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In the Name of God بسم الله

How much political authority does a Marja have?

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I hope you are all in the best of health and in the best of Imaan. Also, Ramadhan Mubarak to you all.

So, I'm interested in understanding the extent of the political authority of a marja. We all know that according to usooli belief it is incumbent upon an individual to do the taqleed of a marja and waajib upon him to abide by the laws of fiqh as set down by the marja. We also have a famous saying that taqleed is in fiqh, not aqaid (beliefs). So, those limits are pretty clear but what is often not clear is the political authority a marja commands. Now, part of answering this question goes back to the raging debates we've had over the years on Wilayatul Faqih and Iran and, if possible, I'd like to avoid those. Instead, I'd like you to answer three simple questions:1. Can a marja ask me to kill someone? Is it incumbent upon me to obey him - even if I don't necessarily agree with him on the reasoning or if he actually doesn't even give one? We have the opinion by many scholars that the hudud cannot be implemented or an offensive war cannot be initiated except in the presence of a ma'soom. Will the murder of a single individual, then, follow in the same vein (as a war is basically killing people in the plural and in this case you're killing just one person?) Also, I know that someone do hold the belief that this is not necessary so I'm only interested in the opinion of those scholars who do deem the presence of ma'soom necessary in the above two situations. 

2. If a marja endorses someone in an election, for example, is it wajib for me to vote for them?3. How much political authority do they command in general? In particular, I'm interested in the famous tobacco fatwa of Iran, where a marja banned tobacco for what seemed to be purely political reasons. Was he allowed to do that? Is there a difference of opinion on this?

Also, let's assume that the above hypotheticals involve a marja who is not the head of a Islamic government under which you live (so, someone like Ayatollah Seestani and not Ayatollah Khamenaei as the existence of an Islamic government and the stature of the individual ruling as the haakim would muddle the discussion. Now, I also know that some believe that the authority of an Islamic government, like the one established in Iran, is not restricted to those living within the physical borders of the country - and thus any command from Ayatollah Khamenaei, for example, is incumbent upon all Shi'as, and not just those who do his taqlid or those living in Iran and, again, this is a whole topic on its own so I'd like to assume, for the purpose of this discussion, that that is not the case.

PS: Once again, I'd like to remind you that while it's obvious that discussion of the theory of wilayatul faqih will inevitably be required in answering my question, I would prefer it if we didn't make this thread just about the theory, or about Iran and its implementation of the idea. Also, while I have singled out Ayatollah Seestani as I am his muqallid and wants to know what he believes is obligatory for me, I do want to know the variety of opinions that are out there, including those of Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenaei (just with the assumptions I have put forth - so, in a hypothetical world where they were not the heads of states of an Islamic government in Iran).

Edited by Khadim uz Zahra
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I'd like to start my argument by saying that in Islam, politics are not separate from religion. Many of us are influenced, whether consciously or not, by the Western concept of the separation of the church and state. To a certain degree, we view our daily religious rituals such as saum or salah as separate and distinct from things like establishing an Islamic state or voting in an election. In reality, from the commencement of revelation, politics have been a part of the fabric of religion. Numerous events in the seerah, such as the initial migrations, the Prophet's visit to at-Ta'if and the hijrah to Medina, teach us that the Prophet was continuously striving to establish a Muslim state independent of pagan rule, where there could be a religious figure as the head of state- and he himself assumed the rule for the duration of his lifetime. It is also interesting to observe the change in themes between the Makki and Madani surahs, which shows us that the emphasis on deriving and teaching the Muslim community fiqhi rules (which is essentially the role of the institution of marajiyyat) was greatly increased after a separate Islamic state under a separate Islamic authority was established, before which the emphasis was largely on 'aqeedah.

I realize I may have strayed slightly off-topic, but before moving on to anything else, I wanted to stress the importance of the union of politics (specifically speaking, an Islamic state) and religion (which most people associate marajiyyat with).

I was going to make my argument hadith-centric at first, but as you asked for the opinions of the maraje in your closing paragraph, I'll share the opinions of Sayyid Khamenei and Khomeini regarding the extent of the authority of the "jurist leader" in my next post, Inshallah.

Edited by Shaykh Patience101
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According to Sayyid Khamenei, the role of the "jurist leader" (ie: the leader of the Muslims in regards to political matters) is separate from marajiyyat, although it is necessary that he be qualified mujtahid himself. Sayyid Khamenei gives the jurist leader "absolute authority" in regards to the "administration of the Islamic country and general affairs of Muslims." This means that his ruling regarding these matters is obligatory, not only on those who do taqlid, but also on the prominent mujtahideen themselves. The fatawa of the mujtahideen cannot supersede a command of the jurist leader. However, Muslims are free to choose other maraje in regards to personal (fiqhi) matters, and the jurist leader need not have binding authority on them in the field of fiqh. The jurist leader is also (obviously) not allowed to abrogate any established injunction of Islam. Sayyid Khamenei also states that not holding belief in the office of the jurist leader does not make one an apostate, and says that "whoever is led by reasoning not to believe in it is excused."

Therefore it seems that, according to Sayyid Khamenei, the marja' that is the jurist leader can order you to kill someone or vote for someone in an election, and it would be binding upon you to obey the command. He says directly that "enforcement of Islamic penal codes is obligatory, even during the period of occultation and the authority in this regard belongs to the leader of Muslims." The marja' therefore, according to him, commands complete political authority in general.


The following rulings are taken from his official website:


Q 52: When the fatwā of the leader of Muslims on social, political, and cultural issues disagrees with that of another marji‘, what is the religious obligation of Muslims? And is there a dividing line between fatwās issued by marji‘ and those issued by the jurist leader? For example, if the opinion of a marji‘ concerning music differs with that of the jurist leader, which one is valid and obligatory to follow? And, in general, what are the wilā’ī edicts regarding which opinion of the jurist leader has priority over that of a marji‘? 
A: The edicts of the jurist leader must be followed with respect to the issues relating to the administration of the Islamic country and general affairs of Muslims. While, every mukallaf is obliged to follow his own marji‘ in absolutely personal issues. 

Q 54: If the leader of Muslims declares war against the tyrant infidels or calls for jihad, whereas the marji‘ that I follow does not allow me to participate in the war, should I follow the opinion of the marji‘ or not? 
 A: It is obligatory to obey the edicts of the leader of Muslims with regard to public affairs of Muslim society, which includes the defense of Islam and Muslims against aggressive infidels and tyrants.

Q 55: To what extent is the edict or fatwā of the leader of Muslims applicable? And when it conflicts with the opinion of the most learned marji‘ which one is to be acted upon and given priority? 
A: It is obligatory for all to obey the edict of the jurist leader and the fatwā of a marji‘ cannot make it ineffective.

Q 59: Could someone who does not believe in the absolute authority of the Jurist Leader be considered a true Muslim? 
A: The lack of belief, whether based on ijtihād or taqlīd, in the absolute authority of the jurist leader during the period of occultation of the Imam al-Ḥujjah [the 12th Imam] — may our souls be sacrificed for his cause — does not lead to apostasy. 

Q 60: Does the jurist leader enjoy a kind of authority that enables him to abrogate religious laws for such reasons as public interest? 
A: Abrogation of the rules of Islamic law, after the demise of the Great Messenger of Islam (SW) is impossible. Alteration that takes place in the subject, the emergence of necessity and exigency or the existence of a temporary obstacle in implementing a rule does not constitute abrogation. 

Q 62: Are the commands of the jurist leader binding for all Muslims or only for his followers? Is it obligatory for someone, who makes taqlīd of a mujtahid who does not believe in the absolute authority of the jurist leader, to obey him or not? 
A: According to the Shī‘ah denomination, it is obligatory for all Muslims to submit to the wilā’ī edicts issued by the jurist leader, and to comply with his commands and proscriptions. This ruling applies to all eminent mujtahids, let alone their followers! In our opinion, commitment to the authority of the jurist leader is not separable from the commitment to Islam and the authority of the infallible Imams (AS). 

Q 63: The term ‘absolute authority’ was used during the time of the Noble Messenger (SW) in the sense that when he (SW) ordered an individual to do something, it was obligatory for him to carry out his order, even if it was one of the most difficult acts such as suicide. My question is whether the term ‘absolute authority’ still means the same thing, given that the Noble Prophet (SW) was infallible, whereas no infallible leader exists at the present time? 
A: The ‘absolute authority’ of the qualified mujtahid means that the true religion of Islam, which is the final heavenly religion and will last till the Day of Resurrection, is a religion of governance and administration of social affairs. Therefore, it is necessary for the Islamic society, at all levels, to have a guardian for their affairs, a ruler, and a leader to defend the Islamic society against the enemies of Islam and Muslims. He must preserve their social system, establish justice among them, prevent the strong from victimizing the weak, and attain for them the means of cultural, political, and social development and prosperity. 
At the stage of implementation, the above goals might sometimes conflict with the tendencies, ambitions, interests, and liberty of some individuals. Thus, after assuming the grave duty of leadership according to Islamic law, it is obligatory for the leader of Muslims to take necessary measures, whenever he realizes the need for them, and issue orders in accordance with Islamic jurisprudence. 
When the general interests of Islam and the Muslims are at issue, the jurist leader’s will and authority should necessarily be superior to the will and powers of the people in case of disagreement. This is a short explanation of the concept of absolute authority. 

Q 65: Is it obligatory for a mujtahid who lives in the Islamic Republic of Iran but does not believe in the absolute authority of the jurist leader to obey his orders? Will he be considered as unjust if he defies the jurist leader? And if a mujtahid believes in the absolute authority of the jurist leader but regards himself to be more qualified for that position, will he be considered as unjust if he disobeys the orders of the mujtahid who is in charge of leadership? 

A: It is obligatory for every mukallaf — even if he is a mujtahid — to obey the wilā’ī orders of the jurist leader. It is not permissible for anyone to disobey him — as the one with the responsibilities of leadership — on the pretext of being more qualified. This is the case, only if the present mujtahid in charge of leadership reached the office through its known legal process; otherwise, the matter would be completely different. 

Q 66: Does the qualified mujtahid have any authority to enforce Islamic penal codes during the period of occultation of the 12th Imam (a.)? 

A: Enforcement of Islamic penal codes is obligatory, even during the period of occultation and the authority in this regard belongs to the leader of Muslims. 

Q 67: Is the authority of the jurist leader an issue of following (in which someone could follow a marji‘) or is it a doctrinal issue, which the mukallaf must believe in through his own reason and understanding? And what is the rule with respect to someone who does not believe in it? 

A: The authority of the jurist leader is an aspect of wilāyah and Imamate that forms one of the fundamental principles of the Shī‘ah denomination with one difference that the rules pertaining to it are derived — like every other juristic rule — from the evidence and sources of Islamic law. Whoever is led by reasoning not to believe in it is excused.


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It is important to note that while the Jurist Leader can be distinct from the marja', a Jurist Leader must be a mujtahid. Hence, while the Jurist Leader might not be your marja', he must be marja'/mujtahid.

Therefore, Sayyid Khamenei is indeed placing absolute authority in the hands of a marja', but not all of them as this would lead to the very confusion for the 'ummah that the Jurist Leader is there to remove.

I hope that clears that up.

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