.


In the Shia worldview based on the Qur'anic injunction in which the concept of wilaya occurs, the perspective sketched above on the leadership of the Muslim Ummah assumes a central position. The pertinence of the wilaya to the question of lawful and legitimate authority can be deduced in those sections of the Qur'anic exegesis that deal with the passages on wilaya. The following verse of the Qur'an is regarded by Shia exegetes as the most important reference to the wilaya:


'Only Allah is your Walt [guardian] and His Apostle and those who believe, who perform prayer and pay alms while they bow' (5:55).10


This passage establishes the 'guardianship' of Allah, the Prophet, and 'those who believe.' The last phrase (`those who believe'), according to Shia commentators, refers to the Imams whose wilaya is established through their designation by the Prophet.11 


10 See Tusi, Tibyan, 3/559.


11 Tusi, Tibyan, 3/561; Muhammad ibn Ya'qub ibn Ishaq al-Kulayni, Al-Usul min al-Kafi, Tehran, 1964, 2/402, hadith 877; Tabataba'i, Mizan, 6/1ff. 'Abd al-Husayn Sharaf al-Din Musawi, Al-Murji'at, Beirut, 1963, p 180. 


The term al-wafi, as it occurs in the above context, has been interpreted diversely by Sunni exegetes. Although there is a consensus among them that the verse was revealed in praise of Imam Ali's piety and devotion, the term al-wall has been interpreted as denoting muwalat ('befriending') of Imam Ali and not necessarily the acceptance of his wilaya (authority, in the form of imama).12 But Imami exegetes have taken the term in another of its primary signification, al-awla and al-ahaqq (`more entitled' [to exercise authority]), because al-awla in ordinary usage is often applied to a person who can exercise authority (al-sultan) or who has discretionary power in the management of affairs (al-malik al-`amr).13 Furthermore, al-wall, as it occurs in the above passage of the Qur'an, is unlikely to mean a person invested with wilayat al-nusra (the authority of tacking'), because there are numerous explicit references to that effect in other verses of the Qur'an where believers are exhorted to back the religion of Allah by promulgating Allah's laws, a task in which the Prophet and the community of believers assist each other.14 Rather, al-wall, as applied to the Prophet, signifies a person who is invested with waliyat altasarruf, which means possession of the authority that entitles the wall to act in whatever way he judges best, according to his own discretion, as a free agent in the management of the affairs of the community. The wilayat al-tasarruf can be exercised only by one so designated by the wall al-mutlaq (the absolute authority) or by one who is explicitly appointed by someone in the position of al-wall bi al-niyaba (authority invested through deputization). Consequently, the Imam who is designated as wall by the Prophet possesses the wilayat al-tasarruf and is recognized as the ruler over the people.


This was the meaning of the term in the early usage of the Shi`i 


12 See, for example, Tabari, Tafsir, 6/186ff; Zamakhshari, Kashshaf, 1/623-624; Baydawi, Anwar, p 154.


13 Tusi, Tibyan, 3/559.


14 See, for example, the Qur'an, 47:7, 7:157, 59:8. See also Tabataba'i, Mizan, 6/13; Tusi, Tibyan, 3/565, alludes to this. 


Imams. In a speech to the Umayyad troops who had come to intercept him on his way to Iraq, Imam Husayn ibn Ali explained to his adversaries the reason why he had refused to pay allegiance to the khalifah Yazid, son of Mu`awiya:


'We the family of the Prophet (Ahl al-Bayt) are more entitled (awla) to [exercise] the authority (wilaya) over you than those [who have taken it for themselves (i.e., the Umayyads)].15


Accordingly, tasarruf (discretionary authority) has been regarded as the primary and essential import of wilaya, especially as it is applied to Allah, the Prophet, and the Imams in the above passage. However, there exists a substantial differentiation in the way wilaya is apprehended in relation to Allah, the Absolute Authority (Al-Wali al-Mutlaq), on the one hand, and the Prophet and the Imams, the authority through deputization, on the other. When the Qur'an speaks about Allah being the Walt, it primarily signifies Wilayat al-Takwini - the unconditional wilaya 'originating' in Allah, with absolute and all-encompassing authority and discretion over all that Allah has created. To this wilaya is sometimes appended Wilayat al-Nusra, by means of which Allah helps the believers. Thus the Qur'an reads, 'Allah is the Guardian (Wali) of those who believe ... Unbelievers have no guardian' (47:11).


Moreover, the Qur'an frequently speaks about Allah's wilaya in relation to the believers, by means of which Allah manages the affairs of the believers - their guidance to the right path and assistance to them in obeying Allah's commandments:


'Allah is the Guardian (Walt) of those who believe. He brings them out of darkness into the light' (2:257).


But when wali is used in relation to the Prophet, it is designated as al-wilayat al-Vtibariyya - that is, 'relative' authority -dependent upon Allah's appointing him in that position; or 


15 Tabari, Ta'rikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk, Cairo; 1962, 5/402. See also 5/357, where instead of awla, ahaqq is used to signify the same conclusion of being 'more entitled to tasarruf'. 


al-wilayat al-tashri'iyya, the religious-moral-legal authority invested in the Prophet to undertake the legislation and execution of the divine plan on earth. Thus, the Qur'an declares: 'The Prophet has a greater claim (awla) on the faithful than they have on themselves' (33:6).16


The wilaya of the Prophet over the believers is due to his being the Prophet of Allah. As such, the point of reference for his wilaya is, in actuality, the wilaya of Allah. It is for this reason that his wilaya is signified as 'relative' - that is, accorded through designation as a mark of trust. In this sense, the Qur'an speaks of only one kind of wilaya - Allah's wilaya - which is the only fundamental wilaya. The wilaya of the Prophet and `those who believe' (i.e., in this context, the Imams) is dependent upon Allah's will and permission.17 It is because this wilaya was vested in them that the Prophet and the Imams had more right than other believers to exercise full authority, handing down binding decisions on all matters pertaining to the welfare of the Muslim Ummah, and requiring complete obedience to themselves.


The corollary of this wilayat al-tasarruf was the Shia belief that not only was the Imamate the continuation of the Prophethood, because of the authority vested in the Imams after the Prophet, but it also meant that the Imams were the sole rightful authority to lead the Ummah in establishing just public order. The Imams became the just ('adil) authority. In a case where the Imam's right to exercise his authority was usurped, the usurping 


16 Awla in this verse has been translated by A J Arberry and others as 'nearer' and 'closer.' But, taking into consideration the Prophet's speech on the occasion of the Farewell Pilgrimage, where the same verse of the Qur'an occurs in the form of a question by the Prophet to the Muslims, the implication is in the sense of being 'more entitled.' The Prophet asked the assembled pilgrims: 'Who is more worthy [in the eyes of] the believers than their ownselves?' See: fn 1.


17 Among the early works, besides the Qur'anic exegesis where wilaya occurs in the meaning of wilayat al-tasarruf, one can cite the Ikhtiyar ma'rifat al-rijal of Abu 'Amr Umar ibn 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Kashshi, especially where he mentions the wilaya of Abu al-Khattab, which was denounced by Imam Jalar as-Sadiq. See Rijal, Mashhad, 1348/1964, 296/523. Also, Tabataba'i's Mizan, 6/12-14. 


authority was rendered illegal, and the ruler unjust (al-ja'ir) and unrighteous (al-zalim).


The above elucidation of the concept of wilaya in the context of the Qur'anic verse about the 'trust' makes the following hadith reported by Shaykh Kulayni comprehensible:


Imam Ja`far Sadiq was asked by someone about the passage of the Qur'an that mentions the trust (amana) which Allah offered to humankind. The Imam said: `This trust is the wilaya of the Amir al-Mumineen [Ali ibn Abi Talib].18


The Imam's statement makes it clear that it was the act of accepting or rejecting the wilaya of Imam Ali that determined whether one had been faithful to the divine trust or not. The same act, moreover, determined the righteousness or unrighteousness of the ruling authority claiming to be legitimate. In Shi'ism, from its inception, the Imams not only possessed the wilaya to establish political authority on earth, they were also regarded as the sole legitimate authority who could and would establish Islamic public order. Imami works treating the theory of political authority unanimously maintained that an equitable government could not be established except by the one who is ma`sum - that is, the infallible leader invested with the wilayat al-tasarruf to exercise discretionary control over the affairs of the Ummah. Furthermore, it was held that the process through which this authority becomes known to the public is explicit designation (nass) by the one possessing al-wilayat al-ftibariyya - the 'relative' authority derived through one's being attributed to that office (e.g., Prophethood or Imamate) by Allah.


Accordingly, in the Shia theory of political authority, power in the sense of authority, having moral and legal supremacy because of al-wilayat al-tasarruf, with the right of enforcing obedience to Islamic ideology, can never be invested in a person without proper nass; and no government can become equitable (al-hukumat al-'adila) if it is not headed by al-sultan al-'adil, who 


18 Kulayni, Kafi, 2/368, hadith o2. 


is explicitly appointed by a legitimate authority like the Prophet. If a government is established without al-sultan al-`adil as its head, it is declared unjust and the ruler is al-sultan ja'ir. Moreover, because the tyrannical ruler, lacking the necessary al-wilayat al-tasarruf, has encroached upon the authority of the rightful wali al-'amr, he is also al-zalim (the oppressor).


Khulafa al-jawr or al-zalama is the title applied to these rulers under whom, according to the Shi`as, the world was filled with injustice. Disobedience to these unjust rulers was regarded as obedience to Allah. Thus, according to Maeudi there were pious Muslims, not necessarily belonging to the Shia community, like Awn ibn 'Abd Allah ibn Mas`ud during the Umayyad khilafah, who unheld the principle that anyone who opposes an unjust ruler (i.e., an Umayyad khalifah) was not devoid of divine guidance, but the unjust ruler was devoid of it.19


It is perhaps significant that the terms mashru'iyya (legitimacy) or ghayr mashru'iyya (illegitimacy), to denote these two types of government in Islam, do not appear in the major works of Imami jurisprudence of the classical age. These terms, however, do appear in works of the Imamis who wrote during the Qajar period, when the question of the legitimacy of a Shia authority to exercise wilayat al-tasarruf during the occultation of the Twelfth Imam was being discussed. Thus, in his discussion about the necessity of government during the occultation, Muhammad Husayn Na'ini (d. 1936) uses the concept of `legitimate' (mashrul government in connection with the constitutional authority established by the approval of the righteous jurists.20 


19 Ali ibn al-Husayn al-Mas`udi, Muruj al-Dhahab wa Ma'adin al-Jawhar, Beirut, 1966, 3/193ff. In a more explicit speech, Imam Husayn, on his way to Iraq, reminds the soldiers of the Umayyad commander who had come to arrest him that the Prophet had required the Muslims to challenge a sultan ja'ir who had ruled unjustly, breaking all laws of Allah and opposing the Sunnah of the Prophet. See Tabari, Ta'rikh, 5,403.


20 A1-Mirza Muhammad Husayn al-Na'ini, Tanbih al-Umma wa Tanzih al-Milla, Tehran, 1955, p 15. 

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