Why an Islamic state matters to Shiites

August 25, 2009 at 11:30 pm (Iran, Islam, Islamism, Religion)

Islam is as much a political force as it is religious. And this is common with mmost religious movements prior to this modern age. For most of humanity’s history, religions played and intrinsic rôle in the political life of a polity. However, while most other religious movements have accepted the separation of religion and poltics, Islam retains this belief that religion and state cannot be separated. Indeed, one fundamental purpose of Islam was to establish the way (شريعة shari’ah) to a just society through it’s religious laws (called, thus, the “shari’ah”). Thus, an Islamic state is a legitimate state.

Among Shiites there is a dispute whether a legitimate Islamic state can be established. Some say they must wait for the return of the Hidden Imam. Others say agents of the Imam may establish a provisionary state until he reappears. Others believe that a truly legitimate, authentic Islamic state may be established by the Imam’s agents before he reappears.

For many Shiites, the legitimate Islamic state died with Muhammad. His supposed successors prevented the rightful sucessor from taking his place at the head of the Islamic state and when his turn came, supporters of these usurpers attempted to overthrow him. They likewise killed the son of the rightful successor (by the way, who was evidently علي بن ابي طالب ‘Ali bin Abi Talib, Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin). And since then they have been trying to kill the rightful bearers of authority.

But this has not always been the case. The Fatimids (Isma’ili Shiites) established a potent caliphate to rival the Sunni one. The Qizilbash claimed be led by the Imam, and established a Shiite empire (forcing all their non-Shiite subjects to convert), which reunited Persia and made it Shiite. But these were exceptions that proved the rule: Shiites cannot establish a legitimate Islamic state. Either they fail or their Sunni enemies defeat them (or their Sunni enemies defeat them by making them fail).

This should explain why the notion that cresting an Islamic state was not only possible and permissable but that there is a way and structure and organized manner to do so, was so shocking, novel, and captivating.

Despite centuries of doctrine otherwise, Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini capitalized on the Shiites’ yearning for political deliverance and unveiled before them the way to their salvation: Velayat-e Faqih.

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1 Comment

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