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Walī (Arab., waliya, ‘protect’). A benefactor or protector in Islam. In the Qurʾān it is used especially of God (‘God is the walī of those who believe’, 2. 257), and it is a title of Muḥammad. Conversely, a walī is a friend of God, and is the title of one particularly devoted to God. The veneration of walīs became a highly popular part of Islam, particularly focused on their tombs. Thus Baghdād has been called ‘the city of the walīs’, because so many are venerated there—e.g. al-Junaid, Sīdī ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jili, Shihāb al-Dīn al-Suhrawardī. Among the Sūfīs, elaborate hierarchies of awliyāʾ (pl.) were produced, along with levels or stages, in the progress towards wilayat, becoming a walī.

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