Analysis of declaration – ‘Awla’

One of the most controversial declarations ever made by the Prophet ﷺ is that of Ghadeer Khumm. In front of at least tends of thousands, if not a number nearing the high five figures, where he declared the following[1]:

ألَسْتُ أولى بالمؤمنين من أنفسهم؟ قالوا بلى يارسول الله. قال: من كنت مولاه فعلي مولاه [Am i not more worthy /have a greater right over the believers than they are over their own selves? They replied ‘Yes’ O Messenger of Allah. He said whomsoever i am his Mawla, Ali is his Mawla].


The classical Sunni interpretation of this is that Mawla means friend, or one who is dear, and hence the Prophet  was trying to show that whoever respected him, and was a friend and dear to him, should also be a friend and dear to Ali ibn Abi Talib عليهم السلام. This interpretation is a distortion of what actually was being said, particularly given the context. However, we will satisfy ourselves with analysing the statement in and of itself and come to see which opinion is the strongest one.

We would first like to prove that the use of the word ‘Awla’ denotes that the Prophet ﷺ has absolute authority over the believers. It does not merely mean he is beloved to them, or close to them, but that his opinions, rulings and judgement should take precedence over their own. This is a powerful statement which shows that he truly has total and absolute authority over them, a right bestowed on him by Allah, the Almighty. We quote the following relevant verse from the Quran making a direct statement regarding this [2]:

“The Prophet is more worthy over believers than [they are to] their own selves…”


Let us now look into the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir [3] and view his interpretation.

“Allah tells us how His Messenger is merciful and sincere towards his Ummah, and how he is closer to them than they are to themselves. His judgement or ruling takes precedence over their own choices for themselves”


The above interpretation by Ibn Kathir clearly shows that the phrase ‘closer to the believers than they are to their own-selves’ denotes one of absolute authority; the judgement of the Prophet ﷺ takes precedence over an individuals judgement. Thus, the Ayah and the meaning of this phrase encompasses more than dearness and affection. Rather, it is more than mere love, it is the acknowledgement of the authority the Prophet ﷺ  has over us, so much so we give preference to it over what we think, feel, or ourselves judge and desire. Therefore when the Prophet ﷺ states: “ألَسْتُ أولى بالمؤمنين من أنفسهم”, he is reminding the believers that the relationship he ﷺ has over them is one of absolute authority and that is is more worthy over them than they are over their own-selves. This will be of paramount importance when we take into account what is the most accurate meaning of ‘Mawla’ in the next section, and follow this by bringing forth a rational, intellectually honest, and holistic perspective of these two statements. 




[1] (1) Sahih Tirmidhi, v2, p298, v5, p63 (2) Sunan Ibn Maja, v1, pp 12,43 (3) Khasa’is, by al-Nisa’i, pp 4,21
(4) al-Mustadrak, by al-Hakim, v2, p129, v3, pp 109-110,116,371 (5) Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v1, pp 84,118,119,152,330, v4, pp 281,368,370, 372,378, v5, pp 35,347,358,361,366,419 (from 40 chains of narrators)
(6) Fada’il al-Sahaba, by Ahmad Hanbal, v2, pp 563,572 (7) Majma’ al-Zawa’id, by al-Haythami, v9, p103 (from several transmitters) (8) Tafsir al-Kabir, by Fakhr al-Razi, v12, pp 49-50 (9) Tafsir al-Durr al-Manthur, by al-Hafiz Jalaluddin al-Suyuti, v3, p19 (10) Tarikh al-Khulafa, by al-Suyuti, pp 169,173 (11) al-Bidayah wal-Nihayah, by Ibn Kathir, v3, p213, v5, p208 (12) Usdul Ghabah, by Ibn Athir, v4, p114 (13) Mushkil al-Athar, by al-Tahawi, v2, pp 307-308 (14) Habib al-Siyar, by Mir Khand, v1, part 3, p144 (15) Sawaiq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar al-Haythami, p26 (16) al-Isabah, by Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, v2, p509; v1, part1, p319, v2, part1, p57, v3, part1, p29, v4, part 1, pp 14,16,143 (17) Tabarani, who narrated from companions such as Ibn Umar, Malik Ibn al-Hawirath, Habashi Ibn Junadah, Jari, Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas, Anas Ibn Malik, Ibn Abbas, Amarah,Buraydah,… (18) Tarikh, by al-Khatib Baghdadi, v8, p290 (19) Hilyatul Awliya’, by al-Hafiz Abu Nu’aym, v4, p23, v5, pp26-27 (20) al-Istiab, by Ibn Abd al-Barr, Chapter of word “ayn”(‘Ali), v2, p462 (21) Kanzul Ummal, by al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, v6, pp 154,397 (22) al-Mirqat, v5, p568 (23) al-Riyad al-Nadirah, by al-Muhib al-Tabari, v2, p172 (24) Dhaka’ir al-Uqba, by al-Muhib al-Tabari, p68 (25) Faydh al-Qadir, by al-Manawi, v6, p217 (26) Yanabi’ al-Mawaddah, by al-Qudoozi al-Hanafi, p297 and many more but we have had to only list these for sake of brevity.

[2]   Noble Quran, Surah Ahzab, verse 6.

[3]  Ibn Kathir in his Tafsir ibn Kathir. [Surah Ahzab, Verse 6]