We have different categories of friends. Some friends are fun to hang out with, but that is pretty much it; you cannot exactly rely on them. Other friends are there for you but don’t always give you the best advice. But there are some friends – or that one friend – that truly has your back. The friend you would call to bail you out, because you have no doubt that they will, no matter how much trouble you are in. This friend is actually protective of you. Think for a moment: do you have a friend like that?
Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala (Exhalted is He), tells us that He is that Protective Friend. He is al-Wali. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“And it is He who sends down the rain after they had despaired and spreads His mercy. And He is the Protective Friend (al-Wali), the Praiseworthy.” (Qur’an, 42:28)
When looking into the root of this word, we cannot help but feel close to Allah (swt). The nuances that come with understanding His Names and the relationship of those Names with us shows us the beautiful intimacy of Allah’s knowledge of His servants. Al-Wali comes from the three-letter root: w-l-y. The root of the word means to be very close, without any barrier. For example, if someone was sitting somewhere, the person right next to him – not separated by anyone else – is the one yaleehi or the wali:
وجَلَسَ ممّا يَلِيني، أي يُقارِبُني
Hence it also has the following meanings: to be a friend and a helper; to defend and to guard. Al-Ghazali states that al-Wali is also “lover and protector.”
And so what does it mean for Allah (swt) to be al-Wali – the Protective Friend? It means that He has your back. He could have just been a ‘friend,’ but some friends are flaky. Abu Abdullah ‘Amr bin Al-‘as, radi Allahu ‘anhu (may Allah be pleased with him), said that he heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ (peace be upon him) saying openly not secretly, “The family of so-and-so (i.e., Abu Talib) are not my supporters (awliya’). My supporter (wali) is Allah and the righteous believing people. But they (that family) have kinship with whom I will maintain the ties of kinship.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
He is the true Wali, demonstrating His closeness to you and His protectiveness of you. This beautiful verse encapsulates how Allah (swt) manifests this attribute in our lives:
“Allah is the wali of those who believe. He brings them out from darknesses into the light…” (Qur’an, 2:257)
Allah says He is the Protective Friend of those who believe. Nouman Ali Khan explained that Allah did not use the word mu’minoon meaning “the believers.” He said “those who believed.” Who are they? They are the people who have entered into iman (faith) but it has not settled in their hearts yet. He is the Protective Friend of those people! Not the perfect ones, but the ones who struggle- the ones who are not there yet. And how is He a Protective Friend? He has the constant attribute of pulling them – pulling us, those who go up and down in their faith – out of darknesses, and bringing us into light. Not just one time, but over and over again. Just like He forgives over and over, He has your back always.
This is the general meaning of Allah (swt) being al-Wali. There is the general meaning of this Name, and then the specific one- the wilaya of those who are close to Him. Look at what Allah al-Wali said to the Prophet ﷺ:
“And be patient, [O Muhammad], for the decision of your Lord, for indeed, you are in Our eyes…” (Qur’an, 52:48)
While we all enjoy this friendship with Allah (swt), those who take their relationship with Him seriously, and do what they can to cultivate this relationship and be true slaves of the Most-Merciful, receive the special protection and friendship. This is alluded to in the hadith qudsi, where Allah (swt) tells us that:
“Whosoever acts with enmity towards a closer servant of Mine (Wali), I will indeed declare war against him. Nothing endears My servant to Me than doing of what I have made obligatory upon him to do. And My servant continues to draw nearer to Me with the supererogatory (nawafil) so that I shall love him. When I love him, I shall be his hearing with which he shall hear, his sight with which he shall see, his hands with which he shall hold, and his feet with which he shall walk. And if he asks (something) of Me, I shall surely give it to him, and if he takes refuge in Me, I shall certainly grant him it.” (Bukhari)
By focusing on what Allah loves – the obligatory acts – we begin on this journey of closeness to Him. And it is not just by doing the actions, but understanding the true meaning behind them: seeking to connect to Him with our prayer; restraining the lower self when we fast; being humble when we give charity; and remembering that we are brothers and sisters when we perform the Hajj (greater pilgrimage). Then by moving on and adding those things that are voluntary, we become beloved to Him, and then become part of His special friendship and protection. Al-Ghazali states that the one who is a wali of Allah befriends His friends, and shows enmity towards His enemies. And who are the enemies? “One’s own [lower] self and Satan.” The fruit of that is having neither fear nor grieving (Qur’an, 10:62).
We have countless examples from the life of the Prophet ﷺ. The people of Qureish in Makkah were planning on assassinating the Prophet ﷺ. On that night, he escaped Madinah with his closest friend, Abu Bakr (ra), but they were followed by his would-be assassins. So the Prophet ﷺ and Abu Bakr hid in the Cave of Thawr, but they were followed there too. They were inches away from being discovered by their persecutors and with calm, the Prophet ﷺ said to Abu Bakr (ra): “Do not be sad, Allah is with us.” And they were not discovered and were able to make it to the security of the city of Madinah.
Look at what happened to Aisha (ra), the beloved wife of the Prophet ﷺ. She was the subject of a horrible rumor that attacked her very character and morals. But she was very sick for a whole month, and had no idea what was going on. That sickness was a protection for her. When she was better and finally made aware of the rumors, she was devastated. But that only lasted 3 days. She was hoping the Prophet ﷺ would receive a vision declaring her innocence, but something even more amazing happened. Verses of the Qur’an were revealed in Surat an-Nur (the Chapter of Light), so that there could be no ambiguity about her innocence.
In understanding this concept of wilaya, we need to go beyond the superficial. It is not just external protection that Allah (swt) gives; it is also the internal strength and tranquility that enables us to withstand the external hardships that is gifted to us. There will always be external struggles in this world, especially when we are striving to do good. The life of the Prophet ﷺ was not easy, nor was it for the companions or those who strived and continue to strive for justice and goodness for His sake. But the awliya’ (the recipients of His special friendship and protection) are given a tranquility to continue, and the vision to see beyond the superficial nature of things.
So do not worry. Allah (swt) is your Protective Friend. He has your back. Strive for Him and be ambitious in your goals, and do not let fear prevent you from doing good. As the Qur’an tells us:
“Indeed, my protector (wali) is Allah, who has sent down the Book; and He is an ally to the righteous.” (Qur’an, 7:196)
May we enhance the relationship with the Best Friend we could ask for, our Wali, Allah (swt).