Chapter 15 – Wilāyet Al-Faqih

This is a serialization of the book titled ‘Crisis in Islam’. The full book and its Endnotes may be accessed here.

The concept of ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’, which has become common on everyone’s lips during the past thirty years, is not a recent phenomenon in Islamic thought in general or political Islam in particular. It finds its roots in Islamic jurisprudence where Muslim scholars wrote centuries ago that Islam is not merely a religion but it is a way of life, and that it brought the solution for peoples’ affairs in this world and the hereafter. As a result of this, the faqih has become more able than others to guide people in all private and public matters. This disdain for the people found different grades of response among the doctrines of Islamic political thought, manifested clearly in the theories of ‘Governance of God’ of the Muslim Brotherhood and the ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’ of Khomeini’s contemporary followers. It can be summarized as: The people follow a man who takes the place of the Prophet or Imam in all worldly and religious matters, so his opinion is not subject to appeal or objection; he is above the law and above any otherworldly authority. This is quite similar to the ‘Pope’ concept in the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages, albeit that the authority of the latter has become even tangentially religious.

As the Muslim Brotherhood failed, in 2012-2013, in their first attempt to rule Egypt, we are not able to evaluate the application of their theory. However, it is different to ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’, which has been applied in Iran for over thirty years. But there is another difference that is no less important between the ‘Governance of God’ and ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’.

The Muslim Brotherhood movement was born in the aftermath of the fall of the Sunni Ottoman Empire, while ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’ was born under Taqiyya and the Shi’a Marji’iya. The former was, and still lives, on the ruins of a centuries-old fatigued experience, which has lost any impetus, while the second is a relatively new theory in Shi’a jurisprudence, that has no precedent to feed upon, or a vision as to where it will end up.

‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’ was born within the Shi’a Taqleed practice, which as I have shown previously was itself new. But ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’ differed from the traditional Marji’iya in that it declared the end of Taqiyya and the public declaration of Shi’ism, and to announce that the faqih was not only the guardian in matters of religion, but in worldly matters as well. In other words, the faqih became the overall Guardian. There might be some simplification in this, because the real difference between the traditional Marji’iya and ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’ is that the former was suffering from a kind of hypocrisy, while the latter had the courage to come out of that. Traditional Marji’iya, though it claimed shunning worldly and political affairs, was in reality interfering in politics, albeit in a covert way. If it found the political situation in its favour, it would direct the Muqallads (the followed clerics) to submit to the regime. If it found the political situation contrary to what it wanted, it was able to secretly agitate its loyal public.

‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’, which was first discussed by Ahmed An-Naraqi who died in 1829 AD, 1 was born as a practical experience at the hands of Rouhullāh Khomeini, the faqih who was exiled by the Shah of Iran to Iraq, where he lived in Najaf between 1963 and 1979 when Iraq asked him to leave in response to a request from the Shah.2 This was a stupid step, which relied on a failure of the Baghdad Government in reading the Iranian political scene, because Khomeini returned from Paris after months to displace the Shah and establish the first ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’ state in history.

As the ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’ requires that the faqih has the final say in matters of this world and religion, politics has climbed to the top of his authority and powers. But the Ja’fari jurisprudence has no rules, which define where the faqih should stand in matters of contemporary political affairs. If it was clear for the Shi’a fuqahā to decide where they stand from the Umayyad state policy, then it could be understood in light of the political conflict, founded by Quraysh between the ‘House of ‘Ali’ and the ‘House of ‘Aisha’ from the first century of Islam. But it is different in our time because it is not clear where the two parties in this political conflict should stand within the global political conflict. Wahhābi clerics in the Arabian Peninsula have found that the best interest of the doctrine was to stand with the Imperialist Zionist political programs, and that has been their position for over a hundred years. Most of the Shi’a Marji’is in Najaf and Qum have found that the interest of the Shi’a was to take the stand of support or appeasement of Imperialism, and so it was.

However, Rouhullāh Khomeini differed from the prevailing situation in the Shi’a Marji’iya in opposing the Zionist plan for the world. I do not want to engage in what I think is the reason for that stand of Khomeini, since it has no significant impact on this theme. But it is important to understand that Khomeini remained a lifelong enemy of the Zionist project, and he rose against the Shah, and defied the Shi’a Marji’iya in Najaf, Qum and Lebanon on their appeasement of the Zionist regimes. When he lived in exile in Iraq, he was not in accord with the Marji’iya represented by Abul-Qāsim al-Kho’ei. 3 Thus Khomeini and ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’, which was enlivened by him, were opposed by most of the Shi’a clerics in the twentieth century. He was opposed in Iran by Hussein Ali Montazeri, Mar’ashi Najafi and Shari’atmadari, and in Iraq by Abul-Qāsim al-Kho’ei, ‘Ali As-Sistāni, Ishāq Fayyādh and Bashir An-Najafi. In Lebanon he was opposed by Moussa As-Sadr and Mohammed Jawād Mughniyeh. These are only examples as the tendency was unanimously against him.

Islam is the religion of the Arabs just as Judaism is the religion of the Hebrews and Christianity is the religion of the Arameans. This is not my invention or imagination, but a Divine Reality, and whoever wants to object to it may refer it to Allah and ask Him why, even though the reason is evident to “whoever has a heart or who listens while he is present”(Qaaf 50:37). This fact leads to another conclusion, that any movement or leadership for the Muslims must take place at the hands of the Arabs in their land.

But Khomeini had a distinct political sense of realities in the seventies of the last century. He sensed that the objective circumstances for the revolution in Iran had matured. A new generation of Persians arose who were born after the Second World War and witnessed the experience of the failure of Mosaddeq’s attempt at nationalising Iran’s oil; 4 persons who aspired for true liberation from Imperialist Zionism, which had its hold on them as it had its hold on all other Muslims since the First World War. How could there be anything better than the injustice that had befallen the House of the Prophet, causing suffering to Hussein and his family and companions, as a fire lighting their path to achieve this freedom? Thus, the Khomeini revolution came as a surprise to Zionism. We should not underestimate what happened in Islamic thought in 1979 or its impact. Perhaps not everything that has happened in the Muslim World was necessarily a natural outcome of Khomeini’s revolution, but much of what happened was influenced one way or another by the changes brought by Khomeini. Khomeini rekindled hope in Political Islam generally, giving a boost to existing movements and giving birth to others. Thus some Marxist Arabs, who were looking for a political line that would transfer them from their intellectual loss, supported the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan or moved to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviets. But the most important outcome of Khomeini’s revolution in relation to Arab Nationalism and the conflict with Zionism and in a real dialectic way, was the birth of Hizbullah in Lebanon, which I will deal with later in a broader context.

I have first to pause to deal with an issue that I find of major importance because it has neither been understood by the Arabs nor by non-Arab Muslims, and which has been exposed publicly by Khomeini’s revolution and which I have repeated throughout this book, namely that Islam is the religion of the Arabs just as Judaism is the religion of the Hebrews and Christianity is the religion of the Arameans. This is not my invention or imagination, but a Divine Reality, and whoever wants to object to it may refer it to Allah and ask Him why, even though the reason is evident to “whoever has a heart or who listens while he is present”(Qaaf 50:37). This fact leads to another conclusion, that any movement or leadership for the Muslims must take place at the hands of the Arabs in their land. It would not do any good for Hizb-ut-Tahrir to demand the return of the Ottoman Empire to achieve the dream of an Islamic state. 5 If Hizb-ut-Tahrir really wanted an Islamic state, it should demand the return of Baghdad and the Abbasid State, or something like that. The Ottoman Empire failed because it knew nothing of Islam but its name, and used it to achieve its plan for the domination by the Turks of the world around them. They corrupted, vandalized and when they departed, they did not leave any mark for the world to refer to as an honoured glory. Maybe Hizb-ut-Tahrir should address the question that any researcher in Islam would ask: if the Ottomans really represented Islam, why is it that none of the fifty or so of their Caliphs made the holy pilgrimage to Mecca considered by Muslims to be on the pillars of religion?

Through this understanding, the defects of Khomeini’s revolution seem obvious. Khomeini, as all his contemporaries knew, hated Arabs in general. He was in fact prejudiced against them to the extent that he refused to talk in Arabic, even when he lived in Najaf, in spite of his knowledge of it. I do not mean that he had to speak Arabic, because it was his right to be proud of being Persian, as does every human being belonging to any ethnicity. But he was speaking in Farsi in matters of Islam and Hadith to an Arab congregation, which could not be correct, because the Qur’an was not revealed in the language of the Persians even if Khomeini wished it. “And even if We had revealed it to one among the foreigners [non-Arabs], And he had recited it to them [perfectly], they would [still] not have been believers in it” (Ash-Shu’araa 26:198-199).  The reason for his hatred of Arabs may be that he blames them for the killing of Hussein and his family, and this sense of criminalization prevails among a group of non-Arab Muslims. Khomeini and his ilk had a growing feeling that the Arabs were not eligible for the leadership of Islam, and they as non-Arab Muslims are more capable of doing that. Thus, Khomeini thought he was capable of leading the Muslims to safety. And that is how the concept of ‘exporting the Iranian revolution’ outside Iran was born, which has become a ‘scarecrow’ used by the Zionists to scare others in the Arab world. I am not saying that because I believe in the correctness of the project to export Iranian Shi’a-identity revolution to the Arab world, but I say this in an attempt to deal with history objectively. This is because I have not heard from those who wrote or spoke about the dangers of exporting the Iranian revolution to the Arab world speaking about the danger of exporting Turkish New Turanism 6 to the Arab world! Is it so that the Arabs, who were ruled by the Turks with an injustice that ended in stultification and ‘Turkization’ to the limit that Arabic was almost forgotten in the land of Islam, are not really afraid of the return of that darkness, and fear only the dangers of the Persian tide? Or do those who are keen on ‘Zionized’ Arabism have a different understanding of history?

It would not escape anybody’s mind that the Khomeini revolution in Iran has not fully succeeded. The proof is that the presidential elections brought two presidents opposed to the theory of ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’, although they hypocritically claimed otherwise. President Rouhani had made several statements asking the Revolutionary Guard (the arm of Khamenei) to refrain from interfering in politics. Both Khatami and Rouhani represent Rafsanjani’s opinion.7 While the latter is not a scholar, he nevertheless represents the opinion of Iranian clerics who oppose the theory. There is a line of clerics in Iran who oppose the theory of ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’ today just as much as they did before Khomeini became victorious. It seems also that the majority of the Iranian people support them in that.

It should also be clear that Khomeini’s revolution failed to achieve any distinct attraction in Iraq, where he had desired to have a large base among the oppressed, as he liked to call them. During the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq’s Shi’a fought with honour in defence of their country without the consideration of sectarian affiliation, and national loyalty won over denominational loyalty. Let no one say that they fought for fear of the regime’s injustice, because no one can frighten a soldier in the battlefield who does not see in front of him anything but death!

As for the political movement of Iraqi Shi’a, the failure of Khomeini’s revolution was no less evident. Both the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Da’wa Party found themselves, in the midst of Khomeini’s victory, forced to ride the wave. SCIRI adopted the theory of ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’ and the Da’wa party swore allegiance to Khomeini. But both were hypocritical, because SCIRI was linked to Zionism due to the historical links of the Al-Hakim family to it. The Da’wa party was a product of the Shah, and how can a Party produced by the Shah be non-Zionist? Noble principles can only be carried by noble people. And so it was that, when the Zionists invaded Iraq in 2003, SCIRI and Da’wa Party returned to share power with the other Zionist traitors. In case someone claims that I am being partial, I refer them to what the commander of the Islamic Republic ‘Ali Khamenei said of those in Iraq and their supporting clerics. He is quoted as saying: “They say that ‘Ali is their Imam, but they refrain from saying one word against the US.”8

So if Khamenei was not talking about the Shi’a Marji’iya in Iraq and Iraq’s Shi’a parties, whom was he talking about?

As non-Arabs cannot lead Islam, even if they are Arabized, then the theory of ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’ cannot continue without having an Arab breeding ground. The case of Hizbullah may be an indicator of the success of the theory in having an Arab breeding ground, which I will discuss later. But the great hope since the era of Khomeini was pinned on Iraq. Yet the theory failed to gain any ground in Iraq and is on the verge of failing in Iran.

In Iraq, despite all the talk and rumours about Iranian hegemony, it still has a political sectarian dominance, which has succeeded through sectarian coherence between the intelligence apparatus of the Iranian state and the Shi’a Parties in Iraq, and not because of any adherence of Iraq’s Shi’a Parties to the theory of ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’. This complexity of relationships is perhaps the reason for the difficulty in understanding this relationship, and of the Iranian influence in Iraq among some. In addition, this complexity gives others, who understand it for what it is, the ability to simplify matters and try to portray this complex relationship as a US-Iranian agreement on sharing Iraq in a comprehensive plan written in ancient times.  But those biased people know that it is not so! The religious influence of ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’ in Iraq was non-existent.

In Iran, the theory is in decline. This does not mean that it is going to die soon, because it still holds many powers. The Revolutionary Guards, which represent its military arm, is still a powerful force capable of defending the revolution as understood by the guards against any internal or external threat. These guards consider themselves entrusted with the revolution, and have a view beyond the elected institutions by the people, even though it is backed up by the majority opinion, because the concept of revolution in the eye of the Revolutionary Guards is the opinion of the elite and the minority in all stages of history. This is a sound historical theory. No revolution has erupted without being led by a devoted elite, and there is no people’s revolution, because what is called people’s revolution is mobilizing the mob to move in the direction decided by the elite. Unless the mob is properly led, it would frustrate the endeavour. Imam ‘Ali described this historical truth in saying: “The mob when they assemble together, they cause harm, and when they disperse they cannot be recognized.” 9 It does not escape the notice of an observer of the scene in Iran to see this growing conflict. But whoever understands the movement of history understands the reason for the split in Iran today, which did not exist on the same level twenty years ago.

The Iranians who came out against the Shah of Iran, and fell in the street, rose against the unjust rule and for a cause they considered legitimate. But they are no longer present, and their children’s generation did not witness nor lived the injustice of the Shah’s rule and do not know the experience endured by their parents in order to be part of it. This new generation has a different ambition because the experience is different and the global environment is different.  They are not able to understand the cause of war between the Islamic Republic and the United States, especially when the environment around them from the media, film and television portray the latter as a civilized nation and ‘democratic.’ Most of them are not concerned with the question of Palestine and Jerusalem, which they see, though a great injustice, as far from their reality and immediate needs. The revolution, any revolution, would die if it does not create for each generation a new challenge, put in front of it and force it to confront. The generation of Iranians born after the Iran-Iraq war faces no challenge worthy of such confrontation.  And so the State of ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’ finds itself unable to persuade most of the young Iranian people that they have to bear the hardship for steadfastness and confronting America, because they do not  honestly believe that America should be faced with these options. If ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’ wants to draw the Iranian people towards the revolution, it needs to create a real heated confrontation after which the people will rally around it as they did in 1980 when the Iraqi army entered its territory and Iran was on the brink of the abyss. A revolution, any revolution, needs to renew itself in order for it to continue, and it can not continue to talk about deep dangers in a complex political analysis no matter how objective it may be. The Bolshevik Revolution failed, despite being one of the biggest active revolutions in contemporary history, because it could not renew itself. Why should, ‘Wilāyet Al-Faqih’, then succeed?


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