Islamic Leadership in an Islamic Government (Waly al-Faqih)

Conditions of Leadership

By: Imam Khomeini

The conditions that a leader must have directly stem from the nature of the Islamic government. After general conditions, such as sanity, there are two foundational conditions which are:

  1. Knowledge of the law.
  2. Justice.

When differences arose after the Noble Prophet (s) as to who would take on the responsibility of the caliphate there was no difference of opinion in whether the future leader must have merits. The only difference was in regards to which person had those merits.

Since the Islamic government is a government of laws it is necessary for the leader to know what those laws are – as has been mentioned in traditions. It is not only necessary for the leader to have this knowledge but anyone who has some sort of position must have this knowledge as well. But, the leader must have the most knowledge. Our imams used this to reason for their imamate – they would say that an imam must be better than the rest of the people. The criticisms that Shia scholars give are also in this regard where they say that so and so asked the ruling from the caliph who was unable to answer him and therefore the caliph is not suitable for caliphate. They also say that the caliph performed such and such action that was in opposition to Islamic law and therefore he is not suitable for caliphate.

Knowing the law and being just are foundational pillars for Muslims. Nothing else has as much importance, for instance knowledge about the angels, knowledge about the attributes of Allah, none of these matter in the issue of imamate. If one has knowledge about all fields of science and has discovered all of the laws of nature or is an amazing musician he will not become more suitable for leading an Islamic government than one who has knowledge about the law and is just. That which is related to caliphate and that which was discussed in the age of the Prophet (s) and the imams (a) and that which is certain amongst the Muslims is that the leader or the caliph must know Islamic laws and must be just in theological and ethical matters. Intellect denotes this as well because and Islamic government is a government of law – not a free-flowing government or a government clinging to the whims of an individual. If the leader does not know the law he is not suitable for leadership because if he follows someone the strength of the government would be broken and if he does not follow someone he would not be able to implement the law. The tradition: “Jurists rule over sultans” is certain. If sultans followed Islam they would have to follow jurists – they would have to ask the jurists what the law would be in various cases and how to implement it. In this case the real leaders are the jurists and that is why they must officially take control of the government and not give it to someone who is forced to follow them because they are ignorant of the law.

Of course, it is not necessary for general workers to know all Islamic laws and become jurists. Rather, it is enough for them to know the laws that are in relation to their work; it is enough to know their duties.

This was the case in the time of the Prophet (s) and the Commander of the Faithful (a). The leader must have these two merits, but their representatives and other workers who are sent to other lands must know the laws that are in relation to their work.

A leader must be perfect in theological beliefs and ethics. He must be just. He must not be polluted by sin. A person who wants to implement divine punishments in their correct places; a person who wants to take control of the public treasury; a person who Allah gives power over his servants must not sin. “My pledge does not reach the oppressors.”

If a leader is not just he would not act just in giving Muslims their rights, obtaining taxes, spending the money obtained from taxes correctly, and implementing divine punishments. It is possible that he would place those close to him over the society and spend the public treasury to his own benefit. (Walayat al-Faqih, p.58-61)

The door of ijtehad must always be open in an Islamic government. The nature of a revolution and a government dictates that ijtehadi opinions must be freely given – even if they oppose one another. Nobody should have the right to prevent this. But, what is important is correctly understanding governance and the society in which, according to them, the Islamic system can make plans for the benefit of Muslims. It is here that the term ijtehad used in the Islamic seminary is not enough, rather if a person is the most knowledgeable in regards to the sciences taught in the Islamic seminary but is unable to recognize what is in the best interest of the society or is unable to recognize righteous people from non-righteous people he would not have a political vision and would not have the ability to make correct decisions. This person is not a mujtahid in social or government matters and cannot become the leader of the society. (Sahifah Nur, v.21, p.47, 1988, Tehran)

Dear Shaykh Ali Mishkini:

After greetings, you wanted my viewpoint in regards to the constitution. Whatever the people in charge thought was correct act in accordance to it. I will not intervene – except in the matter of leadership. We cannot leave our Islamic country without a leader. We must choose someone who will defend the honor of Islam in the political world.

At the beginning I believed and insisted that the condition of being a marja’ is not necessary. A just mujtahid who is confirmed by the Khobregan and is respected throughout the country is enough. If the people vote for the Khobregan so that they determine which just mujtahid is suitable for leadership then his acceptance is the acceptance of the people. In this case he will be chosen by the people and his governance will be established.

I said this in regards to the constitution, but our friends insisted on the condition of being a marja’ and because of that I accepted. I knew at that time that this will not be applicable in the near future. (Sahifah, v.21, p.129, 1989, Tehran)

Islam Times

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