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Dynamic tensions between religion and politics in Iran

January 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Though the tumultuous events following the June 2009 presidential election in Iran has brought political tensions and oppositions to the surface, there have been a long-standing differences within and between public, religious, and power elite groups contesting such issues that touch on the very practice and framework of political life. A central question remains the form, substance, and practical application of government and governance.

Sheikh Chafiq Jeradeh, the director of the Institute of Sapiential Knowledge for Philosophical and Religious Studies in Beirut, has written a brief article regarding the dynamic tension between state and religion in Iran. This article is published on Conflicts Forum. Conflicts Forum is founded and directed by Alastair Crook, who has had a career as a British Diplomat and member of the secret service (MI6). Below is an excerpt from Sheikh Chafiq Jeradeh’s article:

[U]ntil now, the tension between the underlying religious principles and contemporary structures of statehood and the international order have not been satisfactorily resolved.

…These tensions however are evident today in Iran: They have given rise to a strand of thinking within society that seeks to place doctrinal religion within a secular framework – this, in addition to their desire to establish the political structures on a similar secular basis. This has caused the religious parties to react in two ways:

  • Firstly it has led some to wall themselves in behind the Wilayat al-Faqih formula and to reject any new thinking about this concept arising in the Iranian intellectual or political arena.
  • Secondly, it has led to a wider discussion regarding the relationship between Islam and Wilayat al-Faqih. The object of this discussion is centred on how to Islamise contemporary institutional systems of governance, whilst another strand is moving in the opposite direction: It looks at how to revise the concept (Wilayat al-Faqih) better to reflect contemporary reality, and its needs.

This is the real dilemma facing the present al-Wali al-Faqih (the Guardian Jurist, i.e. Imam Khamenei) and the institutions affiliated with him.

Secondly – During Imam Khamenei’s rule, some circles began to discuss the following issues:

  1. Does the concept of Wilayat presuppose a tradition of (cognitive) knowledge of its own, which in itself enables the Wali (Supreme Leader) to lead and to manage the actuality? Or, does it require some additionally acquired expertise in governance, as well as the special vision, which only spiritual attainment can provide?
  2. Does Wilayat al-Faqih have one form, and one form only – the one presented by late Imam Khomeini, or there are other possible forms that Imam Khamenei can reveal?
  3. Finally, does the concept rest on a basis of popular acceptance and commitment within the ranks of the Iranian elites? Or; does its basis lie in the emotional circumstance of revolution? This is an important point that needs to be clarified – for the answer to this question will spell out for us the possibilities for dissension between Iranian elites and the popular will.
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