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Dimensions of Willayat

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The First Dimension: The Right of Love

All Muslims unanimously accept the first dimension of wilayat of Ahl-ul-Bayt. Loving the Ahl-ul-Bayt is one of the "dharuriyyat ad-din, the essential parts of the Islamic faith." The inclusion of salawat [1] in the daily ritual prayers is a sufficient proof of this. See the famous anti-Shia books like as-Sawaiqu l-Muhriqa of Ibn Hajar al-Makki and Tuhfa-eIthna-Ashariyya of Shah 'Abdul 'Aziz Dehlawi, and you will realize that the Sunni polemicists labour painfully to explain that they are against the Shia people but not against the Shia Imams for they know that loving the Ahl-ul-Bayt is an essential part of Islamic faith.

Love for the Ahl-ul-Bayt  is enshrined in verse 42:23 (The Holy Qur’an). Here I shall just quote one more hadith from the Sunni sources. Imam 'Ali said, "By Allah the One who has spilt the grain and created the soul, verily the Prophet (A.S) has promised that none shall love me but the believer and none shall hate me but the hypocrite."[2] Actually Jabir bin 'Abdullah al-Ansari and Abu Said al-Khudari, the two famous companions of the Prophet, used to say: "We did not identify the hypocrites but by their hatred for 'Ali."[3]

It is a common view of Shia scholars that whoever rejects one of the dharuriyyat ad-din, then he is no longer considered a member of the Islamic faith. It is also based on this principle that the Khawarij and the Nawasib (i.e., those who express hatred or enimosity towards the Ahl-ul-Bayt) are considered as non-Muslims by Shia jurists.

The Second Dimension: The Spiritual Guidance

The second dimension of the wilayat is a commonly held belief of the Shias as well as majority of the Sunnis who belong to Sufi orders. Nothing reflects this more than the interpretation given by Maulawi Salamat 'Ali, a Sunni scholar of India, to the hadith of Ghadir. He writes in at-Tabsira, "The Ahlu's-Sunnah do not doubt the Imamate of Amiru 'l-Muminin [Ali]; and that is indeed the essence of faith. It is, however, necessary that the import of the ahadith of Ghadir be the spiritual Imamate and not [the political] khilafat. This is the meaning derived from the statements of the Ahlu 's-Sunnah and the scholars of Sufism, and, consequently, the allegiance of all the [Sufi] orders reach Amiru 'l-Mu'minin 'Ali bin Abi Talib and through him they are connected to the Messenger."[4]

Other than the Naqshbandi order, all Sufis trace the chain of their spiritual masters back to the Imams of the Ahl-ul-Bayt, ending with Imam 'Ali bin Abi Talib as the spiritual authority par excellence after the Prophet. [5] The Naqsbandi order traces its spiritual leadership back to Imam Jafar Sadiq and then follows the line through his mother to Muhammad bin Abi Bakr and then to Abu Bakr. This diversion from Imam Sadiq to Abu Bakr is, however, not valid because Muhammad bin Abi Bakr was raised from a very young age by Imam 'Ali bin Abi Talib who married Muhammad's mother, Asma bint Umays, after Abu Bakr's death. The only spiritual master that Muhammad bin Abi Bakr knew was Imam 'Ali bin Abi Talib (A.S).

The Third & Fourth Dimensions: Socio-Political & Universal Authority

The third and fourth dimensions of wilayat are unique Shia beliefs, and they are considered as part of the "dharuriyyat al-madhhab, the essential parts of Shia sect." It is the common view of our scholars that anyone who rejects one of the dharuriyyat al-madhhab, is not considered a member of the Shia sect.

It is important to note that whenever the Shias use the term "Imamate" or "Imam", it encompasses all the four dimensions of wilayat. It excludes neither the spiritual and universal authority nor the social and political leadership. [6] In this sense, the Shia term "Imamate" or "Imam" is more comprehensive than the Sunni term "khilafat" or "khalifa". In books dealing with the Shia-Sunni debate of the leadership after the Prophet, the focus is more on the socio-political leadership but not in the sense of denying the spiritual and universal authority of the Imam. So while reading or discussing the issue of succession of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), one should not lose the universal import of the status of an Imam from the Shia point of view.


[1] Salawat means praying for Allah's blessings on Prophet Muhammad and his Ahl-ul-Bayt. This is included in the daily ritual prayers by all Muslims.

[2] An authentic and sahih hadith narrated by an-Nasai, Khasa'is Amiri 'l-Mu'minin 'Ali bin Abi Talib (Beirut: Daru 'l-Kitab, 1987) p. 101-102; the annotator, al-Athari, has given many more quotations like Sahأ‌h of Muslim, Sahأ‌h of at-Tirmidhi, and others.

[3] Narrated by Ahmad bin Hanbal and at-Tirmidhi, both in the section of al-manaqib, as quoted in Muhibbu 'd-Din at-Tabari, Dhakha'iru 'l-'Uqba fi Manaqib Dhawi 'l-Qurba, ed. Akram al-Bushi (Jeddah: Maktabatu 's-Sahaba, 1995) p. 165.

[4] As quoted by the late 'Allamah Mir Hamid Hussein al-Musawi who then refutes it to prove the universal Imamate of Imam 'Ali through hadith of Ghadir. See al-Milani, Nafahatu 'l-Azhar fi Khulasati 'Abaqati 'l-Anwar, vol. 9 (Beirut: Daru 'l-Mu'arrikhi 'l-'Arabi, 1995) p. 311.

[5] Sayyid Hussein Nasr, "Shأ‌'ism and Sufism," p. 103.

[6] See Mutahhari, Wilayah, p. 72; also see Mutahhari's Imamat wa Rahbari, p. 163 as quoted by our teacher Sayyid Muhsin al-Kharrazi, Bidayatu 'l-Ma'arifi 'l-Ilahiyya vol. 2, p. 12-16.

Taken from the book:  Shiism,Imamate & Wilayat

By Seyyed Muhammad Rizvi

Other links:

The Origin and Growth of Shiism

The Cause of the Separation of the Shiite Minority from the Sunni Majority

The Caliphate of Imam Ali (A.S) and His Method of Rule (Part 1)

The Caliphate of Imam Ali (A.S) and His Method of Rule (Part 2)

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