Islam

The Trust (al-Amana) in the Qur'an and the wilaya

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Wilaya in the Qur'an is intrinsically related to the moral vision
of Islamic revelation. Wilaya in this regard is the faculty of the
legal and moral authority, which enables a person in whom this
authority is invested to exact obedience to fulfill this moral
vision. Accordingly, the concept of wilaya is directly connected
with the fundamental question of saltana -- exercise of that
legal and moral authority by demanding obedience. Islamic
revelation regards the creation of an ethical order as an
inevitable projection of personal response to the moral challenge
of accepting Islam. Personal devotion to Allah implies the
responsibility of furthering the realization of a just society,
embodying all the manifestations of religious faith in the
material as well as spiritual life of humankind.

This responsibility of striving for one's own welfare and that of
the society in which one lives derives from the fact that,
according to the Qur'an, humankind has boldly assumed 'the
trust' that Allah had offered 'unto the heavens and the earth and
the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it.
And man assumed it. Lo! he has proved a tyrant and a fool'
(33:72).

Shaykh Tusi in his Al-Masa'l al-Ha'iriyat explains amana as
taklif (religious-moral obligation imposed by Allah on humanity)
and cites the Shi'i opinion as the one in which amana is equated
with wilaya. However, he argues that such an equation of amana
with wilaya is unnecessary, because the general sense derived
from Iaklif also includes acknowledgement of the person in
whom wilaya is invested. In his Qur'anic exegesis, Shaykh Tusi
explains amana as the contract (aI-'aqd) that humankind must
fulfill because it has been entrusted to humankind by Allah. He
cites several early authorities to show the complication in
interpreting the amana verse which has theological implications
in the realm of human volition and responsibility as the
recipient of this 'trust.' However, as Tusi explains it is in the
early traditions dealing with the wilaya that the amana verse has
been interpreted as pointing to the wilaya of Imam Ali ibn Abi
Talib.

Allama Tabataba'i's detailed exegesis on this verse should be
regarded as the recapitulation of all these early materials,
including those written by the Sunni scholars, and his interpretation
is derived in light of the early traditions regarding the
wilaya. According to him, the 'trust' is al-wilayat al-ilahiyya,
meaning the divine sovereignty which Allah offered to all
creatures. Only human beings, having assumed the trust, have
the potential to attain perfection and perfect their environment.
The crux of the problem in the exegesis of the verse is that if
man was the only creature of Allah who accepted the 'trust,'
why should he be described as a 'tyrant' and fool'? At this
point, Allama Tabataba'i's interpretation draws upon the main
tenets of Imami theology, which regard the 'trust' in the sense of
wilaya as a special favour to humanity entailing enormous
responsibility to stand by the obligation of guarding it.
Accordingly, only human beings are not afraid to bear the burden of
this trust, and to accept the consequences of being a 'tyrant' and
'ignorant,' because they only can acquire the opposite attributes
- namely, those of being 'just' ('adil) and 'knowledgeable'
('alim). In fact, both 'tyranny' and 'ignorance' are the primary
counterpoise of human responsibility in accepting al-wilaya al-ilahiyya,
especially as it concerns Allah's providential purpose in
allowing imperfect humanity to accept this responsibility.
The acceptance of this wilaya, furthermore, makes human beings
acquire both the responsibility for their actions as well as
superiority over all other creatures in the world. It is al-wilayat
al-ilahiyya that enables them to put society into order in
accordance with their unique comprehension of religion.

However, the wilaya is given to humankind with a clear warning
that it will have to rise above 'tyranny' and 'ignorance' by
heeding the call of divine guidance. Human beings, according to
the Qur'an, have been endowed with the cognition needed to
further their comprehension of the purpose for which they are
created, and violition to realize it by using their knowledge. It is
through divine guidance that human beings are expected to
develop the ability to judge their actions and choose what will
lead them to prosperity. But this is not an easy task. It involves
spiritual and moral development, something that is most
challenging in the face of basic human weaknesses indicated by
the Qur'an in the following passage:

'Surely man was created fretful, When evil visits him, impatient,
When good visits him, grudging' (70: 19-2O).

This weakness reveals a basic tension that must be resolved if
human beings are to attain the purpose for which they are
created. It is at this point that divine guidance is sent through
the prophets and revealed messages to provide either the sources
and principles or basic norms of social organization under
which a divinely sanctioned public order is to be established.
The Prophet thus becomes a representative of the divine
authority on earth and exercises that authority in conformity
with the divine plan for human conduct. (read more... )

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