Understanding the Concepts of Imamat and Wilayat in Shi’a Islam: Iranian Revolution and Constitution, Part I

Understanding the Concepts of Imamat and Wilayat in Shi’a Islam: Iranian Revolution and Constitution, Part I

October 01, 2020

by Mansoureh Tajik for the Saker Blog

Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim, “In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Who is qualified to be in the position of governing and based on what rules are two of the most essential questions with which human societies continue to wrestle. We are currently witnessing at the global stage how the fate and wellbeing of nations are tightly linked to the quality of, or lack thereof, the people in charge of their affairs and the quality of the rules with which they are governed. There is now multitude of nations and leaderships globally that operate based on many ideological shades and hues. From among them, one could choose a few systems to dissect, compare, and contrast to have a sober understanding of which system could offer the wisest framework for a given nation, why, and how. Here, I will focus on one specific form within Shi’a Islam frame of reference, that of Imamat with its extension Wilayat Faqih.

Admirers of secular and other non-secular persuasions could have their own picks and explain their version of things. While they are at it, they could also explain how theirs is working out for them but we request that they do so with intellectual honesty and solid evidence.

Happily, time is almost up for two specific groups of people who have actually been enablers of one another’s dysfunctions, true colleagues, if you will: 1) Religious hypocrites who have duplicitously used religion as a shield to further their selfish lusts and corrupt ways. 2) Non-believing seculars who have made misuse of religion by the first group a scapegoat for their ignorance, arrogance, and incompetence. They are in fact two blades of the same scissors, a match made in hell.

A genuinely interested and intellectually honest and fair person nowadays could examine all evidence about particular leaderships and nations that claim a given religion or ideology as their frame of reference and distinguish the real from the fake. Quite a few rulers around the world, for example, claim Islam as their frame of reference—let’s say, like Iran or Turkey or Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Pakistan or any other— but an impartial thinker could examine all the evidence and reach a reasonable conclusion that these nations have decidedly different systems of words and deeds even though they all claim Islam as the overarching framework. When, for instance, Ayatullah Khamenei of Iran speaks about which direction Iran and the Iranians should be, would be, and are taking, a diligent truth seeker has enough tangible, measurable, and truthful evidence to determine that this man is speaking and behaving as an honest, forthright, and God-fearing leader. In contrast, when the Sultan Al-junior Rajab Tayyib Erdogan of Turkey speaks of Islam, Muslims, and Quran, a fair person can clearly conclude based on real and tangible evidence that s/he is witnessing an Effendi Charlatan in operation.

Questions (be they real, cynical, or rhetorical) forming in the mind of those without real familiarity with Quran and Islam might include the followings: If Islam as a religion and Quran as a Book of God have qualities that they could produce such contrary products and opposite leaderships as a wise leader like Ayatullah Khamenei and a weasel like Sultan Erdogan Junior, then what good is such religion and of what use is such Book?! Random and lottery picking could have a 50/50 chance of either of the two outcomes, too. So, why bother with God, Islam, the religion, and the Book?

These are rational questions and I am glad that some are asking them, albeit with their inner voices. The short answer to these questions is that the two are not both products of the same religion and Book. They are the products of the degree to which they stay on or astray from the Right Path as set by this religion and this Book. The Leader is an example of someone who is genuinely striving to be on the Right Path to the best of his abilities. The weasel is an example of someone who has willfully deviated from the Right Path in deeds but is pretending to be on it in his ramblings. The long answer and evidence and documents supporting it constitute the core of these writings.

For the sake of transparency and for those who may be new to my essays, I must state once again that I am a Shi’a Muslim Twelve-Imami and a believer in Wilayat Faqih, the current system of governance in Iran. An important task before me here as I see it, is not to get anyone to accept or approve of this system of Imamat and Wilayat Faqih. Rather, I hope to provide enough and clearly enough explanations and examples to disentangle and clarify complex and at times decidedly contentious historical and religious facts and concepts in order to correctly convey the wisdom and the reasoning behind this particular system of leadership and governance to those who are interested and/or have an intellectual curiosity about the subject.

I am certain I cannot pack into one moderately-sized essay everything I ought to say to do a decent job of explaining without making this difficult article so lengthy that by the time people reach the middle, they will have already forgotten the beginning. Therefore, in as much a synopsis form as possible, I will Inshallah explain in this and most likely one or two follow-up essays how a delegated system of governance by God based on God’s rules as revealed in Quran and interpreted by scholars of Shi’a Twelve-Imami has worked both in theory and in practice. We shall see. I will also use historical examples from Islam and Iran in addition to relevant concepts to make the text less abstract and more comprehensible. We shall see as well how things have been working out for us the non-seculars specifically the Shi’a Muslims under Imamat and Wilayat Faqih, as operationalized in the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is not going to be an easy ride. So, do please bear with me and the essays.

“Islamic Republic, Not a Word More, Not a Word Less”

Fifty days after the victory of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, through a nation-wide referendum in which 98 percent of eligible voters participated, 99.25% of the participants voted “yes” to an Islamic Republic system of government in Iran[1] replacing a system of monarchy based on an inherited position transfer from a king to his eldest son.

The ballots were worded rather simply (See the image below): “The change from previous regime to Islamic Republic the constitution of which will be put to the nation’s vote for approval.” The “Yes” ballots were in crimson text on a green background. The “No” ballots were in red lettering on a beige background.

No gimmicks. No play on words. No deceptive tactics. It was on persistent urging of Imam Ruhullah Khomeini the referendum was held in the first place. Many were insisting that he, as the uncontested Leader of the Revolution, should just make a public announce about the change in Iran’s political system since the majority in the population was wholeheartedly supporting him anyway. Why mess with a referendum?

Imam Khomeini begged to differ. He insisted on a real tangible and measurable participation by the people of Iran. The people of Iran must put their choice into writing. A choice in which there is obligation and responsibility for their life on earth and for the Hereafter. Their decision had to be clearly documented and witnessed by themselves first and foremost, by the world at large, by the future generations, and above all, by God. A majority “yes” vote in this context could be thought of as a written Bey’at, or a written covenant of allegiance, to the very principles of Islam as the overarching framework of governance. The governed does not just consent. The governed enters into a contract to never desert the scene and to remain ever-vigilant and ever-present at war or at peace or wherever the battle is. For the past 40+ years, majority of the Iranian people, by Grace of God Almighty, have been in the scene.

It is useful to go into a bit more details about the events surrounding the referendum since it gives us an inside look into how things were back then at the beginning. Also, I might need to refer back to some segments later on in the essays. Late Sadiq Tabatabai, the spokesperson for then the transitional government, writes the details in his memoires as follows:

We were in the middle of Esfand (the 12th month in the Iranian calendar, March 1979) when Ahmad Agha (Imam Khomeini’s second son) called me from Qom. He said, “Agha says you must hold a referendum.”

I said, “That’s all good but I am not in charge!”

He said, “You should talk to the State Minister and tell him Imam says a referendum must be held.” I went to Agha Ahmad Haj Seyyed Javadi and relayed Imam’s message. He said, “A referendum needs tools. It requires provincial and regional governors. When we have none of these, how could we hold any referendum?! The State Ministry used to have a major office of elections but that is not currently active either.”

So, I called Ahmad Agha and told him what the State Minister had told me. An hour later, Ahmad Agha called again and said that Agha was asking how the referendum’s situation was progressing. I said, “Ahmad jan, this is not some dyeing barrel [an Iranian expression meaning it is not that easy].”

He said, “You know Agha and I know him, too! I am not going to go back to him a second time and say no! If you want, you come and tell him yourself.”

Immediately, I headed to Qom and went to see Imam. I said, “Agha, why a referendum? You should just make an announcement about it. The whole world knows that the entire population is behind you if you just announce that Islamic Republic is now our political system, all the people will be behind you and support you. Besides, a referendum is going to show exact same thing as well. Right now, we have no resources.”

He said, “You are not understanding things. Right now, it is as you say. But fifty years from now, they are going to turn around and say that they stirred people’s emotions and they just forced the system they wanted on them. They manipulated the public’s sentiment and had them say what they themselves told them to say. So, voting must be done and the precise number of people for and against it must be officially determined and publicly announced.”[2]

Those of us who observe on a regular basis what is spewed out of the media outlets of hostile regimes in the UK, the US, the Zionist entity in Occupied Palestine, and their regional oil wells with flags, we could see quite vividly how they are trying so desperately to distort and falsify the Iranian history and the history of our revolution. So, we find ourselves always remembering to salute Imam Khomeini for his prudence and foresight.

Within less than three weeks from the majority “yes” vote to change to an Islamic Republic, another nationwide election was held and 73 members of Majlis Khubregan-e Qanon Asasi, the Assembly of Experts for Constitutional Laws were elected directly by the people. This assembly formulated the first constitution of the Islamic Republic with Wilayat Faqih, or the Guardianship of Faqih, as its core custodial authority and stewardship through some 67 public and open sessions.[3]

The final draft of the constitution was once again put to a nationwide vote on November 22, 1979, just as it had been promised by Imam Khomeini and was clearly written on the ballots for the very first referendum (See above). Again, there were quite a few people who were insisting the constitution not to be put into another direct vote by the people. However, Imam Khomeini insisted once again on proceeding with another nationwide referendum so the people of Iran could cast their votes regarding the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The constitution was approved by nearly 95% of the eligible participants who voted positively.

Now, from among all existing systems of government, why this system and how is it different from other Islamic countries in the world? Why did it happen in 1979? Why in a Shia-majority Iran? What does “Wilayat” mean? What are the indicators of “Wilayat”? What does “Faqih” mean? What are the attributes of a “Faqih”? Why should a “Wali Faqih” become the supreme steward of the entire system? Where did this system and its principle concepts come from and why? Where is it headed, how, and why?

We will get to all these questions and more. But it is important to first contextualize the formation of this decidedly religious system by examining the global socio- and geo-political context in which it was being established during the last quarter of the 20th Century. I apologize for zigzagging back and forth through time. It is a necessary tactic here to get to some significant events.

The Iranian Islamic Revolution in a Global Context

Written in blood-red color and pasted on a solid black background a rhetorical question was plastered on the cover of Time magazine on April 8, 1966, about thirteen years before the victory of the Iranian Revolution. At the cost of 35 cents per issue, a willfully ostentatious question read: “Is God Dead?”[4] The cover, for the first time ever, used no figures, photographs, or drawings. Dismissal of a deeply-rooted system of belief in God was gleefully advertised. No need for any distractions and pictorial bells and whistles. The title aimed to rehash a rhetoric of Nietzsche from eight decades earlier written in The Gay Science:

“After Buddha was dead, people showed his shadow for centuries afterwards in a cave,—an immense rightful shadow. God is dead: but as the human race is constituted, there will perhaps be caves for millenniums yet, in which people will show his shadow.—And we—we have still to overcome his shadow.”[5]

A shadow play, heh?! In the Time article, the author had not failed to overestimate the power of the self-proclaimed liberals of the West. Nor had it faltered to underestimate God and men of God. He wrote, “Secularization, science, urbanization all have made it comparatively easy for the modern man to ask where God is and hard for the man of faith to give a convincing answer, even to himself.” He was, after all, catering to his bosses’ greed to sell a few more copies of the magazine at 35 cents a piece. His boss was catering to the greed of his masters at Meredith Corporation to keep his job. Meredith Corporation in turn was catering to the greed of its shareholders at New York Stock Exchange to show a noticeable rise in their stock price. Greed, a deadly Sin? Says who?

The harbingers of the self-declared liberal West intoxicated by a feeling of intestinal fortitude failed to see, or more accurately refused to believe, what was going on right under their aloofly laic noses in their most precious puppet kingdoms. While the West was busy closing the file on anything God might say about the governance and rulership of people and societies in the West itself and around the world, Imam Ruhullah Khomeini, a man of God in his sixties then, who was sent to exile in Najaf by Shah’s regime was hard at work to bring the Word of God into the governance of the people who believed in God, and in Iran of all places.

Around the time the Time article was being circulated in April 1966, Imam Khomeini gave a mission to his first son, Agha Mostafa Khomeini to take part in Hajj and make connections with other Muslim activists and inform them of the aims and the progress of the Islamic movement. Shah’s SAVAK (National Intelligence and Information Agency) in close collaboration with Istikhbarat (Information Ministry) in Iraq and Saudi Arabia is following the movement. A memo from the central office of Shah’s SAVAK that was forwarded to a local office of SAVAK in Qom (See the image below) reads:

“Information obtained indicates Mostafa Khomeini, the son of Ayatullah Khomeini, who in the current year went to Mecca, has had contacts with a few radical elements including Majdiddin Mahllati, one of the opposition clerics in Shiraz. They have made some decisions for the months of Muharram and Safar. Since it is probable that these types of people, upon their return to Iran, create incitements, you must order a complete surveillance of the known entities and make necessary arrangements and announce the outcome.”[6]

Iran was a country that was groomed by the lords of the West and through overt and covert operations and a major coup d’etat to become its most darling puppet secular regime and Gendarme in Persian Gulf. It was to be Shi’a only in name and a great model for the region. Even up until two years before the victory of the Iranian Revolution, Jimmy Carter referred to it as an “Island of Stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.” How boorishly unschooled. (To be continued.)

References

[1] The Center for Islamic Revolution Documents, “Media Narrative Regarding the Islamic Republic Referendum on Farvardin 12, 1358.” News Code: 4822. Published online at 12:19, Farvardin 12, 1398 (April 1, 2019). Accessed online through the Center’s site: http://irdc.ir/

[2] Tabatabai S. “Social and Political Memoires of Dr. Sadeq Tabatabai.” Vol. 3, Pages 269-276. Translated from Farsi.

[3] Madani, Seyyed J (1382). “A Review of the Formation of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution.” Portal of Comprehensive Social Sciences, Zamaneh, No. 16. Social Sciences and Cultural Studies Research Center, Article Number: 9644. Online at: Insani.ir

[4] Time. Available online at: http://content.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19660408,00.html

[5] Friedrich Nietzsche (2001). “The Gay Science.” Willimas B., the Editor; Nauckhoff J., the Translator. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, UK. Available online at: http://www.holybooks.com/the-gay-science-friedrich-nietzsche

[6] SAVAK Memo #1432600011 to Qom’s SAVAK. Central Office of National Intelligence and Security Agency, Prime Minister’s Office, Farvardin 25, 1345 (April 14, 1966).

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