Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist

Concept in Shia Islamic where an Islamic jurist has guardianship over people

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Calligraphic of the Velâyat-e Faqih

The Guardianship or Governance (Wilāyat) of/by an Islamic Jurist (Faqīh), (Persian: ولایت فقیه, romanizedVelâyat-e Faqih; Arabic: وِلاَيَةُ ٱلْفَقِيهِ, romanizedWilāyat al-Faqīh), is a concept in Twelver Shia Islamic law which holds that in the absence of (what Twelvers believe is) the religious and political leader of Islam -- the "infallible Imam" (i.e. during a period from about 939 CE until his return sometime before Judgement Day), righteous Shi'i jurists (faqīh, plural fuquaha),[1] should administer "some" of the "religious and social affairs" of the Shi'i community.

Islamic scholars (Ulama) in Shi'i Islam disagree over whose "religious and social affairs" are to be administered and what those affairs are. Opinions range from, on the one hand, a narrow scope—limited[2] to things like mediating disputes,[3] and providing guardianship for orphaned children, the mentally incapable, and others lacking someone to protect their interests;[4] all the way to the "absolute authority of the jurist" (velayat-e motlaqaye faqih), whereby the faqih has control over all public matters including governance of states, has control over religious affairs including even being able to (temporary) suspend religious obligations, such as the salat prayer or hajj,[5][6] and whose religious importance in Islam is such that to obey him is as important for Muslims (according to proponents) as performing those religious obligations.[7]

Wilāyat al-Faqīh is associated in particular with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini[6] and the Islamic Republic of Iran. He advanced the idea of guardianship in its "absolute" form as rule of the state and society in a series of lectures in 1970, and it now forms the basis of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which calls for a Vali-ye faqih (Guardian Jurist), to serve as the Supreme Leader of that country.[8][9]

Sources disagree over whether Khomeini's doctrine of "the absolute authority and guardianship" (wilayat al-mutlaqih) of a high-ranking Islamic jurist is "universally accepted amongst all Shi’a theories of governance" and forms "a central pillar of Imami political thought" (Ahmed Vaezi, Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi);[10] or whether there is no consensus in favor of the model of the Islamic Republic of Iran, either among the public in Iran (Alireza Nader, David E Thaler, S. R. Bohandy),[11] or among most religious leaders in the leading centers of Shia thought (i.e. Qom and Najaf), (Ali Mamouri).[12]


Wilayat conveys several meanings which are involved in Twelver Islamic history.

Morphologically, Wilāyat is derived from the Arabic verbal root "w-l-y", wilaya, meaning “to be near or close to someone or something",[10] also, to be a friend, to be in charge, etc.[13] Wilayat can mean rule, supremacy or sovereignty, or be translated as "guardianship" or "authority"[14] "authority, guardianship, mandate, governance and rulership" [note 1] or "governorship" or "province".[22] In another sense, wilayat means friendship, loyalty, or guardianship (see Wali).[23][note 2]

Wilāyat al-Faqīh has been translated as "rule of the jurisconsult," "mandate of the jurist," "governance of the jurist", "the discretionary authority of the jurist", for those who support a government based on rule of a faqih;[26] more ambiguous translations are "guardianship of the jurist", "trusteeship of the jurist".[27](Shaykh Murtadha al-Ansari and Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei, for example, would talk of the "guardianship of the jurisprudent", not "the mandate of the jurisprudent".)[26]

Some definitions of uses of the term “Wilayat” (not necessarily involving jurists) in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) terminology (or at least Twelver terminology) are:

  • Wilayat al-Qaraba -- authority (Wilayat) given to a father or paternal grandfather over minors and the mentally ill.[10]
  • Wilayat al-Qada’ -- authority given to a just and capable faqih during the absence of the Imam to judge "amongst the people based upon God's law and revelation", and collect Islamic taxes/tithes (zakat, sadaqa, kharaj).[10]
  • Wilayat al-Hakim -- the guardian of those who have no guardian; authority given to a regular administrator of justice (hakim), to supervise the interests of a person who does not have a natural guardian and who is unable to take care of his own affairs; such as a mentally ill or mentally disabled person.[10]
  • Wilayat al-Usuba -- authority over administration of inheritance, and rights of inheritors in Sunni fiqh. (This authority is "not accepted by Imami scholars".)

Regarding jurist involvement in governance, definitions include:

  • Wilayat al-Mutlaqa (absolute rule/authority, الولایه المطلقه) of the supreme faqih/jurisprudent, also transliterated as velayat-e motlagh-e faghih, velayat-e motlaqeh-ye faqıh,[28] also called Wilayat al- Mutlaqa al-Elahiya,[10]
    • has been defined as discretionary authority bestowed on the prophet Muhammad and on the Imams (Ahmed Vaezi);[10]
    • has been defined (by the Ayatollah Khomeini circa 1988), to mean that the Islamic state has the religious mandate to suspend, if not revoke, substantive divine ordinances (ahkam-e far‘ıyeh-ye elahıyeh) such as hajj or fasting if sees the need to;[28]
    • it has also been used (by Iranian conservatives circa 2010) to mean that at least in the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the head faqih has "the absolute right to make decisions for the state", notwithstanding the desires of any elected office holders or institutions or the general public.[29] It is a "new term", applied by Khomeini "publicly", in 1990 when it "was enshrined in the constitution of Islamic Iran".[30]
  • wilayat al-muqayada ("conditional" authority" of the faqih/jurisprudent) "restricts the right of the faqih for issuing governmental orders" to "permissibility cases" (mubahat), which must not be "in opposition" to "obligatory Islamic laws.[30]
  • Wilayat al-amma ("universal authority" of the faqih/jurisprudent). Supporters of this concept believe orders given by a jurist holder of "wilayat al-amma" are not restricted "to merely the administration of justice", They "may issue orders" and their orders are "incumbent upon all Muslims, even other fuqaha, to obey".[30] "right and duty to lead the Shi’a community and undertake the full function and responsibilities of an infallible Imam".[10] This is "the highest form of authority (Wilayat) bestowed upon the faqih" according to at least one cleric (Ahmed Vaezi).[note 3]
  • Wilayat al-siyasiyya -- political authority, is one of the elements included in Wilayat al-amma.[10]

In common use, Wilāyat al-Faqīh/velayat-e faqih may sometimes be used as shorthand for Ayatollah Khomeini's vision of velayat-e faqih in Islamic government, with those who support limited velayat-e faqih being described as "rejecting" velayat-e faqih.[31][note 4]

Arabic language phrases associated with Guardianship of the Jurist, such as Wilāyat al-Faqīh, Wali al-Faqīh, are widely used, Arabic being the original language of Islamic sources such as the Quran, hadith, and much other literature. However, the Persian language translation, Velayat-e Faqih, Vali-e-faqih are also commonly used in discussion about the concept and practice in Iran, which is both the largest Shi'i majority country, and as the Islamic Republic of Iran, is also the one country in the world where Wilāyat al-Faqīh is part of the structure of government.

The term "mullahcracy" (rule by mullahs, i.e. by Islamic clerics) has been used as a pejorative term to describe Wilāyat al-Faqīh as government and specifically the Islamic Republic of Iran.[32][33]


Early Islam

A foundational belief of Twelver Shi'ism is that the spiritual and political successors of Muhammad (the Islamic prophet), are not the caliphs of Sunni Islam, but the "Imams" -- a line starting with Muhammad's cousin, son-in-law and companion, Ali (died 661 CE), and continuing with his male descendants. Imams were almost never in a position to rule territory, but did have the loyalty of their followers and delegated some of their functions, to "qualified members" of their community, "particularly in the judicial sphere.[6] In the late 9th century (873-874 CE) the Twelfth Imam, a boy at the time, mysteriously disappeared. Shi'i jurists "responded by developing the idea" of the "occultation",[34] whereby the 12th Imam was still alive but had "been withdrawn by God from the eyes of people" to protect his life until conditions were ripe for his reappearance.[34]

As the centuries have gone by, the Hidden Imam's "life has been miraculously prolonged",[35] but the Shi'i community (ummah), has had to determine who, if anyone, has his authority (wilayah) for what functions during his absence.[14] The delegation of some functions—for example, the collection and disbursement of religiously mandated tithes (zakat and khums) — continued during occultation,[6] but others were limited. Shi'i jurists, and especially al-Sharif al-Murtada (d. 1044 CE), forbade[14] "waging of offensive jihad or (according to some jurists) the holding of Friday prayers",[6] as this power was in abeyance (saqit) until the return of the Imam.[14] Al-Murtada also excluded implementing the penal code (hudud) and leading the community in jihad, giving allegiance to any leader.[14]

For many centuries after that, according to at least two historians (Moojan Momen, Ervand Abrahamian), Shia jurists have tended to stick to one of three approaches to the state: cooperated with it, trying to influence policies by becoming active in politics, or most commonly, remaining aloof from it.[36][note 5] Firm supporter of governance by jurist Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi describes the arrival of rule of jurist in Iran as a revolution after fourteen centuries of "lamentable" governance in the Islamic world.[38]

Others (Ahmed Vaezi) insist the idea that the governance by jurist is "new" is erroneous because it is the logical conclusion of arguments made by high-level Shia faqih of medieval times who argued that high-level Shia faqih be given authority, although their use of Taqiya (precautionary dissimulation) prevents this from being obvious to us.[39]

A significant event in Islamic and especially Shia history was the rise of the Safavid dynasty (1501–1702), ruling a vast area of modern day Iran and beyond at its height [note 6] and forcibly converting Iran's population to the state religion of Twelver Shi'ism,[44][45][46][47] (Iran's population continuing to have a large Shi'i majority). According to convert to Islam and supporter of Ruhollah Khomeini, Hamid Algar, under the Safavids, the general deputyship "occasionally was interpreted to include all the prerogatives of rule that in principle had belonged to the imams, but no special emphasis was placed on this." And in the nineteenth century, velayat-e faqih began "to be discussed as a distinct legal topic".[6]

Absolute Wilāyat al-Faqīh was probably first introduced in the Fiqh of Ja'far al-Sadiq in the famous textbook Javaher-ol-Kalaam (جواهر الکلام).[citation needed] Iranian Molla Mohammad Mahdee Naraqi, or at least his son Molla Ahmad Naraqi (1771-1829 C.E.), argued that "the scope of wilayat al-faqıh extends to political authority",[26] more than a century earlier than Khomeini,[26] but never tried to establish, or called for the establishment of a state based on wilayat al-faqıh al-siyasıyah (the divine mandate of the jurisprudent to rule).[48]

Colonial and post-colonial era

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were two major instances of jurist involvement in politics in Iran, (which continued to be the largest Shia-majority state and went on to be a major petroleum exporter).[49] A fatwa in 1891 by Mirza Shirazi declaring tobacco forbidden, successfully undermining the overly generous 1890 tobacco concession granted to British imperialists by the monarch of Persia;[note 7] and the support by Marja' Muhammad Kazim Khurasani (see above), for the democratic Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1905–1911[note 8] These moves have been described both as exceptions to apolitical stance of leading Shia jurists (Ervand Abrahamian); or the beginning of the end of a 1000 years of quietism among Shi'i "when Shiites began to see the possibility of freely experimenting with politics", The Tobacco Protest and Constitutional Revolution ((and not the Islamic revolution), were the "real shift in Shiite political thought" (Khalid bin Sulieman Addadh).[51]

Ayatollah Sheikh Fazlollah Nouri who fought against a democratic law-making parliament in the Iranian Constitutional Revolution (انقلاب مشروطه), predating Khomeini in supporting rule by sharia and opposing and Western influence in Iran.

Khomeini and Guardianship of the Islamic jurist as Islamic government

In early 1970, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leading cleric fighting the Shah of the secularist Pahlavi dynasty, exiled to the holy Shia city of Najaf, gave a series of lectures on how "Islamic Government" required Wilayat Al Faqih. Leading up to the revolution, a book based on the lectures (The Jurist's Guardianship, Islamic Government) was spread widely among his network of followers in Iran.[52]

Khomeini had originally supported an interpretation of Velayat-e faqih by mujtahed (Islamic legal scholar), limited to "legal rulings, religious judgments, and intervention to protect the property of minors and the weak", even when "rulers are oppressive" in his 1941/1943 book Secrets Revealed;[53] specifically stating "we do not say that government must be in the hands of the faqih".[54]

But in his 1970 book he argued not that Faqih should get involved in politics in special situations, but that they must rule the state and society, and that monarchy or any other sort of government are "systems of unbelief" "all traces" of which it is the duty of Muslims to "destroy".[55] In a true Islamic state only those who have knowledge of Sharia should hold government posts, and the country's ruler should be the faqih (a guardian jurist, Vali-ye faqih) who "surpasses all others in knowledge" of Islamic law and justice[56] — known as a Marjaʿ — as well as having intelligence and administrative ability. Not only is the rule of Islamic jurists and obedience toward them an obligation of Islam, it is as important a religious obligation as any a Muslim has. "Our obeying holders of authority" like Islamic jurists "is actually an expression of obedience to God."[57] Preserving Islam — for which Wilāyat al-Faqīh is necessary — "is more necessary even than prayer and fasting"[58]

The necessity of a Jurist leader to serve the people as "a vigilant trustee", enforcing "law and order", is not an ideal to be sought after but a matter of survival for Islam and Muslims. Without him, Islam will fall victim "to obsolescence and decay", as heretics, "atheists and unbelievers" add and subtract rites, institutions, and ordinances from the religion;[59] Muslim society will stay divided "into two groups: oppressors and oppressed";[60] Muslim government(s) will continue to be infested with corruption, "constant embezzlement";[61] not only lacking in competence and virtue, but actively serving as agents imperialist to Western powers, whose goal is

"to keep us backward, to keep us in our present miserable state so they can exploit our riches, our underground wealth, our lands and our human resources. They want us to remain afflicted and wretched, and our poor to be trapped in their misery ... they and their agents wish to go on living in huge palaces and enjoying lives of abominable luxury";[62]

These ideas may sound "strange" to many,[63] Westerns have set about deceiving Muslims, using their native "agents" to fool them into thinking "that Islam consists of a few ordinances concerning menstruation and parturition."[64] Because western habits of "banking on the basis of usury, ... consumption of alcohol, ... cultivation of sexual vice" keep people weak, they allow exploitation, and so Western imperialists and Jews, have worked hard to undermine the laws of Islam.[62] "Foreign experts have studied our country and have discovered all our mineral reserves -- gold, copper, petroleum, and so on. They have also made an assessment of our people's intelligence and come to the conclusion that the only barrier blocking their way [in exploiting Iran] are Islam and the religious leadership."[65]

Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Following the overthrow of the Shah by the Iranian Revolution, a modified form of this doctrine was incorporated into the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Iran,[66] adopted by referendum on 2 and 3 December 1979. It established the first country (and so far only) in history to apply the principal of velayat-e faqih to government.

"The plan of the Islamic government" is "based upon wilayat al-faqih, as proposed by Imam Khumaynî",[67] according to the constitution, which was drafted by an assembly made up primarily by disciples of Khomeini.[68]

While the constitution made concessions to popular sovereignty—including an elected president and parliament—"the Leader" was given "authority to dismiss the president, appoint the main military commanders, declare war and peace, and name senior clerics to the Guardian Council", (a powerful body which can veto legislation and disqualify candidates for office).[69][note 9]

Hezbollah of Lebanon

In the early 1980s, Ayatollah Khomeini sent some of his followers, including 1500 Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (pasdaran) instructors,[72] to Lebanon to form Hezbollah, a Shia Islamist political party and militant group, committed to bringing Islamic revolution[73] and rule of wilayat al-faqih in Lebanon.[74][75][76] A large fraction of Lebanon's population was Shia, and they had grown to become the largest confessional group in Lebanon, but had traditionally been subservient to Christians and Sunni Muslims. Over time Hezbollah's para-military wing grew to be considered stronger than the Lebanese army,[77] and Hezbollah to become described as a "state within a state",[78] but as of 2008, the goal of transforming Lebanon into "an Iranian-style" state" has been abandoned in favor of "a more inclusive approach".[79]

Under the Islamic Republic

The establishment of the Islamic Republic and Wilayat al-faqih rule was not without conflict, with "more than 7900" political prisoners executed between 1981 and 1985 (according to historian Ervand Abrahamian, compared to "less than 100" by the monarchy during the eight years leading up to the revolution). In addition the prison system was "drastically expanded" and prison conditions made "drastically worse" under the Islamic Republic.[80][81][82] Press freedom was also tightened, with the international group the Reporters Without Borders declaring Iran one of the world's most repressive countries for journalists" for the first 40 years after the revolution (1980-2020).[83]

Shortly before and after Khomeini died in June 1989, significant changes were made to the constitution and the concept of Wilāyat al-Faqīh.[69]

In January-February 1988 Khomeini publicly propounded the theory of velayat-e motlaqaye faqih ("the absolute authority of the jurist"), whereby obedience to the ruling jurist is to "be as incumbent on the believer as the performance of prayer", and the guardian jurist's powers "extend even to the temporary suspension of such essential rites of Islam as the hajj",[5][84] (despite the fact that his 1970 book insists that "in Islam the legislative power and competence to establish laws belongs exclusively to God Almighty").[85] The new theory was instigated by the need "to break the stalemate" within the Islamic Government on controversial items of social and economic legislation".[6][7]

In March 1989 he declared that only those clerics knowledgeable about "the problems of the day" -- the contemporary world and economic, social and political matters -- should rule, not "religious" clerics,[86] despite the fact that he had spent decades denouncing secularism and the idea that the affairs of this world "were separate from the understanding of the sacred law".[86]

Also in March 1989 Khomeini's officially designated successor, Hussein-Ali Montazeri, was ousted,[87] after he called for "an open assessment of failures" of the Revolution and an end to the export of revolution.[88] As Montazeri was the only marjaʿ al-taqlid beside Khomeini who had been part of Khomeini's movement, and the only senior cleric trusted by Khomeini's network,[69] and the constitution called for the Leader Wali Al Faqih to be a marja', after Khomeini died the Assembly of Experts amended the constitution" to remove scholarly seniority from the qualifications of the leader, accommodating the appointment of a "mid-ranking cleric" (Ali Khamenei), to be Leader.[69]

In the 21st century, many have noted a severe loss of prestige in Iran for the fuqaha (Islamic jurists),[89] and for the concept of Wilayat al-faqih. "In the early 1980s, clerics were generally treated with elaborate courtesy." 20 years later, "clerics are sometimes insulted by schoolchildren and taxi drivers and they quite often put on normal clothes when venturing outside Qom."[90] In Iraq, another Shia-majority country that is smaller and less stable than Iran and shares a border with it, sentiment against Iranian influence in 2019 led to demonstrations and attacks with Molotov cocktails against the Iranian Consulate in Karbala. Political forces alleged to be under the control of Iran there have sometimes been disparagingly referred to as "the arms of Wilayat al-Faqih."[91] Protesters in Iran have been heard to chant ‘Death to the dictator’ (Marg Bar Diktator, dictator a reference to the Supreme Leader),[92] and “Death to velayat-e faqih”,[93] during protests, which have become serious enough to see as many as 1,500 protesters killed by security forces (in one series of protests in late 2019 and early 2020).[94][95][96]

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). Article Five reads

"During the Occultation of the Lord of the Age [that is, the Hidden Imam], the governance and leadership of the nation devolve upon the pious and just jurist who is acquainted with the circumstances of his age; courageous, resourceful, and possessed of administrative ability; and recognized and accepted as leader by the majority of the people"[97]

(Other articles -- 107 to 112 -- specify the procedure for selecting the leader and list his constitutional functions.)

Articles 57 and 110 deliniate the power of the ruling jurist. Article 57 states that there are other bodies/branches in the government but they are all under the control/supervision of the Leader.

The power of government in the Islamic Republic are vested in the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive powers, functioning under the supervision of the absolute religious leader and the leadership of the ummah.[30]

According to article 110 these supervisory powers of the Supreme Leader as a Vali-e-faqih are:

  • The ruling Jurist appoints the jurists to the guardian council;
  • appointing the highest judicial authority in the country;
  • holding supreme command over the armed forces;
  • signing the certificate of appointment allowing the president to take office;
  • dismissal of the president if he feels it is in the national interest;
  • granting amnesty on the recommendation of the supreme court.[98]

The constitution quotes many verses of the Quran (21:92, 7:157, 21:105, 3:28, 28:5)[99] in support of its aims and goals. In support of "the continuation of the Revolution at home and abroad. ... [and working with] other Islamic and popular movements to prepare the way for the formation of a single world community", and "to assure the continuation of the struggle for the liberation of all deprived and oppressed peoples in the world."[99] it quotes

  • "This your community is a single community, and I am your Lord, so worship Me" [21:92]), [99]

In support of "the righteous" assuming "the responsibility of governing and administering the country" it quotes Quranic verse Q.21:105:

  • "Verily My righteous servants shall inherit the earth"[99]

and on the basis of two principles of the trusteeship and the permanent Imamate, rule is counted as a function of jurists. Ruling jurists must hold the religious office of "source of imitation" (be a marja' al-taqlid) and be permitted to deliver independent judgments on general principles (fatwas). Furthermore they must be upright, pious, committed experts on Islam, informed of the demands of the times, known as God-fearing, brave and qualified for leadership.

Chapter one of the constitution, where fundamental principles are expressed, article 2, 6a, states that "continuous ijtihad of the fuqaha [jurists] possessing necessary qualifications, exercised on the basis of the Qur'an and the Sunnah" is a principle in Islamic government.[100]

Arguments and opinions

There is a wide spectrum of ideas about Wilāyat al-Faqīh among Ja'fari (the Twelver Shia school of law) scholars, starting from

  • restricting the scope of the doctrine to non-litigious matters (al-omour al-hesbiah),[2] people or things in Islamic society that lack a guardian over their interests (الامور الحسبیه), including unattended children, religious endowments (waqf),[4] and property for which no specific person is responsible, as well as judicial matters,[101] such as mediating disputes;

... and at the other extreme,

  • the "absolute authority of the jurist" (velayat-e motlaqaye faqih), over all public matters, where the mandate of the ruling jurisprudent "are among the primary ordinances of Islam".[102] Here the ruling faqih has control over all public matters including governance of states; has such power over religious affairs that he can (temporary) suspend religious obligations, such as the salat prayer or hajj;[5][6] and is owed such deference that the obligation of Muslims to obey him is as important as the obligation to perform those religious obligations he has the power to suspend.[7]

The doctrinal basis of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist comes at least in part from hadith where the Islamic prophet Muhammad is reputed to have said

Arabic: العلماء ورثة الأنبياء
"The ulama are the inheritors of the prophets".[note 10][103]

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, the first Islamic scholar to advance the theory of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist (and who "developed a notion of 'rule of the jurist'") came much later -- Morteza Ansari (~1781–1864).[104]

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 not deceased but having some disability in protecting their interests, such as the insane (سفيه), absentee (غائب), poor (فقير), etc. For example:

وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا۟ ٱلنَّفْسَ ٱلَّتِى حَرَّمَ ٱللَّهُ إِلَّا بِٱلْحَقِّ ۗ وَمَن قُتِلَ مَظْلُومًۭا فَقَدْ جَعَلْنَا لِوَلِيِّهِۦ سُلْطَـٰنًۭا فَلَا يُسْرِف فِّى ٱلْقَتْلِ ۖ إِنَّهُۥ كَانَ مَنصُورًۭا
Do not take a ˹human˺ life—made sacred by Allah—except with ˹legal˺ right. If anyone is killed unjustly, We have given their heirs the authority, but do not let them exceed limits in retaliation, for they are already supported ˹by law˺. (Q.17:33)[105][106]

refers to heirs of someone killed unjustly (not killed in accordance with sharia). This type of Wilayah does not applied to society at large, 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.

According to Ahmed Vaezi, "Imami [12er Shi'i] theologians refer to the Qur’an (especially Chapter 5, Verse 55) and prophetic traditions to support the exclusive authority (Wilayat) of the Imams".[10]

إِنَّمَا وَلِيُّكُمُ ٱللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُۥ وَٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱلَّذِينَ يُقِيمُونَ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَيُؤْتُونَ ٱلزَّكَوٰةَ وَهُمْ رَٰكِعُونَ
Your ally is none but Allah and [therefore] His Messenger and those who have believed - those who establish prayer and give zakah, and they bow [in worship]. (Q.5:55)[107][108]

In Q.5:55, "those who believe”, may sound like it refers to Muslim believers in general but actually refers to the Imams according to Shi’a commentators according to Ahmed Vaezi.[10] Sunni Muslims do not believe "those who believe" refers to the Imams.

Recognition of Wilayat-e Faqih is not similar to emulation of a marjaʿ but it should be acknowledged by intellectual reason.[clarification needed][citation needed]

As of 2011, (at least according to authors Alireza Nader, David E. Thaler and S. R. Bohandy), those in Iran who believe in velayat-e faqih tend to fall into one of three categories, those who believe in "absolute" velayat-e faqih and think those who do not are "betraying Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution" (conservatives such as Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi and vigilantes);[109] those who believe that leader exercising velayat-e faghih should be a "religious-ideological guardian" not chief executive, subject to democratic constraints such as direct elections, term limits, etc. (such as the late Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri);[110] and those who believe faqih should not be involved in politics ("the "quietist" or "traditional concept") and question the need for a Supreme Leader, a view that is outside the "red lines" of the Islamic Republic, notwithstanding its acceptance elsewhere in the Shi'i world.[111]

Limited role for Guardianship

Traditionally Shi'i jurists have tended to this interpretation, and for most Muslims Wilayat al-Faqih "meant no more than legal guardianship of senior clerics over those deemed incapable of looking after their own interests — minors, widows, and the insane"[112] (‘mawla alayh’ ,one who is need of a guardian).[10] Political power was to be left to Shi'i monarchs 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.[112] Most scholars viewed the 'ulama's main responsibilities (i.e. their guardianship) as being:

  • to study the law based on the Qur'an, Sunnah and the teachings of the Twelve Imams.
  • to use reason
  • to update these laws;
  • issue pronouncements on new problems;
  • adjudicate in legal disputes; and
  • distribute the Khums contributions to worthy widows, orphans, seminary students, and indigent male descendants of the Prophet.[112]

Ahmed Vaezi (a supporter of the rule of the Islamic jurist) lists the "traditional roles and functions that qualified jurists undertake as deputies of the Imam", and that "in the history of Imami Shi’ism, marja’aiyya (authorative reference) has largely been restricted to":[10]

  1. providing fatwas ("legal and juridical decrees") as a “Marja’a taqleed”, for those who "lack sufficient knowledge of Islamic law and the legal system (Shari’ah)" (which Vaezi insists is not part of guardianship/Wilayat al-Faqih);[10]
  2. mediating disputes and judging in legal cases. (which Vaezi insists Imamis believe is a "function of Wilayat al-qada or al-hukuma);[10]
  3. Hisbiya Affairs (Al-Umur al-Hisbiya). i.e. provide a guardian for those who need one (For example, when the father of a minor or an insane person dies. Also religious endowments, inheritance and funerals). Imami jurists disagree over whether this role is "appointed by the Shari’ah" or just a good idea because jurists are "naturally the best suited for the role".[10]

This view "dominated Shi’a discourse on issues of religion and governance for centuries before the Islamic Revolution", and still dominates it in Najaf and Karbala -- "Shi’a centers of thought" away from the power of the Islamic Republic of Iran -- and even within it is still influential in the Iranian holy city of Qom.[111]

Supporters of keeping Wilayat out of politics and governance argue univeral wilayat puts sane adults in the same category as those who are impotent in their affairs, and need a guardian to protect their interests.[10]

This is not to say that sane, adult Shi'i do not seek and follow religious guidance from faqih. A long standing doctrine in Shi'i is that (Shi'i) Muslims should have a faqih "source to follow" or "religious reference", known as a Marjaʿ al-taqlid.[113] Marjaʿ receive tithes and issue fatwa to their followers, but unlike Wali al-Faqih, it is the Muslim who chooses the Marjaʿ, and the marja' do not have the power of the state or militias to enforce their commands.

A minority view was that senior faqih had the right to enter political disputes "but only temporarily and when the monarch endangered the whole community".[114] (An example being the December 1891 fatwa by Mirza Shirazi declaring tobacco forbidden, a successful effort to undermine the 1890 tobacco concession granted to the United Kingdom by Nasir al-Din Shah of Persia, giving British control over growth, sale and export of tobacco.)

Guardian as ruler


In an early work (Kashf al-Asrar, Secrets Revealed, published in the 1940s), Khomeini had made ambiguous statements, arguing that “the state must be administered with the divine law, which defines the interests of the country and the people, and this cannot be achieved without clerical supervision (nezarat-e rouhanı)”,[115] but had not called for Jurists to rule or for them to replace monarchs -- "we do not say that government must be in the hands of the faqih,[116][54] and had also asserted that the practical

"power of the mujtaheds" (i.e. faqih who have sufficient learning to conduct independent reasoning, known as Ijtihad)

excludes the government and includes only simple matters such as legal rulings, religious judgments, and intervention to protect the property of minors and the weak. Even when rulers are oppressive and against the people, they [the mujtaheds] will not try to destroy the rulers.[53]

While there are no sacred texts of Shia (or Sunni) Islam that include a straightforward statement that the Muslim community should or must be ruled over by Islamic jurists, Khomeini maintained there were "numerous traditions [hadith] that indicate the scholars of Islam are to exercise rule during the Occultation".[117] The first one he offered as proof was a saying addressed to a corrupt, but well-connected judge in early Islam, attributed to the first Imam, 'Ali --

  • "The seat you are occupying is filled by someone who is a prophet, the legatee of a prophet, or else a sinful wretch"[117]

—is given as evidence on the grounds that when the hadith says a judge is addressed, that must mean he is a trained Islamic jurist since they are "by definition learned in matters pertaining to the function of judge",[118] and since trained jurists are neither sinful wretches nor prophets, by process of elimination "we deduce from the tradition" not that Ali is shaming the judge for exceeding his authority but "that the fuqaha (jurists) are the legatees."[118] Since the prophet was given the power to rule over the Muslim community and all it conquered, his legacy includes that same power.

Other hadith Quranic verses and include

  • "Obey those among you who have authority" (Q.4:59)

where the authorities in the verse are religious judges according to Khomeini;[119]

  • when Ali said his successors were

"those who transmit my statements and my traditions and teach them to the people" and also ordered "all believers to obey his successors", this meant his successors were jurists and Muslim should obey not just their religious teachings but their orders as rulers;

  • the Seventh Imam had praised religious judges as "the fortress of Islam";[119]
  • The twelfth Imam had preached that future generations should obey those who knew his teachings since those people were his representatives among the people in the same way as he was God's representative among believers.[119]

Khomeini preached that God had created sharia to guide the Islamic community (ummah), the state to implement sharia, and faqih to understand and implement sharia.[119]

Shortly before he died, Khomeini gave perhaps his strongest statement about the power of the Wilayat al-Faqih in a letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (later the second Supreme Leader of Iran:

The government or the absolute guardianship (al-wilayat al-mutlaqa) that is delegated to the noblest messenger of Allah is the most important divine law and has priority over all other ordinances of the [divine] law. If the powers of the government were restricted to the framework of ordinances of the law then the delegation of the authority to the Prophet would be a senseless phenomenon. I have to say that government is a branch of the Prophet's absolute Wilayat and one of the primary (first order) rules of Islam that has priority over all ordinances of the law even praying, fasting and Hajj…The Islamic State could prevent implementation of everything – devotional and non- devotional – that so long as it seems against Islam's interests.[120]

Baqir Sharif al-Qurashi

Shi'i cleric Baqir Sharif al-Qurashi argues in Al-Islam that a hadith states Shia Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (founder of the Jaʿfarī school of Islamic jurisprudence) once told two Shi'a individuals who sought arbitration to a dispute and were thinking of taking it to the government magistrate, that "Almighty Allah ... has commanded shunning the tyrants,” so that any Shia who "presents his case to a tyrant" for arbitration, the "verdict that Shi'i receives "is invalid, even though it may be his lawful right". Instead they should take their disagreement to one "who relates our traditions and narrations to you and who considers our permitted and prohibited and who possesses knowledge and information about our commands".[121] Al Quarshi interpreted this to mean that al-Sadiq meant "those "who relates our traditions and narrations to you" were Shi'i jurists, and those jurists now had "a general Wilayat" (general guardianship) and "the authority as the ruler and point of reference for all Muslims in their social aspects". "The [singular] religious jurisprudent" should not only collect and distribute funds to the poor and needy, lead and fund "the colleges of religious sciences", but also "takes care" of and be "concerned for everything regarding the world of Islam", rising to defend Muslim lands from the attacks of infidels throughout the Muslim world[121]

Supporters of absolute guardianship cite verse 62 of sura 24[122] 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]

Ahmed Vaezi

Ahmed Vaezi (b. 1963), an Iranian Shi'i cleric and academic, defends the principle of the universal and absolute guardianship of the Wali al-Faqih (guardian jurist) in a number of ways. Shi'a should not say they have no need for a Wali because they already follow a Marja'. The two have different roles, with marja’aiyya having nothing to do with wilayat (guardianship). Marja' issue fatwa (answers to religious questions on practical matters in Islam by making deductions from their religious knowledge) while Wali issue hukm (decrees intended to "effectively organize and resolve difficulties within Muslim society").[10] While a fatwa may sometimes conflict with a hukm, the Muslim must obey the Wali over the marja' because the order/hukm "is binding upon all Muslims" -- including other faqih and including Muslims outside of the political jurisdiction of the Wali (i.e. outside Iran). This is because the Wali is a "the just and capable jurist ... appointed as hakim", a "wilayat al-qada' administering justice, and so must be obeyed, as explained in the hadith where Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq proclaims:

I have appointed him a hakim over you. If such a person orders (judges) according to our ruling and the person concerned does not accept it, then he has shown contempt for the ruling of God and rejects us; and he who rejects us, actually rejects Allah and such a person is close to association [Shirk] with Allah[123]

Vaezi reassures those who are worried by the "unlimited and absolute scope of authority" in absolute guardianship that it is "totally different" from "totalitarian and dictatorial government". Absolute guardianship will not be like an absolutism in the Western sense because the Wali will have the qualities of "justice, piety and the necessary socio-political perspicacity", and will be "dismissed" if "he fails to meet one of them".[note 11]

Concerning the controversy over "whether or not" the faqih possessing absolute guardianship "may issue orders that disregard the commands of the Shari’ah", Vaezi notes that laws of "the second order" (al-ahkam al sanavy) are only temporary commands reversing sacred law because of some "significant damage, distress and constriction or disorder"; ‘first order’ laws (al-ahkam al-awaly) remain intact. However, he then goes on to explain that under the "revolutionary view" of Ayatollah Khomeini, "Shari’ah … is not the ultimate goal". Islamic laws are only "a means" to an end. The end is "the protection of Islam and the extension of Justice". For Khomeini "the Islamic State is not merely one part of Islam amongst others, but it is Islam itself".[30]

Amongst his Vaezi's other defenses of absolute guardianship is that it is much superior to the institution of the Caliph -- the Sunni Islamic concept of ruler. Comparing the Sunni theory of the caliphate (based on historical Caliphates) with the Shi'i theory of the Wali (based on theory), Vaezi notes one important "distinction between" them is (according to Vaezi) comes as a logical consequence of Sunni belief in predestination, namely for Sunnis "it doesn't matter who governs or how he obtains authority, for in any case and circumstance it would be subject to the will of God". Consequently, "there are several means by which a caliph may be elected", so that "there is no unique way to legitimize political power" and also "no procedure for the people to depose an unjust ruler". In contrast the Shi'i Wali al-Faqih must be brought to power by "divine installation" (Vaezi doesn't specify how this would take place) because they are "representatives of the hidden Imam"; and must be just, fair, and have expertise is fiqh.[10]

The ruling Wali is a natural progression from God(who several verses in the Quran (Q.3:68, Q.2:257, Q.4:45), describe as a wali over the believers); to the Prophet Muhammad (who is also described as such (Q.5:55, Q.33:6)); to the Imams (who are described as Wali in numerous Shi'i hadith). So it is natural that the next religious figure down also have the "univeral" powers that Muhammad and the Imams had.[125] This argument is also applied again the complaint that giving a Faqih general powers over the public puts sane adults in the same category as minors and the mentally ill. God, Muhammad and the Imams' powers were total, despite the fact their subjects were sane adults. [10][125]

Ahmed Vaezi argues that various distinguished faqih scholars have insisted that faqih (or at least mujtahid) have the authority to judge, to collect taxes (Shaikh Zain ul-Din b.911 AH), lead prayers (Shaykh al-Mufid and others); lead "Jumah prayer (al-Karaki), judge, collect Islamic taxes (Muhammad ibn Makki d 786 AH); not only judge and sentence wrong doers but administer the punishment, (Muhaqqiq al-Karaki); be given authority for “all the affairs attendant upon the deputyship … of the infallible ones” (al-Muhaqqiq al-Karaki); that their “social status is the same as the Imam”, (Shaykh Muhammad Hassan); that there is "consensus (Ijmaa)… that the fuqaha (jurists) of integrity (Jame al-Sharayeti), who have all the perfect, necessary qualities to undertake the vicegerency are the deputy of the Imam of the time…" (Hajj Aqa Reza Hamedani). So these jurists are talking about how faqih should or are being deputy of the Imam, or attending to the affairs of the Shia, or "…carrying out Islamic sentences and implementing religious injunctions", these are duties that “require him to be entrusted with universal authority". And if they have universal authority they have authority to rule/govern! All of which demonstrates that the concept of universal wilayat of the jurist was not new with Ayatollah Khomeini.[39]

Criticism of guardian as ruler

While the use of scholars of fiqh as legal guardians for those not capable of looking after their own interest is universally accepted in 12er Islam, there have been a number of criticisms made against Islamic clerics serving as guardians over sane adults, specifically governing them, and especially about its application in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

All Shi'a agree that a good Muslim must have an Islamic jurist, known as a Marja’a e-taqleed, "as a source of guidance and imitation", in the absence of the infallible Imam.[10] But traditionally it was the individual (Shi'i) Muslim who decided what Marja’ they were going to follow (as of 2022 there were several dozen to choose from, mostly located in Iraq and Iran), and they were not punished by the state if they failed to obey them.[30] Following the establishment of the velayat-e faqih system in Iran, doctrinal differences between individual marjas and the Supreme Leader faqih caused conflicts. Differences of opinion between the Supreme leader and other Marjas over issues such as the permissibility in Islam of chess playing, listening to music, or whether to continue fighting a war with Iraq, have presented challenges for the velayat-e faqih system in Iran.

Shortly before and after Khomeini died, significant changes were made to the constitution and the concept of Wilāyat al-Faqīh, including at least one that "unwittingly undermined the intellectual foundations" of rule by Islamic jurist, according to one critic (Ervand Abrahamian).[69] Disputes within the Islamic Government compelled Khomeini himself to proclaim in January 1988 that 'I should state that the government, which is part of the absolute deputyship of the Prophet, is one of the primary injunctions of Islam and has priority over all secondary injunctions, even prayers fasting and hajj".[126][127] which "elevated the state's preservation to a primary central injunction (al-ahkam al-awwaliyya) and downgraded rituals (e.g., the obligatory prayers and fasting) to secondary injunctions (al-ahkam al-thanawiyya)",[127] a major theological innovation and seemingly in contradiction for the rationale Khomeini gave for the need for an Islamic government of Wilāyat al-Faqīh:

... in Islam the legislative power and competence to establish laws belongs exclusively to God Almighty. The Sacred Legislator of Islam is the sole legislative power. No one has the right to legislate and no law may be executed except the law of the Divine Legislator. ... The law of Islam, divine command, has absolute authority over all individuals and the Islamic government. Everyone, including the Most Noble Messenger (s) and his successors, is subject to law and will remain so for all eternity—the law that has been revealed by God, Almighty and Exalted,... [128]

Although the constitution states that the leadership clauses, especially those stipulating that ultimate authority resides in the senior religious jurists, were to endure until the Mahdi reappeared on earth to rule; ten years after the constitution was approved the Assembly of Experts "drastically" revamped these clauses.[129]

Although the constitution states that the leadership clauses, especially those stipulating that ultimate authority resides in the senior religious jurists, were to endure until the Mahdi reappeared on earth to rule; ten years after the constitution was approved the Assembly of Experts "drastically" revamped these clauses.[129] In 1989 Khomeini's officially designated successor, Hussein-Ali Montazeri, was ousted[87] after calling for "an open assessment of failures" of the Revolution and an end to the export of revolution,[88] Khomeini responded by calling for a meeting of the Assembly of Experts to "discuss him."[88] Unfortunately Montazeri was the only marjaʿ-e taqlid beside Khomeini who had been part of Khomeini's movement and the only senior cleric who "trusted" the revolutionary movement's "version of Islam".[69] After Khomeini died, the Assembly of Experts quickly amended the constitution", modifying Article 109 to remove scholarly seniority from the qualifications of the leader, so a faqih whose scholarly ranking was lower but political standing much higher (former president Ali Khamenei), be appointed Leader.[69] It has been argued credibly that the resulting disjunction of political leadership from seniority in the learned hierarchy of Iranian Shiʿism effectively brings the implementation of velayat-e faqih to an end.

Khomeini preached that because Muslims accepted and recognized sharia law "as worthy of obedience", a government ruling according to sharia would "truly belong to the people",[85] unlike those secular states with "sham parliaments".[130] But despite his confidence in the support of the people for rule by Sharia via jurists, in public proclamations "during the revolution" and before the overthrow of the monarchy, Khomeini made "no mention" of velayat-e faqih.[6] When a campaign started to install velayat-e faqih in the new Iranian constitution, critics complained that he had become the leader of the revolution promising to advise, rather than rule, the country after the Shah was overthrown, when in fact he had developed his theory of rule by jurists not by democratic elections and spread it among his followers years before the revolution started;[131] It is a complaint that some continue to make.[132]

The execution of the theory of rule by Islamic jurists has been criticized on utilitarian grounds (as opposed to religious grounds), by those who argue that it has simply not done what Khomeini said his theory would do.[133] The goals of ending poverty,[note 12] corruption, [note 13] national debt,[note 14] or compelling un-Islamic government to capitulate before the Islamic government's armies,[note 15] have not been met; nor have even more modest and basic goals like downsizing the government bureaucracy,[note 16][140] [139] using only senior religious jurists or [marja]s for the post of faqih guardian/Supreme Leader,[141][note 17]

Opposition among scholars

According to Ali Mamouri, writing in 2013, the Islamic Republic of Iran, "has never been able to establish a stable and harmonious relationship between the Shiite seminaries of Qom and Najaf". "Most" of the "spiritual references" aka marjaʿ in Qom (at least in 2013) do not supporting the regime's position on velayat-e faqih, even though it has led to a number of them being placed under house arrest and barred "from expressing their views and ideas or continuing their teaching and religious duties".[12] Najaf religious leaders present an even greater problem as Najaf is outside the border of Iran and so its marjaʿ cannot be incarcerated by Iran.

As of 2020, the "four leading Marja' of Najaf (Ali al-Sistani, Bashir al-Najafi, Muhammad al-Fayadh, Muhammad Saeed al-Hakim) actively oppose Ruhollah Khomeini's concept of guardianship,[142][143] and a large segment of the clerical Shia community in general does not accept the theory of velayat-e-faqih and believes the clergy should stay away from politics.[144] The majority of Shi'a accepted the late Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Hossein Borujerdi (1875–1961) as their Marja' al Taqlid (source of emulation), including his student, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Throughout his life, Borujerdi, who was a quietist and therefore refrained from taking political stances, forbid his student Khomeini from engaging in non-religious matters. It was only after Borujerdi's death that Khomeini published his first political and social treatise in which he explicitly called for active participation in political matters.

Regarding Guardianship, several senior faqih have written on the exclusivity of the authority of the Imams, the limits of the authority of faqih, and the dangers to faqih and to Islam of the corruption of power.

Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid

Unlike Sunnis who believe in appointment of the Islamic Caliph through Ijm'a or Shura, Imamiyya Shia say that the Imam and the legitimate Caliph of the Islamic nation must only be appointed by God; that appointment may be known through the declaration of the Prophet or the preceding Imam.[145]

Divine authority to rule an Islamic State, traditional Shia believe, is vested exclusively with the Infallible Imams of Ahlulbayt, making no exceptions for rule by jurists in their absence. In the words of Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid:

سلطان الإسلام المنصوب من قبل الله تعالى، وهم أئمة الهدى من آل محمد عليهم السلام
“The Islamic Ruler is he who is appointed divinely by the Almighty Allah and they are the Imams of Guidance from the Progeny of Muhammad, peace be upon them all.”[146]


According to one of the most senior scholars in Shia Islam,[147] Sayyid Sistani, Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist

means every jurisprudent (Faqih) has guardianship (wilayah) 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 faithful (momeneen).[148]

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 (the Mahdi).[149][150]


Similarly, Sistani's mentor the Late Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Abul Qasim al-Musawi al-Khoei (1899-1992), the leading Shia ayatollah at the time Khoemini's book on his theory of Wilayat al-Faqih was published, rejected Khomeini's argument on the grounds that

  • The authority of faqih — is limited to the guardianship of widows and orphans — could not be extended by human beings to the political sphere.[151]
  • In the absence of the Hidden Imam (the 12th and last Shi'a Imam), the authority of jurisprudence was not the preserve of one or a few fuqaha.[151] is deemed to be one of the most vocal modern day jurists against the innate nature of Wilayat al-Faqih.

In contrasting one-sentence mottos, Khomeini, preached that “only a good society can create good believers”, while Khoei, who championed the theory of a “civil state”, argued “only good men can create a good society.”[152]

Al-Khoei restricted the scope of Wilayat al-Faqih to the jurist's authority in terms of wakalah (i.e. protection, delegation, or authorization often agreed to in a legal contract) alone while dismissing the notion of the jurist inheriting the intrinsic authority to rule of the Infallibles (Imams).

Al-Khoei wrote:

إن الولاية لم تثبت للفقيه في عصر الغيبة بدليل، وإنما هي مختصة بالنبي والأئمة المعصومين (عليهم السلام)، بل الثابت حسبما يستفاد من الروايات أمران: نفوذ قضائه، وحجّية فتواه. وليس له التصرف في أموال القصّر أو غير ذلك مما هو من شؤون الولاية، إلاّ في الأمر الحسبي، فإن الفقيه له الولاية في ذلك لا بالمعنى المدعى
“Wilayah for the faqih in the age of ghaybah [occultation, i.e. from 939 CE until the coming of the Mahdi] is not approved by any evidence whatsoever - and it's only the prerogative of the Messenger and the Imams peace be upon them all, rather the established fact according to the narrations lies in two affairs: Him exercising the role of a judge and his fatwa being a proof - and he holds no authority over the property of a child or others which is from the affairs of wilayah except in the hisbi sense (wakalah), ie. the faqih holds wilayah in this sense not in the sense of being the claimant (al mudda'ee).”[153]

Furthermore, al-Khoei elaborates on the role of a well-qualified Islamic Jurist in the age of occultation of the Infallible Imam which has been traditionally endorsed by the Shia scholarship as follows:

أما الولاية على الأمور الحسبية كحفظ أموال الغائب واليتيم إذا لم يكن من يتصدى لحفظها كالولي أو نحوه، فهي ثابتة للفقيه الجامع للشرائط وكذا الموقوفات التي ليس لها متولي من قبل الواقف والمرافعات، فإن فصل الخصومة فيها بيد الفقيه وأمثال ذلك، وأما الزائد على ذلك فالمشهور بين الفقهاء على عدم الثبوت، والله العال
“As for wilayah (guardianship) of omour al-hesbiah (non-litigious affairs) such as the maintenance of properties of the missing and the orphans, if they are not addressed to preservation by a wali (guardian) or so, it is proven for the faqih jame'a li-sharaet and likewise waqf properties that do not have a mutawalli (trustee) on behalf of waqif (donor of waqf) and continuance pleadings, the judgement regarding litigation is in his hand and similar authorities, but with regards to the excess of that (guardianship) the most popular (opinion) among the jurists is on absence of its evidence, Allah knows best. [154]


Muhammad Kazim Khurasani (1839-1911), commonly known as Akhund Khurasani, was a Shi'i Marjaʿ. based in Najaf who was the main clerical supporter and legitimizing force for the Persian Constitutional Revolution, Iran's democratic revolution of 1905–1911.[155] Traditional Shia scholarship has been historically critical with regard to the clergy relinquishing the role of advisory for the State and taking over absolute charge of the State affairs firsthand instead. Khurasani made a set of prudent observations in his famous Nawishta about the inevitable hazards that will arise owing to the hypothesis proposing clergymen employ religion to legitimize their rule. Some of these predictions are as follows:

  • چون مردم ما را نایبان امام زمان می دانند انتظار دارند حکومت دینی هم همان شرایط را ایجاد کند و وقتی نتوانیم در آن سطح عدالت را برقرار کنیم نسبت به امام زمان و دین سست عقیده می شون

Since the people consider the clergymen to be deputies of Imam al-Zaman, they will expect the religious government to create an exemplary system (closely matching the one supposed to be established by the Infallible Imam) and when they can not establish justice at that level, the Shia masses will become weak in their faith about Imam al-Zaman and religion.

  • وقتی روحانیون پا به حکومت بگذارند دیگر نمی توانند عیوب خود را ببینند و توجیه می کنند و فسادها را نادیده میگیرند

When the clergymen will come to power, they could no longer see their faults and justify and ignore corruption.

  • آمال وآرزوی ما تبعیت حکومت از دین است در حالیکه اگر حکومت را در دست گیریم، به تبعیت دین از حکومت دچار خواهیم شد

The clergy's aspiration is government's obedience to religion, while if the clergymen took over the charge of government, they are more likely to make religion subservient to the government.

  • اکنون که مناصب حکومتی نداریم ، اینهمه اختلاف نظر وجود دارد . اگر به حکومت برسیم این اختلاف نظر باعث چندپارگی دین و ایجاد فرقه های جدید و آسیب به دین می شود

At the time when clergymen do not have government positions, yet there exists so much disagreement. If they come to power, this disagreement will cause further division in religion and creation of new sects and hence cause damage to religion.

  • ذات حکومت کردن دروغ گفتن است و نمی شود حکومت با اخلاق داشت . لذا در شان روحانیت نیست که دروغ بگوید و دامن دین را بیالاید

The essence of fallible governance is to spew lies and it is technically impossible to govern morally. Therefore, it is against the moral character of clergymen to lie and thus defame religion.[156]

Muhammad Hussain Naini

Muhammad Hussain Naini, an aide to Akhund Khurasani, argued that while the ideal government is the rule of the divinely inspired and infallible leader of the community of believers, i.e. the Imam, this ideal form of government is unavailable during the occultation. Consequently, the choices available are between "despotic" and "constitutional" government. Despotism being tyranny, it is constitutional government that diverges "least from the ideal government of the Imam", and is "therefore the best type of government during the occultation[157]

Velayat-e faqih in practice

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:[158]

  • Ayatollah Sadeq Rouhani who denounced Ayatollah Montazeri, and the appointment of Montazeri by the Assembly of Experts to succeed Khomeini. Rouhani later wrote an open-letter denouncing former president Rafsanjani for the government policies that went against Shia historical and his (Sadeq Rouhani's) fatwas. These include: permitting chess as halal and permissible music, which historical Shia fatwas and Rouhani's forbid but are allowed in modern-day Iran, and Tatbir (sword self-flagellation) or Zanjeerzani (self flagellation with chains) during Day of Ashura, which Rouhani (and other Ayatollahs) approve of but are banned in modern-day Iran, put under house arrest.
  • Ayatollah Hassan Tabatabaei Qomi, put under house arrest for voicing his opposition to the Iran–Iraq War and denouncing the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, killed.
  • Ayatollah Taqi Tabatabaei Qomi, driven into exile for denouncing Ali Khamenei.
  • Ayatollah Kazem Shariatmadari, for his alleged role in a coup to topple the government in 1982 and denouncing the Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, put under house arrest, tortured and killed.
  • Ayatollah Mohammad Taher Shubayr Khaghani, for denouncing Ruhollah Khomeini, killed. His family was driven into exile.
  • Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, for denouncing Ruhollah Khomeini and then Ali Khamenei, under house arrest.
  • Ayatollah Ya'sub al-Din Rastgari, for his book criticizing Sunni Islam and Shia-Sunni "unity". Work resulted in riots in Iran's Sunni areas in 1994.[citation needed] He also denounced Ali Khamenei, imprisoned on-and-off since 1996, tortured and put under house arrest.
  • Ayatollah Mohammad al-Husayni al-Shirazi, for his opposition to the Iran–Iraq War and denouncing Ruhollah Khomeini and then Ali Khamenei, put under house arrest, later killed.
  • Ayatollah Sadiq Hussaini Shirazi, for denouncing Ali Khamenei, under house arrest.
  • Ayatollah Mujtaba Hussaini Shirazi, for denouncing Ali Khamenei, driven into exile.
  • Ayatollah Mohammed Reza Shirazi, for denouncing Ali Khamenei, killed.
  • Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi, for denouncing Ali Khamenei, imprisoned on-and-off since 1994.
  • Ayatollah Yousef Saanei, for denouncing Ali Khamenei, under house arrest.
  • Ayatollah Ahmad Khonsari, for denouncing Ruhollah Khomeini, his student, put under house arrest.
  • Ayatollah Yasubedin Rastegar Jooybari, for denouncing Ali Khamenei, under house arrest.
  • Ayatollah Ahmad Azari Qomi, for denouncing Ali Khamenei, under house arrest.
  • Ayatollah Mehdi Haeri Yazdi, a student of Khomeini but also of Western philosophy, his "stand against Khomeini's political theory and other policies resulted" in his being placed under house arrest from 1980 to 1983.[159]


See also


  1. ^ see, for example, Amir Arjomand 1980;[15] Calder 1982;[16] Enayat 1983;[17] Rose 1983;[18] Mottahedeh 1995;[19] and Akhavi 1996[20][21]
  2. ^ ;Non-governmental Guardianship in Islam
    Some definitions of Guardian in Islam (Sunni not Shia) at least in Islamic Nigeria:
    • For Children: "The main role of a legal guardian under the Shari’a is to act in the child's best interests when the child's parents cannot do so. Legal guardians are usually relatives such as an aunt, uncle, or grandparent. This may be due to death, incapacitation, or incarceration for a crime."
    • Incapacitated adults: "In some situations, adults with severe handicaps may need a legal guardian to care for them and act on their behalf. This is known as an adult guardianship."[24]
    Another source (Sohaira Siddiqui) states that Hedaya (a 12th-century legal manual of Hanafi fiqh by Burhan al-Din al-Marghinan), "states that there are three forms of guardianship:
    1. Guardianship for contracting marriage;
    2. Guardianship of minor persons for custody and education; and
    3. Guardianship of the property of minors.[25]
  3. ^ This editor could not find any explanation giving a difference between Wilayat al-amma ("universal" authority) and Wilayat al-Mutlaqa ("absolute" rule/authority)
  4. ^ Example: "The conflict between the Iranian regime, which believes in velayat-e faqih, and Najaf, which rejects that notion, has made some researchers in Shiite affairs predict the end of the traditional Shiite reference with Sistani's death".[12]
  5. ^ Abrahamian offers three slightly different options: shunning the authorities as usurpers, accepting them grudgingly, accepting them wholeheartedly -- especially if the state was Shi'i.[37]
  6. ^ (all of what is now Iran, Republic of Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Armenia, eastern Georgia, parts of the North Caucasus including Russia, Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan, as well as parts of Turkey, Syria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan),[40][41][42][43]
  7. ^ giving British control over growth, sale and export of tobacco
  8. ^ "... Khorasani was one of the most important of the clerical supporters of constitutionalism, and his aide, Na'ini (d. 1936) wrote the most important of the treatises legitimating constitutional government"[50]
  9. ^ Abrahamian states Khomeini was "described as the Supreme Religious Jurist" in the constitution. A translation of the constitution reproduced on website mentions Khomeini (Khumaynî) several times as the leader of the revolution,[70] "the eminent marji' al-taqlid," "the blossoming of a glorious and massive uprising, which confirmed the central role of Imam Khumaynî as an Islamic leader", "the victorious Islamic Revolution led by the eminent marji' altaqlid, Ayatullah al-'Uzma Imam Khumayni",[70] "Imam Khumayni--quddisa sirruh al-sharif--who was recognised and accepted as marji' and Leader by a decisive majority of the people".[71] It also states that "After the demise of" Khomeini, "the task of appointing the Leader shall be vested with the experts elected by the people."[71] (The constitution never uses the term Supreme Leader, only Leader.)
  10. ^ Found in
    • at-Tirmidhi. "Jami' at-Tirmidhi Chapter 41 on Knowledge, Hadith 38, #2682". Retrieved 27 July 2022. and
    • "Sunan Ibn Majah. Book of the Sunnah. v.1, book 1, 223". Retrieved 27 July 2022.
    both hadith are rated da'if or weak.
  11. ^ In the Islamic Republic of Iran, at least, "there are no formal mechanisms—constitutionally-sanctioned or otherwise—through which the Assembly can challenge the supreme leader ..."[124]
  12. ^ In the first six years after the overthrow of the Shah (from 1979 through 1985), The Iranian government's "own Planning and Budget Organization reported that ... absolute poverty rose by nearly 45%!" [134]
  13. ^ After the mayor of Iran's largest city Tehran was arrested for corruption in 1998, ex-President Rafsanjani said in a sermon `Graft has always existed, there are always people who are corrupt....` [135])
  14. ^ Khomeini himself did not run up debt but in the decade after his death, under his faqih guardian successor Iran not only went back into debt, but built it up to almost four times the putatively shameful debt the monarchy left behind in 1979. Spending that Iranian economists criticized as "reckless."[136]
  15. ^ On the start of Iran's war with Saddam Hussein's secular state of Iraq, Khomeini stated there were no conditions for a truce except that "the regime in Baghdad must fall and must be replaced by an Islamic Republic"[137]
    Six years, hundreds of thousands of Iranian lives, and $100's of billions later, faced with desertions and resistance against the conscription, Khomeini signed a peace agreement stating "... we have no choice and we should give in to what God wants us to do ... I reiterate that the acceptance of this issue is more bitter than poison for me, but I drink this chalice of poison for the Almighty and for His satisfaction."[138]
  16. ^ "Khomeini had to preside over a state bureaucracy three times larger than that of Mohammad Reza Shah."[139]
  17. ^ On April 24, 1989, Article 109 of the Iranian constitution, requiring that the Leader be a marja'-e taqlid, was removed. New wording in constitutional articles 5, 107, 109, 111, required him to be `a pious and just faqih, aware of the exigencies of the time, courageous, and with good managerial skills and foresight.` If there are a number of candidates, the person with the best `political and jurisprudential` vision should have the priority.`


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Bibliography and further reading

  • Abrahamian, Ervand (1982). Iran between two revolutions. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691101345.
  • Abrahamian, Ervand (1993). Khomeinism: Essays on the Islamic Republic. California: University of California Press. ISBN 0520081730. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  • Abrahamian, Ervand (1999). Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21866-3.
  • Amuli, Ayatollah Jawadi (July 2016). "A Glance at the Fundamentals of the Trusteeship of the Jurisconsult (Wilayat al-faqih)". Retrieved 10 August 2022.
  • Hermann, Denis (1 May 2013). "Akhund Khurasani and the Iranian Constitutional Movement". Middle Eastern Studies. 49 (3): 430–453. doi:10.1080/00263206.2013.783828. ISSN 0026-3206. JSTOR 23471080. S2CID 143672216.
  • Keddie, Nikki (2003). Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution. Yale University Press.
  • Imam Khomeini. Governance of the Jurist, Velayat-e Faqeeh; Islamic Government (PDF). Translated by Algar, Hamid. The Institute for Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini's Works. Retrieved 2 August 2022.
  • Khomeini, Ruhollah (1981). Algar, Hamid (ed.). Islam and Revolution : Writing and Declarations of Imam Khomeini. Translated by Algar, Hamid. Berkeley, CA: Mizan Press. ISBN 9781483547541.
  • Khomeini, Ruhollah (1981). "A Warning to the Nation". In Algar, Hamid (ed.). Islam and Revolution : Writing and Declarations of Imam Khomeini. Translated by Algar, Hamid. Berkeley, CA: Mizan Press. pp. 169–173. ISBN 9781483547541. (from Kashf Al-Asrar by Rullah Khomeini, 1941, p.221-224)
  • Moin, Baqer (1999). Khomeini: Life of the Ayatollah. New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 9781466893061.
  • Momen, Moojan (1985). An Introduction to Shi'i Islam. New Haven, CT; London, England: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300035314.
  • A role-model of leadership by Imam Khomeini
  • Powers of the leader and government by Imam Khomeini
  • Vaezi, Ahmed (2004). "what wilayat al-faqih". Shia Political Thought. Retrieved 11 August 2022.

External links

Look up Velayat-e faqih in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikiquote has quotations related to Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist.
  • Iran's Elections Serve Mullahcracy, Not Democracy, the Heritage Foundation.
  • al-Sistani's Web page on fiqh and beliefs.
  • Towards an Understanding of the Shiite Authoritative Sources
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