Khamenei and Hezbollah: Leading in Spirit

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A Hezbollah Supporter, holds a poster for the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during a rally organized by Hezbollah for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to the southern border town of Bint Jbeil, Lebanon, on Thursday 14 Oct. 2010. (Photo: AP - Hussein Malla)

By: Amal Saad-Ghorayeb

Published Wednesday, August 8, 2012

In a regional climate characterized by an unprecedented degree of sectarianism and anti-Shia sentiment, Hezbollah’s allegiance to Ayatollah Khomeini’s concept of the Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurisprudent) has subjected the resistance movement to charges of pursuing the establishment of an Islamic state in Lebanon, while others have questioned its national loyalty. Moreover, Hezbollah’s adherence to the Wilayat al-Faqih is frequently confused with its loyalty to Iran, qua state.

Although resisting Israel was the main impetus behind Hezbollah’s emergence and hence, its raison d’être, the Wilayat al-Faqih was, in Hezbollah’s deputy secretary general Sheikh Naim Qassem’s words, “the reason for Hezbollah’s establishment.” In the summer of 1982, the predecessor to Hezbollah’s first Shura Council, what was then called the “Committee of Nine,” dispatched a delegation to obtain the Wilayat al-Faqih’s religious legal approval for the establishment of Hezbollah. The new committee assigned a delegation chaired by Sayyid Abbas al-Moussawi and sent it to meet with Khomeini to receive his blessings and advice in his capacity as the Wilayat al-Faqih. As relayed by Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, Khomeini told them “to rely on God and do not expect anybody to help you. He said he foresaw our victory in the future. In 1982 the Imam spoke of victories that we now see.”

While the Islamic resistance’s agenda coincided with the Faqih’s ruling on the obligation to fight Israel, Hezbollah’s existence as an organizational entity, as well as its identity as a Shia Islamic movement, derives from its adherence to his guardianship. Given that the principle is a contested one within Shia religious circles, Hezbollah is the only organization in the Shia world, outside of Iran, which officially subscribes to the Wilayat al-Faqih.

In Hezbollah’s Open Letter of 1985 – the movement’s first unofficial charter – the Faqih is credited with drawing up the political framework which delineates its parameters of action, while at the same time, furnishes it with a political identity and culture: “Our behavior is dictated to us by legal principles laid down by the light of an overall political conception defined by the leading jurist [Wilayat al-Faqih]. As for our culture, it is based on the Holy Quran…and the legal rulings of the Faqih who is our source of emulation (marjaa al-taqlid).” Moreover, the Faqih provides Hezbollah with the religious legal (Sharia) basis to wage its jihad against Israel as elaborated in the Open Letter: “…And when it becomes necessary to carry out the Holy War, each of us takes up his assignment in the fight in accordance with the injunctions of the law and in the framework of the mission carried out under the tutelage of the Commanding Jurist [the Faqih].”

Such extensive authority stems from Hezbollah’s acknowledgement of the Faqih as the designated deputy of the Twelfth Imam during his Occultation and as an extension of the wilayat (guidance) of the Prophets and Imams, thereby rendering him the Wali Amr al-Muslimin (the Legal Guardian of the Muslims). As stipulated in Principle 5 of the Iranian Constitution, “During the Occultation of the Wali al-Amr, the wilaya and leadership of the umma devolve upon the just and pious Faqih.”

So highly sanctified is his position that Nasrallah asserts: “He who rejects the authority of the Wilayat al-Faqih, rejects God and Ahlu’l-Bayt (the descendants of Imam Ali and his wife, Fatima, the Prophet Mohammad’s daughter) and is almost a polytheist.” It logically follows that subscribing to the concept of the wilaya is a sine qua non for membership in the party: “All those who want to be part of Hezbollah have to commit themselves to its [doctrinal] code, and Wilayat al-Faqih is part of this.” Hezbollah’s youth organizations such as the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts Association teach the principle of the Faqih, while the concept is a central tenet of more advanced educational programs for older recruits. As such, the Faqih is considered “one of the main intellectual priorities of Hezbollah,” according to Nawaf al-Moussawi, one of the party’s representatives in parliament. The Faqih is an intrinsic part of the party’s culture which is “not open for discussion,” as declared by Mohammad Fneish, a Hezbollah cabinet minister.

The internalization of the principle of the Wilayat al-Faqih into the political culture of the movement is visually illustrated in the pictures of Khomeini and Khamenei which adorn every Hezbollah official’s office walls, as well in the posters of the two figures which line the streets of the party’s strongholds. Thus, despite accusations by many Lebanese of other sects that Hezbollah’s allegiance to the Wilayat al-Faqih renders it subordinate to Iran and detracts from its national identity, the party does not shy away from publicly championing the concept.

This public embrace was further evinced by Nasrallah’s declaration in 2008 that: “They imagine that they insult us when they call us the party of the Wilayat al-Faqih. Absolutely not. Today I declare, and this is nothing new, that I am proud of being a member of the Wilayat al-Faqih party.” The extent to which Hezbollah sanctifies the Wilayat al-Faqih and has publicized this is evident in Nasrallah’s post-election speech on 17 June 2009 when he declared that while Hezbullah would accept political “offenses” such as the accusation that the party is an Iranian “agent,” it draws the line on attacks relating to Hezbollah’s adherence to the Wilayat al-Faqih, since “such issues for us are a part of our religious belief. Insulting it is an insult to our religious belief.”

As this last quote indicates, Hezbollah’s commitment to the Faqih does not represent a political commitment to a national head of state but an intellectual commitment to a sacred Islamic figure and his successors, whose commands are considered “fixed truths.” In his book, “Hezbollah: the Story from Within,” Qassim elaborates on this distinction: “There is no connection between the internal administration of the Iranian state and Hezbollah’s administration. These are two separate issues, each having its particularities and bodies of administration despite the commitment of both to the commands and directions of the Jurist-Theologian who is custodian of the entire nation of Islam and whose power of command is not confined to any circle within it.”

But as one who leads and “supervises” Iran’s religious, political and military institutions, Hezbollah’s direct relationship with the Faqih effectively means it has a relationship with all these state institutions as well. Accordingly, the party’s allegiance is owed primarily to the Faqih and only secondarily to Iran the state. While Khamenei does not enjoy the same stature as his predecessor, given Khomeini’s role as the “instigator” of the Islamic Revolution, this does not detract from his religious authority. Nasrallah’s description of him as “one of God’s greatest blessings” attests to this point, as does his claim that: “In the early days of the 33 day war [July War], the Supreme Leader …advised us to read the Jowhan e-Saqir prayer….I conveyed the meaning to the warriors and insisted upon reading the prayer. This prayer had a definitive impact on the morale of the people and it was a blessing of the Supreme Leader.”

Though religious and political, the nature of the party’s allegiance to the Faqih leaves it with a wide margin for independent decision-making. Since the political power he wields is confined to Iran’s national borders, he is only able to exercise political authority over the Shia believers who are subject to other political powers. His authority is therefore restricted to strategic issues like jihad, political rule and the classification of “friends and enemies.”

What is more, in the first two cases, the Faqih does not initiate rulings on such issues peculiar to individual states but awaits a request for his legal opinion before formulating religious edicts (fatwas) on them. It is only on matters which concern the entire umma that the Faqih issues directives and even then, he merely draws up general policy outlines.

With regard to Hezbollah’s establishment, the Faqih at the time merely deemed it a “duty” to fight Israel, without specifying how: “He said ‘it’s a duty to fight Israel’. That is all. He didn’t tell us to arm, to stage operations etc…He doesn’t issue fatwas on details.” However, the Faqih’s rulings were still sought on some details such as whether “martyrdom attacks” were deemed legitimate from a religious stand-point. Moreover, when the party was faced with an internal debate over the problematic issue of political participation in the parliamentary elections of 1992, Khamenei’s arbitration was sought to resolve the matter.

Although the Shia believer is only obliged to comply with the Faqih’s political authority, the majority of Hezbollah’s adherents also subject themselves to his religious authority as well. This wide scope of jurisdiction was not only evident under the wilayat of Ayatollah Khomeini, who was apotheosized by the party as a Mujaddid al-Din (Renewer of Religion), but also under Ayatollah Khamenei who did not officially earn the title of marjaa al-taqlid (religious source of emulation) until 1994, shortly after which Hezbollah subscribed to his religious authority. In turn, Khamenei appointed both Nasrallah and Sheikh Mohammad Yazbek, a member of the party’s Shura Council, as his religious legal representatives in Lebanon.

Amal Saad-Ghorayeb is a Lebanese academic and political analyst. She is author of the book, “Hizbullah: Politics and Religion,” and blogger at ASG’s Counter-Hegemony Unit.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.


Slightly interesting topic, but nothing new here, this is a primer for those not in the know. Too verbose, but at least Amal does not use "erudite" words or quotations to prove her superior intellect.

Great article Amal, your going to alot of negative feedback when the truth comes out..

i see nothing in this needlessly long and complicated article to counter the M14 "accusation" that when ali khamenei issues an order (political, religious, military, or any other kind) hezbollah has no choice but to simply zip its mouth and obey.

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