By Haider Hobbollah
Transcribed and translated by Syed Ali Imran (Canada)
This is an English transcription of three talks given by Shaykh Haider Hobbollah at Jami’at al-Zahra – one of the largest women’s seminary in the city of Qom.
I was asked to speak about al-wilāyah al-ʿirfānīyyah (mystical vicegerency) from the perspective of Imam Khumaynī. Though there may be some areas where his opinions differ from other ʿurafā’ (mystics), but they more or less hold similar views. This will not be a very exhaustive or technical presentation, because the topic is too vast and requires its own specialization and as such it will be a brief overview of the subject. Also, it should be reiterated that the language of the mystics itself is such that at least for others it is difficult to grasp what they are referring to. They themselves will confess that the things they are referring to are supra-rational and hence it is difficult to convey them with the limitations we have in language. Language itself is limited and restricted. One of our efforts in understanding the mystics is to understand their jargon.
We can say that the discussion on the concept of wilāyah takes place in four different areas:
1) Theoretical Mysticism (ʿirfān naẓarī): A personal spiritual experience that takes place in a different realm, which uncovers the realities of existence. In our presentation we will be covering this perspective.
2) Philosophical: A philosopher attempts to uncover the realities of existence but uses the intellect as their primary tool.
3) Textual (naṣṣ): One approaches the religious texts – the Qurān and Sunnah – and they understand the reality around them through the text. One defines the role of wilāyah through them and one does not rely on the first two approaches.
4) Theological: This is where the famous discussion on Imāmah takes place. After Ibn ʿArabī, this discussion was linked to the idea of al-insān al-kāmil (the perfect man).
Mysticism is not something restricted to the Islamic schools of thought, rather it is something shared by humans of other religious backgrounds as well. Just as the use of the intellect and contemplative reasoning is not restricted to Muslims or the religion of Islam. Likewise, religious and spiritual experiences are not limited to Muslims. In fact, in some other religions like Judaism and Christianity we find very expansive mystical schools of thought like.
The heart and knowledge by presence are the criteria when it comes to mysticism. Sayyidh Ḥyder al-ʿĀmilī calls this al-ʿIlm al-ʿIrfī al-Ilāhī which is an inherited divine and real knowledge, as opposed to al-ʿIlm al-Rasmī al-Iqtiṣādī – a type of acquired knowledge. A mystic does not just experience reality, he believes that he comes to know of these realities through presence. In later Christian mysticism they claim these experiences are merely religious experiences which do not necessarily describe reality. However, this is not what Islamic mysticism claims.
Some of the most important books on the subject of ʿIrfān are:
1) Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam of Ibn ʿArabī
2) Iṣṭilāḥāt al-Ṣūfīyyah by ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Kashānī
3) Miṣbāḥ al-Hidāyah of Imam Khomeini
4) Naqd al-Nuṣūṣ fī Sharh Naqsh al-Fuṣūṣ by ʿAbd al-Rahmān al-Jāmī
5) Tafsīr al-Qurān by Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī (Mullā Ṣadrā)
6) Al-Asfār by Mullā Ṣadrā
7) Asrār al-Āyāt by Mullā Ṣadrā
8) Risālah fī Sharḥ al-Asfār al-Arbaʿa by Muḥammad Reza
9) Kitāb al-Rasāil by Ibn ʿArabī
10) al-Futuḥāt al-Makkīyyah by Ibn ʿArabī
11) Sharḥ al-Fuṣūṣ by Muḥyī al-Dīn al-Jundī
12) Jāmiʿ al-Asrār by Sayyid Ḥyder al-ʿĀmilī
13) Miṣbāḥ al-Uns of Ibn Fanārī
14) Tamhīd al-Qawāid by Ibn Turka
15) al-Muḥīṭ al-Aʿẓam by Sayyid Ḥyder al-ʿĀmilī
16) Miftāḥ al-Jamʿ wa al-Ghayb by Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī
17) al-Insān al-Kāmil by Abdul Karim al-Jīlī
18) al-Inṣan al-Kāmil by ʿAzīz al-Dīn al-Nasafī
19) Risālah al-Wilāyah by ʿAllāmah Ṭabaṭabā’ī
20) al-Insān al-Kāmil by Shahīd Muṭahharī
In this brief overview, we will be discussing the meaning of wilāyah, the paths of acquiring wilāyah, the categories of wilāyah, salient features of wilāyah, difference between wilāyah and nubūwwah, discussion on the four journeys, and those who wrote on the subject of al-insān al-kamil.
Muslim scholars have discussed the concept of wilāyah in three different subjects. First of them is jurisprudence. For example, the wilāyah of a father over his children, the wilāyah of the jurist, wilāyah of a jurisconsult on endowments, wilāyah of a judge and so on.
The second of them is in theology. In Islamic theology the concept of wilāyah is discussed in context of Imāmah and Khilāfah. They address the discussion of who is to succeed the Prophet (p) – whether it is an individual or a group of people, and whoever it happens to be then whether we have explicit designation for them or not. Furthermore, what is the need for an Imam, what are the qualities of an Imam, the extent of their authority and so on. This is a famous discussion in theology, where they generally resort to history and as well as the Qur’ān and Ḥadīth, especially to identify the person in reality.
The third area where wilāyah is discussed is in mysticism. In Islamic mysticism, the mystics offer a significantly different meaning of wilāyah which has a very close relationship to the concept of al-insān al-kāmil as will be seen. The latter concept has a very significant place in mysticism, in fact it is the most important discussion after tawḥīd. When the ʿurafā mention wilāyah, they are not talking about wilāyah as discussed in jurisprudence, which is something conventional and a legal construct to organize the lives of people. A mystic is not concerned with this definition.
A mystic is also not concerned with the topic of wilāyah as a historical event. What happened after the Prophet (p) with respects to leadership, what did the companions do, whether there is explicit designation or not are not relevant in this discussion. Yes, at times you may see some resemblance, but what they are really concerned with is wilāyah as an existential and ontological reality. The motive is to uncover and become aware of this reality and understand its role vis-à-vis existence and the purpose of existence.
The mystics say the linguistic meaning of walī is closeness (qurb). This is the basis of their understanding. The question then is, what is a walī (pl. awliyā’) close to? They will say a walī is someone who is close to Allah (swt). Therefore, the stages of awliyā are different because of their closeness to Allah (swt). One who is closer will have greater wilāyah and those who are farther have lesser wilāyah. This closeness is real and existential.
The highest stage and degree to which a person can reach in their closeness is described as fanā’ fīllah (annihilation in Allah) – and it is here when a person becomes al-insān al-kāmil. Although even this stage has various degrees. The mystics will say fanā’ here does not mean ʿadam (non-existence), rather it means someone who has become heedless of his self – his basharīyyah (humanness) and the multiplicity of this realm. They are not able to see anything except Allah (swt). They exist and are seeing, but they see Allah (swt) in everything as Allah (swt) manifests Himself in everything.
For them, the world is like a room with 50 mirrors. You will see 50 people, even though there is only one room and one person in the room. There is only one reality, but it has manifested itself in different ways. The mystic is able to see the oneness. This is one of the interpretations of when the mystics use the term waḥdat al-wujūd (unity of existence). Fanā’ hence is a new birth. It is not death.
There are two paths to attaining Wilāyah:
- Ṭarīq al-Majdhūb al-Sālik: This path has been mentioned by many mystics such as Ibn ʿArabī and Qaysarī. There are a number of qualities for this path:
- It is a path through which a person reaches existential closeness to Allah (swt).
- There is no extensive effort required in this path. This is called al-ʿamalīyyah al-tadallī – meaning Allah (swt) guides the individual to the stage of fanā’, without them going through a lot of struggle.
- Arriving at fanā’ or the first journey can happen in a relatively short time. This is something even some non-Muslim mystics accept and have mentioned anecdotes about.
- This journey is called safar al-maḥbūbī or sayr al-ḥubbī, and the wilāyah attained through this journey is called al-wilāyah al-wahabīyyah – it is a gifted wilāyah.
- This state is attained because the relationship between the slave and wilāyah was azalīyyah (pre-existing), not tarāqumīyyah (developed incrementally over time). To illustrate: consider two students in a class, one of them is the son of the teacher. The son of the teacher may have not put in any effort but would have passed the exam and moved on to the next class. Unlike the other student who would have also passed the exam but would have had to put in a lot of hard work and effort. In the case of a person who reaches fanā’, the mystics say Allah (swt) knows about what happened in the past, but there was definitely some ontological relationship between the individual and wilāyah that led him to this station.
- This path is restricted to the Prophets and other infallibles. However, there is a difference of opinion even amongst mystics whether it is limited to men or whether it is inclusive of women as well. The likes of Ibn ʿArabī or Ayatullah Jawādī Āmulī who explicitly say that human nature is one and gender plays no role in this discussion will say that this path is inclusive of women as well.
- This path is superior than the path that is mentioned next.
- Tāriq al-Sālik al-Majdhūb
- This is also a path by which one reaches existential closeness (qurb) to Allah (swt).
- This qurb is attained after a lot of effort and spiritual purification. That is why it is also called taraqqī (a gradual ascent).
- This takes a lot of time to attain.
- This is called sayr al-muḥibbī, but the wilāyah attained through it is al-wilāyah al-iktisābīyyah.
- This wilāyah is tarāqumīyyah (incremental).
- This is not for the infallibles.
- This is less superior than the previous path, because it is only similar to the previous in one instance, whereas it differs in all other qualities. The first has greater Divine consideration.
Categories of Wilāyah
Ibn ʿArabī divides wilāyah into a number of categories:
1) Al-Wilāyah al-IlāhīyyahThis wilāyah is specific to Allah (swt) and it is absolute. He is close to everything. This is how some explain the statements of Imam ʿAlī (a) where he says:
داخلٌ في الاشياء علي غير ممازجة، و خارجٌ منها علي غير مباينة.
He is within everything, but not like one thing within another. He is beyond everything, but not like one thing outside another.
This wilāyah itself can be divided into two:
- ʿĀmah (General): It is the closeness Allah (swt) has with all creation.
- Khāṣah (Specific): It is His (swt) closeness to the believers and there are verses of the Qurān alluding to this.
2) Al-Wilāyah al-Malā’ikīyyah
The angels possess this wilāyah. We will not expand on this type of wilāyah in this discussion.
3) Al-Wilāyah al-Insānīyyah or al-Basharīyyah – this is where the discussion of al-insān al-kāmil takes place. This wilāyah is also of two types:
- a) Wilāyah ʿĀmah: This is a general wilāyah that people have over one another, this is not what we are concerned with. There is also a wilāyah that believers have with respects to Allah (swt). Meaning, the believers ae closer to Allah (swt) than non-believers. This is opposite to the Wilāyah Khāṣah mentioned earlier that was Allah’s (swt) closeness to the believers. This degree of closeness can be very little, and a number of verses of the Qurān and also be cited to allude to this.
- b) Wilāyah Khāṣah: this is also called Wilāyah Muṭlaqa and this is what we entail when we describe someone as Inṣan Kāmil.
The premise for this wilāyah is that Allah (swt) has created something called al-Ḥaqīqah al-Muḥammadīyyah (the Muḥammadan Reality) and the relationship between these two is pre-eternal (azalīyyah) and ontological (takwīnīyyah). It is the medium (wāṣiṭah) between all other creations, including Prophets, and Allah (swt).
This ḥaqīqah itself has degrees, the highest instance and manifestation of that is in the creation of Muḥammad (p). After him the same reality is manifested in other Prophets, awṣīyā’, awlīyā’, and ʿurafā’ – with the condition that they are connected (wāṣilīn) as ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Jāmī puts it. Only after them it reaches other creation. None of these are conventional degrees, rather they are all existential real degrees.
This is how the mystics understand creation and put them in different degrees with their relation to Allah (swt).
Someone may ask, how is it that the greatest instance of al-Ḥaqīqah al-Muḥammadīyyah was Prophet Muḥammad (p) but he only appeared 14-centuries ago. The mystics reply by saying that the Prophet (p) was the first creation of Allah (swt) – something which is mentioned in the ḥadīth as well, however, the Prophet (p) that we recognize is the wujūd nāsūtī (corporeal existence) – it was the immaterial existence of that Prophet (p) that was created by Allah (swt) first.
Many Shīʿī mystics will also justify the existence of the 13 other infallibles the same way. They will say the multiplicity is only observed in this material realm, otherwise in their essence they are all one. This is how they explain the traditions of anwār and ashbāh – that they were all one light and existed before the creation of other things.
Ibn ‘Arabī in his introduction to Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam says this book is not his own words. Rather, the Prophet (p) graced him with this wisdom which he then goes on to mention in his work.
According to the mystics, wilāyah ʿirfānīyyah is a new birth which is the end result of the first journey, after a person reaches fanā’. Hence, the beginning of wilāyah is the end of the first journey. The mystic then sees nothing but Allah (swt). This process of al-sayr wa al-sulūk (spiritual journeying and wayfaring) has been described in the literary masterpiece Manṭiq al-Ṭayr (Conference of the Birds) of Farīd al-Dīn ʿAṭṭār of Nishābūr at length.
Wilāyah ʿIrfānīyyah and al-insān al-kāmil have various degrees which cannot be enumerated. The highest of these degrees is Wilāyah Muṭlaqa which is immediately subordinate to Allah’s Wilāyah. Furthermore, the only possible way to reach this stage is through shuhūd (witnessing) or knowledge by presence. Intellectual, mathematical and scientific endeavours will not lead one to this stage because they are deficient methods. The closer you get to Allah (swt), the more things you will be able to know by presence.
When a mystic reaches this stage and becomes heedless of their humanness, they will do certain acts and will show certain emotions and their internal states will change. However, at that point, these changes and qualities are mere manifestations of the attributes of Allah (swt). For example, if one feels sorry for a homeless person and shows mercy, then this is the mercy of Allah (swt) being manifested by the mystic. If they get angry, they see it as the anger of Allah (swt). All of this is due to the origin of their actions are the attributes of Allah (swt) rather than the attributes of humans.
ʿAbd al-Razzāq Kashānī and Ṣadr al-Dīn and other mystics have mentioned these things in detail and have interpreted certain traditions through this lens as well such as:
إن الله خلق آدم على صورته
Allah (swt) created Adam in His image.
or the following tradition – a similar version of which also exists in al-Kāfī:
لا يزال عبدي يتقرب إلي بالنوافل حتى أحبه، فأكون أنا سمعه الذي يسمع به، وبصره الذي يبصر به، ولسانه الذي ينطق به، وقلبه الذي يعقل به، فإذا دعاني أجبته، وإذا سألني أعطيته
My servant will continue to seek closeness to Me with the optional acts so I may love him; when I love him I will be his ears with which he will hear, his eyes with which he will see, his tongue with which he will speak, his heart with which he will contemplate, and when he calls on to Me, I will respond, and when he asks Me, I will provide.
Once a person reaches this stage, just like Allah (swt) has authority over this realm, an ʿārif also develops authority over this realm and other creation. Of course, the Prophet (p) holds the greatest authority, but others also hold it in relation to their closeness to Allah (swt). This Wilāyah is Takwīnīyyah and it is the exact same discussion which is argued in theological. Someone like Ḥayder Āmulī played a significant role in reinterpreting some of the religious texts through this lens and bringing Shīʿī theology closer to the idea of al-Insān al-Kāmil.
Some – such as Ibn ʿArabī – have referred to this stage as Maqām of Kun. They have cited a ḥadīth qudsī and used it to prove their point:
عبدي أطعني تكن مثلي، تقل للشّيء كُن فيكون
My servant, obey me so that you can become like me, for when you say “be”, and it shall be (kun fa-yakūn)
Ibn ‘Arabī also says that this wilāyah can only be acquired by humans, no other creation can acquire it. Imam Khumaynī in his Miṣbāḥ al-Hidāyah2 also quotes a tradition from the Prophet (p) which is used in this discussion to indicate that people of paradise will have the same ability:
فقال (ص): فلا يقول أحد من أهل الجنّة للشّيء كن، إلّا و يكون
The Prophet (p) said: No one from amongst the people of Paradise will say, “be”, except that it shall become.
The idea of having authority over this realm has also influenced other discussions. Since the first thing after Allah (swt) was al-Ḥaqīqah al-Muḥammadīyyah, hence the light of Muḥammad is also called the First Proceeding Entity (al-ṣādir al-awwal). This is where the discussion of wāṣiṭah al-fayḍ (medium of grace) which is another aspect of the discussion of wilāyah takwīnīyyah, that says, everything that occurs in this realm, it is through this medium, it is the pole and criterion for this realm. Hence, all the Imams are ontological mediums of fayḍ for creation. It is for this reason why Ibn ‘Arabī would say that the world is a jism and its ruḥ is al-insān al-kāmil.
This wilāyah is not a bodily quality or attribute, rather it is related to existence itself. Whether this person is currently in this realm or not has no consequences on their wilāyah. This is a very important principle because it is used in the discussion of differentiating between a Walī and a Nabī. Wilāyah continues and does not diminish whether they are alive or dead, they will remain as a medium of fayḍ.
Another point to remember is that infallibility (‘iṣmah) is not a condition for wilāyah. However, every ma’ṣūm is a Walī and hence the relationship is ‘umūm wa khuṣūṣ muṭlaq.
Just like there is a concept of khatm al-nabī or nabūwwah, there is a similar concept of khatm al-walī or wilāyah. The Prophet (p) is the khātim al-nabī, but according to the mystics there is also a notion of khātīm al-walī. However, they don’t mean the same thing as a temporal end like is the case for Prophethood. What they mean is that there is a walī whose wilāyah is the greatest and no one else’s wilāyah is greater than theirs. Some of them argue that the khātim al-awliyā is Imam Mahdi (a).
Al-Insān al-Kāmil is the final cause (al-‘illah al-ghāīyyah) for the created world. They argue, given the Qur’ānic verse says, “We created Jinns and humans except to worship,” the highest degree of worship is conducted by al-insān al-kāmil, hence this verse is saying, we created Jinns and humans for al-inṣan al-kāmil. This is further backed up by traditions that say that the different realms of existence were created for the infallibles (Prophet & Imams).
Imam Khumaynī says that al-inṣān al-kāmil from one perspective is the manifestation of Allah’s (swt) attributes, but from another perspective, they encompass all degrees of existence (jamādī, nabāṭī, ḥayawānī, insānī, khiyālī, ‘aqlī, ilāhī). In other words, these degrees of existence are like the veins in our bodies. They exist from our feet all the way to our head – and a person encompasses all of these veins of different sizes. Likewise, the created reality is like the body with different degrees of existence, whereas the insān kāmil encompasses all of these degrees.
When Allah (swt) intends to manifest Himself, the first place He does so is in al-Ḥaqīqah al-Muḥammadīyyah, hence it is called al-ṣādir al-awwal. The classical philosophers would refer to this idea as the First Intellect (al-‘aql al-awwal) and then go through different emanations afterwards.
What is the criterion for kamāl (perfection)? Is it through political and physical authority? Is it bodily or intellectual strength? Is it an ethical superiority? According to the mystics, the criterion for kamāl is a person’s journey back to Allah (swt). The closer a person is to Allah (swt), the greater their kamāl is. In fact, one can have a lot of kamāl in the definition of the mystics, but be weak in their bodily strength or not have any political authority.
This has been a very heated subject of debate. It is one of the discussions which led to the mytics being condemned and being accused of disbelief. They say there is something called Nubūwwah and something called wilāyah, nubūwwah is a type of uncovering (kashf) and something apparent, whereas wilāyah is something esoteric (bāṭin). That is why they have a famous phrase which says: Wilāyah is the bāṭin of Nubūwwah and Nubūwwah is the Ẓāhir of Wilāyah. This is an extremely important concept in their understanding of these concepts.
They will say things along the line of Sharī’ah being the apparent (Ẓāhir), and its esoteric side (Bāṭin) being the wilāyah. For example, Prophet Ibrāhīm (a) was a Nabī until he became an Imām. He attained the stage of wilāyah and hence according to the mystics, wilāyah is superior than nabūwwah. The question is, is it possible for there to be a Nabī then who does not have wilāyah? They will say no, that is not possible. Every Nabī has wilāyah, and what Ibrāhīm attained was just a much greater and higher degree of wilāyah (‘irfānīyyah) – which is a closeness to Allah (swt).
In this manner, the mystics tie the concept of wilāyah and nubūwwah very closely. They further say that every wilāyah also implies nubūwwah inbā’īyyah, but not legislative (tashrī’īyyah). This nubūwwah inbā’īyyah implies that they can report things about other realms. Shaykh Suhrawardī would say:
لا أموت حتى يقال لي: قم فأنذر
I will not die until it is said to me: Arise and warn (a reference to 74:2).
This implies he was claiming some degree of nubūwwah for himself. All Muslim mystics will say that they never imply there will be new legislation after Prophet Muḥammad (p), but they believe people can be exposed to unseen realities, like Prophets are.
Points of Similarities:
- A Nabī and Walī both perceive supra-rational and divine realities – through presence.
- Their knowledge is not through a medium or by acquirement (ḥuṣūlī).
- They can perform supernatural acts, like miracles or karāmāt.
Many jurists had an issue with this because they would accuse the mystics for believing in the continuation of Prophethood and this was essentially one of the main accusations against the mystics.
Points of Differences:
- Legislative Nubūwwah is finished, there is no new legislation. Even if the greatest Walī were to come afterwards, there would still not be any new legislation. All that is being said is that a Walī has the ability to perceive realities and become aware of them. Interestingly, the Shī’a get accused of this when it comes to the discussion of the Prophet and Imams (a), and they also generally respond in the same way. Wilāyah is a relationship with Allah (swt) and al-Ḥaqq, therefore it will never end, whereas nubūwwah is a relationship with creation and it can end.
- The earth will never be void of a Walī – whether he is apparent or in occultation. Whereas it can be empty of a Prophet.
- The status of a Walī is above a Nabī or a Rasūl. The wilāyah aspect of a Nabī is greater and of more importance than the aspect of their nubūwwah.
- The status of wilāyah can be attained by both men and women, whereas nubūwwah is restricted to men. They have mentioned many examples of the former as well.
These four journeys were initially expounded on by Ibn ‘Arabī, followed by Qaysari, Qūnawī and Ṣadra. Imam Khumaynī also has a very unique explanation on this subject.
First Journey: From Multiplicity to Unity – this is the stage where one reaches fanā’. It is an upward vertical journey, where they remove their veils to reach fanā.
Second Journey: From Ḥaqq to Ḥaqq – meaning from Allah (swt) to Allah (swt). It is an excursion in the attributes and names of Allah (swt). Even the words “attributes” and “names” of Allah (swt) mean something else in the language of the mystics, which we cannot expand on here. This is a horizontal journey.
Third Journey: From Ḥaqq to Creation – this is called sahw after mahw. This is also a vertical journey, back to creation and multiplicity. This is where they reach Nubūwwah Inbā’īyyah and go from one realm to another such as the malakūt and back to the realm of nāsūt.
Fourth Journey: From Creation to Creation with Ḥaqq – This is where the witnessing of the realities of creation takes place. This is also a horizontal journey. Over here is where Nubūwwah Tashrī’īyyah can be given.
In Iran, over the last few decades, there has been a debate on whether it is possible to establish an Islamic political system on the basis of the way the mystics think. Some scholars like Sayyid Jawād Ṭabāṭabāī in his Dar Āmadī Bar Andīshe-ye Siyāsī Dar Iran believe their principles do not allow for an Islamic political system.
This has resulted in a great debate, and the mystics and as well as those generally into mysticism have tried to respond to this. Someone like Āyatullah Ḥusaynī Tehrānī would believe or imply that one of the conditions of a ḥākim shar’ī is for them to be a mystics, or at the very least be under the shadow of a mystics who can assist them. Some other mystics have disputed this though, some hold the opinion it is not possible to establish a government, while others say it is possible, and some even have said it is an obligation to set up a government based upon the principles expounded on in mysticism.
The first person to use this term was Ibn ‘Arabī after which it was used by other mystics and with different names like al-Ḥaqīqah al-Muḥammadīyyah and so on. The mystics believe all humans are al-insān al-kāmil bil-quwwah (with potential).
Some scholars who expounded on it after Ibn ‘Arabī:
- Qūnawī in his Miftāḥ al-Ghayb
- Ibn Fanarī in his Miṣbāḥ al-Uns
- ‘Abdul Karīm al-Jīlī in his al-Insān al-Kāmil
- ‘Azīz al-Dīn al-Nasafī in his al-Insān al-Kāmil
- Shaykh Maḥmūd Shabistarī
- Mulla Ṣadra in his works
- ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabāī in his Risalah al-Wilāyah
- Imam Khomeini in his Miṣbāh al-Hidāyah