Walī (Arabic ولي , plural Awliyā أولياء), is an Arabic word, its lexical meaning being “supporter”, “guardian” or “protector”. The word, in its different forms, appears in the Quran over 200 times. Allah says in the Quran:
Who is a Wali
The word can also mean “ally” or “friend”. A Walīyu ‘llāh (ولي الله) therefore denotes one who is a friend of Allah. The Shari’ah definition of a Wali is given by Allah in the following verse:
From this verse there are two criterion of a Wali:
- He has Iman (belief)
- He has Taqwa (piety)
A Wali is someone who occupies a very close station to Allah and is protected by Allah from major sins and repetition of sins in general, and kept in a state of obedience. It is a very special rank and position of acceptance given by Allah to His beloved servants.
Awliya in the Hadith
The famous ‘Hadith of the Wali’
This is a powerful and profound Hadith Qudsi in which Allah informs and invites us to be among His friends and allies. It undoubtedly demonstrates the reality and existence and nature of these Awliya (Intimate Friends of Allah), and so no one has the right to deny their existence and special distinction after this knowledge has come to them.
It teaches us:
- Showing enmity to the friends of Allah is among the major sins.
- Affirming that there are Awliya Allah among His slaves. This cannot be denied.
- Affirming that Allah loves and that this is one of His attributes.
- That pious deeds drives one closer to Allah. This is experienced by anyone who performs righteous actions.
- When Allah loves a person He gives him spiritual and physical strength.
- When Allah loves a person He answers his prayers.
- Affirming that Karamat (mini miracles) are real and only pious people have the potential to experience them if Allah so wills.
- All believers have the capacity and ability to become the Awliya Allah.
Hierarchy of Awliya
Within the level of the Awliya, Allah has established a hierarchy, above which there is no hierarchy. These servants occupy the most sublime levels of proximity to Allah, enjoying what even some of the angels do not possess. He has furthermore granted these special elect servants manifest gifts and abilities, which the common man would find difficult to understand. Allah has revealed to them the secrets of His Attributes, and the secrets of His Kingdoms, and placed in their hands the reigns of authority and control, so that they can dispense with the creation as true representatives (Khulafa) of their Master.
Starting from the top, the hierarchy is as follows:
- Ghawth (Helper)
- Qutub (Pole)
- Nuqaba (Chiefs)
- Awtaad (Pegs)/Aqtab (Poles)
- Abraar (Pious)
- Abdal (Substitutes)
- Akhyaar (Chosen)
Imam Jalaluddin as-Suyuti (ra) wrote an essay in his collection of fatwas, al-Hawi lil-Fatawi, and called it: “The narrations which demonstrate the existence of the Qutb and the Awtad and Nujaba and Abdal.” At the beginning of it, he writes:
Then for the next 15 pages he lists over 50 narrations to demonstrate his point, from which we will choose a few, also adding some that he did not mention.
Proof in the Sunnah
This hadith alone suffices as evidence of their existence to the end of times.
The previous two hadiths support the meanings of the previous hadiths, which state that Allah has special elect servants, and that they are concentrated in Sham, among other places.
This indicates that this hierarchy of Awliya’ is not only occupied by men, but also by women.
Number of Awliya
Hafiz Sakhawi in his Maqasid al-Hasana (p. 10 #8) and Hafiz Suyuti in his Hawi lil Fatawi (2:250-51) state that Ibn ‘Asakir (Tarikh Dimashq 1:300) and Hafiz al-Khatib (Tarikh Baghdad 3:75-76) both relate that Abu Bakr al-Kattani said:
Shaykh al-Yafi’i wrote in his book Kifayat al-Mu’taqid (“Sufficiency of the Believer”):
This was repeated and confirmed by Ibn Hajar al-Makki al-Haytami in his Fatawa Hadithiyya (p. 322-23), and by Ibn ‘Abidin al-Hanafi in his fatwa on the Abdal called Ijabat al-Ghawth. Hafiz Sakhawi states in his Maqasid (p. 9 #8):
This shows that it was a known and accepted truth among the Salaf that these categories of Awliya’ existed. For more examples, see Suyuti’s Hawi lil-Fatawi (2:251-55).
Finally, Ibn ‘Abidin quoted Hafiz Ibn Hajar who said in his Fatwas:
Then Ibn ‘Abidin commented:
Miracles of the Awliya
Just as it is the belief of Ahlus-Sunna that the Prophets (upon all of them be blessed peace) have miracles (mu’jizat), among which is included knowledge of the Unseen continually bestowed to them by Allah, it is also the doctrine of Ahlus-Sunna that the Awliya’ – who are the inheritors of the Prophets – have a share in these grants (karamat) from Allah, among which is “Kashf” (unveiling/perception of the unseen).
The fact that the Awliya’ have knowledge of the Unseen (and other miraculous abilities) is attested to by the Qur’an and Sunna and the experience of the righteous Muslims throughout the centuries of the history of Islam, and does not constitute, as some misguided Muslims claim, kufr or shirk.
Proof from the Quran
1. Asif bin Barkhiya
The Wali who was with Sayyidina Sulayman (as) brought him the throne of Bilqis quicker than the blink of an eye. He was characterized as “one who had knowledge of the Book,” as Allah stated, “One with whom was knowledge of the Book said, ‘I will bring it to you before your gaze returns to you…’ (Q27:40)”, and this is Asif bin Barkhiya (a non-prophet human), the scribe and relative of Prophet Sulayman (as), according to the Tafsir of Ibn ‘Abbas and the majority of commentators.
The Qur’an narration is as follows:
He said (to his own men): “Ye chiefs! which of you can bring me her throne before they come to me in submission?” [27:38]
Said an ‘Ifrit, of the Jinns: “I will bring it to thee before thou rise from thy council: indeed I have full strength for the purpose, and may be trusted.”[27:39]
Said one who had knowledge of the Book: “I will bring it to thee within the twinkling of an eye!” Then when (Solomon) saw it placed firmly before him, he said: “This is by the Grace of my Lord!- to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful! and if any is grateful, truly his gratitude is (a gain) for his own soul; but if any is ungrateful, truly my Lord is Free of all Needs, Supreme in Honour!” [27:40]
He said: “Transform her throne out of all recognition by her: let us see whether she is guided (to the truth) or is one of those who receive no guidance.” [27:41]
So when she arrived, she was asked, “Is this thy throne?” She said, “It was just like this; and knowledge was bestowed on us in advance of this, and we have submitted to Allah (in Islam).” [27:42]
2. Sayyidina al-Khidr (as)
Similarly, Sayyidina al-Khidr (although considered by some to be a Prophet) possessed knowledge which Sayyidina Musa (as) did not have, which came to him directly from the Presence of Allah without intermediary, as stated in Q18:65. Baghawi stated in his Tafsir of this verse: “He taught him the inward (batin) knowledge by inspiration (ilham).”
Then they found one from among Our servants whom We had granted mercy from Us and whom We had taught knowledge from Ourselves. [18:65]
Musa said to him: Shall I follow you on condition that you should teach me right knowledge of what you have been taught? [18:66]
3. Sayyida Maryam (as)
Sayyida Maryam was a Siddiqa (see Q4:69 and Q5:75), which is one of the highest categories of Ihsan, and she was granted numerous miracles, such as being provided for without intermediaries or secondary causes (Q3:37), and giving birth without human impregnation (Q3:47 and Q19:20), and super-human strength (Q19:25).
Right graciously did her Lord accept her: He made her grow in purity and beauty: To the care of Zakariya was she assigned. Every time that he entered (Her) chamber to see her, He found her supplied with sustenance. He said: “O Mary! Whence (comes) this to you?” She said: “From Allah: for Allah Provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure.” [3:37]
She said: My Lord! when shall there be a son (born) to I me, and man has not touched me? He said: Even so, Allah creates what He pleases; when He has decreed a matter, He only says to it, Be, and it is.[3:47]
And shake towards you the trunk of the palmtree, it will drop on you fresh ripe dates.[19:25]
4. Ashab al-Kahf (The people of the cave)
These servants of Allah, sometimes known as the Seven Sleepers (although the Quran does not specify an exact number), were not Prophets or Messengers but were blessed with special ranks and favours. This group of young believers resisted pressure from their people to worship others beside God and took refuge in a cave, following which they fell asleep for 300 solar years or 309 lunar years, whilst being guarded by a dog.
5. Other Examples
There are several other examples in the Qur’an of non-Prophets receiving “wahy,” such as: The mother of Musa and Harun (alayhim salam) [20:38], [28:7]), and the disciples of Sayyidina ‘Isa [5:111] . The scholars of Tafsir agree unanimously that this “wahy” refers to inspiration (ilham) and unveiling (kashf), and not revelation which only Prophets receive.
Proof from the sunnah
- [↑]This is a very famous hadith, and it is narrated through multiple narrations, each containing more or less what is mentioned here. Imam Bukhari narrated it in his Sahih (Kitab ar-Riqaq #6021) from Abu Hurayra, Ibn Majah (Kitab al-Fitan, #3979) from Umar, Imam Ahmad in his Musnad (6:256) from A’isha and his Kitab az-Zuhd (p. 61, 65), Ibn Hibban (2:58 #347), Tabarani in his Mu’jam al-Kabir (8:221 #7880; 12:145 #12719) and al-Awsat (1:192 #609; 9:139 #9352), Abdur-Razzaq (11:192-93), Quda’i (Musnad Shihab, 2:327-28 #1456-57), Ibn Abi Dunya in his Kitab al-Awliya (#1, #45) also on the authority of Anas, Abu Nu’aym in his Hilyat al-Awliya’ (1:5; 8:318), Abu Ya’la in his Musnad (12:520) from Maymuna, Bazzar (Zawa’id, 4:241-42, 248), Hakim at-Tirmidhi in his Nawadir al-Usul (Asl #75, #162, #228), Daylami in his Firdaws (3:215 #4472 and 3:216 #4475), Imam Bayhaqi in his Sunan al-Kubra (3:346) and Kitab az-Zuhd (p. 269-70 #696,99), Ibn Shahin (Targhib, #285), Imam Qushayri with his chain in the Risala (p. 292, 348), Ibn ‘Asakir in his Tarikh (7:95), Abu ‘Abdur-Rahman as-Sulami (Forty Hadiths on Tasawwuf, #36), and others. Hadith Sahih.
- [↑]See Hawi li-l Fatawi (2:241ff), and for more information on hadiths about the Abdal see ‘Ajluni’s Kashf (#35) and Sakhawi’s Maqasid (#8).
- [↑] Recorded by Abu Dawud (Kitab al-Mahdi, #3737), Imam Ahmad (6:316), Ibn Abi Shayba (8:609), Abdur- Razzaq (11:371 #20769), Tabarani (M. Awsa’, 2:35 #1153, 9:176 #9459, and M. Kabir, 23:296, 389-90), Hakim (4:431), Ibn Hibban (15:158-59), Abu Ya’la (12:370 #6940 Hasan), Ishaq ibn Rahawayh, and Ibn ‘Asakir in Tarikh Dimashq (1:292 93). Mundhiri, Ibn Hibban, Hakim, Dhahabi, and Haythami (7:315) said it is Sahih.
- [↑]Recorded by Bayhaqi (Shu’ab al-Iman, 7:439 #10893), and similar versions by Ibn Abi Dunya (Kitab al-Awliya’ p. 28 #58), Hakim at-Tirmidhi (Nawadir, Asl #51) and others. Hadith Da’if.
- [↑]Recorded by Hakim at-Tirmidhi in Nawadir al-Usul (Asl #51). A hadith of similar wording was recorded by Daylami (Firdaws, 2:344) and Ibn ‘Asakir (1:292) from Anas, and Ibn Abi Dunya (K. Awliya, #8) from ‘Ali.
- [↑]Recorded by Hakim Tirmidhi (Asl #51), and Ibn Abi Dunya (K. Awliya, #57) from Abu-z Zinad.
- [↑]Recorded by Hakim at-Tirmidhi in Nawadir al-Usul (Asl. #51)
- [↑]Recorded by Imam Ahmad (Musnad, 1:112 #854 and Fada’il as-Sahaba, #1675), Diya’ al-Maqdisi in al- Mukhtara (2:110), Ibn ‘Asakir in Tarikh Dimashq (1:289, 296), Hakim Tirmidhi in Nawadir al-Usul (Asl #222), and Muhammad ibn Abdul-Hadi in Fada’il al-Sham (p. 43 #15). Shurayh narrated from Miqdad, who is older than ‘Ali. Munawi in his Fayd al-Qadir, Haythami (10:62 #16671), Sakhawi (Maqasid #8), and Suyuti (Jami’ as- Saghir #3035) said it is Hasan, and it has over ten routes of transmission from ‘Ali as stated by Munawi.
- [↑]Recorded by Hakim (4:553), who said, along with Imam Dhahabi, that it is Sahih. Also recorded by Imam Ahmad (Fada’il as-Sahaba 2:905), Abdur-Razzaq (Musannaf, 11:249 #20455), Tabarani (M. Awsat, 4:176 #3905), Ibn Abi Dunya (Kitab al-Awliya’, #70), Bayhaqi (Dala’il an-Nubuwwa, 6:449), Diya’ al-Maqdisi (Mukhtara, 2:111- 12), Ishaq ibn Rahawayh (Matalib, 3:377 – Sahih according to Busiri 10:332 #7930), Nu’aym ibn Hammad in his Fitan (#651 Sahih chain), Ibn ‘Asakir (1:296-97), and others.
- [↑]Recorded by Ibn ‘Asakir in Tarikh Dimashq (1:296 97, 300), al-Khallal, and ad-Dani in his Sunan al-Warida fi’l Fitan (#598). Cf. Suyuti’s Hawi lil Fatawi (2:466-67).
- [↑]Recorded by Tabarani in Mu’jam al-Awsat (4:247 #4101) and al-Kabir (10:224 #10390 – see Suyuti’s Hawi lil Fatawi 2:247), Abu Nu’aym (Ma’rifat as-Sahaba #4013), Ibn Hibban in his Tarikh from Abu Hurayra (Da’if, see Hawi 2:248 and Jami’ Saghir #7379-80), and Ibn ‘Asakir (1:298) and ad-Dinawari (in his al-Mujalasa) from Qatada. See Majma’ az-Zawa’id (10:63 #16675) of al-Haythami. Hadith Hasan.
- [↑]Imam Ahmad (5:322 #21689), Tabarani (M. Kabir), Ibn ‘Asakir in his Tarikh (1:292), Hakim at-Tirmidhi in his Nawadir (Asl #51), Ibn Kathir (Tafsir of Q2:251), Daylami (Firdaws, 5:232 #7714), Abu Nu’aym in his Akhbar Asbahan (1:180), and al-Khallal in his Karamat al-Awliya’. Haythami (in his Majma’ az-Zawa’id 10:62 #16672), Suyuti (Jami’ as-Saghir #3032-33), Munawi, and others said it is Sahih.
- [↑]Recorded by Tabarani in Mu’jam Kabir, Ibn ‘Asakir (1:277, 298), Bazzar, and others. Sahih according to Suyuti and Munawi, and Haythami (10:63 #16673) said he did not know one of the narrators, but the rest are of the Sahih. A similar hadith was also recorded by Tabarani in his Kabir (18:65) and Ibn ‘Asakir (1:290) on the authority of ‘Awf ibn Malik, which is sound (Hasan) according to Munawi, and thru Ibn Mas’ud (M. Kabir 10:181 – also by Abu Nu’aym in Hilya 4:173-74). Cf. Suyuti’s Jami’ as-Saghir (#3034, “Hasan”).
- [↑]Recorded by Hakim at-Tirmidhi in Nawadir (Asl #123) and Khatm al-Awliya (p. 443), Abu Nu’aym in his Hilya (2:24, 81) and Ma’rifat as-Sahaba (5:2810 #3079), Ibn ‘Asakir in his Tarikh (3:200), Ruyani in his Musnad (3:335), Abu Muhammad al-Khallal in Karamat al-Awliya’, Ibn al-Athir in his Usd al-Ghaba (5:124), and others. See also: Ibn Hajar’s Isaba fi Tamyiz as-Sahaba (6:550).
- [↑]Recorded by Abdur-Razzaq in his Musannaf (11:250 #20457) and Ibn Abi Dunya (K. Awliya, #69). This hadith is mursal Sahih, because Muslim recorded the exact same chain in his Sahih (#3166), and all of its narrators are of Bukhari’s Sahih (#206, 2195, 3113).
- [↑] Recorded by Abu Nu’aym in his Hilyat al-Awliya’ (1:8 Sahih, 8:278), Daylami (Musnad Firdaws, 3:140 #4375), and Hakim at-Tirmidhi (Asl #72, #144).
- [↑]Haythami in his Majma’ (10:58-59 #16647-48) and Mundhiri in his Targhib (4:60) state that it is authentic. Hakim in his Mustadrak (4:509-10), along with al-Dhahabi, also said it is Sahih. Also recorded by Ibn Hibban (16:295), Bayhaqi (Sunan al-Kubra, 9:179), Tabarani in his Mu’jam al-Kabir (18:251, and #7718, 7796) and Awsat (4:154), Imam Ahmad (#16391), Abu Dawud (#2124), Abdur-Razzaq (#20459), Ibn ‘Asakir (1:66-67), Bazzar (Zawa’id, 3:323), Daylami (Firdaws, 3:62 #3889, 5:348 #8125), Abu Nu’aym (Dala’il, p. 199), and others. For more on this hadith, see ‘Ajluni’s Kashf al-Khafa’ (#1526) and Sakhawi’s Maqasid (#583).
- [↑]Ibn Majah (Muqaddima, #211), Darimi (#3192), Imam Ahmad (#11831, 11844, 13053), Tayalisi (#2238), Abu Nu’aym (3:63, 9:40), Nasa’i (Sunan al-Kubra, #8031), Hakim (1:556 Sahih), Bayhaqi (Shu’ab, #2688-89), Hakim at-Tirmidhi (Nawadir, Asl #67), al-Khatib in his Tarikh (2:311, 5:357), Harith (Zawa’id, p. 229 #732), and Daylami in Firdaws (1:494 #1649). See also: Hafiz Sakhawi (Maqasid, #249), Hafiz ‘Ajluni (Kashf al-Khafa’ #16, #768, #811). It is Sahih, according to Suyuti (Jami’ Saghir, #2374) and Mundhiri (Targhib wa Tarhib, 2:354).
- [↑]Recorded by Bayhaqi (Shu’ab, #9052), Abdur-Razzaq (11:204 #20329), Ibn Abi Shayba (Musannaf, 8:122), Tabarani (M. Awsat, 2:85 #1328, from Abu Darda’, also 1:203 #651), Ibn Abi Dunya (K. Awliya, #76), and Daylami (Firdaws, 3:229 #4522), with different chains of transmission.
- [↑]Recorded by Imam Ahmad (#9056), Abdur-Razzaq (11:297 #20585), Ibn Abi Shayba (8:172), Bayhaqi (Shu’ab, #2952-53), Ibn Najjar (see Kanz al-‘Ummal, #20350), and Daylami (1:254 #784). Haythami said in Majma’ Zawa’id (2:22 #2025) that Ahmad’s chain contains Ibn Lahi’a. However, Abdur-Razzaq’s narration is from the trustworthy (thiqa) Ma’mar from the thiqa Tabi’i ‘Ata al-Khurasani from an un-named Sahabi (all of whom are thiqa anyway), which is the same chain in Muslim’s Sahih (#1623). Also, Hakim recorded this hadith from Abdullah ibn Salam in his Mustadrak (2:398), and both he and Dhahabi said it was Sahih.
- [↑]Recorded by Nasai (6:45-46 #3127-28), Tirmidhi (K. Jihad, #1624 Sahih), Abu Dawud (#2227), Imam Ahmad (1:173, 5:198), Hakim (2:106, 145 Sahih), Abu Nu’aym (Hilya, 5:26, 100, 8:290), Tabarani (M. Awsat, #2249, 4148), Ibn ‘Asakir (19:253, 55:243), Bayhaqi (Sunan 3:331,345, Shu’ab #10495), Abdur-Razzaq (5:303), Ibn Hibban (#4767), and others, and Bukhari has a chapter in his Sahih (K. Jihad) entitled “On seeking help through the weak and the pious during battle.” Hadith Sahih.
- [↑]Recorded by Abu Ya’la (#6402, 6633), Bayhaqi (Sunan 3:345 #6482-83, Shu’ab #9820), al-Khatib in his Tarikh (6:64), Tabarani (M. Awsat, 6:327 #6539, 7:134 #7085), Ibn ‘Adiyy (Kamil, 4:1622), and others, and it is Hasan li-ghayrihi. See Suyuti’s Jami’ as-Saghir (#7523) and Sakhawi’s Maqasid (#882).
- [↑]Recorded by Tabarani (M. Awsat, #4080 – Da’if: Haythami’s Majma’ 8:164, Suyuti’s Jami’ Saghir, #1794).
- [↑]Hafiz Suyuti mentioned a hadith of similar import in his Jami’ as-Saghir (#3036), which is recorded by al- Khallal (Karamat al-Awliya’) and Daylami (al-Firdaws, 1:154-55 #404) from ‘Ata from Anas: “The Abdal are 40 men and 40 women…”, and it has other chains recorded by Abu Bakr Ibn Lal in Makarim al-Akhlaq (from Hasan al-Basri from Anas) and Ibn ‘Asakir in his Tarikh (from Yazid al-Raqashi from Anas), and it is Da’if according to Sakhawi (Maqasid, #8). See also Suyuti’s Hawi lil Fatawi 2:250.
- [↑]Recorded by Tabarani in his Mu’jam al-Kabir (3:266 #3367), Quda’i (Musnad Shihab, 2:127 #1028), Abu Nu’aym (Hilya, 1:242), Bazzar (Zawa’id, 1:26 #32), Ibn Abi Shayba in his Musannaf (7:226-27) and his Kitab al- Iman (#114-115).
- [↑]Bukhari (#3210, 3413), Muslim (#4411), Nasa’i (Sunan Kubra, #8119-20), Tirmidhi (#3626), Imam Ahmad (#23150) and others.
- [↑]Tirmidhi (#3052, Tafsir of Q15:75), Tabarani in his Mu’jam al-Kabir (8:121 #7497) and others.
- [↑]Recorded by Tabarani in Mu’jam al-Awsat (3:207 #2935), Quda’i in Musnad Shihab (2:116 #1005), Hakim Tirmidhi in Nawadir (Asl #227) and others.