Ayah 55 of Surah al-Ma’idah states, “Innama Waliukumullahu wa Rasuluhu Wallazina Amanullazina Yuqimunassalaata wa Yutunazzakata wa hum Ra’keun.”” Verily, your guardian (Waliyy) is only Allah, His Messenger and those who believe, those who establish prayer and pay the poor rate while bowing down (in the prayer).”
It has been reported by ten authentic companions including Ibn Abbas, Ammar ibn Yasir, Ja’bir ibn Abdullah Ansari, Anas ibn Malik, Abu Dharr and the Muezzin of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.)’s Mosque – Bilal, that during the prayer when the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) and Imam Ali (a.s.) were praying in the congregational prayer, a beggar entered the mosque and solicited charity. As no one gave anything, he was leaving the mosque very dejected when Imam Ali (a.s.) while he was in ruku’ (bowing down), pointed his finger to the beggar who extricated a ring from his small finger and went away. This incident was confirmed by both Sunni and Shia scholars. According to Tafsir al-Mizan of Allama Tabatabai’, Ammar ibn Yasir said that after the revelation of this Ayah, the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) said, “The one upon whom I am master, then this Ali is his master.” According to As-Safi, The Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) recited this Ayah at Ghadeer-e-Khum to state the position of Imam Ali (a.s.). In the book “Maj’ma-ul-Bayan”, Abu Dharr had described in detail the occurrence in the Sacred Mosque.
The term “Waliyy” does not mean friend or helper in this situation as friendship and helping refers to all Muslims but not here when it strictly refers to Allah (s.w.t.), the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) and Imam Ali (a.s.). The use of plural form of verb for singular subject is to show importance, as it was mentioned in Surah Al-Imran Ayah 61, “Faman Hajjaka fihe min ba’de Ma’ja’aka minal Ilme Faqul Ta’lau Nadu Abana’ana wa Aban’akum, wa Nisa’ana wa Nisa’akum wa Infusana wa Anfusakum….” Here also the word “Anfusana” “our selves” was used but only Imam Ali (a.s.) was taken by the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) in the “Mubahela”
It is worth-noting that the Wilaya or guardianship of Allah (s.w.t.), the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) is stated in one sentence. Hence, the obedience to the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) must be, as it should be to Allah and the obedience to the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali (a.s.) or any of his successor Imams (a.s.). Further, normally, in the Glorious Qur’an, the prayers and alms are mentioned besides each other but they are mixed in one Ayah here. The guardianship is restricted to those who establish prayer and pay alms. Allah (s.w.t.) has counted the recommended charity of the ring as the poor rate. Moreover, the word “Innama” denotes the final decision by Allah.
The Ayah points out the condition required for a person to hold the authority and the guardianship over the believers next only to the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.) and Allah (s.w.t.) is the highest state of the spiritual attainment which makes the person able to be fully absorbed in witnessing the Glory of the Absolute and be alive to the needs of His creatures and respond to it. This is the state of which qualified one to be medium between the Absolute and the finites, near to both at the same times.
There is a tradition of the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.s.), “No one knows Allah except Ali and I, no one knows Ali except I and Allah, and no one knows me except Allah and Ali.” Hence, human beings should not compare themselves with Ali (a.s.) as to how one can concentrate on prayer and give alms to a beggar. Imam Ali (a.s.) used to be completely lost in prayer even when an arrow was extricated from his injured foot and he did not feel it!
Sources: The Glorious Qur’an (Urdu translation) by Ayatullah Naser Makarem Shirazi – Tafisr-e- Namuna
The Glorious Qur’an (English translation) by Ayatullah Agha H.M.M. Pooya Yazdi (r.a.)
An Enlightening Commentary into The Light of The Holy Qur’an