Wali (Islamic legal guardian) This article is about the Islamic legal concept of Wali. For Saints in Islam, see Wali
. For the administrative title, see Wāli
. For the town and commune of Mauritania, see Waly Diantang, Mauritania
. For use of Waliullah as a given name, see Waliullah (name)
, plural ʾawliyāʾ أولياء) is an Arabic
word with a number of meanings, including, "protector", "helper", "a man close to God", or "holy man",
"Wali" is someone who has "Wilayah
" (authority or guardianship) over somebody else, and in fiqh
(Islamic jurisprudence) particularly "an authorized agent of the bride in concluding a marriage contract (Islamic Law)",
where the Wali
traditionally selects the bride groom.
Traditionally girls and women have been forbidden from travelling, conducting official business, or undergoing certain medical procedures without permission from their male guardian in conservative Muslim countries.
Some countries, notably Saudi Arabia
, have maintained such practices in law up to the present. In 2019, Saudi Arabia loosened many restrictions, allowing women to obtain passports, travel freely, and obtain employment without permission from a male guardian, although many restrictions still remain.
At least according to the traditional interpretation of the Saudi religious establishment, the concept of guardianship over women is derived from Sura 4 verse 34 of the Quran, which states,
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God has given the one more [strength] than the other, and because they support them from their means.”
Wali as agent of the bride
Muslim scholars have held that in order for the nikah
(marriage) of an adult woman to be valid, there must be consent not only of the bride and groom but also of the bride's wali mujbir
, her male guardian.
This view is held by most Muslim scholars, but the Hanafi
school of fiqh hold that the wali's permission is not necessary for the nikah.
The wali is typically the father or, failing that, another male relative, and failing that a qadi
. The order of succession of who may serve as a wali is often spelled out by jurists,
such as in this list written by Ibn Abd al-Wahhab
: if the father is otherwise unavailable guardianship should be assigned
first to the woman's brother, then to the paternal grandfather than to the woman's son.... [then it] passes to the tribe of the brother, unless it is low/base/despicable, ... [then the] paternal uncle takes over, followed by his son, then other relatives in paternal relationships. ... Maternal relative only have a claim to marriage guardianship if there are not paternal relatives. ... the sultan or political leader may serve as the marriage guardian ... only if he is a just man .... Thus the critical factor in selecting an alternative marriage guardian is the man's adherence to justice, not his political position.
In the case of the woman's first marriage, the bride's silence is considered consent when a wali proposes a groom to her.
At least in the Hanafi
school of fiqh, there is a distinction between a Wali ijbar
and a wali ikhtiyar
. A wali ijbar
is a guardian who is "given the power of force" and has the right to arrange the marriage of a woman "without her permission". A wali ikhtiyar
does "not have the authority to force", and cannot arrange a marriage without the bride's permission. The marriage requires "a verbal answer" from the potential bride to go ahead.
According to the founder of the Malaki
school of fiqh, Malik ibn Anas
, there are two kinds of custody or guardianship – khassa
(specific) and `amma
(general). Specific guardianship belongs to the patriarchal lineage – father, grandfather, etc. (explained above). General guardianship "was connected completely with Islam, and every Muslim male". An example of `amma
guardianship is where a Muslim man arranges a marriage for a woman who does "not have a father, or other male family members".
The founder of the Hanbali
school, Ahmad ibn Hanbal
, believed that the wali ijbar
was the right of the father or, if there was no father of a judge (similar to Malik's position), with other imams that the role of a wali ikhtiyar
"could be taken by all kinds of wali", not necessarily a relative on the father's side of the family.
Before marriage, the presence of a mahram
, (unmarriageable male relative) should be present whenever an unmarried woman meets the opposite sex and for other issues. (At least in the opinion of many conservative Muslims such as Ustadha Nasari, who points to Quranic verse Al-Tauba, 9:71 where "awliya"
, (plural of wali)
is translated as "protector".
Husbands as "guardians"
While a husband or a mahram
can not be a wali,
they also have "protector" status over women away after their marriage, and are sometimes referred to as "guardians" of their wives and families in English language sources.
As protector, the husbands permission is also required for travel in some Muslim countries.
In Yemen, as of 2005, women are not legally permitted a passport without the approval of their wali
, but are allowed to travel without permission once they have a passport. However law enforcement often disregard this freedom and "restrict a woman's right to travel if her guardian disapproves and reports her to the authorities."
In 2013 according to Rothna Begum, of Human Rights Watch, women could not leave their house without her husband's permission, with a few emergency exceptions, such as taking care of ailing parents.
Human Rights Watch
(HRW) documented the Saudi implementation of the wali
system in 2016. HRW stated that "in Saudi Arabia, a woman's life is controlled by a man from birth until death. Every Saudi woman must have a male guardian, normally a father or husband, but in some cases a brother or even a son, who has the power to make a range of critical decisions on her behalf."
So that women could "not apply for a passport without male guardian approval and require permission to travel outside the country."
In the 2010s, Saudi women organised an anti male-guardianship campaign
Changes were gradually made so that by 2016 women were allowed "to secure their own ID cards" and divorced and widowed women are allowed family cards, and the requirement "that a woman bring a male relative to identify them in court" has been removed.)
In 2019 women were granted "the right to travel without a male relative’s permission, to receive equal treatment in the workplace and to obtain family documents from the government", but still lacked the right "to marry or live on their own" without a male wali's permission.
Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist
In Shia Islam
, Islamic Jurists (faqīh
, pl. fuqahā'
) often take on the duty of wali
. Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist
, (Persian: ولایت فقیه,
; Arabic: ولاية الفقيه,
), is a doctrine asserting that Islam gives Islamic jurists custodianship over people. (This applies to Shia Islam "in the absence of an infallible Imam", i.e. after the 12th Imam had gone into Occultation
in 874 CE.)
Prior to the Iranian Revolution
this referred to guardianship of non-litigious matters
including religious endowments (Waqf
and the property for which no specific person is responsible.
Islamic Republic of Iran
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Last edited on 10 April 2021, at 13:46
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