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Last Updated: 2011/09/22
Summary of question
What difference does Wilayah and the system of Wilayah have with a monarchial system?
What differencedoes Wilayah and the system of Wilayah have with a monarchial system?
Concise answer

There exist fundamental differences between a Wilayi system of government and a monarchial system of government. These differences can be broken down into the following summary points:

A- In terms of their legitimacy, Wilayi systems derive their authority from God, while monarchial systems derive their authority from the customs of the people and the system of succession.

B- The main method of selection and its conditions: In Wilayi systems of governance there are some very stringent rules for the selection of a leader, and a specific mechanism is in place for this selection. Contrary to this, the system of Monarchy selects a leader only on the basis of blood relation (personal merit is oftentimes not a consideration).

C- The method of deposing a leader: In wilayi systems, if the leader makes certain mistakes or stops possessing the conditions necessary for his position, then he will automatically lose his authority and be deposed. In certain systems, the responsibility of ascertaining if these conditions continue to be met are given over to a governing body. Contrary to this, in a system of monarchy, no one is able to remove the king, no matter what he does or what mistakes he commits.

Detailed Answer

The Wilayi system of governance (also known as a theocratic system of governance) is a system which is harmonious with a set of religious teachings and therefore has its basis set upon a given religion. Its harmony and concordance with religion extends to its every branch and one would be hard pressed to find any aspect that is not touched by religion. Contrary to this, a monarchial system is one in which one individual rules under the title of a monarch (i.e. king) and holds supreme power based upon his own ideas and wishes.

There exist many fundamental differences between a Wilayi system of rule and a monarchial system of rule. These differences can be summarized into a few points:

A- In terms of legitimacy, a Wilayi system asserts its authority from God and it is God in reality, who has the primary right of rule, for he has created the people, gives them sustenance, and is familiar with all of their spiritual and physical needs and inclinations.

God has stated in the Quran: ‘…The command rests with none but Allah…’[1] and ‘As to those who turn (for friendship) to Allah, His Messenger, and the (fellowship of) believers,- it is the fellowship of Allah that must certainly triumph.’[2] In the next stage, God gives this guardianship over to the Prophet (s), the Imams (a), and then to those amongst the pious who possess the necessary qualifications such as faith, knowledge, power, and justice… The Holy Quran has said in this regard: ‘The Prophet is closer to the Believers than their own selves…’[3] and ‘Your (real) friends are (no less than) Allah, His Messenger, and the (fellowship of) believers’[4]. Based upon this, the Shia first takes the Prophet (s) as their guardian and then the Imams (a). They take these individuals as the guardians of the Islamic society who have been selected to this position by God. After these individuals, they must take the Shia scholars, who based upon both logical and narrated proofs, are the guardians of the Islamic society. From the time of the occultation of the last Imam (a) these individuals were given the authority of this position and the guardianship of the Muslim society is their responsibility. Of course, there is no contradiction between being appointed by God through the people, as is the case in the Islamic Republic of Iran. There, identifying the Wali Faqih has been put on the shoulders of experts whom have been chosen directly by the people. In other words, the people play a major role in the selection of the individual who will be the Wali Faqih, while in monarchies, that usually have despotic governments, their legitimacies come from the customs of tribes and nations; the king comes to power through revolt and coups or through inheritance, and their qualities and qualifications have no effect whatsoever.[5]

B- The method of selection:

In the same way that the means of legitimacy are different in the Wilayi system and the monarchial system, likewise, the method of selecting leaders in these two systems are also remarkably different. In the Wilayi system, selection is based upon the highest criterion, namely infallibility for the infallible imams and jurisprudence and insight and piety for the jurists. Contrary to this, in the monarchial system, the king uses force and military might to defeat his rivals and to set himself up in his position of rule. Through these means, the bloodiest and most cruel individuals are in essence ‘fit for rule’; after this initial set up, the system becomes based upon succession set by blood relation and not at all on ability or skill.

James I, king of England is quoted as saying: The rank and position of the king is a mystery and secret which neither the legal experts, nor the philosophers can truly understand.’ This means that no one has the capability or right of placing conditions on the station of the monarchy.[6]

C- The Method of dealing with the individuals of the society: In the Wilayi system of governance the actions of the leaders are based on divinely ordained rules and commands and they must rule far from the effects of any personal desires and wishes. If this leader ever overextends himself beyond the divinely inspired boundaries and limits, he loses his legitimacy and authority. At the same time, in such a system, the people are recognized as the ones who one must work for and serve. In the letter of Imam Ali (a) to Malik Ashtar (which is a famous treatise on how a religious government should act), Imam Ali (a) says in regards to how Malik should act with the people: Make friendliness with the people as a covering for your heart and be a friend to everyone and be friendly towards everyone. May it never be that you act like a predatory animal who doesn’t hesitate to devour them … Act with justice towards God, the people, your near ones, and with the masses….[7]

Contrary to this, in the monarchial system, divine rules and commandments do not hold any weight or value, and the criterion of what is right is what the king and his governors command. These commands could be based on personal whims and wishes and thus there is no set foundation for them.

D- The method for the deposition and removal of a leader: In the Wilayi system of governance, besides the rule of the Imams (a), who due to their infallibility are protected from any error or mistake, there does exist a system for the removal of leaders when they make mistakes or lose their necessary qualifications for their position. In certain systems of governance, if the leader stops possessing the necessary qualifications, then there is a council set up for the purpose of deposing him.

In the monarchial system, there is no system of checks and balances and the system is a fixed one; if the leader is cruel, despotic, or unjust, then the people must tolerate many difficulties and struggles until they are able to remove the king. Either this will take place or another individual, who possesses more power, is able to remove the king from power and place himself or another individual in his position.

These are just a portion of the differences between the monarchial system of rule and that of the Wilayi system of rule, and every just individual can understand and differentiate between the differences of these two systems, and in fact discover even more points of difference between these two systems of governance.

[1]Surah An’am, Verse 57.

[2]Surah Maida, Verse 55.

[3]Surah Ahzaab, Verse 6.

[4]Surah Mai’dah, Verse 55.

[5] Shaakerin, Hamid Reza, Hukumate Dini, pp. 99, 102 and 103.

[6] Pazargad, Baha’uddin, Taarikhe Falsafeye Siyasi, vol. 2, pg. 502, Zavvar Publications.

[7]Imam Ali (as), Nahjul-Balaghah, letter 53.

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