Brainstorm of an Ishmaelite

The Critical Relationship Between Mawla and Mawali

If Muslims only recognized their mawla and mawali, so many problems of the umma would be resolved.

There is no such thing as a relationship between equals in Sharia (v. 39:29). The Prophet says one person is a devil, two are two devils, three is a group (Abu Dawud 15:131) and every group must have a leader; that is, a superior (Muslim 5:365). Whoever doesn’t have God and the Prophet as its mawla has the devil as its mawla (vv. 2:107, 48:10, 28:50, 4:83 & 8:48). This is also true in prayer and in marriage. One must lead, the other must follow. It’s also true in nature, as there are no two-headed animals. If it exists, it’s an uncommon or deleterious attribute.

In every relationship there is a mawla and mawali; that is, a patron and client or superior and inferior. The relationship between mawla and mawali can be said to be the entire law in Sharia. As a Japanese writer observed at first contact with Europeans:

They have some knowledge of the relationship between superior and inferior; but otherwise they do not know about property. [. . .] They show their feelings without any self-control and they do not know the written script or the use of it (watch video).

There are elaborate rules on the relationship between mawla and mawali. These rules apply ceteris paribus; that is, other things being equal. For instance, a wife can’t be a mawla over her husband. The younger can’t be a mawla over the elder. A bedouin or gentile can’t be a mawla over an Arab. A woman can’t be a mawla over a man. A slave can’t me a mawla over a free person, etc. Sharia sees hierarchy as a phenomenon that is both integral to nature and the rule of law (Abu Dawud 20:1). The foundation and objective reality of law is the hierarchy it affirms. Without hierarchy there is anarchy. Legal arguments are potentially endless without judges; and there is no lawmaker without a king or president. Even contractual relations like marriage and Islam aren’t established without recognition of the relationship between mawla and mawali. For instance, the shahada or bay’a (which are one and the same) affirm allegiance to God and the Prophet or his successor (the caliph). The person who makes the bay’a thus acknowledges its status as a mawali to the caliph to whom it makes the bay’a. Thus, a person without a mawla isn’t a Muslim. In fact, like a person without a leader (who is a mawla) their mawla is the devil. See my essay: Who’s Your Mawla? The All-Purpose Question in Sharia. Likewise, marriage isn’t established without the recognition of the relationship between the husband and wife as mawla and mawali. For instance, a woman who doesn’t acknowledge a man as her mawla isn’t legally married. She is a fornicator. That is the difference between marriage and fornication, which may be physically identical in other regards. 

Civilizations, which are essentially hierarchies, fundamentally differ in terms of whom they consider to be superior and inferior. Wicked civilizations enthrone pigs, whereas virtuous civilizations enthrone the wisest, most accomplished and best bred. Three basic rules are worth noting about the relationship of wala in Sharia; namely:

1. it is necessary to sustain life

2. it is mutually beneficial to the mawli and mawali

3. it exists primarily for the benefit of the mawali

The institution of marriage, for instance, exists primarily for the benefit of women. While it may seem counterintuitive, at first blush, how a wife’s submission to her husband–or a man’s submission to God, for that matter–can be beneficial to the woman or man, deeper reflection will show the relationship is both necessary and beneficial.

What, then, makes a superior and an inferior in Sharia? Generally speaking, Sharia deems superiors based on physical, mental and moral superiority. King Saul, for instance, was physically and mentally superior to his peers (v. 2:247). However, King David was morally superior. There are also rights of status and inheritance. For instance, illegitimate children can’t rule or inherit from legitimate children, nor unbelievers from believers, etc. In every relation Sharia deems to be a natural relation of mawla and mawali, one will note two things. First, that the mawla is naturally inclined to freely sacrifice its person or property for the mawali. Second, that there is a relationship of support (or dependance) that entitles the mawla to a double portion of the mawali, since the mawla supports itself and the mawali. For instance, a husband is superior to his wife because he’ll freely sacrifice himself and his wealth for her and his children. Since the husband supports his wife, who supports his children, the husband receives a double portion of his wife (v. 4:12) who receives a double portion of her children (Ibn Majah 33:5). He also has twice her credibility, since she is a dependant (v. 2:283). The relationship between mawla and mawali thus exists for the benefit of both. As equals, they would be at war, and the stronger would prevail. To render them equal, moreover, the law will have to neuter the stronger, who will naturally resist. This is not a stable or sustainable form of life.

The relationship of mawla and mawali is based on pure reason that justifies their relationship and mutual obligations. Consequently, disrupting this order will destroy the relationship and its rationale. For instance, a son owes his life to his God and parents. However, what makes the father the mawla of his son is that he would sacrifice himself for his son before his son could sacrifice himself for his father. The mutual cause and benefit of this relationship is obvious, and an example of the nature of relationships between mawla and mawali in Sharia. So it is with the relationship between humans and animals. The shepherd provides its flock with a pastoral life, free of fear from illness, accident or predation. The animal, in return, is sacrificed for the shepherd. The same is true, in principle, of the state and citizens’ duty toward it. Our relation to our superiors, and ultimately God, is the same. The reasoning of monotheism is that no man or object is my superior if it doesn’t give me life or rules against a mutual superior (v. 7:195, 8:24 & Hadith Qudsi 25). For instance, my God and ancestors are superiors to whom I owe certain duties and obedience and who command my sacrifice. There is no life, let alone civilization, without this principle.

Note that a slave in Sharia isn’t the same as traditional Western society. For instance, traditional Western society sees slaves as inferior races who belong to their masters, who can dispose of them as they wish. A slave in Sharia, by contrast, is a person who doesn’t own its value in blood money because it owes a debt due to a transaction or crime. For instance, idolaters are considered to be slaves in Sharia, since they are slaves to people or idols, not God. Slaves of God are considered to be free people. Sharia prescribes half the blood money and credibility of a free person to people it deems to be slaves, even today. Slaves have the same rights with respect to their masters as women with respect to their husband; namely, to be fed, clothed and well-treated (Tirmidhi 12:18 & Abu Dawud 43:389). All people are slaves to God, who is the mawla of all creatures (v. 2:286).