What is the Meaning of ‘Anti-Wilāyat al-Faqīh’?

By Dr. Sayyid Abbas Salehi – Researcher and teacher in the seminary and university

Original source: http://farsi.khamenei.ir/others-note?id=9793 – this article was published on the official website of Āyatullah Khāmeneī in  2010.

After an article in the constitution detailing the Wilāyat al-Faqīh was added (in 1358 SH) and after certain events had taken place between 1359-1360 (revolts by the hypocrites,1 Bani Sadr, liberals etc.), a new slogan began to emerge in the political culture of the country: Death to [anyone] Anti-Wilāyat al-Faqi. This political slogan which continues to exist three decades later in the country has several legal-political dimensions to it. Be it the fact that a number of legal repercussions are dependent on it (such as determining the conditions for taking responsibility of some of the matters in the country etc.), or the fact that it has a direct impact on the political boundaries, such as the definition of an ‘insider’ and an ‘outsider’, and as well as other issues. The importance of the topic implies that there be a clear explanation of what obedience to Wilāyat al-Faqīh means and what it means to be against it.

Or else, without an elaboration of this concept, the country will encounter a lot of negative consequences such as ambiguity in the political culture, the negation of established Islamic citizenship rights, accusations and defamations of others instead of clear discussions on legal matters, and as well as other issues.2 A recent response given by the leader to a question has created an opportunity for one to relook into this important topic. On the second line of a response given by him, he writes:

“If you follow the mere political orders of the one vested with authority (walī al-amr) of the Muslims, that is an indication of one’s complete commitment to it.”

This brief response must be investigated in a larger context. However, due to the limited space of this article, first and foremost only the leader’s own opinions will be quoted and investigated so that the article remains outside the folds of personal opinions of the author and readers can understand the discussion in light of the leader’s opinions. Secondly, they will be explained very minimally so that the limited space can be utilized and as well as to avoid the perception that the author is interfering with the leader’s opinions.

Fundamental Questions

1) Is belief in Wilāyat al-Faqīh from the necessities of Islam?

Proponents of Wilāyat al-Faqīh consider it to be an obvious jurisprudential and theological opinion. As for whether this opinion is to the extent of it being from the necessities of Islam or jurisprudence, such that if someone does not believe in it they are to be considered outside the folds of Islam, then in this regards the explicit response of the leader to question #59 is as follows:

“Disbelief in Wilāyat al-Faqīh, whether it be due to one’s Ijtihād or out of Taqlīd, in the era of the occultation of the Imām is not a cause of apostasy and leaving the folds of Islam.”

2) Is the theory of Wilāyat al-Faqīh considered to be from the necessities of the school of thought or is it open to Ijtihād?

Just like the previous question, this question also has a lot of importance. Even if some of the rulings and religious beliefs are not considered to be from the necessities of Islam and rejecting them does not lead to apostasy from Islam, however, because they are from the necessities of the school of thought, they are not open to Ijtihād. On the other hand, in a case where the opportunity to engage in jurisprudential Ijtihād or deriving law exists, the obvious opinion of the Muslim jurists is that a Mujtahid (and as well as his followers) are exonerated in the case of a mistake. They are not punished in this world and neither in the hereafter. With this brief explanation, the question is whether the theory of Wilāyat al-Faqīh is open to Ijtihād or not? Furthermore, if a Mujtahid takes the generally known steps of deriving law and ends up denying this theory, can they and their followers be punished in this world or the hereafter? The response of the leader in question #61 is as follows:

“If someone in their opinion, based on argumentation and sound evidence arrives at a conclusion that belief in Wilāyat al-Faqīh is not necessary, they are exonerated.”

Likewise, in response to question #67 he writes:

“Rules related to Wilāyat al-Faqīh, like the rest of the jurisprudential rules, are extracted from religious evidence and someone who arrives at the conclusion where they reject the concept of Wilāyat al-Faqīh based on argumentation and sound evidence, then they are exonerated.”

3) Is criticism of the leader tantamount to being anti-Wilāyat al-Faqīh?

This question is focused on the notion of opposing and committing oneself to Wilāyat al-Faqīh. In an Islamic government, is it not possible to critique the leader? Does criticism of the leader in an Islamic society lead to the stripping of one’s citizenship? Is this critique considered a civil offence and a religious sin?

These types of questions have been asked over the last three decades. In this regard, we point out a speech by the leader given to a number of university student groups on 17 Mehr, 1386 SH:

“This does not mean one should not critique, it does not mean one should not demand (answers), with regards to (the position of) the leader it is the same.”

Thereafter, he goes on to explain the meaning of being anti-Wilāyat al-Faqīh and reiterates the aforementioned point for emphasis:

“This phrase ‘anti-Wilāyat al-Faqīh’ which is often heard, is not a revealed verse from the heavens to which we can say we need to identify its correct parameters to define it precisely. It is part of a custom; protesting against the policies of Article 44 is not being anti-Wilāyat al-Faqīh, protesting against the specific personal opinions of [someone in the position of] the leader is not tantamount to being anti-leader.”

Without a doubt, the opinion above is so explicit that it closes the door to all types of other interpretations and justifications.

4) Is criticism of top officials of the country tantamount to noncommitment to Wilāyat al-Faqīh?

The response to this question appears to be clearer in light of previous questions. Especially when in an Islamic government the leader of the government is not above criticism and his criticism does not lead to one exiting the folds of the Muslims and losing one’s citizenship, then it is natural that criticism of the officials, albeit the top authorities, is not a religious sin nor a civil offence, and not an instance of being anti-Wilāyat al-Faqīh! The leader of the Islamic Revolution has repeatedly mentioned the importance of critique in an Islamic society, such as in a Friday sermon given in the month of Ramaḍān in the year 1388 SH (at the height of tensions in the country):

“There is no issue with officials of the country, those who are responsible for running the affairs of the country, having critics who can point out their weaknesses to them. When a person is in a position that has a rivalry and is faced by critics, they tend to work much better.”

5) Is religious and political dissent a cause of one losing their citizenship under an Islamic government?

This is also from one of the important questions concerning the rights of a citizen. Is it possible to consider religious and political dissent incompatible with the sovereign rights of a citizen? Before citing the opinion of the leader, I want to give a personal explanation of the term ‘religious and political dissent’: dissent refers to an essential and fundamental difference one has with the views ruling a country. These differences are at times rooted in religious matters and at times in political matters and at times both.

The leader of the revolution in that very same sermon given in Ramaḍān in 1388 SH said:

“The government has nothing to do with dissent; there is all this dissent, political dissent is not greater than religious dissent. Right, so we have religious minorities who are dissenters, they also have members in the Islamic Consultative Assembly, and are present in various other positions.”

The Semantics of “Opposing Government Orders”

The points mentioned in this article have shown that the instances above cannot be inclusive of what is deemed to be anti-Wilāyat al-Faqīh. In other words, determining one’s commitment or whether one is against Wilāyat al-Faqīh is not concerned with the subject matters that have been alluded to in the previous five points. The question, however, remains, how should we define the meaning of being anti-Wilāyat al-Faqīh? Just as we mentioned in the beginning, the leader in response to a question, considered opposition with the government orders to be an instance of being anti, while he considered abiding by government orders to be a full commitment to it. In this part of the paper, to get a better understanding of the responses and the meaning of this phrase, you will see that the opinions and views attributed to the leader of the Islamic government have been categorized, so that the difference between government orders with other cases can be fully realized:

1 – The Religious Edict

With respects to the conditions of a jurisconsult, a Walī Faqīh like other jurisconsults has his own religious edicts. The edict of a Walī Faqīh of a country has the same status as the edict of other (jurisconsults). Meaning, the edict is binding upon his followers, and they are not binding upon other jurists and their respective followers, and subsequently, opposing those edicts is not considered a religious sin nor a civil offence. Opposing an edict of a Walī Faqīh by his followers is considered a religious sin, however it does not tantamount to being anti-Wilāyat al-Faqīh.

2 – Views and Guidance

The leader of the Islamic government has opinions and views regarding the internal and external matters of the country. Rejection of these opinions before they are turned into government orders is not deemed to be an instance of being anti-Wilāyat al-Faqīh. The statement cited in the third section of the previous post makes this very clear.

3 – General Rules of the Country

Since the higher institutions of the country are managed under the general authority of the Walī Faqīh, naturally the general laws of these institutions have a relationship with the leader of the Islamic government. However, there are three points to be mentioned regarding these laws:

  1. It is necessary for all citizens to follow the laws of the country – whether they are followers of the leaders or not. This is a very common matter, required for the protection of society and to prevent any chaos in the management of the country, and is also backed up with jurisprudential and civil evidence.
  2. Critiquing the general laws of a country is not a civil offence and neither a religious sin (except through the realization of secondary principles in specific scenarios), and critics will not be considered from those who are not committed to Wilāyat al-Faqīh.
  3. Even though defying the general laws of a country is considered a civil offence (and based on the evidence for Wilāyat al-Faqīh, a religious sin), however, this defiance – generally speaking – does not mean that a person is not committed to Wilāyat al-Faqīh or is anti-Wilāyat al-Faqīh.

4 – Government Orders

Planning and macro-management of a country require strategic decisions (and under every political system, be it in any shape and form, rulers make certain decisions). Without a doubt, these fundamental decisions go through a complex process of expediency and expertise. In these important and influential matters, the affairs of a country cannot operate in unstable conditions or in accordance to various styles and affinities. This is because the national integrity is a main condition for the actualization of those basic matters. During the time of the Imam Khomeinī, some crucial decisions such as the installation of an interim administration, the removal of Bani Sadr, the decision to continue the Holy Defense after the conquering of Khorramshahr, accepting the United Nations Security Council Resolution 598, the removal of Āqā Montazeri and so on, are all clear examples of government orders. In the last two decades, we see a number of examples of these orders. In response to the last question, two important points become clear:

  • Only opposition to government orders (with the details that have been mentioned) nullifies one’s commitment to Wilāyat al-Faqīh.
  • Following government orders is tantamount to being completely committed to Wilāyat al-Faqīh (the word “completely” is worthy of attention). Recently, after this answer was published, some seniors offered a different perspective to the response given by the leader of the revolution with respects to commitment to Wilāyat al-Faqīh and deemed it (i.e. following government orders) to be the bare minimum. However, it appears that this interpretation is an instance of personal ijtihād in the face of an explicit response. He makes his definition of completely commitment explicitly clear in what he said.

In conclusion, it should be reiterated that with respects to the negative and affirmative connotations regarding one’s commitment to Wilāyat al-Faqīh, in the view of the leader it is possible to arrive at an understanding of the relationship between the government and its citizens that is unique and not narrow-minded. These views need to be expanded on and analyzed at the level of legal institutions (such as the Guardian Council, the Islamic Consultative Assembly etc.), executive bodies, judicial and security organizations, individuals and political parties of the country, national and public media, educational institutions and so on, so that a clear and definite legal and practical charter can be developed for managing societal relationships. A charter that can distance an “Islamic Society” from extremism and negligence, and create a very clear basis for beliefs, dialogue and societal conduct.


  1. Referring to the Mojâhedin-e Khalq
  2. Interestingly, just a few years ago Āyatullah Murtaḍa Tehrānī mentioned that since this phrase is so vague and because often times people speculate that jurists who have a different interpretation of Wilāyat al-Faqīh than Āyatullah Khomeinī’s or Āyatullah Khāmeneīs’ are included in this, it is a religious duty to abandon and get rid of this slogan. [Source]. He himself is not only from the students of Āyatullah Khomeinī but also a teacher of akhlāq and a contemporary jurist. Furthermore, his own support and praise of Āyatullah Khāmeneī have often been unprecedented amongst contemporary scholars. [Source]

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