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Last Updated: 2011/12/20
Summary of question
What is the relationship between wilayah and marja’iyyah?
question
What is the relationship between wilayah and marja’iyyah?
Concise answer

In Shia thought, marja’iyyah is comprised of two responsibilities; the issuance of legal verdicts, and wilayah (i.e., leadership and authority). Throughout history, the grand marja’s have both explained and preached the general divine laws of Islam, and in particular social issues, have taken up the role of leading the people. They would even sometimes judge among the people as well.

However, if we separate the two features of ‘issuing legal verdicts’ and ‘wilayah’ from each other, and allocate the term ‘marja’iyyah’ only to the first, several questions will come up:

1- Is it permissible to separate these two responsibilities from each other?

2- If it is, is the multiplicity of maraje’ (marja’s) and leaders something acceptable?

3- In the case of separation of marja’iyyah from political leadership, can one follow other than the leader in all issues, let them be social or individual?

The answers to these questions, respectively, are as follows:

a) What makes a jurist a marja’, is his expertise in derivation of divine legal rulings from their Islamic sources, while the merit a leader of an Islamic state bears, in addition to that of the marja’, is his capability of running the Islamic state according to Islamic standards and values.

Keeping this in mind, it is possible for a jurist to be preferred over another in terms of being a marja’, while the other is favored over him because of his leadership qualities and competence in running the state.

Therefore, it is‌ possible to separate these two matters (leadership and marja’iyyah) from each other, and in some cases, may even be necessary.

b) The primary rule, when it comes to leadership, is singleness (i.e., for there to be only one leader), while the primary rule in marja’iyyah, is multiplicity (for there to be several marja’s), although the opposite can be true for both. Also, it is possible for singleness to apply to both at the same time.

c) Since it is mandatory upon all to abide by the leader and it is forbidden to disobey his command according to all jurists, it is not permissible for the people to follow other than him in social matters, and what was said in response to the first question was regarding individual matters; it is only in this area (individual matters) that people can follow other than the leader.

Detailed Answer

The prophet of Islam (pbuh) had three responsibilities:

1- To transmit verses of the Quran and legal rulings and to guide the people

2- To judge among them in cases of conflict and reconcile between them

3- To run the Islamic society

All of these responsibilities hold for the jurists during the occultation; they too, have three responsibilities:

1- To issue verdicts on legal issues and to express the general divine rulings for the people and guide them from this perspective

2- Judgment and reconcilement (in judicial cases)

3- Wilāyah (leadership and authority) and rulership[1]

In Shia culture and thought, the term marjaʻīyyah refers to a combination of iftā’ (i.e., issuing legal rulings and verdicts) and wilāyah. Throughout history, the grand marjaʻs both would teach the people the general divine laws of Islam, and in specific social issues that would come up, would take up the responsibility of leading the people. They would even judge among them sometimes.

However, if we separate the two responsibilities of ‘issuing legal verdicts’ and ‘wilayah’ from each other, and allocate the term ‘marja’iyyah’ only to the first, several questions will come up:

1- Is it permissible to separate these two responsibilities from each other?

2- If it is, is the multiplicity of maraje’ (marja’s) and leaders something acceptable?

3- In the case of separation of marja’iyyah from political leadership, can one follow other than the leader in all issues, let them be social or individual?

Before delving into the answers to these questions, a brief introduction on the meaning of fatwā (verdict) which is the duty the issuer of the fatwā, and ḥukm which is the responsibility of the Islamic leader and is issued by him is necessary.

A marjaʻ refers to the Islamic sources and employs the necessary methods in order to derive the general ruling on a specific issue from them, and puts the conclusions he comes to at the disposal of his muqallids (followers); these rulings derived from the sources are referred to as fatwās. Therefore, a fatwā is the general and universal precept of Islam regarding a particular issue which has been obtained from Islamic sources and through the utilization of specific methods.[2]

Now, when the leader of the Islamic state, keeping in mind these general divine laws and rulings, and also the present circumstances, determines a specific duty binding on everyone, or a certain group of people, or even a certain individual, this act is referred to as ḥukm. So, a hukm takes into consideration both the general universal laws of Islam, and the circumstances of the time, and until the change of those circumstances, they are kept in mind by the leader or his authorized representative.

Of course, in Allah’s eyes, following the verdicts of a qualified marjaʻ, just like following the ḥukm of a marjaʻ, is necessary and legitimate[3], with the slight difference that the fatwā of the marjaʻ is only binding on himself and his followers, while the ḥukm of the leader is binding on all (even on those for whom he isn't a marjaʻ).

Now that we have put this introduction behind us, we will engage in answering the first question of separating marjaʻiyyah from leadership which calls for another introduction. As was said, marjaʻiyyah is different than leadership; leadership has to do with running society in accordance with Islamic standards, while marjaʻiyyah (issuing fatwās) has to do with something else. The term marjaʻiyyah is usually accompanied by the term taqlīd (i.e., emulation/following). One who is a marja’ has followers, or muqallids, so it is also necessary that we explain the term taqlid in order to correctly be able to understand what marjaʻiyyah really is.

The term taqlid denotes the referral of a non-expert to an expert, which is a totally understandable and acceptable notion, and this is the main reason for the acceptability of taqlid; it is the referral of non-experts in the field of legal Islamic rulings to the experts in this field. Verses of the Quran that tell those who don’t know to refer to those who know (e.g., فاسئلوا أهل الذکر إن کنتم لا تعلمون)[4] are all actually pointing to this very point that is understandable to all.

Having said this, what makes a jurist a marja’, is his expertise in derivation of divine legal rulings from their Islamic sources, while the merit a leader of an Islamic state bears, in addition to that of the marja’, is his capability of running the Islamic state according to Islamic standards and values.

Keeping this in mind, it is possible for a jurist to be preferred over another one in terms of being a marja’[5], while the other is favored over him because of his leadership qualities and competence in running the state.

Therefore, it is‌ possible to separate these two matters (leadership and marja’iyyah) from each other, and in some cases, may even be necessary.

As for the second question, meaning the issue of multiplicity of leaders and singleness of marja’s (i.e., there only being one marjaʻ), with the assumption of the possibility of separating the two mentioned responsibilities from each other, one must note that since the reason for referring to marja’s is because of their expertise in the field of Islamic law, it is acceptable to have more than one expert in a field, hence not only the acceptability of the multiplicity of marjaʻs, but its preference and the possibility of the ease of being able to refer to them for Islamic laws.

When it comes to leadership and managing the Islamic society though, the story differs; multiplicity of decision making entities and individuals will bring about unrest and turmoil rather than order, making it indispensible that the leader be one, especially since from the Islamic point of view, the Islamic state is one, and isn't limited to any geographical boundaries. Of course, certain circumstances may necessitate the multiplicity of leaders, or another form of leadership, and this isn't something that is ruled out, but it is contingent upon certain circumstances. Nevertheless, in the case of the need of more than one leader, they must be in harmony with each other and cooperate and work together uniformly, in order to prevent the disunity of the Muslim nation. This is while there is no such necessity regarding the fatwas of the marjaʻs; their fatwas don’t need to be coherent with others’ and they can have their own view according to the principles of jurisprudence, regardless of whether it reads with the views of other marjaʻs or not.

Therefore, to conclude, the primary rule in leadership is singleness, and multiplicity in marja’iyyah, although because of certain circumstances, the opposite can also happen, or even in some cases, the best option is to go with singleness in both regards.

Regarding the third question, meaning the possibility and acceptability of following other than the leader in all issues, one must pay attention to the fact that when issuing a ḥukm, the leader will take into consideration both the general divine Islamic laws and systems, and the present circumstances of the time, and what will count for him, is his own fatwa. At the same time, as was mentioned, it is obligatory for everyone to obey him in his commands. Now if it was acceptable for the people to follow other than the leader in all issues, social or individual, while it is said that the leader must be followed in his commands, there would be complications in some cases. For instance, the leader may issue a ḥukm based on a fatwa he has regarding a social matter, admitting that the ḥukm is based on a fatwa, that if he didn’t have, wouldn’t have led to this specific ḥukm being issued by him. Meanwhile, another marjaʻ has a different view on the same matter; what are the people supposed to do? How can they both follow the leader and the marjaʻ at the same time? It is not possible.

As a result of such complications, it seems that since following the leader is binding on all and it is impermissible to disobey his commands even for other marjaʻs, it isn't acceptable for the people to follow other than the leader in social issues, and what was mentioned in response to the first question, only has to do with individual issues, it is only in such cases that people can follow other than the leader.

For further reading:

Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani, Velāyat va Dīyānat, Khaneye Kherad Cultural Insititute, Qom, second edition, 1380.



[1] See: The reasons for the authority of the jurist.

[2] Imam Khomeini refers to these methods as Jawaheri Ijtihad or Traditional Jurisprudence. (See: Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani, Fiqhe Hukumati va Hukumat Fiqhi, Resalat Magazine (special issue on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the passing of Imam Khomeini), pp. 10-11, Khordad, 1373).

[3] It is because of this that sometimes it is said: “Legal rulings are of two types: 1- God-Related ones 2- Wilayah-Related ones, the first having to do with the general universal rulings that fatwas have to do with, and the second having to do with the hukms issued by the leader.

[4] Naḥl:43.

[5] This is also referred to as the “the condition of being the most learned”; referring to the most learned is obligatory in certain cases:

a) When the most learned marjaʻs fatwa differs from that of the not most learned

b) There is a great gap between the most learned and the not most learned in terms of expertise, to the extent that the not most learned’s view has no value compared to the most learned’s in the eyes of the intellect bearing, even if it may have some value in terms of expertise when compared to normal people’s views.

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