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Islamic Government: Governance of the Jurist

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Imam Ruhullah KhomeiniThe topic of Wilayat al-Faqih (governance of the jurist) is one that is not usually discussed in detail, and although many are aware of the term itself, they lack understanding of the theological and juristic arguments for the authority of by the jurist. Islamic Government: Governance of the Jurist is a short analysis of the topic by Ayatollah Imam Ruhullah al-Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 revolutionary uprising against Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi which led to the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The English translation can be found online and has been translated by Hamid Algar from the third edition of the Persian text.

Ayatollah Imam Khomeini was a renowned legal scholar and political leader and wrote extensively on spiritual self-development. Islamic Government was initially a series of lectures he delivered at the theological seminaries of Najaf to an audience of students of the religious sciences. It was later transcribed into book format. The purpose of Islamic Government is to present a theological and legal analysis of three key aspects of Islamic government: the importance of establishing an Islamic state, the role of the Islamic jurists in implementing the Islamic state, and the correct way to establish an Islamic state.

Ayatollah Imam Khomeini argues that the evidence for the need to establish an Islamic state lies in the example of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) himself. The Prophet not only legislated the laws necessary for a government but also implemented such a government. Further, his appointment of a successor indicates his intention to continue the implementation of the Islamic government even after his death. He presents several arguments to debunk the idea that we ought to set aside the laws and no longer implement an Islamic state after the occultation of Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his reappearance). He uses the Qur'an and narrations to argue that the continued implementation must be in the hands of the Fuqaha (jurists), and that their role is similar to the role of the successor to the Prophet Muhammad in the leadership of the Islamic state. He notes two qualities that are prerequisite for the leader of the Islamic state: knowledge of Islamic laws and justice. Lastly, Ayatollah Imam Khomeini addresses how to establish an Islamic government, saying propagation and instruction are the two most important activities needed at this time.

The book raises many thought-provoking questions and is for the most part well structured; however, the reader is left with many questions unanswered. For instance, "Are we to leave aside the laws of Islam in the time of the Occultation?" Although he provides an extensive analysis of the proofs given in the Qur'an and Hadith for the leadership after the Prophet, further explanation is needed to show how an infallible Imam's leadership of the Islamic state can be similar to a fallible jurist's leadership of the Islamic government. Furthermore, in the last section, where one expects a thorough explanation of what an Islamic state would look like, the discussion devolves into a sort of exhortation to his students regarding their obligation as future jurists in the Iranian state where the Shah (at the time of the speeches) was still the ruling authority.

Overall, the book is a good introduction to the subject of the authority of the jurist but not a complete theological or juridical guide. Islamic Government is mostly easy to read; however, there is some dense material especially in the discussion surrounding the narrations pertaining to leadership. The book also gives good insight into the ideology upon which the Islamic Revolution was based, a revolution that would follow nine years after the speeches were given in Najaf.

Musarraf Yusufali has recently completed her master's degree in social work. A resident of Austin, Texas, she hope to work with Muslim communities to develop healthy individuals and families.

Author of this article: Musarrat Yusufali
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