Thursday, April 26, 2012

An Anthology on the concept of Wilayat al-Faqih

For a first hand understanding of this topic, I request the readers to go through famous work Islamic Government: Governance of the Jurist (Wilayat al-Faqih) by The Imam Ayatollah Khomeini

The anthology on this post reflects the opinion of various author/s who do not profess SHIA faith as such with possible bias for the concept. For a treatise by SHIA author click this link: SHIA POLITICAL THOUGHT


One of the characteristics of the Shiite Muslim world is pluralism of religious authority. A Shiite believer is entitled to choose a figure of religious authority, follow his rulings and turn to him with any questions pertaining to Islamic law. Sometimes, the believer chooses a religious authority who is not affiliated with his country of residence or national identity. For example, an Iraqi or Lebanese believer can choose an Iranian religious authority, or vice versa. However, due to reasons of national affinity, convenience and accessibility (the ability to communicate in the same language, the possibility of direct access to the religious authority), most Shiites prefer to choose a local religious authority from their own country and sometimes even one who lives nearby. 

In addition, there is no organized system in Shiite Islam that evaluates, ordains and ranks religious sages. A person who studies at one of the prominent Shiite centers of learning (and particularly in Najaf in Iraq and Qom in Iran) is likely to receive various titles, depending on the type and length of study. An extended period of study in Islamic law bestows upon the student the formal title of Mujtahid – someone who is authorized to interpret Islamic law in a way that obligates the believers. When a scholar reaches the level that entitles him to authorize others as Mujtahidun, he receives, through broad yet informal recognition, the title of Ayatollah. The highest rank is Ayatollah ‘Uzma (Grand Ayatollah), which is also considered a source of emulation (Marja' Taqlid) for his followers. 

As noted, the entire process of bestowing authority is amorphous and based on the success of the religious sage to create for himself a wide community of believers, or an image of himself as someone who enjoys such support. Sometimes, a person who calls himself (and is called by his supporters) Ayatollah ‘Uzma is not defined as such by others. Usually, there are more than ten religious sages in the Shiite world who receive this title. 

It is also important to note that the overwhelming majority of Shiite religious sages – until the Islamic Revolution in Iran – believed that they should focus solely on religious matters and leave the political rule in the hands of the “secular” rulers (that is, secular in the sense that they are not religious figures), while making an effort to convince them to avoid crossing certain “red lines” on issues of religion and Islamic law. This approach is based on the fundamental Shiite outlook of anticipating the return of the hidden imam, who, upon his return, will lead the Umma [the Islamic community] in all aspects. And until then, there is no one who can “step into his shoes.” 

The Islamic Revolution in Iran (1979) introduced a new outlook into the Shiite world, inspired by Ayatollah Imam Khomeini, whose famous work Islamic Government: Governance of the Jurist (Wilayat al-Faqih) argued that it was no longer necessary to wait for the return of the hidden imam and that religious sages should take the reins of government into their own hands, in accordance with the model the Prophet Muhammad himself established: a combination of religious and political leader at one and the same time. 

According to Imam Khomeini, there should be no separation between religion and state (the separation is an imperialist plot) and “Islam is political or is nothing at all.” Imam Khomeini placed himself at the top of the pyramid as Wali Faqih [supreme jurist], also bearing the title of “the leader” (Rahbar in Farsi). Imam Khomeini also instituted a revolutionary change in Iranian Shiite thought on the subject of nationalism. While the traditional approach was closely linked to Iranian nationalism, Imam Khomeini formulated an approach that denies the existence of peoples and states in Islam, and aspires to implement Islamic unity on the basis of “the Muslim Umma” – as in the days of the Prophet Muhammad. He defined himself, first and foremost, as a “Muslim” and not as an “Iranian” or as a “Shiite,” and also regarded the revolution as an Islamic revolution rather than an Iranian or Shiite one. According to Imam Khomeini, the concept of nationalism is contrary to Islam, which is designed to rise above feelings of local affinity and create a united Islamic world. He argued that it was Western imperialism that introduced the national idea in order to divide the “Islamic homeland” into “ephemeral states.” The principle of “exporting the revolution” (Sudur Inqilab) also derives from this teaching, because seizing control of the government in Iran was no more than a starting point for a comprehensive Islamic revolution that will lead to the liberation of the oppressed (al-Mustaz’afin) in all of human society. 

And indeed, Shiite believers outside of Iran also began to regard the Iranian Wali Faqih Ayatollah Imam Khomeini and subsequently his successor Khamene’i – as the surrogate for the hidden imam and also, in this capacity, as the successor to ‘Ali (around whose heroic image Shi’ism developed) and the twelve imams who succeeded him. Since ‘Ali and the imams are defined as “infallible” and are accorded a degree of sanctity, the attribution of such qualities to contemporary leaders, who are mortal human beings, is problematic. This is controversial even in Iran itself, and all the more so outside of Iran. 

This issue became even more problematic following the death of Imam Khomeini (in 1989), who enjoyed a status of holiness among a large part of the public in Iran, and the appointment of Khamene’i to the role of leader (and Wali Faqih). Khamene’i was chosen for the position by his colleagues in the religious leadership primarily because of his political skills, and less for his religious qualifications as an arbiter of Islamic law. During the ensuing years, an ongoing effort has been made to improve Khamene’i’s image as a religious adjudicator worthy of the title of Wali Faqih, and the list of his writings on religion and Islamic law grew much longer. Nonetheless, his lack of charisma enabled other religious sages in Iran and throughout the Shiite world, including Lebanon, to free them from the “shadow” of Imam Khomeini and present themselves as an alternative Islamic authority to the Iranian leader. 

The art of mixed messages - the Shiite principle of Taqiyya – the possibility of concealing or blurring the message if it has the potential of endangering the interests of the Shiite community – is expressed in a book by Na’im Qasim, the deputy secretary-general of the movement, entitled: Hizballah – The Path, the Experience and the Future (published in Beirut in 2002). On the one hand, Qasim argues that any Muslim who is committed to his Islamic faith and its Shari’a necessarily incorporates the goal of establishing a single Islamic state as one of the natural expressions of his faith. Thus, there is no alternative to adopting a general plan for linking the parts of the nation to each other. 4 This can be possible only through the rule of the Wali Faqih. The idea of Wilayat al-Faqih represents continuity with the rule of the Prophet and the Imams, and the Wali is the deputy of the Imam or his surrogate in leading the nation. 5 

The Muslim person needs a religious mentor (Marja’ Taqlid) to guide him in all things pertaining to the religious commandments and rules of behavior in his everyday life, and he also needs a leader (Wali Faqih) to set the general policy of the nation’s life, including issues of war and peace. Since it is impossible to separate everyday issues from the general issues the nation faces, the Marja’ Taqlid and the Wali Faqih merge into a single person – the Iranian leader. This Wilaya is essential for preserving and implementing Islam, and it is impossible to pursue the completion of the grand Islamic plan via private initiatives or separate action. 6 

In addition, according to Qasim, there is no connection between the national origin of the Wali Faqih and his rule, just as there is no connection between the national origin of the Marja’ Taqlid and his Marja’iyya (field of religious authority). He can be Iraqi, or Iranian, or Lebanese, or Kuwaiti, or from any another origin – the main thing is that he acts on behalf of Islam. The areas of his rule are limited by the extent of his support from the believers. 7 

On the other hand, Qasim argues, one must distinguish between an ideological outlook and its implementation in practice: 

Ideologically, one should call for the establishment of the Islamic state and encourage others to accept it. However, on the practical level, this requires the agreement of the people and an Islamic state cannot be established by a particular group that imposes its view on the other groups. 8

Moreover, Qasim argues that the loyalty to the Wali Faqih is an obligation of every Muslim, including those who affiliate themselves with another Marja’ Taqlid in regard to everyday matters. This is because the reins of governance in all things pertaining to the general Islamic destiny are in the hands of the Wali Faqih. 9 

Teaching the Idea of Wilayat al-Faqih

To instill the idea in its “Imam al-Mahdi Scouts” Association, whose publications state that one of the objectives of the youth movement is “to build an improved Islamic generation, based upon the principle of Wilayat Faqih”. 

During the stage of recruitment for the movement, the candidates who are in the “preparation” stage (a one-year preliminary stage for acceptance) are asked about their current views. This includes such questions as: “Define the religious leadership that constitutes a continuation of the rule of the Imams, peace be upon them?” “Is obedience to Wilayat al-Faqih mandatory or optional, and on which issues?” “Who constitutes the religious leadership in Lebanon?” “Do you think that it is an obligation to establish the Islamic state, and when?” In addition, the candidates are asked: “Who is the source of emulation for you, in the past, in the present and from which point in time?” These questions are designed to probe the internal makeup of those wishing to join the organization. It is possible that in the early stage there are no “wrong” answers to any of those questions for new comers, which would disqualify them. Subsequently, however, as part of the educational program the trainees undergo, they need to internalize the organization’s views. And among the subjects taught during the “preparation” stage are, for example, “the role of the blessed Islamic Republic (Iran) in motivating Muslims,” “granting refuge to the Islamic resistance and supporting it,” “the biography of Imam Imam Khomeini,” and “The question of the source of authority of Imam Khamene’i.” In order to verify the success of the indoctrination on these topics, a reassessment of the recruits’ abilities and beliefs is conducted every few months. Thus, a document on the subject of “Setup and Program – The Preparation Stage,” which discusses the training program for the candidates, explicitly defines loyalty to the Wali al-Faqih as one of the four mandatory conditions for acceptance into the organization. The three other conditions are: faith, the spirit of jihad and the spirit of mission. Loyalty to the Wali al-Faqih is defined as “the continuation of loyalty to the imams.” 

Thus, obedience to the Wali al-Faqih is obligatory. It should also be noted that those who have worked for at least a year in an organized framework (including as a volunteer) at institutions that operate under the patronage of the Wilayat al-Faqih (Iranian-sponsored institutions) even receive an exemption from the “preparation” stage and can immediately join the organization. 

.Qasim, al-Minhaj, al-Tajruba, al-Mustaqbal (Beirut, 2002), pages 38-39 4
.Qasim, pages 80-81 5
.Qasim, pages 68-72 6
.Qasim, page 75 7
.Qasim, page 38 8
.Qasim, page 75 9
.Qasim, page 76 10

List of other books/periodicals which the reader can consult if he wants his knowledge on the subject to be more balanced: 

  1. Book: Milestones in the Life of Imam Khomeini and his Holy War Publisher: Imam Khomeini Culture Center, 1999. Contents: Biographical details from Imam Khomeini's life
  2. Dawhat al-Wilaya periodical Publisher: Al-Ma'aref Association, November 2008 issue.
  3.  Dawhat al-Wilaya periodical Publisher: Al-Ma'aref Association, October 2008 issue.
  4.  Book: A Reappraisal of The Path of Eloquence [an important book in Shi'ite tradition] Publisher: Markaz Baqiyyat Allah al-A'zam lil-Dirasat, 2000. Contents: In the book, Imam Khamenei addresses the characteristics of the Islamic government from a Imam Khomeinist worldview, based on the book Nahj al-Balagha (The Path of Eloquence). The major theme of the book is the principle of the rule of the religious jurisprudent (Wilayat al-Faqih), as propagated by Imam Ayatollah Khomeini. Imam Khamenei stresses the dominance of Islam as a major factor in that government (p. 38), the central place of the Imam as the leader and spiritual guide of Islamic rule (pp. 20-32), and the need to win people in the Muslim world over to the idea of Islamic rule (pp. 55-71). The book was originally written in Farsi and was translated into Arabic in Qom, the Shi'ites’ holiest city in Iran.
  5.  An undated pamphlet with a speech given by Ali Khamenei for the month of Muharram (the first month in the Muslim year). The speech emphasizes the importance of martyrdom in Islam [shahada] and the importance of the Islamic revolution, which strives to rectify the deprivation created in the world by the West. Publisher: Hezbollah's central information unit.
  6. Book: Oh, [My] Dear: Publisher: The complete text of the book is available on the Al-Ma'aref Association website. There are no details on the year of publication, but it seems it was published sometime in the last three years. Contents: The book deals with Imam Khomeini's teachings.
  7.  Book: Lessons in [the concept of] the Rule of the Religious Jurisprudent Publisher: Al-Ma'aref, 2005 Contents: Imam Khomeini's view on the rule of the religious jurisprudent. The book is probably meant for school children.
  8.  Book: The Movement for Renewal and Awakening Publisher: Dar al-Hadi, 2007 Contents: Imam Khomeini's teachings.
  9.  Book: How to Recite the Quran Publisher: The complete text of the book is available on the Al-Ma'aref Association website. There are no details on the year of publication, but it seems it was published sometime in the last three years. Contents: Imam Khomeini's teachings.
  10.  Book: The Mosque in the Reflections of Imam Khomeini Publisher: Imam Khomeini Culture Center, 2002. Contents: The book deals with the importance of the mosque, perceived also as a means of spreading the spirit of jihad and as a place of gathering for Islamic wars.
  11.  Book: The Woman in the Reflections of Imam Khomeini Publisher: Imam Khomeini Culture Center, 2002. Contents: The woman's role in society according to Imam Khomeini. The book says that women must play an active part in jihad when a foreign invasion takes place.
  12.  Book: Holy War (Jihad) Publisher: Khomeini Culture Center, 2004 Contents: In this book, Ali Khamenei, Iran's spiritual leader, lays out his view of jihad. Khamenei considers jihad to be a doctrine and a course of action through which a Muslim can "sacrifice his life for the sake of Allah and go to Paradise." According to Khamenei, the pinnacle of jihad is shahada, martyrdom for the sake of Allah. The cover of the book shows a picture of Khamenei and a photograph of three fighters.
  13.  Book: The Jihad of the Soul in the Reflections of Imam Khomeini Publisher: Khomeini Culture Center, 2002
  14.  Book: Victory in the Reflections of Imam Khomeini Publisher: Khomeini Culture Center, 2002

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