The affection toward the Ahl al-Bayt (the Prophet's progeny) is the special form of the positive Wala’. It is an incontrovertible fact that the Holy Prophet himself has urged the Muslims to have special affection toward his progeny. Even the Sunni scholars do not deny that. It is this affection which has been mentioned in the verse about the Ahl al-Bayt.
"Say: I ask you no reward for my preaching save love and affection toward my progeny". (al-Shura;42 23).
The well-known and authentic hadith of Ghadir, according to which the Prophet said "Whoever regards me as his master and guardian, must regard Ali, too, as his master and guardian"1 also implies a sort of affection which will be explained later. It is agreed by both the Shi'ah and the Sunni that the verse:
"Your Waly can be only Allah, His Messenger and those who believe and establish prayers, and pay zakat while they kneel down in prayer". (al-Ma'idah, 5:55);
was revealed in respect of Imam Ali. Tabari, in his ''Exegesis''2of the Holy Qur'an quotes a number of reports in this connection. Zamakhshari, who is one of the most eminent Sunni scholars, is definite when he says: "This verse was revealed in respect of Ali ibn Abi Talib. Though it refers to a single person, plural form has been used with the intention of exhorting the Muslims to follow the good example set by him, and to emphasize that even prayers may be delayed for doing good to the poor and the needy".3
In other words if an occasion arises to pay zakat while one is offering prayers, the payment should not be postponed for that reason alone.
Fakhruddin al-Razi is another important scholar. He also says that this verse is related to Ali ibn Abi Talib for no other person except him paid zakat while offering prayers.4
At the most there may be some difference of opinion as regards the meaning of Waly. We will discuss this point while explaining the purport of the verse.
Ali ibn Hammad Baghdadi, who was one of the most outstanding Shi'ah poets of the fourth century of the Hijri era, referring to this verse says that because Imam Ali paid zakat while offering prayers Allah has associated the Wala’ toward the Imam with the Wala’ towards himself. On the occasion of Mubahilah.5 He called Imam Ali the self of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. This is a fact which cannot be denied.6
As we pointed out earlier Islam has enjoined a sort of general form of the positive Wala’ towards all Muslims. The verse "The believers, men and women, are waly of one another", refers to it.
But the verse which says: "Your Waly can be only Allah, His Messenger and those who believe .." is not general in its import. It cannot be said that it refers to general Wala’ for in this case the Qur'an does not intend to lay down a general rule. It does not want to say that as a rule it is obligatory or even desirable to pay zakat while offering prayers. It only mentions a particular action characteristic of the person who did it and alludes to his being entitled to special affection.
This style of using the plural form of a word while describing an event which related to a single person is not unparalleled in the Holy Qur'an. For example it says
"They say: When we return to Medina, the honourable ones will certainly drive out the mean ones". (al-Munafiqun, 63: 8).
In this case also the verse refers to an incident relating to a single person. It says "They say". In fact only one person, viz. Abdullah ibn Ubayy had said that.
According to modern idiom also we sometimes say that "they say so" while we know well that only one single person has made the statement in question.
To pay zakat while bowing in prayers is not a common event. Hence it cannot be presumed that Allah extols all those who do such an action and affirms Wilayat for all of them, in whatever sense it may be.
This shows that the verse in question has a particular and personal application. It means to say that there is a person, who while engaged in the worship of Allah, was not unmindful of his fellow being and performed this act. Now the Holy Qur'an says that like Allah and His Messenger he is also the Waly of the believers (is entitled to their affection) and they should accept this Wala’.
As to what the nature of this affection is, and whether it is something higher than the special love and esteem, which the people should have for Imam Ali, we will shortly take up that question. At present we only want to emphasize that this verse has a particular application and not a general one.