Shiite Political Theology and the Crisis of Legitimacy in Iran


Mohammed Sayyed al-Sayyad and Sulaiman Alwadai

Researchers at the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah)


The relationship between religion and the state, which is subject to intersecting spiritual, material, theological and political influences, remains one of the most important and problematic issues when studying clerical political systems and the influence wielded by their religious institutions over the public sphere. The active role of  Iran’s clerics in the public sphere – and the transformations within  the Twelver Shiite political theory following the 1979 revolution –  are no secret.

 This study  reviews the critical junctures in the history of political Shiism and its theories to shed light on  the jurisprudential and philosophical foundations and interpretations that  Shiite political jurisprudence has been based on.  In other words, this study analyzes  the ground realities, and the political and social  constraints resulting from secularization, modernization and Western colonization that have led  to the Twelver Shiite community  undergoing  intellectual transformations that  contributed to almost  redefining the core essence of Twelver Shiism’s political jurisprudential theory. These transformations  impacted the entire sect, not only the Velayat-e Faqih  theory,  but also every Shiite current participating in the public sphere, even the ones believing in the doctrine of waiting.

 The study sheds light on  the relationship between the political jurisprudential theory of  Velayat-e Faqih after the 1979 Iranian revolution  and  Twelver Shiite political  legacy.  Finally, this study assesses  the extent to which the Khomeini-engineered political theory has contributed to the transformations within Shiite political jurisprudence — which   have been ongoing  post revolution.

The study aims to answer the following questions: Do the transformations relate to traditional Shiite principles? Have other Shiite sub-sects such as the Zaydis and Ismailis contributed to these transformations? Or  do they relate to intertwined and overlapping factors?  No  definitive answers can be reached to the aforementioned questions    without thoroughly reviewing and investigating the triggers behind the transformations,  which have beset Shiite political thought.

  1.  Imams and Shunning the Public Sphere

Throughout its long history, Twelver Shiism  had not been a revolutionary or violent sect.  During the times of the infallible imams, the Shiite community shunned politics upon approval from the imams themselves. The martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali (Imam Husayn  680 AD/61 AH), along with a number of his family members and supporters, led Ahl al-Bayt (the extended family of prophet Muhammad) to shun politics. Imam Husayn’s  son Ali bin Husayn — known as Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin (died in 713 AD/95AH) —  shunned the public sphere although several uprisings against Umayyad rule broke out during his lifetime. He also did not participate in his father’s uprising against Yazid. The memory of Ali ibn Husayn and his uncle Hassan bin Ali’s avoidance of politics were the first signs of Ahl al-Bayt members shunning the public sphere and devoting themselves to religious scholarship.

 Ali ibn Husayn’s son Muhammad al-Baqir (died 732 AD/114AH) followed in his footsteps and refused to rebel against the Umayyads. He  participated in a debate  with his brother Zayd which focused on the question of rebelling against rulers.  Zayd bin Ali believed that rebellion and taking up arms against oppressive rulers was permissible. Baqir rejected his brother’s position, further enhancing his inclination to shun involvement in politics.   He held this view despite the fact that the celebrated Islamic historian al-Dhahabi stated that  Mohammad al-Baqir was fit for the caliphate’s office but he did not seize power or consider taking over the caliphate. [1]

After the death of Mohammad al-Baqir, his son Ja’far al-Sadiq (died 765 AD/148 AH) also held the same view as did  all the imams who followed him who are considered by  Twelver Shiites to be infallible imams. It is  important to review the political approach of Ja’far   because he is a key pillar of Shiism.

1.1 Ja’far al-Sadiq and Shunning  Rebellion

The  life of Ja’far al-Sadiq (died 765 AD/148 AH) seems to  be crucial in the  course of political Shiism. In his book “The Book of Sects and Creeds,” al-Shahrastani (died 1153 AD/548 AH)  states that when Ja’far  realized that some people were enthusiastic about rebelling against  Umayyad rule, he said to  them, “The Umayyads are wronging the people, and even if a mountain stands up  against them, they will crush it. It is inadmissible for any member of the household of the Prophet to rebel against them until God ordains their rule to end.”[2] Therefore, Ja’far refused to  participate in the rebellion spearheaded by his uncle Zayd bin Ali (died 740 AD/122 AH) against Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik (743 AD/125 AH). He even warned  against the rebellion, advising Zayd against it.

Ja’far advised his followers to wait until the Umayyads were  toppled.  He also refused to rebel against the Abbasids  following the collapse of the Umayyads  during his lifetime. He advised his cousins not to rebel against the Abbasids.   Ja’far refused to pledge allegiance to his cousin Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya (died 762 AD/145 AH) who rebelled against the rule of Abu Ja’far al-Mansur.  The people of Medina pledged allegiance to him and then he was killed.   Regarding Ja’far’s position on  the rebellion spearheaded by Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya, al-Dhahabi says, “Ja’far al-Sadiq disappeared, traveling to al-Furu (a town that was part of Medina) to avert sedition.”[3]

  Some scholars participated in the rebellion spearheaded by Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya.   Al-Tabari  mentions that a huge number of scholars and jurists partook in the rebellion,[4] however, the notable jurists  of Medina did not participate in it. Ja’far belonged to the jurisprudential school of Medina at that time. [5]

Similar to his opinion about his father, al-Dhahabi  says about Ja’far  about seeking office of the  caliphate, “Ja’far had many good traits. He was fit for the caliph role due to his notability, contribution, jurisprudential knowledge, and honorable ancestry (may God be pleased with him).[6] However,  Ja’far did not attempt to become the caliph. As al-Shahrastani puts it, “He — referring to Ja’far — stayed in Medina, teaching his Shiite followers, * showering his loyalists with the inner secrets of knowledge. Then he entered Iraq — staying there for a while. He never sought the office of the caliphate,  nor did he dispute with anyone who took  it.”[7]

1.2 The   Development Phase of Seminaries  

Ja’far followed in the footsteps of his father Mohammad al-Baqir — focusing on  the acquisition of jurisprudential knowledge, and shunning politics and  the public sphere. This approach was adopted  by the Twelver Shiite community when it took shape, distinguishing itself from  the   Zaydi and Ismaili schools of thought afterwards. It promoted  the doctrine of waiting —  shunning political sedition and rebellion.  This helped it to remain influential within the seminaries while other Shiite schools of thought disappeared in the aftermath of political failure as was the case with the Ismaili Shiite school of thought when its rule in Egypt ended.  

But its vitality in the seminaries — which flourished in light of it shunning politics—  ended when  the Safavids employed Twelver Shiism and its  notable clerics to boost  their legitimacy at home and counter their foes abroad.  

This inclination towards  waiting for the Infallible Imam during the  life of Ja’far cannot be construed as taqiya (a Shiite practice of hiding the truth for self-protection and  preserving one’s faith) as some contemporary Shiites argue.  Many revolts had raged and  there were spaces to exercise  freedom and  express opinions. People interacting  in the public sphere to some extent  — such as political engagement  and so on — was possible. This  is supported  by Ja’far’s refusal to merely “promote virtue and  prevent vice” if practicing it would lead to a minimum level of harm.  He also refused to promote virtue unless  it was approved by the government. [8]

After the disappearance of the twelfth imam and the start of the minor and then the major occultation,[9]  Twelver Shiites  promoted the doctrine of waiting.   Twelver Shiism emerged as a school of thought based on the doctrine of  waiting. One of the reasons behind Twelver Shiism flourishing in the Islamic Middle Ages was its heavy focus on religious/seminary education and shunning the public sphere. Twelver Shiism retained its full jurisprudential and geographic influence even after the collapse of the Fatimid dynasty in Cairo.  This is because Twelver Shiism was not dependent on the state and its support at that time. This branch of Shiism was never political in nature at that time.

1.3 The Shura Government Versus the Velayat-e Faqih Government

During his life, Ja’far did not  adopt opinions that were different from the  Muslim community and the school of Medina.  He endorsed the pledging of allegiance, the  appointment of rulers and Shura (among Muslims). He did not comment on the common Shiite saying that Prophet Muhammad  identified ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib and his sons and grandsons as his  successors.

Hence, some Shiite thinkers, such as Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar and others, have argued that the authority of imams is religious and spiritual in nature — not political.  Ja’far al-Sadiq distinguished between the religious imamate (authority) and its political counterpart. On the one hand, he noted that political rule lacks the morals based on religious values and traits  which are manifested  in the imamate. On the other side, he looked down on political rule — and anyone aspiring to  it.— He argued  that   political rule  was preordained and the rise and fall  of dynasties  rested only with God.[10]

Ja’far followed in the footsteps of his grandfather ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib.  When Uthman ibn Affan died and the people rushed to pledge allegiance to him, he said, “Pledging allegiance to me should not happen in the dark, nor  will it happen against the will of Muslims.”[11]

There are  proofs to support ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib’s position as mentioned  in “Nahj al-Balagha” and other Shiite books. This position  is consistent with what his son Hassan  did when he brought together Muslims, ceding  his rule, and shunning the public sphere.

In addition, Ja’far never claimed that there was a religious text, or that a successor had been chosen.   A Banu Hashim meeting  held during the period of the Ummayds  — after their rule had weakened  — to choose a new leader from among them,  Abu Ja’far al-Mansur (775 AD/158 AH), who opposed the Ummayds and had not yet ascended to power, floated the name of  Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya. However, the pledge of  allegiance was not done as Ja’far al-Sadiq was not present.  When Abdullah ibn Hasan — the father of Mohammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya — went to him and asked him to pledge allegiance to his son, he said, “You are an elder. And if you want me to pledge allegiance to you, I will. But as to your son, I swear by God I will not pledge allegiance to him and overlook you.”[12]

The principle of  pledging allegiance to choose a ruler was in place.  However, differences arose over who was fit to be ruler according to Ja’far’s viewpoint.  If Ja’far  believed that there was some religious text designating who should rule, he would not have adopted the position of pledging allegiance to select a ruler.

2. The Question of Legitimacy During the Rule  of the Safavids

In Shiite political thought the concept of  “political legitimacy” differs from how it is understood and applied in Western political culture.  First, Western political legitimacy is based on government directives and the people’s response to them.  Meanwhile,  in Shiite political thought the concept of legitimacy evolves around  the government embracing certain values and norms.

Second, Western political legitimacy is derived from different sources, such as traditional, social and legal sources, while  religious texts are the sole source of legitimacy in Shiite political thought  (in its Velayat-e Faqih version). The interpretation of religious texts is left to clerics and jurists who specialize in this field.   The  interpretation of religious texts (monopolizing their interpretation) is exclusively the right of the guardian jurist as he has the divine right to do so.[13] Third,  in Western political culture, obtaining  public consent is  critical for public legitimacy, whether in the phase of establishing or upholding a government. However, legitimacy in  Velayat-e Faqih “primarily rests on a  priori basis.”[14]

The major reformist ideas  adopted by Twelver Shiites in the era prior to the Safavids  appeared in the works  of al-Junayd al-Iskafi and the jurists of the Hilli school of thought.[15]  Reformists were  close to achieving  their objectives at the level of uṣūl al-fiqh  and  at the social and political levels.  

  But a genuine setback to reformist efforts occurred as a result of the politicization of Shiism under the Safavids.  Safavid rule halted  efforts to reform  both Shiite uṣūl and  kulliyāt al-fiqh, promoting  an extremist version of  Shiism which Farhad Daftary  classes as “puritan Shiism.”[16] This politicization of Shiism had a major impact on  the entire Shiite community in the region.

2.1 Al-Karki and  Political Legitimacy

The Safavids turned to Sheikh al-Karki (died in 1534 AD/940 AH) to build the government’s religious apparatus.  Al-Karki was a radical Shiite. He widened the  differences between  Shiites and Sunnis through his fatwas that rendered it lawful to curse the Prophet’s companions,  repress Sunnis and  propagate a violent form of Shiism, breaking away from Shiite traditions.  Some intellectuals  named this new politicized form “Safavid Shiism” while others  named it “Kizlibashi Shiism”[17] since it was violent and extreme.  

Al-Karki was close to Tahmasp I.[18] His principal task was to provide the ruling system with some form of religious legitimacy. Hence, it is noticeable  that his jurisprudential works focused on what benefited the ruling system and served its interests.  However,  the works of al-Junayd al-Iskafi and Hilli jurists focused on reforming the norms of Shiite jurisprudential teachings. Undoubtedly, this happened because of the different political realities during the two periods; the period of al-Karki and the period of al-Junayd al-Iskafi.

The  landmark transformations  adopted by al-Karki evolved around two issues.  The first issue  was related to  the legitimacy of  Friday prayers. The  predominant opinion among Shiite jurists was that it was unlawful to  hold Friday prayers before the reappearance of the Infallible Imam.[19]  However, Sheikh al-Karki rendered the holding  of Friday prayers to be lawful  under the Safavids. This position contributed towards legitimizing the rule of the Safavids in absence of the  Infallible Imam. The Safavids began to have a say over all matters that were in the remit of the Infallible Imam.[20]

This fatwa was issued because  Friday preachers were urgently needed in  Persia’s provincial regions, cities, and villages to  propagate the religious and political opinions  approved by the Safavids.[21]

The second issue was related to the legitimacy of taking rewards. Al-Karki rendered it lawful for  jurists to take gifts  and rewards from the government.  The Safavids considered that this fatwa boosted  their religious legitimacy.

 Al-Karki and other jurists  benefited from securing positions and appropriating wealth.  They even managed to create a religious establishment that spread across the  Persian territories and wielded authority over  them.[22]

This shift made the Shiite religious establishment vulnerable to “domestication” and losing independence.  The Safavids created an official Shiite religious establishment  parallel to  popular religious incubators perhaps for the first time in Shiite history.  Shiite jurists and clerics  had always expressed their pride in independence from ruling governments  — given their doctrine  of waiting and shunning politics. This independence was reflected  in  issuing fatwas and permeated across all jurisprudential matters.

When the Safavids assumed  power and aimed  to set up an official Shiite religious establishment like  the Ottoman Empire’s Sunni religious establishment,  a huge number of clerics rushed to join this religious establishment.  

Shah Ismail showered Sheikh al-Karki with large sums of money to establish a network of students.  Shah Ismail wanted to shift from the phase of promoting Twelver Shiism to the phase of establishing a state.[23]

In light of the Safavids offering gifts and money, jurisprudential differences arose among Shiite clerics. Two groups emerged, one rendering the offerings to be lawful, while the other group rejected the close proximity between the jurists and the state.

Among the opponents  were some heavyweight jurists – including al-Karki’s companions and contemporaries  in the  Shiite community — such as Ibrahim al-Qatifi (died 1543 AD/950 AH) who rejected al-Karki’s close links with the Safavids. In addition, he opposed the politicization of Shiism and the  ideology-centered fatwas that ran counter to the general thought of Shiism such as rendering it lawful to hold Friday prayers in the absence of the Infallible Imam and rendering it lawful to take gifts and money from the Safavid rulers. [24]

According to some Shiite jurists, al-Qatifi refrained — until the last moment of his life — from taking any gifts or money.  Al-Karki’s justifications for jurists taking the aforementioned  remained prevalent and common in Shiite jurisprudential circles such as his justification for taking   kharaj (the payment of taxes on agricultural land).  The jurists who succeeded him in the Safavid court continued with his position of taking  kharaj  and deemed this to be “lawful money,” bringing forth proof after proof to demonstrate the validity of al-Karki’s opinion — in response to their critics.  

Ahmad ibn Muhammad Ardabili (died in 1584 AD) held a significant standing  and respect among  Shiite clerics.  When he entered the Safavid court, he rendered unlawful the gifts and money  given to Shiite jurists,  strongly denouncing the flawed opinion  of jurists who had even gone beyond  the jurisprudential framework  set by al-Karki.[25]

Ahmad ibn Muhammad Ardabili (died in 1854 AD/993 AH) was one of the most prominent jurists in Najaf who at that time opposed  the Safavids. He refused to visit  Persia and described the practices of the Safavids as “unjust and illegitimate.” 

Among his students who  opposed the Safavids were Hasan Sahib Almoalem (died 1602 AD/1011 AH) and his nephew Muhammad bin Ali Nur al-Din al-Amili al-Jubai (died 1600 AD/1009AH).[26]

Before this, Zayn al-Din al-Juba’i al Amili (al-Shahid al-Thani) (died 1557 AD/965 AH) rejected  Safavid rule and worked for  Shiite independence from the Safavid project in  Persia.[27] It is worth noting that al-Shahid al-Thani was one of the major jurists in the Levant at that time and al-Qatifi was the most outstanding jurist in Najaf.  Both of them refused to travel to  Persia to settle there or to take up positions in the ruling system.  

 The Shiite seminaries outside  Persia had come to grips with the danger facing the Shiite religious establishment due to the Safavids’ strategy of exploiting Shiism for political ends.  

Shiite jurists attempted to keep a distance  between themselves and any government in light of the occultation of the Infallible Imam — even if the ruling government was Shiite in nature.

We could say that the Safavid -Karki line and the second line — spearheaded by al-Shahid al-Thani and al-Qatifi — still governs the trajectories of Shiism. Today,  Shiite jurists  are  influenced according to the wishes of governments,  while  Shiite jurists in Lebanon and Iraq have  to a great extent resisted political integration and exploitation for political agendas.  The Iranian government  has continuously attempted to use various means to influence Shiite jurists and end their independence.  

For the majority of Shiite jurists,  the forced integration  into political structures or subjugation to  governing authorities remains an anathema. They are deeply concerned about  Iran’s ambitions. Iranian Shiite thinker Hani Fahs (died 2014 AD/1435 AH) said, “The Iranians are seizure-oriented. They do not like to play a role — but wield influence. A role means partnership — and requires that there should be another party. But influence means making the others subordinates and followers.  It depends on clients and a rent-seeking method to control those in power and in decision-making positions. It is only concerned about achieving its interests, it is very pragmatic and obsessed with  its imperial ambition, seeking to restore  Persian power.”[28]

2.2 Ruling on Behalf of the Infallible Imam

Al-Karki  became a representative of the Infallible Imam in light of an edict from the shah in 1533 AD, which granted him sweeping powers, including the authority to appoint and dismiss governors and officials.[29] However, al-Karki’s remained under the shah’s authority, not vice versa.

The two men  had an interdependent relationship. The shah needed al-Karki for the sake of  religious and sectarian legitimacy, spreading Shiism across the Persian  territories and   dispatching Shiite missionaries. Al-Karki, on the other hand,  needed the shah for his religious and personal ambitions.  Al-Karki saw his appointment  as the representative of the Infallible Imam as an opportunity to grant  himself part of the general guardianship.  Thus, he exercised his role based on having some form of general guardianship.  Shiite jurisprudence moved in this  direction for the first time. Traditional Shiite jurisprudence embraced the doctrine of waiting.[30]  According to the traditionalists,  there should be no political participation in the absence  of the Infallible Imam since governance is exclusively for him.   Yes, there had been some historical attempts to rule in the name of the Infallible Imam. But these attempts did  emerge from the  Shiite clerical community. These  attempts were purely political and military in nature   including what Abu Ali Ahmed ibn al-Afdal, also known as al-Afdal Kutayfāt, (died 1131 AD/525 AH) did.  He was a Twelver Shiite. He deposed al-Hafez al-Ismaili (died 1149 AD/544 AH), locked him up and ruled in his place.[31] It was a small-scale experience. It was not fully supported by Shiite jurists. Historical sources did not bring forth its details thoroughly for us to be able to  evaluate this  event properly.

 However, al-Karki provided  sectarian legitimacy for what he did.  He claimed what he did was  essential, paying no heed to the opinion of the majority of Shiite jurists during and before his time.

 “Our fellow jurists (may God be pleased with them) agreed that the fair, imamate-abiding jurist who meets the jurisprudential requirements for issuing fatwas, who is known as a  mujtahid in deducting Sharia rulings, is a representative  of the infallible imams (may God’s peace and blessings be upon them) during the time of occultation in all the aspects where representation (being a representative of the Infallible Imam)  shall be deemed necessary,” he said.[32]

Thus, the jurists during  his time denounced him due to his alliance with the Safavids and alleging that he was the representative of the Infallible Imam, as well as for deviating  from the  fundamentals of  the Jafari school of thought and breaking away from  the mainstream jurists.[33] Attempting to   adjust the  sect’s fundamentals  was  part of his pursuit for legitimacy without ending up with an odd/individual jurisprudential interpretation. Likewise,  Khomeini (1902 – 1989 AD / 1319 – 1409 AH) followed the same path. He argued for the absolute implementation of Velayat-e Faqih, claiming that it was an original foundation of Shiism.  His school of thought  deviated from all the opinions of  mainstream Shiite jurists in order to legitimize his rule.  

The relationship between al-Karki and the  shah was  limited to the jurist-sultan equation and was binary in nature. This binary relationship forced al-Karki to  submit to many of the  shah’s dictates and many of his personal projects failed as he was not independent. Meanwhile, Khomeini afterwards changed the  nature of the relationship with him exclusively possessing and exercising power.  

To conclude, the transformation led by al-Karki was not  only jurisprudential but was also  political —  motivated by his ambition to gain  influence and climb the political ladder. In addition, he wanted to provide legitimacy to the newly emerged state at home and counter the Kizlibashis and the non-Shiite majority in Persia as well as  the Ottomans overseas who  followed Sunni Islam.

But at the same time,  his transformation resulted in distorting the fundamentals of Shiism for the sake of political gains. Shiite jurists made a lot of concessions, and they were manipulated to serve the interests of the ruling system.

According to Mulla Sadra (died 1640 AD/1050 AH), the goals of the jurists were purely political. They wanted the people to  submit to their dictatorial fatwas and directives.[34]

Hence, Mulla Sadra criticized some of the  jurists during his time for showing up frequently at the royal court. He mentioned this in his book “Waridat al-Qalbiyyah” — in protest against the subjugation of jurists and their politicization.[35]

3.  Pro-Velayat-e Faqih Loyalists and the Crisis of Legitimacy

There is no doubt that the political developments and jurisprudential interactions which the Shiite community  experienced –  during the  rule of the Safavids, the Qajars  and the Pahlavis — significantly impacted its  collective mindset. Khomeini was well aware of this Shiite political history. Hence, such a political and jurisprudential legacy was invoked  during the Constitutional Movement in 1905 and the 1979 revolution. Over the course of history, Shiites have responded  to political developments  with different approximations. The concept of waiting for the reappearance of the Infallible Imam was   adopted by Shiites during the rule of the Qajars and Pahlavis.  However, in the context of Iran’s contemporary history, the Shiite revolutionary approximation  was based on forming an Islamic government to prepare the ground for the reappearance  of the Infallible Imam.[36]

Khomeini  went through three main stages in his intellectual life.  The transformations in Khomeini’s thought are the basis upon which we understand  the political jurisprudential  theories  adopted by contemporary Iranian elites.

In the first stage, Khomeini started as a traditionalist Shiite jurist who believed in the  doctrine of waiting which he embraced from within the traditional seminary — like all  traditionalist jurists. Some  proofs indicate that this  stage continued until the 1960s.

According to Ayatollah Hossein Montazeri, he proposed to Khomeini in the 1960s to adopt the idea of the “Third Line” — a midway between the Shiite theory of “religious texts specifying  the ruler”  and the Sunni  theory of shura. Montazeri argued that both theories could be combined: to observing  religious texts during the  life of the infallible imams (in case they exist) and pursuing  the theory of shura when they are not present.  This midway theory is close to what Naini floated in his book“Tanbih al-Omma”— a line that the Najaf seminary  adopts today.[37]

 However, back then, Khomeini rejected this theory  and insisted on the necessity of waiting and argued that it was unlawful to establish a government during  the time of occultation or establishing it via shura.  

He said to Montazeri, “The Shiite sect believes in the necessity that the ruler be infallible and appointed by God. The onus is on the people during the time of occultation. And we should create the proper conditions for the reappearance of the Absent Imam.”

 Montazeri wondered, “Does this mean that the people  during the time of occultation live in chaos?” Khomeini responded, “God has bestowed His favor in full, and it rests with the people now to create the proper conditions for the reappearance of the Infallible Imam. The imam, according to the opinion of Shiites  should be infallible and appointed by God.”[38]

The second stage  was marked by Khomeini drawing closer to the idea of  a constitutional government like  Mirza Naini  and the Constitutional Movement.  Montazeri tried to convince  Khomeini of this idea during  the first stage of his intellectual life.

Justifying his views Khomeini said, “We do not say that authority and power should be  taken by jurists. But the government should be run according to God’s sharia — which can reform the people and the country. That can only be done through clerics as was the case with the constitutional government* when it approved this matter.”[39] Here, Khomeini mentions  the constitutional government, which he rejected and criticized  during the last stage of his intellectual life.  There is  an overlap between the first and second stages and the time between these two stages cannot be precisely specified — as well as the reasons for the shift between the stages.  

The third stage included the publication of his book “TheIslamic Government” which outlined his theory regarding the guardianship of the jurist. However, his theory was a continuation of what Mulla Muhammad Mahdi Naraqi came up with, and was close to al-Karki’s position — although with some modifications. In other words, in this stage, he defended guardianship over public affairs, and broadened the theory but he  did not  float the idea of the “absolute guardianship” of the jurist until a few months before his death.

Despite the rejection that  Khomeini’s theory has faced across Shiite religious circles, pro-Velayat-e Faqih followers have insisted on justifying it, defending it and pushing for its implementation. Iranian cleric Ahmad Vaezi  attempted to justify  the theory in his book “Shia Political Thought.” He mentioned — without quoting a source — that Khomeini expressed this point of view during his lectures in Iraq (at the Najaf seminary) years before the Iranian revolution broke out.[40]

 However, historical  events prove that Khomeini — all of a sudden and years after the success of the Iranian revolution — surprised everybody by endorsing the absolute version of Velayat-e Faqih.[41] This is the final state which is usually associated with the third phase.  However, his argument regarding the absolute  Velayat-e Faqih version is quite significant. It is worth noting that when Khomeini embarked on his ideological campaign to establish the Islamic government, the Shiite juristic community in Iran was already established. This made it easy for Khomeini to cultivate his idealistic views,   acting later as the basis for his absolute version of Velayat-e Faqih theory.[42]

Unlike Western political culture, the absolute version of Velayat-e Faqih outlined by Khomeini is not interested in public opinion, nor does it depend on it. It also does not  depend on democratic values  or election-oriented politics. Rather, it focuses on the  heavenly mandate of the jurist — directly derived from God.[43]

In the last stage, Khomeini not only outlined his new approximation  regarding the theory of Velayat-e Faqih, but he also launched attacks against the idea of  constitutional government— which he had  praised in the second stage. This shift indicated a move towards  a more radical and extremist position.

In the years preceding the 1979 revolution, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had sent Karim Sanjabi to negotiate with Khomeini in Paris, but Khomeini refused to recognize the 1906 Constitution and rejected a charter that would have led to an alliance  between the secular and religious forces.[44]

“Is there any link between all the provisions of that constitution and Islam? There is a substantial difference between the Islamic government on the one hand, and the constitutional monarchy or republic on the other. The representatives of the people or the monarch in these government systems possess full legislative authority, the legislative authority in Islam rests with God — the Creator and Omnipotent — exclusively. None has the right to legislate, and no law shall be issued from anybody other than God’s heavenly legislative authority.”[45]

All in all,  the Khomeini-engineered approximations were a result of his experiences and the political realities that arose. If Khomeini had lived longer, perhaps he would have adopted another  theory. Hence, it is reasonable that his theories are not treated as an immutable doctrine as considered by  pro-Velayat-e Faqih loyalists today, who cite intellectual and philosophical proofs due to the lack of Shiite support for  Velayat-e Faqih.  

 There  was a period separating  the stage of theorizing about  Velayat-e Faqih  and  the stage of actual implementation;  this was the phase of taking power.  The clerics who traditionally warned against allying with the ruler  themselves became  the rulers. The junior jurists  were the officials within the state.

 The binary relationship  —  developed during  the Safavid era — between the jurist and the ruler (al-Karki and the shah)  was bypassed during  Khomeini’s rule, becoming a one-sided relationship with the jurist taking the mantle of the sultan as well.  Hence, the narrative  warning against cooperation with the government turned into a narrative calling for obedience to the ruler, in light of the ruler being legitimate and the  representative of the Infallible Imam.

Therefore, Velayat-e Faqih,  the foundational basis of  the Iranian political system, has been facing a legitimacy crisis.  The guardian jurist derives his legality and legitimacy from God — with the  people having no role in pledging allegiance or electing the ruler.  Even the selection of the Guardian Council members is indirect and is determined by appointed officials (the chief justice) — not through a direct election.

Hence, there is no scale  which can be used to measure the people’s approval and the extent of their satisfaction with the guardian jurist and his policies.  The political system is dependent on   internal regulatory criteria such as piousness of the guardian jurists, and the level of their jurisprudential knowledge  without the need for  democratic protocols and  regulatory institutions.

This is the government’s real dilemma  today. It is not only a political  dilemma or a religious-sectarian one, but  also a moral one  as well. This is because if we accept that legitimacy is derived from heaven, another dilemma arises when trying to identify  the ruling jurist, who has been designated by heaven as a ruler, and the scope of his authority and guardianship among his peers.

4. The Dispute Over Shiite Political Theology

There are disputes concerning political theology among Shiites  — between the Zaydis,  Ismailis and Twelvers. Some Shiites argue that those who adopt the guardianship of the jurist as a theory of governance  are influenced by the Zaydi  school of thought, while others suggest that they are influenced by the Ismaili school of thought. [46]When looking into the matter,  we find a glaring difference between  Zayd ibn Ali and the  Zaydi school of thought that is attributed to him — a discrepancy noted in the past by al-Shahrastani and presently by Ja’far Sobhani.  Zayd, despite believing in  revolution and arguing for it, wanted to establish a shura-based system of government, not one established on bequest or guardianship — like  the contemporary version of the guardianship jurist system.  

Yes, it is true that  Zayd broke away from the approach endorsed and approved by ahl al-bayt, favoring revolution and rebellion.  However, the difference was that  he sought to establish a shura-based government with  the people giving a pledge of allegiance to the ruler.   The other camp of ahl al-bayt — led by Mohammad al-Baqir and then his son Ja’far — did not believe in revolution and shunned politics.  Nonetheless,  Zayd believed  that the Imamate  was confirmed by  religious texts and the ummah (nation) has no role in determining  it. His position represented the  genesis of  the “heavenly government” theory.[47]

There was some exceptional  wording in the pledge of allegiance that  Zayd took from the people.   Al-Tabari (died 922 AD/310AH) explained in his book  titled “History of the Prophets and Kings,” it  called for turning to God’s Quran and the Prophet’s Sunnah, fighting against the oppressors, defending the oppressed, giving rights to the disenfranchised, equally dividing al-fai (property and wealth  gained  via confiscation without resorting to strife ) among his household, pushing back against oppressors, and defending ahl al-bayt against those who conspire against them and transgress  against their rights.[48] It seems that he was influenced by his friend Wasil ibn Ata (died 748 AD/131 AH), who was the founder of the Mu’tazila school of thought. Hence, this school  recognized  Zayd as a ruler.[49]

After  Zayd ibn Ali was killed, his son Yahya ibn Zayd  also led an uprising that was crushed. When he was killed, Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya revolted against the Abbasids,  with the Mu’tazila supporting  him and pledging allegiance to him. The followers of  Zayd also supported him — along with a group  of jurists.[50]

Abu al-Hasan al-Ash`ari  (died 936 AD/324AH) —  described the massive scale of  Zayd’s movement. He said:  “People as many as the long horizon  pledged allegiance to him. And men from his household were killed because of him.”[51]

The continued failure of revolts — supposedly waged by ahl al-bayt — strengthened the position to shun politics  —which was spearheaded  by Ja’far al-Sadiq at  the time.

It is worth mentioning that the aforementioned discussion is about the period of the infallible imams and their vision and not about other periods that followed them. This discussion reveals that the viewpoint of the Twelver Shiite clerics who inherited the line of the infallible imams was stronger and closer to the essence of the Shiite sect. The  clerics supportive of the doctrine of waiting called for the people to wait for the reappearance of the Absent Imam as he would be the rightful “political leader and imam.” Ironically, the infallible imams themselves had opposed involvement in politics as indicated by historical narratives. Thus,  these clerics are waiting for an imam who opposes  political life to be  their  leader.

It is remarkable that the pledging of allegiance dedicated to Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya was carried out  on the basis of shura. He never alleged that there were religious texts designating him as a ruler or that he was infallible.  Moreover, the one who designated  him as a ruler was the head  of the Mu’tazila school of thought – Amr ibn Ubayd (died 761AD/143AH) — who said  in the speech he delivered  designating al-Nafs al-Zakiyya as the caliph,  “O people, we have looked on, and found a man with true faith, rationality, chivalry and capability for the caliphate’s office.  He is Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya. So, we wanted to rally around him, pledge allegiance to him, avowedly display our support for him and call on people to support him. We will support whoever pledges allegiance to him and will ward off our hands from those who refuse to do so.”[52]

If  Zayd ibn Ali and then Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya (Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn al-Hasan)  were among the founders of the  Zaydi school of thought — according to the  Zaydi interpretation —  have the contemporary loyalists of Velayat-e Faqih  been influenced by the opinions of the Zaydis?  Or  has the contemporary  Zaydi school been influenced by the pro-Velayat-e Faqih loyalists when it comes to politics  or other jurisprudential positions  of Twelver Shiism?

Like al-Shahrastani in the past,  Sobhani  draws a separating line between  Zayd ibn Ali and the  Zaydis — or between the earlier generation of  Zaydis and the later ones. The later generations of  Zaydis were influenced by Twelver Shiism and not the other way round.  The contemporary  Zaydis — or the majority of them —  have derived their positions  from pro-Velayat-e Faqih followers.[53]

 We  mentioned  earlier that there was no conclusive evidence that  pro-Velayat-e Faqih thinkers had been influenced by the  opinions of the Zaydi school of thought. Yet, when researching and analyzing,  we find that the contemporary pro-Velayat-e Faqih followers did not derive their critical opinions  from the Ismailis.  However, this does not mean that there are no intersections and convergences on some issues between the two. Furthermore,  because there are  intersections and convergences  does not mean one party influences the other or vice versa.  The intellectual and philosophical transformation and development within the sect  was not generated by  one single intervention but from accumulative interventions and impacts and as a result of revisions and theories backing each other up.  Yes, there could be some  passing influences, similarities or commonalities,  but this does not mean that there was some large-scale influence.

 In the Ismaili dynasty, guardianship was  designated to the imam — not the jurist. The imam was not absent or in hiding, and the jurist was obedient to him, and a protector of his ruling system. The sixth Fatimid ruler, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (disappeared in 1019 AD/410AH) wrote to the judge Hossein bin Noman, “O Hossein, May God bestow his favors on you. You are our judge, propagator and dependable official. We have assigned none but you to look into the cases and rule on issues as well as any other issue, which we have assigned you to accept. And whoever is appointed to  the judiciary other than you is only metaphorical not true.”[54]  He issued  a directive banning people from opposing him (the imam) and preventing them from having a say over matters related to politics and public affairs.

The Ismailis also  observe  religious texts and the idea of a ruler being designated.   An outgoing imam  recommend who should be the next  imam from among his children. The religious texts designating a ruler determines the validity and legitimacy of his rule. Meanwhile, they deem the selection of  a ruler to be invalid.[55] Here, they edge closer towards the opinion of Twelver Shiites.  However, the latter — when they said that the texts designate Ali, Hassan and then  Hussayn — decided that the eldest son of the ruler becomes his successor (starting from the son that was supposed to succeed Hussayn).  This is one of the major reasons why the Shiite community thereafter splintered into different sects such as the Zaydis,  Ismailis,  Twelvers and so on.

Among the proofs  indicating complete political divergence between the  Ismailis and the Twelvers  was the coup staged  against an  Ismaili  ruler and a Twelver Shiite’s  attempt to topple the ruling apparatus and transform the state into a Twelver Shiite state  — which rules on behalf of the Infallible Imam. Abu Ali Ahmed ibn al-Afdal, al-Afdal Kutayfāt, (died 1131 AD/525 AH) was a Twelver Shiite. He sacked al-Hafez al-Ismaili (died 1149/544AH), locked him up and ruled in his place. He was about to topple the Ismaili state, nullify its edicts,   and delivered sermons on behalf of the Infallible Imam for nearly a year until he was killed.[56]

These events have not  drawn the attention  of historians although he was a radical Twelver Shiite.  About him, Al-Maqrizi said that he was a radical Twelver Shiite, and  the Shiite Twelvers surrounded him and controlled him until he made the Twelver Shiite sect apparent. They also encouraged him to adopt the call for the  Infallible Imam.[57]

When looking into historical and biographical accounts, we find that there is confirmation regarding the tense relationship between Twelver Shiites and Ismailis. Al-Dhahabi, in the biography of Thabit Ibn Aslam (Abul-Hassan al-Halabi),*  informs us of the tense relationship between the Ismaili-Fatimid dynasty in Egypt — which ended up with  al-Halabi being killed.

Al-Dhahabi said that he authored a book exposing the superstitions of the Ismailis, the way their proselytism started and that it  was  propagated by fools.  Al-Halabi was  sent to Egypt, where al-Mustansir crucified  him  and his  library in Aleppo[58] was set ablaze. At this point, we become aware of the nature of the Ismaili-Twelver dispute and its divergence from Sunni priorities. However, the Twelver-Ismaili disagreement was not confined to a specific time or place. Some Twelvers in Baghdad at that time were supportive of the Fatimid dynasty and sympathetic to it. Twelver Shiism, back then, was still without a state, so given the political and cultural context, it is normal to see some Shiites showing sympathy with other Shiite sects.

The Ismailis  rejected both selection and election, arguing that the Islamic nation’s choosing of an imam (ruler) is unlawful since upholding the God-prescribed punishments and laws rests with the Imam not the people.[59] Every individual who seeks to seize rule without having a religious text appointing him is a despotic tyrant according to the Ismailis.[60]

Hence, the legitimacy of the Ismaili state was created on the basis of  the chain of imams continuing without interruption or absence. This did not lead to  divisions between the Ismaili school of thought  and the  Musta’li branch  nor between the Ismailis and the Nizar branch of Ismailis. Before and after the divisions, huge differences frequently occurred between the imams and their children and the imams and their brothers — especially if the imams had no children in some cases. Moreover, the imam’s bequest was  often forged. Hence,  the imam’s legitimacy was nominal and sect centered. It was not established on approval  — since the approval of the people was neither an objective, goal nor aim for the Ismailis. The well-established principles of this school of thought indicate that legitimacy is achieved when  its conditions are met — even if the ruler is unjust and despotic.  

On balance, the intellectual dispute  among Shiites over legal political theory  did not necessarily lead to a direct outcome. But it led  to variant outcomes that outlined the general characteristics of Shiite political jurisprudence for many of the Twelvers, Ismailis and Zaydis.  Historical proofs show that the later  Zaydi generations  were influenced by Twelver Shiite opinion,  while the contemporary  Zaydi currents have been overwhelmingly  influenced by the absolute version of Velayat-e Faqih. On the other hand,  pro-Velayat-e Faqih loyalists are influenced by  Zaydi opinions on matters not supported by conclusive proofs.  The Velayat-e Faqih school did not derive its political  theories from the Ismaili school of thought — especially as  the relationship between the two groups was tense during most historical periods and the divergences between them are quite glaring whether related to the role of imams and jurists or whether a ruler is appointed or designated based on religious texts.


Based on the foregoing, we can draw a number of  conclusions and deductions. The study has discussed the problem of Shiite political legitimacy amplified  by intellectual transformations impacting  the core essence of  Shiite jurisprudential theory — starting from shunning  politics during the time of Ja’far al-Sadiq and his differentiation between          political systems and the religious imamate. He focused on teaching and rejected the idea of rebellion.  The crucial transformations  in Shiite political jurisprudence happened  under the Safavids – due to their politicization of  Shiism and employment of  jurist al-Karki — to provide a legitimate cover for their ruling system.  This  ended the independence of the Shiite religious establishment and led to  jurisprudential splits among Shiite clerics. This Safavid phase reflected a reversal of the foundations laid by  Ja’far al-Sadiq.

The intellectual evolution of Shiite political jurisprudence ended up with Khomeini’s interpretative readings. The study thoroughly examined the three intellectual stages in the development of Khomeini’s thought, starting from him  being a Shiite jurist who only believed in the  doctrine of waiting, to edging closer towards the thought of  Mirza Naini (constitutional government), to writing his book  “The Islamic Government”and  setting the framework  for his absolute version of Velayat-e Faqih. The binary nature of the jurist-sultan relationship (the shah and al-Karki) was changed and became one-sided; the jurist was the sultan and the sultan was the jurist.  The rhetoric of political jurisprudence shifted from warning of collaborating with rulers to obedience and subservience to the guardian jurist as he is the legitimate ruler and the representative of the Infallible Imam.

Finally, the study attempted to provide answers to questions  regarding the intellectual dispute among Shiites and the extent to which  pro-Velayat-e Faqih Twelver Shiites  were influenced by the jurisprudential-political opinions of the  Zaydis and Ismailis. It concluded that there is no conclusive evidence that those  adopting Velayat-e Faqih  were influenced by the  Zaydis, while proving the opposite — the later  Zaydi generations were influenced by the Twelvers and the contemporary  Zaydis have moved towards the Khomeini-engineered version of Velayat-e Faqih. As  for the Ismailis, they have had a historically tense relationship with the Twelver Shiites. Moreover, they have  differed over issues such as  the imamate and  conflicted over various jurisprudential positions.  However, the commonalities and convergences between the two sides  played a role in the transformation of Shiite political thought and both sides depended  on sharia principles to support  their specific interpretations.

When it comes to the conclusions, it can be said  that there have existed tense sectarian and historical differences between the Twelvers and the  Zaydis on the one hand and between the Twelvers and the Ismailis on the other. However, the Twelvers in Iran spared no effort in containing those  adopting different jurisprudential schools of thought.  They supported variant  Shiite sub-sects to serve  their political and sectarian objectives in other  countries.

 The shift that happened during  the Safavids  via the alliance with al-Karki which led to blunting the clerics’ ability to resist and  criticize. Clerics had become part of the state institutions.  This policy paid off when the approach spearheaded by al-Qatifi was defeated in the face of the pragmatic and interest-centered approach engineered by al-Karki. Al-Karki’s approach succeeded as it shifted from the margins to the mainstream. The opposition of a few  independent jurists in Najaf and other cities hosting seminaries was not effective. Shiite jurists had been independent from the government and affiliated to the people only, as stated by Mortaza Motahari. Later,  they became affiliated with both the people and the government due to the transformations and shifts that occurred under the Safavids and which are continuing to this day. In the end,  the position of the Velayat-e Faqih followers  on constitutional matters and public affairs  is purely theological, i.e.,  they  adopted heavenly designation  over elections. This  created a foothold for  reformist Shiites to oppose and present  an alternative, based on shura, constitution and democracy. This alternative was not  very authoritative but  it led to   the rise of incubators within  the seminaries embracing  religious traditionalism,  rejecting political radicalism,  promoting  a government that protects the dignity of man, safeguards freedoms and treats the Shiite sect and political heritage as one  devised by fallible scholars — without conferring sacredness or infallibility on them.

[1] Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi, Tarikh al-Islam [History of Islam], trans. Bashar Awad (Beirut: Dar al-Gharib, 2003), 3/308. [Arabic]. 

[2] Tāj al-Dīn Abū al-Fath Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Karīm ash-Shahrastānī, Sects and Creeds, trans. Abdel-Aziz al-Wakil (Cairo: Al Halabi For Printing, Publishing and Distribution Company), 1/156.

[3] Al-Dhahabi, History of Islam, 3/781.  

[4] Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabar, Tarikh al-Tabari [The History of the Prophets and Kings], 7/634.[Arabic].

[5] About Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya and his revolts in detail, see Radwan al-Sayed (who gathered, studied and translated) “Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya…The Book of Biographies and the Remaining Letters from Proselytism and Revolution ( Beirut:  al-Madar al-Islami, 2021) [Arabic].

[6] Al-Dhahabi, Tarikh al-Islam, 3/828.  

*The word Shiite here refers to the linguistic meaning, not the contemporarily used concept. Ja’far had a school, students and disciples like all the jurists in Medina at that time. But he did not engage in politics or the public sphere as al-Dhahabi will recount.

[7] Ash-Shahrastānī, Sects and Creeds, 1/166.  

[8] Kulayni, Kitab al-Kafi, 5/90,91 chapter of “Rejecting Evil by Heart”. For more details on the issue of enjoining good and forbidding evil from the Shiite perspective, see Michael Cook, Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (New York: Cambridge University Press).

[9] For the Twelver Shiites, minor occultation begins when Imam Hasan al-Askari died in 873 AD/260 AH and the disappearance of his son Mohammad from public sight and view. It had been said that there were four ambassadors/agents who met with him and conveyed his messages. The minor occultation ended when the fourth ambassador died in 940 AD/329AH. At this point, the major occultation began—the phase where there is no communication with the Absent Imam via ambassadors. The major occultation began in 940 AD/329 AH, since the death of the fourth ambassador, and it is still continuing to this day. For more details on the minor and major occultations, see: Baqir Sharif al-Qurashi, “The Life of the Messiah: the Greatest Reformer, al-Najaf,” Imam Hassan Public Library, 2012, 123-170. 

[10]  Tawfiq M. Alsaif, “Religion and Legitimation of The State: The Development of Political Thought in Contemporary Shi’ism (Case Study: Iran 1979-2004),” University of Westminster, 2005, accessed  August 9, 2021,

[11] Al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Tabari, 4/427.  

[12] Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani, Maqātil al-Ṭālibīyīn, 225, also see Grand Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani, Bohooth fel-Melal-e wan-Nehal [Searches on Sects and Creeds] (Qom: Imam Alsadiq Center, 1428 AH), 7/211. [Arabic]

[13]  Marvin Zonis, “The Rule of the Clerics in the Islamic Republic of Iran,”  The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 482 (1985): 85–108 accessed August 9, 2021,

[14] Azam Boroughani, “The Concept of “Political Legitimacy in Shia Political Thought (With Focus on Imam Khomeini’s Political Thought),” International Journal of Political Science 5, no. 9, (Spring 2015): 56,  accessed  August 9, 2021,

[15] Represented by ibn Idris Hilli (died 1201 AD/598 AH), then al-Hilli (died 1277 AD/676 AH), then Allamah al-Hilli (died 1326 AD /726 AH), Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-Hilli, Fakhr al-Muḥaqqiqīn (1368 AD/770AH), and Ibn Fahd al-Hilli (1437AD/841AH), see also al-Akwash, Asr al-Faqih (The Age of the Jurist), 94. [Arabic].

[16] Farhad Daftary, A History of Shi’i Islam, trans. Saif Aldin Nassr(Beirut:  Dar al-Saqi, 2017), 112. [Arabic].

*As Ali Shariati did in “Red Shiism vs. Black Shiism.”

[17] Mohammed Jamal Barout, Ottoman-Safavid Conflict and Its Impact on Shiites in the Levant (Beirut: Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, 2018), 183-183. [Arabic]

[18] Shah Tahmasp was born in 1514 AD, died in 1576. He assumed the rule of Iran in 1524 AD. He was the eldest son of Shah Ismail, the founder of the Safavid dynasty. He entered into continuous wars with the Ottoman Empire, and subsequently lost some territories and cities, such as Tabriz and Baghdad.

See Dr. Basiam Hamza Abbas, “Iran under the Safavid Shah Tahmasp first 1524-1576 m” The Arab Gulf 40, no. 1-2 (2012): 35-84, Iraqi Academic Scientific Journals – IASJ.

[19] See: al -Akwash, The Age of the Jurist, 174, Throne of the Jurist, 211, ibid.

[20] Devin Stewart, “Polemics and Patronage in Safavid Iran: The Debate on Friday Prayer During the Reign of Shah Tahmasp” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 72, no. 3 (2009): 425–57, accessed August 9, 2021,

[21] See Moatasem Sediq Abdullah and Mohammed Alsayed Alsayyad, “Friday Prayers in Iran Religionizing Politics and Politicizing Religion,” The International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah), March 11, 2020, accessed August 9, 2021,

[22] For more details see Jawdat al-Qazwini, Supreme Religious Reference for Twelver Shiites… Studying the Political and Jurisprudential Evolution (Beirut: Dar Al-Rafidain Printing, Publishing & Distribution, 2005), 143. [Arabic].

[23] Mohammed Jamal al-Barout, “Safavid-Ottoman Dispute,” 181, ibid.

[24] Jawdat  Qazwini, “Supreme Religious Reference,” 150.  

[25] Sheikh Mithaq al-Usr, “Shiite Jurists and Bounties of Sultans,” Ajabat Center for Research and Religious Studies, January 3, 2017, accessed August 6, 2021,

[26]  Qazwini, Supreme Religious Reference, 155.

[27] Barout, Ottoman-Safavid Conflict and Its Impact on Shiites in the Levant, 188.

[28] An interview with Hani Fahs, quoting from Alsulami and Sayyad, Iran Supreme Leadership Usurped Power: Shiite Political Controversy Between Arab and Iranian Religious Authorities (Riyadh:the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah) 2018,  163-164. And see: Hasan Saeed, “Al-Faqih,Al-Karki, Sheikh Al-Qutaifi and the Dispute Over the Safavid Dynasty,” Al-Wasat News, June 8, 2014 , accessed August 6, 2021, [Arabic].

[29] See: Ahmed Kazem al-Akwash, Throne of the Jurist…Historical Signs and Jurisprudential Structures of the Guardianship of the Jurist (Beirut: Dar Al-Rafidain Printing, Publishing & Distribution, 2018), 206. [Arabic].

[30] For the details on the theory of waiting, see Mohammed al-Sayed al-Sayyad, Shia Jurisprudence of Mahdism: Iranian Religious Currents Against Supreme Leadership Thought, (Riyadh: the International Institute for Iranian Studies, 2018). 

[31] Al-Maqrizi, Itti‘āz al-Ḥunafā’ bi-Akhbār al-A’immah al-Fāṭimīyīn al-Khulafā, 2/140.

[32] Al-Karki, Letters of al-Karki, quoted from al- Akwash, Throne of the Jurist, 206.

[33] See Ahmed Kazem al-Akwash, The Age of the Jurist: The End of Sharia and Start of Legislation: A Historical Critical Study on the Fundamentals  of Shiite Legislation (Beirut:  Dar al-Rafidain Printing, Publishing & Distribution, 2018), 175.

[34] See Ṣadr ad-Dīn Muḥammad Shīrāz, Hikmat Al Muta’alyahfi-l-asfar al-‘aqliyya al-arba‘a [The Transcendent Theosophy in the Four Journeys of the Intellect] (Beirut: House of Arab Heritage Revival, 1981), 5/201, see: Akwash, The Age of the Jurist, 188.  

[35] Mulla Sadra, Waridat al-Qalbiyyah, 258, quoting from Mohammed Abdul-Fadil al-Qoussi, The Orientalist Philosophy from the Viewpoint of Ṣadr ad-Dīn Muḥammad Shīrāz ( UAE-Cairo: Mashiakhet Al Azhar, Council of Muslim Elders, 2020), 35.

[36] Alireza Biabannavard, et al,“The Interaction of Political Theory and Practice in Shia Political Thought and Its Role in the Qajar Developments,” Scientific Journal of History Research 16, no. 61 (Summer 2021) accessed  August 9, 2021,

[37] See: Muhammad Jamil Al-Mayahi, Iraq and Sistani (Baghdad: Inky Leaves Publishing, 2019), 287, 322, 339, 368. [Arabic].

[38] See Ahmed al-Katib, Interviews with Clerics, Scholars and Thinkers (Beirut: Alintishar Alarabi Foundation, 2011), 280. See also Alsulami and Sayyad, Iran Supreme Leadership Usurped Power, 84-85. The appointment is the divine designation of the ruler means that the ruler is divinely appointed by God, not by selection or election, hence the nation and public approval has no position in the system of governance.

*The constitutional government is the government that emerged from the Constitutional Movement in Iran in 1905. The jurists — regarding the constitutional movement and its constitutional and parliamentary demands — were divided into two camps: the first supported constitutional demands, parliamentary rule and institutionalizing the position of the people within the political system and letting it engage in the public sphere. The second camp rejected the Constitutional Movement on principle, and rejected what it called for and what it demanded — labeling its demands as foreign and westernizing that contravene Islam and run counter to it.

[39] Khomeini, Uncovering of Secrets, 222, quoting form Alsulami and Sayyad,  Iran Supreme Leadership Usurped Power, 84- 85.  

[40]  Ahmad Vaezi, Shia Political Thought (London: Islamic Centre of England, 2004), 92-99, accessed August 9, 2021,

[41]  Olivier Roy, “The Crisis of Religious Legitimacy in Iran,” Middle East Journal, Spring 1999,  JSTOR, accessed  August 9, 2021,

[42]  Raziq Hussain, “The Centrality  of ‘Wilayah’ in Shia Political Thought,” Islamic Research Index, accessed  August 9, 2021,

[43]  Alireza Nader, David E. Thaler, S. R. Bohandy, “Factor 1: The Factional Balance of Power, The Next Supreme Leader,” RAND, 2011, accessed August  9, 2021,

[44] Ehsan Naraghi, From Palace to prison: Inside the Iranian Revolution (Beirut: Dar Al Saqi, 2015), 62. 

[45] United Visions, Prophet’s Burda (Hymn)…Religion and Politics in Iran, trans. Radwan al-Sayyed (Beirut, Al Madar Al Islami, 2019), 452. [Arabic].

[46] See: Mahmoud Barjo, “Propensity to the Zaydi School in Shiite Political Theology,” The New Arab, March 8, 2021, accessed August 1, 2021, [Arabic].

[47] See Abū al-Fath ash-Shahrastānī: Sects and Creeds, 1/156. [Arabic].

[48] Al-Tabari, History of the Prophets and Kings, and Tabari, Continuatus (Beirut: Dar al-Turath, 1387 AH),127/7.

[49] See Muhammad Imara, Islam and the Revolution (Cairo: Dar Al-Shorouk, 1988), 238. Al-Shahristani asserts that Zayd ibn Ali was a student who studied under Wasil bin Ata, the head of the Mu’tazila and their leader, and that “he derived from him the Motazila thought, and all of his companions became affiliated with Mu’tazilites.” Al-Shahristani, Al-Milal and an-Nahl (Sects and Creeds), 1/155. However, Sheikh Muhammad Abu Zahra rules out Zayd studied under Wasil, and proved that the relationship was not that between a teacher and a student. It was a relationship between two friends discussing a jurisprudential question. “Therefore we see that Zayd’s meeting with Wasil bin Ata’ was a meeting of jurisprudential scholarship, not a meeting between a student who receives scholarship from his sheikh.” Muhammad Abu Zahra, Imam Zayd:  His Life and Time…His Opinions and Jurisprudence (Cairo: Arab Thought House, 2005), 42-43. [Arabic].

[50] Al-Shahristani, Sects and Creeds.  

[51] Abul Hassan al-Ashari, Maqālāt al-Islāmīyīn, Theological Opinions of the Muslims,  ed. Hellmut Ritter (Cairo: General Organization of Cultural Palaces, 2000), 97. [Arabic].

[52] Mohammed Imara, Revolutionary Muslims (Cairo: Dar Al Shorouk, 2006), 185. [Arabic].

[53] Al-Shahristani catches this shift in the Zaydi mindset, saying: “Most of the Zaydis after that ceased to hold the belief in the right of the one favored by God to become an imam and defamed the companions of the Prophet in the same way as the Twelvers,” Sects and Creeds, 1/ 157.

[54]  Taqi al-Din al-Maqrizi, Itti‘az al-hunafa’ bi-akhbar al-a’imma al-Fatimiyyin al-khulafa’ [Lessons for the Seekers of Truth on the History of the Fatimid Imams and Caliphs] trans. Mohammed Helmi Ahmed (Cairo: General Organization for Cultural Palaces, 1948), 2/40.

[55] Ibid., 86/2. [Arabic].

[56] Jamal al-Din al-Shayal (collected and translated), Fatimid Documents Collection (Cairo: the General Organization of Cultural Palaces, 2011), 1/48, 51. [Arabic].

[57] Ibid. 76-77.

[58]Taqi al-Din al-Maqrizi, Itti‘az al-hunafa’, 2/140.  

*Here, al-Dhahabi says that “Abul Hassan Al-Hilli, the Shiite jurist and linguist of Aleppo, is one of the prominent students of Abu Salah Halabi.”

[59] Ibid 8/221.

[60] Ibid 8/222.

Editorial Team