I intend to interrogate the nature and scope of the concept of walāyah which is central to the theology of Shiʿism, the second largest branch of Islam. The significance of this notion was stressed by many Shiʿi Imams. For instance, a tradition from Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (d. 765) states: “Islam has three pillars: prayer, the monetary tribute (zakāt), and walāyah, and none of them will be complete without the others” (Kulaynī (d. 941), II, 18). Similar statements are also reported from his father, Imam al-Bāqir (d. 733), who listed the five pillars of Islam as being prayer, the monetary tribute (zakāt), pilgrimage, fasting and walāyah (Kulaynī, II, 22-24). Such accounts place this concept among the most studied subjects in the Shiʿi school of thought. There is a large spectrum of meanings associated with the concept of walāyah, ranging from “being someone’s friend” all the way to “absolute obedience” and “political superiority” (Dakake 2007, 16).
Maria Massi Dakake in her book, The Charismatic Community, argues that the term walāyah in Shiʿite usage denotes: “an all-encompassing bond of spiritual loyalty that describes, simultaneously, a Shiʿite believer’s allegiance to God, the Prophet, the Imam and the community of Shiʿite believers, collectively” (2007, 7). Amir-Moezzi's emphasis differs in his book The Divine Guide in Early Shiʿism. Walāyah, according to him, refers to both “the ontological-theological status of the Imam as well as faith in this status” (1994, 126).
All these approaches to walāyah still leave the door open to a wide range of interpretations and understandings. I interrogate the concept of walāyah in the traditions came from Imam al-Ṣādiq based on a critical analysis of the early Shiʿite ḥadīth collections up to 10th century. I will argue that walāyah in its Shiʿi usage refers to adopting a particular lifestyle that entails forgoing earthly pleasures and living a pious life by following the footsteps of the Imam. This stands in stark contrast to the lifestyle that the ruling elite promoted for the populace, which could explain why some sources interpret walāyah as a form of opposition to the ruling class and endeavoring to attain political power.