For the subdivisions of the Ottoman Empire, see Vilayet. For the Spanish movie, see Wilaya (film).

A wilayah (ولاية in Arabic, velâyat/ولایت in Persian, vilayet in Turkish and ولایت in Urdu), is an administrative division, usually translated as "province", or occasionally as "governorate". The word comes from the Arabic "w-l-y", "to govern": a wāli—"governor"—governs a wilayah, "that which is governed". Under the Caliphate, the term referred to any constituent near-sovereign state.

Use in specific countries

In Arabic, wilayah is used to refer to the states of the United States, and the United States of America as a whole is called "الولايات المتّحدة الأمريكية" (al-Wilāyāt al-Muttaḥidah al-Amrīkīyah) literally meaning "the American United States".

North Africa and Middle East

For Morocco, which is divided into provinces and wilāyas, the translation "province" would cause the distinction to cease. For Sudan, the term state, and for Mauritania, the term region is used.

The governorates of Iraq (muhafazah) are sometimes translated as province, in contrast to official Iraqi documents and the general use for other Arab countries. This conflicts somehow with the general translation for muhafazah (governorate) and wilāyah (province).


In the ethnically-diverse Xinjiang region of northwest China, the seven undifferentiated prefectures proper (Chinese: 地区; pinyin: dìqū; that is, not prefecture-level cities, autonomous prefectures, etc.) are translated into the minority Uygur language as Vilayiti (ۋىلايىتى). For the other, more numerous types of administrative divisions in Xinjiang, however, Uygur uses Russian loanwords like oblasti or rayoni, in common with other Xinjiang languages like Kazakh.

Islamic State

The Islamic State (formerly of Iraq and Syria; ISIS or ISIL) organizes its territory under first-level administrative divisions called wilayat. As of March 2015, it governs 20 vilayat: 10 in Iraq, 9 in Syria, and one, Al-Furat Wilayat ("Euphrates Province") that straddles both sides of the former border. Other than for internal governance, the Islamic State claims territory all over the world and cooperates with Islamic terror organizations while fashioning them wilayat of the ISIS center. For example, Boko Haram calls itself "Wilāyat Gharb Ifrīqīyyah", meaning "The Islamic State's West Africa Province".[1]

Kenya and Tanzania

In Kenya, the term wilaya is a Swahili term which refers to the administrative districts into which provinces are divided.

Malaysia and Indonesia

In both Malaysian and Indonesian, wilayah is a general word meaning "territory", "area" or "region".

In Malaysia, the term

Ottoman Empire

Traditionally the provinces of the Ottoman Empire were known as eyâlets, but beginning in 1864, they were gradually restructured as smaller vilâyets—the Turkish pronunciation of the Arabic word wilāyah. Most were subdivided into sanjaks.

The current provinces of Turkey are called il in Turkish.

Central Asia and Caucasus

The Persian word for province (velâyat) is still used in several similar forms in Central Asian countries:

During the Soviet period the divisions of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were called oblasts and raions, using Russian terminology.

In the Tsez language, the districts of Dagestan are also referred to as "вилайат" (wilayat), plural "вилайатйоби" (wilayatyobi). But the term "район" (rayon), plural "районйаби" (rayonyabi) is also used.

Caucasus Emirate, a self-proclaimed successor state to the unrecognized Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, is divided into vilayats.


In Iran, the word is also used unofficially.

South Asia

In Urdu, the term Vilayat is used to refer to any foreign country. As an adjective Vilayati is used to indicate an imported article or good. In Bengali, the term Vilayat and Vilayati further change to bilet and bileti (archaic bilaiti), referring exclusively to Britain and British-made. The British slang term blighty derives from this word, via the fact that the foreign British were referred to using this word during the time of the British Raj.[2]


  1. Lavoix, Helene (2015-05-04). "Understanding the Islamic State's System - Structure and Wilayat". Red Team Analysis.
  2. Stuart Thompson, Andrew (2005). The Empire Strikes Back? The Impact Of Imperialism on Britain from the Mid-Nineteenth Century. Pearson Education. p. 180. Other Indian words include blighty ('one's home country', from the Hindi word 'bilayati' meaning 'foreign', whence 'British')
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