Walī (Arabic: ولي, plural ʾawliyāʾ أولياء), is an Arabic word meaning "custodian", "protector", "helper", etc. "Wali" is someone who has "Walayah" (authority or guardianship) over somebody else. For example, in fiqh, a father is wali of his children especially for his daughters in marriage.
In Islam, the phrase ولي الله walī allāh can be used to denote one vested with the "authority of God":
Only Allah is your Wali and His Messenger and those who believe, those who keep up prayers and pay the poor-rate while they bow.
In English, wali most often means a Muslim saint or holy person. It should not be confused with the different word wāli (والي) which is an administrative title that means magistrate and is still used today in some Muslim countries, such as the Wali of Swat.
Wali as custodian of a woman in marriage
According to Islamic law (shari'a) a woman needs a wali, that is a custodian, to get married, as the marriage contract is signed by her wali and the bridegroom. Normally the father or the paternal grandfather of the bride is her wali. In this case the father or paternal grandfather is wali mujbir, if it is the her first marriage. In this case, the bride's silence is considered consent. If father and grandfather are deceased another male relative may function as wali. If there is no Muslim relative, a qadi may function as wali. There are only very few exceptions to this ruling, e.g. in the Hanafi school of Islamic law a woman may under certain circumstances marry without a wali, if it is not her first marriage.
In religious uses, it is generally short for walī allāh (Arabic ولي الله) or friend of God. Belief in the ʾawliyāʾ is an agreed upon article of faith in Sunni Islam having been mentioned in the earliest creeds to the most recent. Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Tahawi mentions them in his creed:
We do not prefer any of the saintly men among the Ummah over any of the Prophets but rather we say that any one of the Prophets is better than all the ʾawliyāʾ put together.
We believe in what we know of Karamat, the marvels of the ʾawliyāʾ and in authentic stories about them from trustworthy sources.
Islamic books of Aqeedah are not meant to be exhaustive of every branch of faith but rather to clarify points deviated from by non-Sunni sects.
Use in Tasawuf/Sufism
A hierarchy of ʾawliyāʾ and their functions are outlined in the books of Sufi Masters. There is disagreement as to the terms used for each rank but there is a general agreement about the numbers and functions of each level. Starting from the top downwards:
- One Ghawth (Helper)
- Three Qutb (Pole)
- Three Nuqaba (Watchmen)
- Four Awtaad (Pegs)/Aqtab (Poles)
- Seven Abraar (Pious)
- Forty Abdal (Substitutes)
- Three Hundred Akhyaar (Chosen)
- Hans Wehr, p. 1289
- Quran 5:55
- Hans Wehr, p. 1290
- Sahih Muslim, The Book of Marriage (Kitab Al-Nikah), Book 008, Number 3303.
- Imam Abu Ja'far al-Tahawi al-Hanafi. Aqidah al-Tahawiyya. trans. Iqbal Ahmad Azami. Verse(?) 98-99. Accessed November 9, 2012.
- Chodkiewicz, Michel. The Seal of the Saints: Prophethood and Sainthood in the Doctrine of Ibn 'Arabi. trans. Liadain Sherrard. Cambridge, UK: Islamic Texts Society, 1993. ISBN 978-0-946621-40-8.
- Radtke, Bernd, and John O'Kane. The Concept of Sainthood in Early Islamic Mysticism: Two Works by Al-Hakim Al-Tirmidhi. Richmond, Surrey, UK: Curzon Press, 1996, pp. 10, 109. ISBN 978-0-7007-0452-1, ISBN 978-0-7007-0413-2.
- Sajid, Imam Dr. Abduljalil (22 December 2004). "Scholars Smash Hizb Argument Against British Politics". Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK.