We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more Islam in Transition Muslim Perspectives Second Edition - Islamic Government - Islamic Government - Oxford Islamic Studies Online
Select Translation What is This? Selections include: The Koran Interpreted, a translation by A.J. Arberry, first published 1955; The Qur'an, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published 2004; or side-by-side comparison view
Chapter: verse lookup What is This? Select one or both translations, then enter a chapter and verse number in the boxes, and click "Go."
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result

Islamic Government

Khumaynī Āyatullāh Rūhullāh
Document type:
Articles and Essays

Islamic Government

Khumaynī Āyatullāh Rūhullāh


After completing his studies at Qum, a major center of religious learning in Iran, under Shaykh ‘Abd al-Karīm Hā’iri Yazdī, the Āyatullāh Khumaynī taught philosophy, ethics, and law. In 1963, he emerged as a critic of the Shah in his sermons at the Faydīya Madrasa (religious school) in Qum. The Āyatullāh Khumaynī was arrested and from 1964 lived in exile, fifteen years in Iraq and later France. He became a symbol for and leader of the opposition movement. In February 1979, the Āyatullāh Khumaynī returned to Teheran to establish the Islamic Republic of Iran.

This selection is taken from a series of lectures given by Khomeini to his students in Najaf, Iraq, in January and February 1970. He drew inspiration from the Iraqi Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr in arguing that the clergy has the right not only to serve in parliament but to rule; in fact, it is their duty to do so. This doctrine, known as wilayat al-faqih (the mandate of the jurist), has revolutionized the Shi‘i juristic theory of authority, although it remains contentious among many mujtahids (clergymen qualified to exercise independent judgment). The idea of jurists exercising the substantive authority of the Imams Khomeini grounded in certain traditions associated with those Imams as well as by the application of reason, but the doctrine that only the Imams are entitled to rule is so basic that wilayat al-faqih has faced strong resistance in certain circles, even while it has become the official ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In the name of God, the merciful and the compassionate, whose help we seek. God, lord of the universe, be thanked and God's prayers be upon Muhammad, the best of mankind, and upon all his kinsmen.


The Governance of the Jurisprudent is a clear scientific idea that may require no proof in the sense that whoever knows the laws and beliefs can see its axiomatic nature. But the condition of the Muslim society, and the condition of our religious academies in particular, has driven this issue away from the minds and it now needs to be proven again.

Since its inception, the Islamic movement was afflicted with the Jews when they started their counter-activity by distorting the reputation of Islam, by assaulting it and by slandering it. This hag continued to our present day. Then came the role of groups that can be considered more evil than the devil and his troops. This role emerged in the colonialist activity which dates back to more than three centuries ago. The colonists found in the Muslim world their long-sought object. To achieve their colonialist ambitions, the colonists sought to create the right conditions leading to the annihilation of Islam. They did not seek to turn the Muslims into Christians after driving them away from Islam because they do not believe in either. They wanted control and domination because they were constantly aware during the Crusades wars that the biggest obstacle preventing them from attaining their goals and putting their political plans on the brink of an abyss was Islam with its law and beliefs and with the influence it exerted on people through their faith. This is why they treated Islam unjustly and harbored ill intentions toward it. The hands of the missionaries, the orientalists and of the information media—all of whom are in the service of the colonialist countries—have cooperated to distort the facts of Islam in a manner that has caused many people, especially the educated among them, to steer away from Islam and to be unable to find a way to reach Islam.

Islam is the religion of the strugglers who want right and justice, the religion of those demanding freedom and independence and those who do not want to allow the infidels to dominate the believers.

But the enemies have portrayed Islam in a different light. They have drawn from the minds of the ordinary people a distorted picture of Islam and implanted this picture even in the religious academies. The enemies’ aim behind this was to extinguish the flame of Islam and to cause its vital revolutionary character to be lost, so that the Muslims would not think of seeking to liberate themselves and to implement all the rules of their re-ligion through the creation of a government that guarantees their happiness under the canopy of an honorable human life.

They have said that Islam has no relationship whatsoever with organizing life and society or with creating a government of any kind and that it only concerns itself with the rules of menstruation and childbirth. It may contain some ethics. But beyond this, it has no bearing on issues of life and of organizing society. It is regrettable that all this has had its bad effect not only on the ordinary people but also among college people and the students of theology. They misunderstand Islam and are ignorant of it. Islam has become as strange to them as alien people. It has become difficult for the missionary to familiarize people with Islam. On the other hand, there stands a line of the agents of colonialism to drown Islam with clamor and noise.

So that we may distinguish the reality of Islam from what people have come to know about it, I would like to draw your attention to the disparity between the Qur'ān and the hadīth books on the one hand and the (theological) theses on the other hand. The Qur'ān and the hadīth books, which are the most important sources of legislation, are clearly superior to the theses written by religious interpreters and legists because the Qur'ān and the hadīth books are comprehensive and cover all aspects of life. The Qur'ān phrases concerned with society's affairs are many times the phrases concerned with private worship. In any of the detailed hadīth books, you can hardly find more than three or four chapters concerned with regulating man's private worship and man's relationship with God and few chapters dealing with ethics. The rest is strongly connected with social and economic affairs, with human rights, with administration and with the policy of societies. . . .

What we are suffering from currently is the consequence of that misleading propaganda whose perpetrators got what they wanted and which has required us to exert a large effort to prove that Islam contains principles and rules for the formation of government.

This is our situation. The enemies have implanted these falsehoods in the minds of people in cooperation with their agents, have ousted Islam's judiciary and political laws from the sphere of application and have replaced them by European laws in contempt of Islam for the purpose of driving it away from society. They have exploited every available opportunity for this end. . . . In the prophet's time, was the church separated from the state? Were there at the time theologians and politicians? At the time of the caliphs and the time of ‘Alī, the Amīr of the faithful, was the state separated from the church? Was there an agency for the church and another for the state?

The colonialists and their lackeys have made these statements to isolate religion from the affairs of life and society and to tacitly keep the ‘ulamā’ of Islam away from the people, and drive people away from the ‘ulamā’ because the ‘ulamā’ struggle for the liberation and independence of the Muslims. When their wish of separation and isolation is realized, the colonialists and their lackeys can take away our resources and rule us. I tell you that if our sole concern is to pray, to implore and mention God and never go beyond, colonialism and all the agencies of aggression will never oppose us. Pray as you wish and call for prayer as you wish and let them take what God has given you. The final account is to God and God is the only source of strength and might. When we die our reward will come from God—if this is our thinking, then we have nothing to be concerned with or to fear. . . .

. . . Because Islam is immortal, it must be implemented and observed forever. If what was permissible by Muhammad is permissible until the day of resurrection and what was forbidden by Muhammad is forbidden to the day of resurrection, then Muhummad's restrictions must not be suspended, his teachings must not be neglected, punishment must not be abandoned, tax collection must not be stopped and defense of the nation of the Muslims and of their lands must not be abandoned. The belief that Islam came for a limited period and for a certain place violates the essentials of the Islamic beliefs. Considering that the implementation forever of laws after the venerable prophet, may God's prayers be upon him, is one of the essentials of life, then it is necessary for government to exist and for this government to have the qualities of an executive and administrative authority. Without this, social chaos, corruption and ideological and moral deviation would prevail. This can be prevented only through the creation of a just government that runs all aspects of life.

Islamic System of Government

The Islamic government is not similar to the well-known systems of government. It is not a despotic government in which the head of state dictates his opinion and tampers with the lives and property of the people. The prophet, may God's prayers be upon him, and ‘Alī, the Amīr of the faithful, and the other Imāms1 Imām: For Shī‘ītes, the Imām is the successor of the prophet Muhammad and thus the religio-political leader of the Islamic community. Ithnā’ ‘Asharīte (Twelver) Shī‘ī Islam recognizes twelve Imāms who are descendants of Muhammad through ‘Alī, his son-in-law and first Imām. had no power to tamper with people's property or with their lives. The Islamic government is not despotic but consti-tutional. However, it is not constitutional in the well-known sense of the word, which is represented in the parliamentary system or in the people's councils. It is constitutional in the sense that those in charge of affairs observe a number of conditions and rules underlined in the Qur'ān and in the Sunna and represented in the necessity of observing the system and of applying the dictates and laws of Islam. This is why the Islamic government is the government of the divine law. The difference between the Islamic government and the constitutional governments, both monarchic and republican, lies in the fact that the people's representatives or the king's representatives are the ones who codify and legislate, whereas the power of legislation is confined to God, may He be praised, and nobody else has the right to legislate and nobody may rule by that which has not been given power by God. This is why Islam replaces the legislative council [branch] by a planning council that works to run the affairs and work of the ministries so that they may offer their services in all spheres.

All that is mentioned in the book (Qur'ān) and in the Sunna is acceptable and obeyed in the view of the Muslims. This obedience facilitates the state's responsibilities, however when the majorities in the constitutional monarchic or republican governments legislate something, the government has to later exert efforts to compel people to obey, even if such obedience requires the use of force.

The Islamic government is the government of the law and God alone is the ruler and the legislator. God's rule is effective among all the people and in the state itself. All individuals—the prophet, his successors and other people—follow that Islam, which descended through revelation and which God had explained through the Qur'ān and through the words of His prophet, and has legislated for them.

The venerable prophet, may God's peace and prayers be upon him, was appointed ruler on earth by God so that he may rule justly and not follow whims. God addressed the prophet through revelation and told him to convey what was revealed to him to those who would succeed him. The prophet obeyed the dictates of this order and appointed ‘Alī, the Amīr of the faithful, as his successor. He was not motivated in this appointment by the fact that ‘Alī was his son-in-law and the fact that ‘Alī had performed weighty and unforgettable services but because God ordered the prophet to do so.

Yes, government in Islam means obeying the law and making it the judge. The powers given to the prophet, may God's peace and prayers be upon him, and to the legitimate rulers after him are powers derived from God. God ordered that the prophet and the rulers after him be obeyed: “Obey the prophet and those in charge among you.” There is no place for opinions and whims in the government of Islam. The prophet, the Imāms and the people obey God's will and Sharī‘a.

The Sharī‘a and reason require us not to let governments have a free hand. The proof of this is evident. The persistence of these governments in their transgressions means obstructing the system and laws of Islam whereas there are numerous provisions that describe every non-Islamic system as a form of idolatry and a ruler or an authority in such a system as a false god. We are responsible for eliminating the traces of idolatry from our Muslim society and for keeping it away from our life. At the same time, we are responsible for preparing the right atmosphere for bringing up a faithful generation that destroys the thrones of false gods and destroys their illegal powers because corruption and deviation grow on their hands. This corruption must be wiped out and erased and the severest punishment must be inflicted upon those who cause it. In his venerable book, God describes Pharaoh as “a corrupter.” Under the canopy of a pharonic rule that dominates and corrupts society rather than reform it, no faithful and pious person can live abiding by and preserving his faith and piety. Such a person has before him two paths, and no third to them: either be forced to commit sinful acts or rebel against and fight the rule of false gods, try to wipe out or at least reduce the impact of such a rule. We only have the second path open to us. We have no alternative but to work for destroying the corrupt and corrupting systems and to destroy the symbol of treason and the unjust among the rulers of peoples.

This is a duty that all Muslims wherever they may be are entrusted—a duty to create a victorious and triumphant Islamic political revolution.

On the other hand, colonialism has partitioned our homeland and has turned the Muslims into peoples. When the Ottoman State appeared as a united state, the colonialist sought to fragment it. The Russians, the British and their allies united and fought the Ottomans and then shared the loot, as you all know. We do not deny that most rulers of the Ottoman State lacked ability, competence and qualifications and many of them ruled the people in a despotic monarchic manner. However, the colonialists were afraid that some pious and qualified persons would, with the help of the people, assume leadership of the Ottoman State and (would safeguard) its unity, ability, strength and resources, thus dispersing the hopes and aspirations of the colonialists. This is why as soon as World War I ended, the colonialists partitioned the country into mini-states and made each of these mini-states their agent. Despite this, a number of these mini-states later escaped the grip of colonialism and its agents.

The only means that we possess to unite the Muslim nation, to liberate its lands from the grip of the colonialist and to topple the agent governments of colonialism, is to seek to establish our Islamic government. The efforts of this government will be crowned with success when we become able to destroy the heads of treason, the idols, the human images and the false gods who disseminate injustice and corruption on earth.

The formation of a government is then for the purpose of preserving the unity of the Muslims after it is achieved. . . .

To achieve their unjust economic goals, the colonialists employed the help of their agents in our countries. As a result of this, there are hundreds of millions of starving people who lack the simplest health and educational means. On the other side, there are individuals with excessive wealth and broad corruption. The starving people are in a constant struggle to improve their conditions and to free themselves from the tyranny of the aggressive rulers. But the ruling minorities and their government agencies are also seeking to extinguish this struggle. On our part, we are entrusted to rescue the deprived and the wronged. We are instructed to help the wronged and to fight the oppressors, as the Amīr of the faithful (‘Alī) instructed his two sons in his will: “Fight the tyrant and aid the wronged.”

The Muslim ‘ulamā’ are entrusted to fight the greedy exploiters so that society may not have a deprived beggar and, on the other side, someone living in comfort and luxury and suffering from gluttony. . . .

The opinion of the Shī‘ī concerning the one who is entitled to lead the people is known since the death of the prophet and until the time of the disappearance (of the Shī‘īte leader). To the Shī‘ī the Imām is a virtuous man who knows the laws and implements them justly and who fears nobody's censure in serving God.

If we believe that the laws concerning the establishment of the Islamic government are still present and that the Sharī‘a denounces chaos, then we must form the government. Reason dictates that this is necessary, especially if an enemy surprises us or if an aggressor who must be fought and repelled attacks us. The Sharī‘a has ordered us to prepare for them all the force that we can muster to scare God's enemy and our enemy, and it encourages us to retaliate against those who attack us with whatever they attack us. Islam also calls for doing the wronged justice, for wrenching his rights and for deterring the unjust. All this requires strong agencies. As for the expenses of the government that is to be formed for the service of the people—the entire people—these expenses come from the treasury house, whose revenues consist of the land tax, the one-fifth tax and the tax levied on Jews and Christians and other resources.

Now, in the time of absence, there is no provision for a certain person to manage the state affairs. So what is the opinion? Should we allow the laws of Islam to continue to be idle? Do we persuade ourselves to turn away from Islam or do we say that Islam came to rule people for a couple of centuries and then to neglect them? Or do we say that Islam has neglected to organize the state? We know that the absence of the government means the loss and violation of the bastions of the Moslems and means our failure to gain our right and our land. Is this permitted in our religion? Isn’t the government one of the necessities of life? Despite the absence of a provision designating an individual to act on behalf of the Imām in the case of his absence, the presence of the qualities of the religious ruler in any individual still qualify him to rule the people. These qualities, which are knowledge of the law and justice, are available in most of our jurisprudents in this age. If they decide, it will be easy for them to create and establish a just government unequalled in the world.

If a knowledgeable and just jurisprudent undertakes the task of forming the government, then he will run the social affairs that the prophet used to run and it is the duty of the people to listen to him and obey him.

This ruler will have as much control over running the people's administration, welfare and policy as the prophet and Amīr of the faithful had despite the special virtues and the traits that distinguished the prophet and the Imām. Their virtues did not entitle them to contradict the instructions of the Sharī‘a or to dominate people with disregard to God's order. God has given the actual Islamic government that is supposed to be formed in the time of absence (of Caliph ‘Alī ibn Abi Tālib) the same powers that he gave the prophet and the Amīr of the faithful in regard to ruling, justice and the settlement of disputes, the appointment of provincial rulers and officers, the collection of taxes and the development of the country. All that there is to the matter is that the appointment of the ruler at present depends on (finding) someone who has both knowledge and justice.

The above-mentioned must not be misunderstood and nobody should imagine that the fitness of the jurisprudent for rule raises him to the status of prophecy or of Imāms because our discussion here is not concerned with status and rank but with the actual task. The rule here means governing the people, running the state and applying the laws of the Sharī‘a. This is a hard task under which those qualified for it buckle without being raised above the level of men. In other words, rule means the government, the administration and the country's policy and not, as some people imagine, a privilege or a favor. It is a practical task of extreme significance.

The rule of the jurisprudent is a subjective matter dictated by the Sharī‘a, as the Sharī‘a considers one of us a trustee over minors. The task of a trustee over an entire people is not different from that of the trustee over minors, except quantitatively. If we assume that the prophet and the Imām had been trustees over minors, their task in this respect would not have been very different quantitatively and qualitatively from the task of any ordinary person designated as a trustee over those same minors. Their trusteeship over the entire nation is not different practically from the trusteeship of any knowledgeable and just jurisprudent in the time of absence.

If a just jurisprudent capable of establishing the restrictions is appointed, would he establish the restrictions in a manner different from that in which they were established in the days of the prophet or of the Amīr of the faithful? Did the prophet punish the unmarried fornicator more than one hundred lashes? Does the jurisprudent have to reduce the number to prove that there is a difference between them and the prophet? No, because the ruler, be he a prophet, an Imām or a just jurisprudent, is nothing but an executor of God's order and will.

The prophet collected taxes: The one-fifth tax, the alms tax, the tax on the Christians and the Jews and the land tax. Is there a difference between what the prophet and the Imām collected and what the present-day jurisprudent should collect?

God made the prophet the ruler of all the faithful and his rule included even the individual who was to succeed him. After the prophet, the Imām became the ruler. The significance of their rule is that their legal orders applied to all and that the appointment of, control over and, when necessary, dismissal of judges and provincial rulers was in their hands.

The jurisprudent has this same rule and governance with one difference—namely that the rule of the jurisprudent over other jurisprudents is not so that he can dismiss them because the jurisprudents in the state are equal in terms of competence.

Therefore, the jurisprudents must work separately or collectively to set up a legitimate government that establishes the strictures, protects the borders and establishes order. If competence for this task is confined to one person, then this would be his duty to do so corporeally, otherwise the duty is shared equally. In case it is impossible to form that government, the rule does not disappear.

The jurisprudents have been appointed by God to rule and the jurisprudent must act as much as possible and in accordance with his assignment. He must collect the alms tax, the one-fifth tax, the land tax and the tax from Christians and Jews, if he can, so that he may spend all this in the interest of the Muslims. If he can, he must implement the divine strictures. The temporary inability to form a strong and complete government does not at all mean that we should retreat. Dealing with the needs of the Muslims and implementing among them whatever laws are possible to implement is a duty as much as possible.

Bibliography references:

From Islamic Government, trans. Joint Publications Research Service (Arlington, Va.: National Technical Information Service, 1979), pp. 1a–3, 10, 13–14, 17–18, 20–22.


1. Imām: For Shī‘ītes, the Imām is the successor of the prophet Muhammad and thus the religio-political leader of the Islamic community. Ithnā’ ‘Asharīte (Twelver) Shī‘ī Islam recognizes twelve Imāms who are descendants of Muhammad through ‘Alī, his son-in-law and first Imām.

2. Wilāyat i-faqīh (Guidance of the jurisprudent): During the absence (ghaybat) of the Imām and a formal Islamic government, Shī‘ī political theory developed the belief that the jurisprudent(s) should provide guidance (wilāyat) for the Islamic community. Shī‘ī religious leaders differ significantly in their interpretations. For Āyatullāh Sharī‘atmadārī et al., the jurisprudents provide moral guidance. For Āyatullāh Khumaynī wilāyat means governance itself by an individual faqīh who assures Sharī‘ah rule.

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2022. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice