In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Response to Browers: Marja‘iyyah and Wilayat al-Faqih
  • Hamid Algar

This article is a welcome contribution to the understanding of Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah and his legacy. A number of clarifications seem nonetheless to be in order, particularly with respect to the distinct although interrelated concepts of marja‘iyyah and wilayat al-faqih. Hizbullah has indeed proclaimed its adherence first to Imam Khomeini and later Ayatollah Khamenei both as marja‘ and as al-wali al-faqih, but this does not necessitate a complete fusion of the two functions. It is inaccurate to describe Imam Khomeini as having been ‘the official marja‘ al-taqlid....of the Islamic Republic’ (29). The possibility, permissibility even, of following another marja‘ during his lifetime was recognized, although in matters of public policy the rulings he gave in his capacity of wali al-faqih necessarily overrode divergent opinions of other maraji‘.1 The distinction between the two offices and functions – marja‘ and wali al-faqih or rahbar – came clearly to the fore after the demise of the Imam. The constitution of the Islamic Republic was amended in 1989 to remove from Chapter 8, Article 109, the requirement that the wali al-faqih be a marja‘ al-taqlid, thus making explicit a difference that in the lifetime of the Imam had been of limited practical importance. 2 It is true, of course, that Ayatollah Khamenei not long after proclaimed his availability as marja‘, first for Iranians and then somewhat later for Shi‘as resident elsewhere, but the constitutional distinction between the two functions remains intact. And as in the time of the Imam, there are of course maraji‘ in Iran other than the rahbar with their own followings, both within the country and abroad.

Brower’s disregard of the difference between marja‘ and wali al-faqih leads her to the erroneous observation that ‘after Araki died in December 1994, the Islamic Republic named Khamenei the supreme [End Page 47] leader’ (36). That nomination had come, of course, much earlier, on 3 June 1989 to be precise. What the demise of Ayatollah Muhammad ‘Ali Araki did occasion was a widespread endorsement of Khamenei as marja‘ by a large number of scholars, primarily although not exclusively Iranian.3 Fadlallah was evidently not among them, but it is doubtful that his objection was to ‘the idea that the supreme guide could only be Iranian’ (36). Given the political responsibilities of the supreme guide as overseer of the Islamic Republic, it is difficult to see how a non-Iranian could qualify for the post or successfully fulfil its obligations. As Brower’s very next sentence makes plain, Fadlallah’s objection was quite different: he ‘maintained that qualifications, without regard to nationality, should be the determining factor in selecting a marja‘,’ which is of course a separate concern. And if Fadlallah indeed argued that ‘the Iranians have been monopolizing the institution of marja‘iyyah for too long’ (37), a direct citation of his words would have been welcome, for the twentieth century history of Shi‘ism hardly bears out this contention. By way of breaking the alleged monopoly, Fadlallah is said to have proposed that wilayat al-faqih ‘should rotate among the most learned of the Shi‘a’. This hardly justifies the suggestion that ‘he seems to attribute to the faqih a role more like that of the Catholic pope’ (37); it is highly unlikely that the notion of a migratory papacy would be welcomed in Rome.

Hamid Algar
Department of Near Eastern Studies, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA


1. See his fatwa on this subject in Ruhollah Khomeini, Istifta’at I (Qum: Daftar-i Intisharat-i Islami, 1375 AH (solar)/1996), 19.

2. See Constitution of the Islamic Republic (Qanun-i Asasi-yi Jumhuri-yi Islami) (Tehran: Vizarat-i Farhang va Irshad-i Islami, 1368 AH (solar)/1989), 53.

3. See Wilayah and Marjaiyah Today (Houston, Texas: al-Fajr, 1995), 49–146. [End Page 48]



Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 47-48
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.