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Ayatollah Khomeini: From Islamic Government to Sovereign State

This paper argues that the mature form of the political doctrine of the Ayatollah Khomeini (1902–89), Iranian Shiite religious authority and architect of the Islamic Republic of Iran, grew out of an encounter with the modern understanding of the state and the concept of sovereignty.

Khomeini’s political doctrine, called the Absolute Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, although based on a religious foundation, should be studied as a break with the traditional understanding of political power in Shiism. It will be argued that such a political doctrine can play the same role as the Christian rhetoric of the early modern political thinkers played, pave the way for modernization of Shiite political thought, and prepare the ground for a modern temporal conception of politics.

Khomeini’s absolutist doctrine is highly significant. Of course, it is not difficult to find secular thinkers who argue that the sharia should not be the basis of a modern government. However, such a judgment has no religious legitimacy, as it is pronounced by people who are not, from the point of view of the believers, qualified to make such judgments. But to have a highly qualified religious authority to defend such a position is significant, because it can potentially pave the way for a separation of religion and government from the point of view of the believers. In a society in which a considerable section of the population believes in the crucial importance of religion in all aspects of human life, especially in politics, any political doctrine which seeks to find a hearing must address or accommodates these common notions. In such a society, any political doctrine which radically excludes these preconceptions from its field of concerns will not be able to form the basis of a popular political regime. This idea also makes sense from the point of political thought in the West. As was mentioned at the beginning, in modern Western thought, the way towards the separation of church and state was prepared by a transformation within the religious view. The founding figures of modern political thought show a remarkable tendency to synthesize religious and secular arguments in their political systems, which some, insensitive to the religious complexities of the early modern period, might find perplexing or perhaps see as signs of deep confusion. The “Napoleonic strategy” of leaving the intimidating fortress of religion in the rear while pursuing a continued forward offensive is a constant temptation of the modern intellectual. However, the experience of pre-revolutionary Iran, as well as secular governments in other majority-Muslim countries, shows that disregarding religious preconceptions and beliefs is not tantamount to eliminating them; these beliefs merely await the opportunity to resurface and once again demand attention. In the absence of adequate solutions, and without appropriate intellectual instruments, one is destined to return to the past and constantly face the standing fortresses…

Bibliographic Information

Title: Ayatollah Khomeini: From Islamic Government to Sovereign State

Author(s): Rasoul Namazi

Published in: Iranian Studies, 1–21.

 Language: English

Length: 22 pages

Pub. Date: 01 January 2022

Ayatollah Khomeini From Islamic Government to Sovereign State

About Ali Teymoori

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