Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist

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The Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, also called the Governance of the Jurist (Persian : ولایت فقیه, romanized: Velâyat-e Faqih; Arabic : ولاية الفقيه, romanized: Wilāyat al-Faqīh), is a post-Occultation theory in Shia Islam which holds that Islam gives a faqīh (Islamic jurist) custodianship over people. Ulama supporting the theory disagree over how encompassing custodianship should be. One interpretation – Limited Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist – holds that guardianship should be limited to non-litigious matters (al-omour al-hesbiah) [1] including religious endowments (Waqf) [2] judicial matters [3] and the property for which no specific person is responsible. Another – Absolute Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist – maintains that Guardianship should include all issues for which ruler in the absence of Imams have responsibility, including governance of the country. The idea of guardianship as rule was advanced by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in a series of lectures in 1970 and now forms the basis of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The constitution of Iran calls for a faqih, or Vali-ye faqih (Guardian Jurist), to serve as the Supreme Leader of the government. [4] [5] In the context of Iran, Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist is often referred to as "rule by the jurisprudent", or "rule of the Islamic jurist".

Persian language Western Iranian language

Persian, also known by its endonym Farsi, is a Western Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is a pluricentric language primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and some other regions which historically were Persianate societies and considered part of Greater Iran. It is written right to left in the Persian alphabet, a modified variant of the Arabic script.

Romanization of Persian or Latinization of Persian is the representation of the Persian language with the Latin script. Several different romanization schemes exist, each with its own set of rules driven by its own set of ideological goals.

The romanization of Arabic writes written and spoken Arabic in the Latin script in one of various systematic ways. Romanized Arabic is used for a number of different purposes, among them transcription of names and titles, cataloging Arabic language works, language education when used in lieu of or alongside the Arabic script, and representation of the language in scientific publications by linguists. These formal systems, which often make use of diacritics and non-standard Latin characters and are used in academic settings or for the benefit of non-speakers, contrast with informal means of written communication used by speakers such as the Latin-based Arabic chat alphabet.



Wilayat conveys several intricate meanings which are deeply tied to Twelver history. Morphologically, it is derived from the Arabic wilayah , the verbal noun of waliyan: to be near and to have power over something. Technically, wilayat means rule, supremacy or sovereignty. In another sense, wilayat means friendship, loyalty, or guardianship (see Wali). [6]

Twelver Type of Shia Islam

Twelver or Imamiyyah is the largest branch of Shia Islam. The term Twelver refers to its adherents' belief in twelve divinely ordained leaders, known as the Twelve Imams, and their belief that the last Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, lives in occultation and will reappear as the promised Mahdi. According to Shia tradition, the Mahdi's tenure will coincide with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Isa), who is to assist the Mahdi against the Masih ad-Dajjal.

A wilayah is an administrative division, usually translated as "state", "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.

Wali Arabic word meaning "custodian", "protector", "helper"; not to be confused with Wāli

Walī is an Arabic word whose literal meanings include "custodian", "protector", "helper", and "friend". In the vernacular, it is most commonly used by Muslims to indicate an Islamic saint, otherwise referred to by the more literal "friend of God". In the traditional Islamic understanding of saints, the saint is portrayed as someone "marked by [special] divine favor ... [and] holiness", and who is specifically "chosen by God and endowed with exceptional gifts, such as the ability to work miracles". The doctrine of saints was articulated by Islamic scholars very early on in Muslim history, and particular verses of the Quran and certain hadith were interpreted by early Muslim thinkers as "documentary evidence" of the existence of saints. Graves of saints around the Muslim world became centers of pilgrimage — especially after 1200 CE — for masses of Muslims seeking their barakah (blessing).

The doctrinal basis of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist comes at least in part from the hadith where Islamic Prophet Muhammad is reputed to have said "The ulama are the inheritors of the prophets" (Arabic : العلماء ورثة الأنبياء). [7] The issue was mentioned by the earliest Shi'i mujtahids such as al-Shaykh Al-Mufid (948–1022), and enforced for a while by Muhaqqiq Karaki during the era of Tahmasp I (1524–1576).[ citation needed ] However, according to John Esposito in The Oxford Dictionary of Islam , Morteza Ansari (~1781–1864) was the first Islamic scholar to advance the theory of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist. [8]

Muhammad Founder of Islam

Muhammad was an Arab merchant and the founder of Islam. According to Islamic doctrine, he was a prophet, sent to present and confirm the monotheistic teachings preached previously by Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. He is viewed as the final prophet of God in all the main branches of Islam, though some modern denominations diverge from this belief. Muhammad united Arabia into a single Muslim polity, with the Quran as well as his teachings and practices forming the basis of Islamic religious belief.

Ulama Muslim legal scholar

In Sunni Islam, the ulama are the guardians, transmitters and interpreters of religious knowledge, of Islamic doctrine and law.

Shia Islam Denomination of Islam which holds that Muhammad designated Ali as his successor and leader (imam), whose adherents form the majority of the population in Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain

Shia Islam is one of the two main branches of Islam. It holds that the Islamic prophet Muhammad designated Ali ibn Abi Talib as his successor and the Imam (leader) after him, most notably at the event of Ghadir Khumm, but was prevented from the caliphate as a result of the incident of Saqifah. This view primarily contrasts with that of Sunni Islam, whose adherents believe that Muhammad did not appoint a successor and consider Abu Bakr, who they claim was appointed caliph by a small group of Muslims at Saqifah, to be the first rightful caliph after the Prophet.

There is a wide spectrum of ideas about Wilayat-Faqih among Ja'fari scholars and it is not limited to two ideas mentioned above. The spectrum starts from restricting the scope of the doctrine to guardian-less matters (الامور الحسبیه) in Islamic society, such as unattended children, and ends in the idea of absolute authority (الولایه المطلقه) over all public matters.

Jafari jurisprudence Fiqha of the sixth Shia Imam, Jafar al-Sadiq of Ahl Al-Bayt of the Prophet Muhammad

Jaʿfari jurisprudence, Jaʿfari school or Jaʿfari fiqh, is the school of jurisprudence (fiqh) in Twelver Shia Islam, named after the sixth Imam, Ja'far al-Sadiq. In Iran, Ja'fari jurisprudence is enshrined in the constitution.

Two kinds of Wilayah can be understood. The first kind mentioned in various chapters of Shia fiqh discusses Wilayah over the dead and Wilayah over those who resemble the dead, such as insane (سفيه), absentee (غائب), poor (فقير), etc. For example, verse 33 of Sura 17 [9] [10] refers to an inheritor of oppressed slain. This type of Wilayah cannot be applied to a society because none of mentioned conditions hold for the majority of a society. The second kind of Wilayah which appears in principles of faith and kalam discusses Wilayah over sane people. The verse 55 of Sura 5 [11] [12] implies the second type of Wilayah in Quran. The Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist can only be argued in terms of this second notion of Wilayah. Recognition of Wilayat-e Faqih is not similar to emulation of a marja but it should be acknowledged by intellectual reason.

ʿIlm al-Kalām, usually foreshortened to Kalām and sometimes called "Islamic scholastic theology", is the study of Islamic doctrine ('aqa'id). It was born out of the need to establish and defend the tenets of Islamic faith against doubters and detractors. A scholar of Kalām is referred to as a mutakallim, and it is a role distinguished from those of Islamic philosophers, jurists, and scientists.

Quran The central religious text of Islam

The Quran is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God (Allah). It is widely regarded as the finest work in classical Arabic literature. The Quran is divided into chapters, which are subdivided into verses.

Marja highest clerical rank in Usuli Twelver Shia Islam

In Shia Islam, marjaʿ, also known as a marjaʿ taqlīd or marjaʿ dīnī, literally meaning "source to imitate/follow" or "religious reference", is a title given to the highest level Shia authority, a Grand Ayatollah with the authority to make legal decisions within the confines of Islamic law for followers and less-credentialed clerics. After the Qur'an and the prophets and imams, marājiʿ are the highest authority on religious laws in Usuli Shia Islam.

Limited Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist

Traditionally Shi'i jurists have tended to this interpretation, leaving secular power for Shi'i kings called "Sultans." They should defend the territory against the non-Shi'a.

For example, according to Iranian scholar Ervand Abrahamian, in centuries of debate among Shi'i scholars, none have "ever explicitly contended that monarchies per se were illegitimate or that the senior clergy had the authority to control the state." [13] Most scholars viewed the 'ulama's main responsibilities (i.e. their guardianship) as being:

According to one of the leading Ayatollahs, Sayyid Sistani, Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist

means every jurisprudent (Faqih) has wilayah (guardianship) over non-litigious affairs. Non-litigious affairs are technically called "al-omour al-hesbiah". As for general affairs with which social order is linked, wilayah of a Faqih and enforcement of wilayah depend on certain conditions one of which is popularity of acceptability of Faqih among majority of momeneen. [1]

Notwithstanding his indirect but decisive role in most major Iraqi political decisions, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has often been identified with the quietist school of thought, which seeks to keep religion out of the political sphere until the return of the Imam of the Age. [15] [16]

Absolute Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist

Supporters of absolute guardianship cite verse 62 of sura 24 [17] and believe that collective affairs (امر جامع) are under the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist at most. Those scholars who believe in the necessity of establishing an Islamic state say that within the boundary of public affairs the guardianship must be absolute, otherwise the state can not govern the country.[ citation needed ]

The idea of the Absolute Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist gained influence with the success of Ayatollah Khomeini's leadership of the Iranian Revolution. Earlier, Khomeini had expanded on it in his book Islamic Government: Governance of the Jurist . He presented the concept as necessary to protect and preserve Islam during the Occultation of the Imam. According to Khomeini, society should be governed by those who are the most knowledgeable about Islamic law (Shari'ah).

Velayat-e Faqih in the Iranian constitution

According to the constitution of Iran, Islamic republic is defined as a state ruled by Islamic jurists (Fuqaha). In accordance with verse 21/105 of the Koran and on the basis of two principles of the trusteeship and the permanent Imamate, it is counted as a function of jurists. Also it is explained that only those jurists are entitled to rule who are upright, pious and committed experts on Islam. Also those who are informed of the demands of the times and known as God-fearing, brave and qualified for leadership. Also they must hold the religious office of source of imitation and be permitted to deliver independent judgments on general principles (fatwas). Chapter one of the constitution, where fundamental principles are expressed, states that continual ejtehad by qualified jurists is a principle in Islamic government. Likewise Article 5 expresses that an individual jurist who is endowed with all necessary qualities, or a council of jurists, has the right to rule in the Islamic republic as long as the Twelfth Imam remains in occultation. Also article 57 and 110 show the exact meaning of the ruling jurist’s power. According to article 57, the jurist has supervision over three other branches. According to article 110 these supervisory powers are as follow:

  • Jurist appoints the jurists to the guardian council
  • He appoints the highest judicial authority in the country
  • He holds supreme command over the armed forces by exercising some functions
  • He signs the certificate of appointment of the president
  • In the national interest, he can dismiss the president
  • On the recommendation of the supreme courts, he grants amnesty

These powers belong to the Supreme Leader as a Vali-e-faqih. [18]

Religious and political positions

According to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, during the occultation of the Wali al-'Asr, the Guardianship and the Leadership of the Ummah (Persian : ولایت امر و امامت امت) devolve upon the just and pious jurist , who is fully aware of the circumstances of his age, courageous, resourceful, and possessed of administrative ability. Also, in another article states that the powers of government in the Islamic Republic of Iran are vested in the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive powers, functioning under the supervision of the Absolute Guardianship and the Leadership of the Ummah (Persian : ولایت مطلقه امر و امامت امت) that refers to the Supreme Leader of Iran. [19]


"Limited Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist" has been known since Sheikh Mofid, When Ijtihad among the Shi'a emerged in 10th century CE (4th century AH). On the basis of this jurists have judged and take Khoms.

Absolute Velayat-e faqih was probably first introduced in the Fiqh of Ja'far al-Sadiq in the famous text book Javaher-ol-Kalaam (جواهر الکلام). Later, Ayatollah Molla Mohammad Mahdee Naraqi [20] of Iran published a paper advocating a modest level of political actions for Islamic leaders limited velayat-e-faqih.

By the time of Iranian Constitutional Revolution (انقلاب مشروطه), Ayatollah Sheikh Fazlollah Nouri customized this theory to match with Iranian Majles of National Council, which was removed when he was executed by those opposed to his idea of Islamic government. Nevertheless, an extensive "guardianship" was given to clerics. (see: Iranian Constitution of 1906)

Ayatullah Khomeini in 1970 gave a series of lectures that became a book Hokumat-e Islami: Valiyat-e faqih (Islamic Government) arguing that monarchy was "un-Islamic". In a true Islamic state those holding government posts should have knowledge of Sharia, as well as having intelligence and administrative ability.

The theory is also a key ideology of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah.

Velayat-e faqih in practice

Clerics in politics of Iran

Iran has become the first nation-state in history to apply absolute velayat-e faqih in government. Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist in the Islamic Republic of Iran is represented not only in the Supreme Leader, who must be a cleric, but in other leading bodies, particularly the Assembly of Experts whose members must be clerics, the Council of Guardians, half of whom must be clerics, and the courts. Friday prayer leaders are appointed by the Supreme Leader as well. [21]


Opposition among scholars

Quietist scholars of Qom and Najaf hawzas criticise Iranian system of governance, while the Big Four, among them Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, oppose the concept actively. [22] [23] In fact, a large segment of the clerical Shia population does not believe in the theory of velayat-e-faqih and thinks the clergy should stay away from politics. [24] The majority of Shi'a accepted the late Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Hossein Borujerdi (1875–1961) as the most prominent scholar. It was only after his death that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini published his first political and social treatise in which he explicitly called for active participation in political matters. Throughout his life, Ayatollah Hosain Borujerdi, who was a quietist and therefore refrained from taking political stances, forbid his student Khomeini from engaging in non-religious matters.

Persecuted scholars in Iran

Twelver Shia Muslims have to follow one of several different marjas in the matters of fiqh. However, Ayatollahs hold different opinions in some of the matters, especially those considering the system of rule during the absence of Imams. Some disapproved of the concept to establish an Islamic rule on Earth before the arrival of Imam Mahdi. Others disagree with the policies implemented by Ayatollah Khomeini, and/or his successor, Ali Khamenei. Impartial list of Ayatollahs that were and are being persecuted in post-1979 Iran for their opposition to the ruling regime: [25]

Response to criticism


See also

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  1. 1 2 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on September 13, 2006. Retrieved August 23, 2006.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. 1 2
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  4. Taking Stock of a Quarter Century of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Wilfried Buchta, Harvard Law School, June 2005, p.5–6
  5. Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, section 8 Archived November 23, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Article 109 states an essential qualification of "the Leader" is "scholarship, as required for performing the functions of mufti in different fields of fiqh"
  6. Ahmad Moussavi, The Theory of Wilayat-i Faqih
  7. Chapter 14 Archived September 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  8. Esposito, John, "Ansari, Murtada." The Oxford Dictionary of Islam , (2003). Found in Oxford Islamic Studies Online
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  10. Quran Surah Al-Israa ( Verse 33 )
  11. 1 2 "Surat Al-Ma'idah [5:55] – The Noble Qur'an – القرآن الكريم" . Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  12. Quran Surah Al-Maaida ( Verse 55 )
  13. Khomeinism : Essays on the Islamic Republic by Ervand Abrahamian c1993. (Professor of History at Baruch College, in the City University of New York, p. 19
  14. Khomeinism : Essays on the Islamic Republic by Ervand Abrahamian c1993. (Professor of History at Baruch College, in the City University of New York
  15. The New York Times > International > Middle East > Politics: Shiites in Iraq Say Government Will Be Secular
  16. "Iraqi Sheik Struggles for Votes, And Against Religious Tradition" . Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  17. 1 2 "Cmje" . Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  18. Asghar schirazi et al. , pp. 12–13
  19. Constitution of Iran Unofficial English translation hosted at University of Bern, Switzerland (with good summaries)
  20. Biography
  21. Wright, The Last Revolution, 2000, p.15–16
  25. New Vision Foundation. Ali Daroogar. Ayatollahs against tyranny: Men who stood against injustice & religious exploitation . March 5, 2015. Wayback Machine.
  26. Robert Tait (21 July 2009). "Grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini 'leaves Iran to avoid presidential inauguration'". TheGuardian. Retrieved 9 January 2019.

Further reading