Who or what is the wali al-amr

The unposed question


  • Nathan Brown George Washington University




Islam, policy state, Islamic governance


Modern Islamic political thought has grappled with the nature of state authority by using and reshaping the tools of classical legal and political thought. That is a tradition that gives rich guidance on what a ruler should and should not do, but it gives much less certain guidance (and all but renders invisible) the questions of administration and policy. The wali al-amr – the head of the community (a term identical to the one used for legal guardian over a minor) – has been transformed from an individual ruling to a modern bureaucratic and policy state in Islamic political writings without that transformation drawing notice. This paper explores the resulting ways in which Islamic practices and concepts, developed for a rudimentary state apparatus focused on public order, care for the poor, and some urban public services, operates in a world in which states administer and develop policy over a wide array of public affairs.


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How to Cite

Brown, N. (2018) “Who or what is the wali al-amr: The unposed question”, Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 10(5), pp. 985–1000. doi: 10.35295/osls.iisl/0000-0000-0000-1028.