Islamic Revolution and Imami Jurisprudence


The concept of Velayat-e-Faqih (the supreme political authority of the grand religious jurist) is a relatively recent concept in the history of Imami sect of Shi`ite Islam. Since the advent of the Islamic republic of Iran in 1979, it has become the theoretical justification for the Imami religious authorities of Iran to claim that they are entrusted with exclusive authority over the political, social and economic life of the Iranian society.

This claim, inter alia, has for all practical purposes undermined the traditional concept of Ijtehad by which every grand religious authority could issue fatwas (binding religious decrees) for his followers on both divine and worldly matters. It was through such fatwas that independent grand jurists gradually acquired, in the 300 years preceding the Islamic revolution, a share in the exercise of political power in Iran. 

Ironically, the materialization of the concept of of Velayat-e-Faghih that was sanctioned by the authority of independent religious jurists, has in the last 30 years resulted in severe limitation on the freedom and activities of traditional Ayatollahs who could potentially question the legitimacy of the current rulers and pose a serious threat to the survival of their authoritarian regime. Thus, a concept developed in the Ijtehadi school of thought has in fact provided the grounds for the demise of this once powerful school.

اسماعيل نوری علا*
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