Genealogy of Velayat-e Faqih: From Short Occultation to the Modern Era
Genealogy of Velayat-e Faqih: From Short Occultation to the Modern Era
Milad Dokhanchi
Abstract: There is a tendency among scholars to view the late Ayatollah Khomeini’s doctrine of velayat-e faqih (mandate of the jurist) as part of his innovation in Shi’i jurisprudence and hence a departure from classic Shi’i political thought. Investigating a genealogy of velayat-e faqih, this article situates the concept in the evolutionary history of Shi’i theology and the interaction of fuqah? (jurists) with political institutions in four periods: 1) Pre-Occultation (AD 677 to AD 941); Post-Buyid (AD 945 to AD 1501); 3) Post-Safavid (AD 1501 to AD 1905); and 4) Modern Period (AD 1905 to present). Employing Michel Foucault’s governmentality approach, this article explores modalities through which Shi’i clerical authority justified and expanded their presence within state power in each period. The case of a famous Shi’i hadith of Imam al-Sadiq known as ‘maqbula Umar ibn Hanzala’ is examined to demonstrate that the same hadith that once justified Shi’i abstinence from state power became the central literal tradition used to justify the presence of pastoral authorities in state affairs until the modern period. Also, attention will be paid, albeit in brief, to Sunni political thought to locate areas of similarities and influences in relation to Shi’i political thought. The article concludes that in his delineation of the concept velayat-e faqih, Ayatollah Khomeini only brought the long ambition of rationalist Shi’i fuqah? to its logical conclusion, and the emergence of modern constitutionalist thought had a paradoxical role to play in the materialisation of the concept in the political scene.

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