Since the Safavid Dynasty in Iran, one of the most salient issues fuqah? have debated was that of establishing an Islamic rule during the time of the Imam’s ghaybah (disappearance).Yet much of the contours of this debate have changed with the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. These developments in the Islamic world necessitate a reevaluation of this debate, in terms of the following questions: what is the basic intent and goal of establishing Islamic rule, with respect to religion itself, and according to religious scholars? And from a religious worldview, what function does a government play and what issues can it resolve?
In the following article, we will explore the solutions presented by two prominent religious scholars who hold quite developed theories on this issue of Islamic rule: the deceased Mirza Muhammad Husayn N??ini and Grand Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli.
Mirza N??ini: the Goal and Essence of a Government
Mirza Na?ini understood the basic aim of a government to be the rejection of tyrrany and autocracy. He understood this form of rule to be in fact religiously prohibited (?ar?m), insisting that a government’s legitimacy must legally be rooted in a constitution.Having presented the notions of “government”and “governance” as basic assumptions of a civil society, accepted by both the larger public and by the ?ulama?, he divides the various forms of government into two types: one legitimate, which he characterizes primarily as constitutional, while the other, autocratic rule, as illegitimate. Additionally, he emphasizes two elements that must be present for a legitimate government to function: the independence of said government and the religion-centric or nation-centric basis of the state.
N??ini definestyrannicalgovernance as led by an absolute ruler who is in charge of the entire governing structure and all individuals within its realm. Such a ruleracts according to all of his own whims and desires, as he usurps the wealth of the people and uses it however he wishes. He terms this “a rule of masters over slaves,” one which is entirely tyrranical, and in fact a form of subjugation and servitude.In such governments, the rulers are “oppressors” and “tyrants”, and the subjects “servants and slaves.”The essential force behind such a government is the ruler’sGod-complex, which may eventually develop intoa false belief that he is, in fact, divine. And since the people really follow the religion of the ruling establishment, this form of government quickly devolves into a state wherein the ruler commands and all others obey, both in mind and body.
In contrast to autocracy is a constitutionally-based or “restricted” (muqayyadah) rule. The basic premise upon which such a government is formed is that the ruler is limited in his power and scope, disabusing the ruler of establishing an autocracy. He terms this form of government, “restricted, just, responsive, constitutional and rule-based”, wherein the people are “free” and enjoy a “privileged-status”.
One of the issues N??ini addresses throughout his book is what he calls “religious tyranny”. Some of the main opponents of the constitutional movement were from among the ?ulama?, scholars who would reference Qur?anic verses and ahadith to oppose the constitutionalists, and would claim that the proposed constitutional reforms were against the Shari?ah. It is in this context that N??ini used the term “religious tyranny,” the proponents of which had come to the aid of political tyranny and attempted to legitimize it. He very explicitly and harshly opposed these groups of scholars and chastised them, stating that just as political tyrannyis religious prohibited (?ar?m), because it required a form of servitude towards an unjust ruler, so is having the pretense of religion that promotes and defends that tyranny. He also outlines all the various processes and mechanisms utilized by these tyrannical forces, even discussing how to dismantle each.
The Purposes and Ends of Islamic Rule According to Jawadi Amuli
With just a cursory look at the ouervre of Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli and Mirza N??ini, one notices very quickly the important differences in the respective socio-political contextsof each scholar. The most important difference can be traced back to a fundamental paradigm-shift that resulted from the Islamic revolution. N??ini was speaking in a world where the primary impetus was on establishing a form of constitutional governance, in which he attempted to theorize a larger political framework which removed autocratic governance and legitimized a constitution. Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli, however, is speaking in a context wherein the Islamic revolution has already been established. This leads him to discuss the office of a wali faqih and the people’s position under the direct guidance of the jurists, a completely different set of questions and issues than N??ini’s.
It is in this context that Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli sees the most important goals of an Islamic government: first,it is guide people towards becoming those true vicegerents of God (khal?fat Allah), which is a divinely-ordained function of man, and to create the conditions that allow for this spiritual journey; second, to transform the Islamic country into that “ideal city” (al-mad?nah al-f??ilah) and a perfect example of a righteous civilization, established on proper foundations with regards to both domestic and international issues.
According to this view, society is likened to a single human body, with the vicegerent of God being the soul that breathes life into an otherwise dead mold. This means that the main goal of Islamic rule is the elevation of the soul and the guidance and flourishing of the “body”, which would ultimately lead to an exemplary civilization. And it is from such a society that the souls of its citizens can reach the status of being God’s vicegerents.
As is clear from above, the main locus of Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli’s arguments is one wherein Islam is the only true sacred religion, which is what all divinely-sent prophets proclaimed. In this worldview, no other religion other than Islam will be acceptable. Therefore, the most complete form of divine rule would have to be in the form of an Islamic government, which would really function to further those same aims revealed in the Qur’an and explicated through the ahadith. The ultimate goal is then the ordering of society that allows its citizens to reach a level of spiritual illumination. All other aims—of justice, equity or otherwise—arejudged against this fundamental aim and criterion.
The Need for Islamic governance
There is a significant difference between the arguments employed by Ayatullah Jawadi and Mirza Na?ini when attempting to prove the need for Islamic governance. Mirza Na?ini referred to governance as an incontrovertible necessity that all rational members of a society would accept. Whereas Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli does not see any essential reason to separate governance from religion, and sees both as essential parts of a larger religious framework. Speaking from this perspective, Ayatullah Jawadi understands religion to not simply be a set of moral advice and doctrine divorced from political teachings; nor is it a worldview that is confined to personal or individual faith devoid of social teachings. Rather religion’s social and political injunctions are integral, and each of these religious teachings and injunctions have a social dimension which should be implemented. Therefore, he states, “No law-giver (??hib shar??at-?) was sent but that in addition to giving glad tidings and warning his people, also spoke of governance.”
What does an Islamic Utopia look like?
Mirza Na?ini was more or less concerned with freeing society from tyrannical rule, and didn’t really explicate much what he believed to be the ultimate ideal, in other words, an Islamic utopia. Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli, however, deals extensively with this “utopian ideal”. Of course, this is by no means a new topic, and many past philosophers, the likes of Aristotle, Plato, and especially Farabi have discussed this in length. Ayatullah Jawadi gives a detailed discourse on both the foundations and the process by which this utopia can be formed. He enumerates the ideals of 1) Cultural growth; 2) Economic growth; 3) Industrial growth; 4) progress in terms of rights both domestically and internationally, as the bases upon which ideal society would be built.
Having discussed, in brief, the political thought of these two jurists and thinkers, we can conclude with the following: first, whereas Na?ini primarily dealt with concrete political issues that were relevant in his day, Ayatullah Jawadi explores governance much more philosophically. Second, we can also see the clear overlaps between their respective theories: both called for a serious evaluation and dispelling of ignorance in their society and pointed to an increased awareness of morality and religion as the solutions. Third, whereas Ayatullah Na?ini dealt more directly with ridding society of tyrannical governance, and talked about the results of this tyranny, its power and potential, and finally various ways of removing it and diffusing its immense destructive mechanisms, Ayatullah Jawadi discusses the issue of governance in a very different context, which had already seen the fruition of an Islamic revolution. In this context, he sees the role of governance as creating an environment which allows enlightened souls to thrive, to reach their spiritual potential, and to attain a higher understanding of God. All other concerns and purposes are relative and mere means to these ends. He also outlines some important characteristics that his ideal city or utopia must possess, characteristics that could use some further fleshing out.