Comparative Analysis of wilāya in the Formative Period of Shiʿism and Sufism
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
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This thesis looks at the development of the concept of wilāya within the formative period of Sufism and Shiʿism particularly the period between the 2nd/8th and the 4th/10th centuries. The purpose of this research is to study the similarities and differences in the understanding of wilāya within both Shiʿism and Sufism so as to shed a light on their shared worldviews. The texts considered here deal with the subject of wilāya in a variety of ways. Some deal with this subject in a fragmented manner whereas others provide a systematic understanding of the concept. Whatever the manner of discussion, these texts link wilāya clearly with significant doctrinal aspects such as the idea of authority and communal identity. Within Shiʿism the research starts with Kitāb Sulaym by Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilālī (d. ca. 145/762 and 160/780) in which wilāya mainly appears as a justification for legitimizing the political authority of ʿAlī (d. ca. 40/661). Kitāb al-Īḍāḥ by Faḍl ibn Shādhān al-Nishābūrī (d. ca. 260/873-4) just like its predecessor, discusses wilāya within the political domain but introduces the idea of knowledge tied up with the concept of wilāya. This link between knowledge and wilāya remains a hallmark for both Shiʿism and Sufism throughout the formative period. The last two Shiʿi texts, Kitāb al-Maḥāsin of Aḥmad al-Barqī (d. 274/888 or 280/894) and al-Kāfī of al-Kulaynī (d. 328/939-40 or 329/940-1) link the concept of wilāya with the aspect of primordial covenant and pre-eternal existence. With al-Kulaynī, the concept of wilāya becomes central to the understanding of the Shiʿi faith and the cosmological understanding of the imām. Within Sufism, al-Kharrāz’s (d. 285/892 or 286/899) Kitāb al-Ṣidq provides the first and the most basic hierarchy of the awliyāʾ. After al- Kharrāz, Sahl al-Tustarī’s (d. 283/896) commentary of the Qur’an, Tafsīr al-Tustarī, treats wilāya in a fragmented manner yet linking the concept with the idea of emanation and primordial covenant in much the same manner as al-Barqī’s Kitāb al-Maḥāsin. With Sīrat al-Awliyāʾ of al-Tirmidhī (d. 318/936 or 320/938), wilāya eventually becomes systematically established within early Sufism, initiating a controversial dimension of wilāya vis-à-vis prophecy. All these texts within Shiʿism and Sufism are eventually compared within the aspects of wilāya, which are political authority, religious duty, love and faith, spiritual inheritance, knowledge, elect community, primordial covenant, creation and emanation and spiritual hierarchy.
PhD in Arab and Islamic Studies