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Khomeini's View of State - Ervand Abrahamian

Khomeini's View of State - Ervand Abrahamian

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Published by: Political Islamism on Jan 27, 2010
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Khomeini's View of the State
Throughout the Middle Ages the Shii clergy, unlike their Sunni counterparts, failedto develop a consistent theory of the state. The Sunnis, recognizing the Umayyadand Abbasid caliphs as the Prophet's legitimate successors, accepted the reigningmonarchs as lawful as long as these rulers did not blatantly violate Islamic norms.Had not the Prophet himself said, "My community will never agree on an error"?Had not the Koran commanded, "Obey God, His Prophet, and those among youwho have authority"? Had not al-Ghazzali, the prominent medieval philosopher,argued that rulers were appointed by God, that rebellion against them wastantamount to rejection of the Almighty, and that forty years of tyranny werebetter than one single day of anarchy? Following these leads, the Sunni clergyassociated political obedience with religious duty and civil disobedience withreligious heresy.The Shii clergy, however, were ambivalent and divided. They rejected theearly dynasties, arguing that the Prophet's true heirs should have been the TwelveImams. This line began with Ali, the Prophet's first cousin, son-in-law, and,according to the Shii clergy, designated successor, as the imam of the Muslimcommunity. The line went through Ali's son Hosayn, the Third Imam, who rebelledagainst Yazid, the usurper caliph, and was martyred at the battle of Karbala forty-eight years after the Prophet's death. It ended with the last of their direct maledescendants, the Twelfth Imam, also known as the Mahdi (Messiah), the Imam-eMontazar (Expected Leader), and the Sahab-e Zaman (Lord of the Age). Hesupposedly went into hiding a century after Hosayn's martyrdom but will appearat some future time when the world is rampant with corruption and oppressionto prepare the way for Judgment Day.Although the Shii clergy agreed that only the Hidden Imam had fulllegitimacy, they differed sharply among themselves regarding the existing states— even Shii ones. Some argued that since all rulers were in essence usurpers, truebelievers should shun the authorities like the plague. They should declinegovernment positions; avoid Friday prayers, where thanks were invariably offeredto the monarch; take disputes to their own legal experts rather than to the state judges; practice
(dissimulation) when in danger; and pay
(religioustaxes), not to the government but to their clerical leaders, in their capacity asNayeb-e Imam (Imam's Deputies). Others, however, argued that one shouldgrudgingly accept the state. They claimed that bad government was better thanno government; that many imams had categorically opposed armed insurrections;
and that Imam Ali, in his often quoted
Nahj al-Balaghah
(Way of eloquence), hadwarned of the dangers of social chaos. They also pointed out that Jafar Sadeq, thesixth and most scholarly of the imams, had stressed: "If your ruler is bad, ask Godto reform him; but if he is good, ask God to prolong his life."Others wholeheartedly accepted the state — especially after 1501, when theSafavids established a Shii dynasty in Iran. Following the example of Majlisi, thewell-known Safavid theologian, they complied with the view that the shahs were"shadows of God on earth," obedience was the divine right of the shahs, politicaldissent led directly to damnation in the next world, without monarchy therewould inevitably be social anarchy, and kings and clerics were complementarypillars of the state, sharing the imam's mantle. In making these arguments, theseclerics often quoted not only al-Ghazzali but also the famous Koraniccommandment "Obey those among you who have authority." In this form the Shiiconcept of the state was the mirror image of that of the conservative Sunnis.It is significant that in all these discussions, which lasted on and off for someeleven centuries, no Shii writer ever explicitly contended that monarchies per sewere illegitimate or that the senior clergy had the authority to control thestate.
Most viewed the clergy's main responsibilities, which they referred to asthe
velayat-e faqih
(jurist's guardianship), as being predominantly apolitical. Theywere to study the law based on the Koran, the Prophet's traditions, and theteachings of the Twelve Imams. They were also to use reason to update theselaws; issue pronouncements on new problems; adjudicate in legal disputes; anddistribute the
contributions to worthy widows, orphans, seminarystudents, and indigent male descendants of the Prophet. In fact, for most theterm
velayat-e faqih
meant no more than the legal guardianship of the seniorclerics over those deemed incapable of looking after their own interests minors, widows, and the insane. For a few,
velayat-e faqih
also meant that thesenior clerics had the right to enter the political fray — but only temporarily andwhen the monarch clearly endangered the whole community. For example, in1891 Mohammad Hasan Shirazi, one of the first clerics to be generally recognizedas a
-e taqlid,
issued a decree against the government for selling a majortobacco concession to a British entrepreneur. He stressed, however, that he wasmerely opposed to bad court advisers and that he would withdraw from politicsonce the hated agreement was canceled. Similarly, in 1906, when the leadingclerics participated in the Constitutional Revolution, their aim was neither tooverthrow the monarchy nor to establish a theocracy but at most to set up a
supervisory committee of senior clerics to ensure that legislation passed by theelected Parliament conformed to the sacred law.Khomeini began his political career with typical Shii ambiguities. His firstpolitical tract,
Kashf al-Asrar 
(1943), denounced the recently deposed Reza Shahfor a host of secular sins: for closing down seminaries, expropriating religiousendowments, propagating anticlerical sentiments, replacing religious courts withstate ones, permitting the consumption of alcoholic beverages and the playing of "sensuous music," forcing men to wear Western-style hats, establishingcoeducational schools, and banning the long veil
thereby "forcingwomen to go naked into the streets."
In this early work, however, he explicitlydisavowed wanting to overthrow the throne and repeatedly reaffirmed hisallegiance to monarchies in general and to "good monarchs" in particular. Heargued that the Shii clergy had never opposed the state as such, even whengovernments had issued anti-Islamic orders, for "bad order was better than noorder at all."
He emphasized that no cleric had ever claimed the right to rule;that many, including Majlisi, had supported their rulers, participated ingovernment, and encouraged the faithful to pay taxes and cooperate with stateauthorities. If on rare occasions they had criticized their rulers, it was becausethey opposed specific monarchs, not the "whole foundation of monarchy." Healso reminded his readers that Imam Ali had accepted "even the worst of theearly caliphs."
The most Khomeini asked in
Kashf al-Asrar 
was that the monarch respectreligion, recruit more clerics into Parliament
and ensure that state lawsconformed with the sacred law. The sacred law, he argued, had prescriptions toremedy social ills; and the clergy, particularly the
who specialized in thesacred law, were like highly trained doctors with knowledge of how to cure thesesocial maladies.
Even though
Kashf al-Asrar 
had limited demands, after therevolution Khomeini's disciples claimed his central ideas were all spelled out inthis early tract.
However, one would search it in vain to find any discussion of such key subjects as revolution
the oppressed masses
and even jurist's guardianship
(velayat-e faqih).
Khomeini retained traditional attitudes toward the state throughout the1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Even in 1963 when he emerged as the most vocalantiregime cleric, he did not call for a revolution or for the overthrow of themonarchy. Rather he castigated the shah for secular and antinationaltransgressions: becoming an unwitting tool of the "imperialist-Jewish conspiracy";

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