Wali saint, friend of Allah. According to shariah (Shari'a), a Wali is a muttaqi and fully follows the orders of Allah. The attributes of a wali are perfect faith (iman), continuous good deeds and worship. By practising these virtues, any Muslim, man or woman, aspire to become a wali.

In sufism the term 'wali' refers to the perfect person only, although there are differences in the degrees of their perfection. Sufis hold that a wali must follow both Shari'a and tariqa and by following these, he/she attains ma'rifa (gnosis) and haqiqa (reality). Sometimes a wali may have been endowed with the glory of karamats (minor miracles) but he/she must not boast of the performance. Besides karamat, intuitive knowledge and special spiritual states are blessed to him/her by Allah.

Sufis believe that Allah always blesses many with the power of wali in the world, although not all of them are cognizable to people. Some walis reveal themselves as such, while others keep themselves undisclosed. In whatever state they may be, they keep on blessing people in the world. Some sufis also believe that the spiritual administration of the world is vested in the walis only. Shari'a, however, gives no importance to such belief of sufis.

Historically a few of the renowned walis of Bangladesh are Hazrat shah jalal (d. 1344 AD), Hazrat khan jahan (d. 1449) and Hazrat shah ali baghdadi (d. 1480). Accompanied by many other walis, they came to Bengal to preach islam. Many of them, e.g., shah paran, shah makhdum rupos, Maulana karamat ali jaunpuri, Shah Sultan, Shah Amanat, shah garibullah, Mohsin Awliya, Shah Badar, Sharfuddin Chisti, Shah Jamal, died and were buried in Bengal.

The walis built khanqahs in different places of Bengal where they engaged themselves in spiritual cultivation. They also organised various kinds of social services, in addition to propagating Islam. Their puritan lifestyle and the Islamic ideals of equality, love and brotherhood, which they taught, attracted local people to Islam. In course of time, many of their newly converted disciples attained high spiritual status, and some of them even achieved the status of wali. Thus through the combined efforts of the local and foreign sufis and walis and through the patronage of the Muslim rulers, much success was scored in the expansion of Islam in medieval Bengal.

Most renowned walis of Bangladesh are both 'alims (religious scholars) and sufis. Generally they belong to the Chistiya, qadiriah, nakshbandia and mujaddidiya tariqas. Their greatest spiritual tool is zikr. They also emphasised solitude, muraqaba, tawba, tawakkul, etc for the purification of the soul or qalb. They attach special importance to the observance of the Shari'a. In their opinion, observance of the Shari'a is essential at all stages of spiritual development.

Traditionally, people of Bangladesh have great respect for walis. All walis, however, do not have equal status. In status, the greatest wali is held to be the Ghawth and next to him is Qutub. Hazrat Abdul Qadir Gilani (d. 1166 AD) is venerated in Bangladesh as Ghawthul A'zam (the Greatest Ghawth).

Karamat of walis are recognised in the tenets of Islam. Many walis of Bangladesh are believed to be endowed with kashf (knowledge through mystical intuition and ecstasy) and many karamats.

A wali, however great he/she may be, does not approach the Prophet (Sm) in rank and status. People in affliction and distress seek help from a wali for relief. Visiting and praying at tombs of walis is a common practice among Bangladeshi Muslims. Though forbidden in Shari'a, many devotees prostrate walis or their graves, put flowers on them and lighten them, and make a vow of giving anything to his dargah for the fulfillment of any desire. Shari'a, however, discourage people from these unacceptable practices. [MA Quasem]