What is the Wali?
The literal meaning of the world “Wali” is “Protecting Friend.” When it comes to an Islamic marriage, the Wali is supposed to look out for the woman’s best interests as she goes through the marriage contract and details.
Classically, the Wali is usually the woman’s father. That is the best option. But when that’s not possible, either because the father is absent or dead, her brother, paternal uncle, and even an older son can be her Wali.
Most Muslims scholars say the Wali is a mandatory part of a marriage. In other words, a marriage isn’t valid unless the woman’s wali is involved and has approved.
The level of that involvement may vary according to the situation. For some marriages the Wali might be involved in every detail of the arrangements. But in other situations, he might take a hands-off approach and simply give his approval.
It all depends on the individual’s involved and their own personal preferences and circumstances.
What If There’s No Family?
Problems with the Wali usually occur when the woman is not able to use a male relative. There can be several reasons for this:
- The most common reason is that she converted to Islam and her family is not Muslim. A non-Muslim cannot be a Wali for a Muslim.
- Sometimes, the woman’s male family members are not practicing Muslims. They may be Muslim in name, but they have no inclination to help her and they aren’t even decent Muslims to begin with.
- The Muslim woman may not be able to communicate with her family. If she’s living in a different country, or if her family is in a remote part of the world, it can be difficult or nearly impossible to communicate with her father or brothers.
When any situation like this occurs, the Muslim woman still has options to find a wali.
Ideally, in a Muslim nation, the courts or the government would appoint someone to be her Wali. Or there may be an individual authorized by the government to fulfill this role.
What If She Lives In a Non-Muslim Society?
The dilemma comes up when the woman lives in a non-Muslim society and there is no court or official system to act as Wali for a woman with no available Muslim family.
Usually, the person to be her Wali will be the Imam or leader at her local Masjid.
But there are times when the leader may not be able to fulfill this duty. When this happens, he must appoint someone else to be her Wali. There are no specific qualifications for this stand-in Wali.
All that matters is that he’s a well-known, upstanding Muslim male. He doesn’t need any specific level of knowledge or special credentials.
How Can This Be a Problem
Most of the time, this stand-in Wali, whether it’s the Imam or his representative, does his job with no problems.
But sometimes, there are problems.
These problems happen when the Wali and the woman start getting a little too close.
First of all, most of the time the woman in this situation has converted to Islam. So she may be a new Muslim and is not well-acquainted with the rules regarding interaction between unmarried people of opposite genders.
Second, if she’s a new Muslim, she’s in a vulnerable situation and may see her Wali as a “big brother” who can help her and guide her and teach her. This may lead to a lot of conversations and late night phone calls.
What happens is that ultimately these two will begin to develop feelings for each other. And of course this will lead to a whole bunch of other problems.
- Most of the time, the Wali, whether it’s an Imam or his rep, is married. Of course, that won’t sit well with his wife.
- The Wali may deliberately sabotage any potential suitors who are interested in marrying her.
- The Wali or the woman might suggest they get married leading to scandal and gossip in the Muslim community.
This is the main issue with what we call the “Wali Hookup.” Once it gets to the point where any of the above situations occur, then it’s time for the woman to find a new wali, and quickly.
How To Stop the Wali Hookup
There’s no sure-fire way to prevent this from happening. But there are many things both parties can do to lower the probability.
- Both the Wali and the woman must fear Allah. They should remember that Allah is watching and avoid putting themselves in any situation where they will be alone together, even if it’s just over the phone.
- The Wali should bring his wife along or have her listen to any conversations he has with the woman. This will help keep both parties in check.
- If possible, the Wali and woman should be far apart in age. This doesn’t guarantee nothing will happen, but it’s less likely a 20 year old woman will fall in love with a man old enough to be her grandfather.
- If either party feels that things are getting too close, they should take themselves out of the equation. Either the Wali can step down from his position, or the woman can ask for a different Wali. This may lead to an awkward situation but that’s better than the alternative.
It Happens More Than You Think
If you find yourself in this situation, please take heed. Don’t ever think it can’t happen to you. I’ve seen this happen on more than one occasion and have even witnessed marriages fall apart because of the Wali Hookup.
In fact, many Muslim men (myself included) refuse to act as Wali for any woman that we’re not related to. I’m not saying every man should take this route. But for some of us, this may be necessary.