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Hezbollah is being elusive on Wilayat al-Faqih

There is a glaring contradiction between Hezbollah’s recent statements about the concept of Wilayat al-Faqih (the rule of the jurisprudent) and events in Iran. The reverberations of the events, regardless of their outcome, are being felt hundreds  of miles away in Lebanon, specifically by Hezbollah. Far more than protesting a fraudulent electoral process, the Iranians who have chanted “death to Khamenei” have also taken a sledgehammer to the basic tenets of Hezbollah’s dogmatic universe.

Days ago, Hezbollah Member of Parliament  and Minister Muhammad Fneish, lashed out at the party’s domestic critics, complaining that “attacking” Wilayat al-Faqih was an offense against Lebanon’s Shia, one that constituted “a violation of the freedom of belief.”

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah picked up where Fneish left off, saying, “the subject of the Wilayat al-Faqih and the Imamate is at the heart of our religious doctrine, and any offense to it is an offense to our religion.” Recognizing that his statement was a transparent bending of the truth, Nasrallah tried to outflank his adversaries by inserting a caveat: “[T]he lack of unanimous agreement among Shia on Wilayat al-Faqih does not prevent it from being part of our doctrine.” He ended by trying to have it both ways: “And so, in all politeness I tell you, say what you will in politics and stay away from offending our beliefs.”

In other words, Nasrallah paid lip service to the reality that the Wilayat al-Faqih concept remains an idiosyncrasy that many senior Shiite religious scholars have rejected. He has done this in order to claim its hold over all of Lebanese Shia, whom Hezbollah has used as a shield against condemnation of its agenda, behavior and weapons. Hezbollah is seeking to create a link between Lebanese Shia and Wilayat al-Faqih, making them subjects of Iran’s Supreme Leader, whether they like it or not.

However, as Saoud al-Mawla, an advisor to the late Shiite cleric, Sheikh Muhammad Mehdi Shamseddine, remarked in an interview with L’Orient-Le Jour this week, Wilayat al-Faqih, far from being a theological doctrine as Nasrallah contended, is a concept of jurisprudence, meaning that nothing prevents it from being challenged.

But Nasrallah’s trick is one that has served Hezbollah well. The party has always manipulated its hybrid nature to its advantage: it is an armed movement and a provider of social assistance; it is a military party but also a political one; and when disapproval intensifies, it defends itself by affirming its religious nature. Similarly, we are now told the Wilayat al-Faqih is a religious not a political question. Hezbollah media representative Ibrahim al-Moussawi practiced this line on a foreign journalist last month: “These are purely religious questions,” he told him. “The Wilayat al-Faqih is a concept that is central to Islam, but it was crystallized in the thought of the Ayatollah Khomeini… So you see that this is a purely religious question that has nothing to do with Iran.”

Aside from the fact that senior Lebanese Shia clerics--including the late Shamseddine and Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah--have rejected the concept as formulated by Khomeini, it is absurd to claim that it is a “purely religious” matter that has nothing to do with Iran. The mere fact that the wali  al-faqih, the Jurisprudent, is today Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, makes it very much about Iran. All the more significant, Khomeini’s thesis relates specifically to Islamic governance, which means it is very much political.

The Wilayat al-Faqih claims worldly, political and social authority over all Shia. As scholar Hassan Mneimneh recently put it in an article on the Arab reception of the concept: “Wilayat al-Faqih entails the recognition of the absolute worldly authority of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Supreme Leader (Rahbar), in whom the ultimate executive, legislative, and judiciary powers [are] supposed to reside.” Mneimneh added: “In the early 21st Century Arab world, support for the imported Khomeinist doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih... within Shia communities is invariably synonymous with political allegiance to the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Hezbollah’s own experience lends support to Mneimneh’s remarks. Not only did Hezbollah seek Khamenei’s permission to enter parliamentary politics in 1992, but the party’s deputy secretary general, Naim Qassem, has written in his book on Hezbollah that “the wali al-faqih alone possesses the authority to decide war and peace.” If this is the prerogative of the Supreme Leader—the head of a foreign state--then how can Hezbollah ever accept that the Lebanese government alone should decide on matters of war and peace? This only underlines that Hezbollah and a sovereign Lebanese state can never be compatible.

What did Nasrallah say when Iranians took to the streets shouting “death to Khamenei?” What an offense it must have been to his religious beliefs. Are we honestly being asked to accept that the Lebanese cease all criticism of the concept of governance underwriting Khamenei’s authority, when his legitimacy at home is being directly challenged in far starker terms?


Tony Badran is a research fellow with the Center for Terrorism Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

  • Sami

    I knew this would be above you,but I was hoping someone will explain it to you.

    July 8, 2009

  • Miumiu

    i really don't ... know what are you on (taking) ..may 2 much HA medications !

    July 7, 2009

  • Sami

    Mohammad, when you write that this and that "will" happen and take place in the future, you are not stating facts that took place or taking place , you are only predicting future events.Facts are such that M14 won 71 MP's,this is a fact but saying that M14 "will have" 79 in the future is far from fact it is fiction.Still ignorance is bliss.

    July 6, 2009

  • Miumiu

    its more like stating the FACTS rather than fictions & denial...you come up with lots of Hot Air, pretending that you know it all...Politics have no religion nor time, your enemy today could be your best ally...so, Mr rainbow (junbolat) or any one else is only playing the game, Harriri ,soon to take place, visit to Syria is as a Prime Minister of Lebanon & NOT as a son of the murdered PM of Lebanon...but what do you know.

    July 5, 2009

  • Sami

    Mohammad,you tell the future better than Michael Hayek,now tell us please,when will Junblat go to Syria and when will he change,again?

    June 29, 2009

  • Miumiu

    Ya Mr sami, u seem to add a little twist with your answers, its the Faqih instructions & not his nationality, 2nd, Your weapons, will be ,like it or not, a thing of the past...if you can't see this happening, then you are really living in 'never land'..regional changes are coming, your 'Oxygen line will be turned down, your weapons will be a burden & useless for the true reasons behind your clinging to it..

    June 28, 2009

  • Rami

    i love you 3okab sakir GOGOGOGOGO

    June 28, 2009

  • Sami

    Ya 3ammi ya mohammad, we say a large NO to al fakeeh in interfering in the "political" affairs in Lebanon.We take our fatwa/matja3eyeh from him but others take it from Fadllalah and others from Systani.There were times when al fakeeh was a Lebanes Muhsin Al Ameen, or an Iraki etc.A nationality has nothing to do with marja3eyeh.Case in point is the Pope's nationality being German now does not mean that he prefers Germany over Italy.I hope this will settle you down and stop clumping us with al ka3edeh, and stop trying to disarm us because disarming us is the same as separating our meat from our bones,impossible.

    June 28, 2009

  • Miumiu

    Mr Sami,Is that a No ,for not wanting to answer the question or a NO to the faqih instruction..?....HA/Hamas?alqaedah..etc their use of Islam/Sec as a cover for their policies..

    June 28, 2009

  • Sami

    NO.Mr. Mohammad.Are you happy with my answer?I bet you are not.But please explain to me this "certain era" that you mentioned and what does al qa3edah have to do with HA?What planet do you live on?HA opposes al qa3edah's methodology and ideology.

    June 28, 2009

  • Miumiu

    of course ya Mr Sami...one certain era, unlike your HA, alqaeda,hamas..on a daily basis.Thank you...so,ell me Mr Sami, if ur faqih instruct you to do something that in NOT of any benefit to Lebanon as a State, will u go ahead & do it..?...spare a long answer, just a Yes or No. Thank you

    June 26, 2009

  • Sami

    Mohamed, you never heard of al Marooniyeh al seyaseyeh?This is one of the things that Junblat mentioned in his famous videotape.Even the Maroonis are criticizing this era.

    June 26, 2009

  • sam akar

    keep in mind all you M14 masters of universe, it is either a matter of making nice or a matter of classic case of power blindness, we r all entering a new period, yet all the virtuoso drama & rhetoric of victimizations will lead to a dead end or possible total chaos, you boys come back to planet earth & accept reality, togetherness or else, hi OMARS!!!

    June 25, 2009

  • SpidySaidaweh

    The Roman Church does not govern or rule over Italy. The Italian government does. The majority of Muslims all turn to one point Mekka, but the Saudi Kingship is not made up of religious scholars giving divine rules and laws or interpretations. They only lead their people the Saudi people and don't call them selves and promote themselves as primary source of following to any of the Muslims outside of Saudi. That is the difference between what you are talking about and what the article is stating. When someone claims to give divine revelation and has full authority of all people falling under this faith and the main part of it is that "he is the supreme leader of another Nationalistic state!" its not like he has no power, he has the last word in that country which means it spreads his power over all other places where people believe in his ideology.

    June 25, 2009

  • Miumiu

    to 'bit like the roman' comment...where & when have the Catholic in Lebanon ever used their religion/sect as a cover for their Policies, the problem us , the Muslim, try to blame every one but ourselves, 'THEY got all the faults, but not us...grow up & be more realistic & truthful in your comments....we use religion even down to a normal 'incidents' as a cover for our policies/life...and I'm proud to be a Muslim..

    June 25, 2009

  • Sami

    Al Fakeeh can be of any nationality as was the late Muhsin Al Ameen in southern Lebanon (the Pope also can be of any nationality).If the next fakeeh happens to be Lebanese will he direct the Iranian political and military affairs?The fakeeh is similar to the pope in religious teachings(ijtihad/marja3yeh).The times when the Pope used to lead military campaigns such as the crusaders is over.It is time for all to understand that the Shiaa beliefs cannot be questioned if they do not want theirs to be questioned.

    June 25, 2009

  • Maronite Christian

    I don't see what is the big deal that's made out of a religious doctrine that folllows a higher authority placed in another country. After all, isn't the Vatican itself an authority that issues modus operandi instructions to all its parishes across the world - be they political or otherwise? And isn't the Pope of Rome's edicts "infaiilible", meaning that they cannot fail because the pope is supposed to be the voice of God on Earth? And what about the crusades, the Grand Inquisition, and, more recently, the fall of Communism and the behind-the-scenes political operations? Aren't they political edicts issued from a foreign country? We simply cannot dismiss something in others that we ourselves follow. This is called equality and simple , basic, justice.

    June 25, 2009

  • Georges Butros Estaphan

    England used to have same problem with Roman Catholics few hundred years ago - their loyalty to Rome meant they just needed to be denied rights as Englishmen. Same in the Nordic countries - they were 100 per cent Lutheran by 1900 - Catholics all gone. In a way of course the Catholics are still committed to Rome, which is a problem for Lebanon where perhaps 30 per cent of the country are Catholic either Maronite or Melkite - should they be forced to renounce Rome and commit to "Lebanon First" i.e. Cairo, Riyaad first?

    June 24, 2009

  • Miumiu

    you are kissing the wrong hand ya Syyed..!!!...its the right hand you need to kiss, thats the one that he hands over the cash !!!...Mr Sami, get a life before tooooo late

    June 24, 2009

  • essam

    Mr Mouth piece of ridicule is at it again, cut & paste specialist...there is so many fatwahs coming from your lot than any where in this World, most recent, the fatwah to vote in the South, just to say we 'still' have the support as b4...grow up man, the cracks are getting wider every day, but you are so blind to the facts..Pat Sfeir spoke on behalf of all Lebanese & to all the Lebanese, but your lot can't accept it & want to turn into a sectarian issue... .Seyyed Sistani called the W elfakeeh a 'Political Tool'..not to mentioned the other leading Scholars who totally reject it...keep watching almanar..!

    June 24, 2009

  • T

    Sami, your second analogy is simply ridiculous. Sfeir's comments cannot in anyway be described as a Fatwa, for a number of reasons. Furthermore, the taklif shar'i is a binding religious declaration. Sfeir's comments are not binding in any way, shape or form. You so want to defend Hezbollah (and I suspect, Aoun's alliance with them), that you have abandoned all semblance of reason.

    June 24, 2009

  • SpidySaidaweh

    Sami: are you saying the all those parties are stating that Palestinians are terrorists? If that is what you are trying to say then it is completely absurd and a weak way to make a point that is made up of falsifications stirred by emotions and confusion. You forget that when the MAY 7 events took place, they tried to do the same in Saida as they did in Beirut but the Palestinians(who had made a joint committee of all political parties) made it clear that their will be nothing to happen to anybody in Saida whether inside or outside of the Ain il hilwe camps. March 8 is the last to be promoting for Palestinians, and just because March 14 is staunch on being completely against the Palestinian naturalization in Lebanon, that is the biggest support for the Palestinians because they also hold the same goal which is to return to Palestine.

    June 24, 2009

  • T

    Interesting comparison, and given your obviously sincere care to preserve public and private property, I wonder what you label what Hezbollah and its allies did for over a year in downtown Beirut, and the ensuing attacks in May 2008.

    June 24, 2009

  • Sami

    When Patriarch Sfeir issued what many considered a "Fatwah" one day prior to the national elections,many considered it a "national" duty and a political/religious guidance.But when any Shiaa cleric expresses his political opinion he is attacked and accused of using his religious robe in influencing politics.".

    June 24, 2009

  • Sami

    Kataeb,Kuwwat , Mustakbal and other nonsectarian parties such as the "socialists" all allied themselves,and benefited from,Wilayat Al Fakeeh in 2005 elections....A demonstration in Palestine is "terror" but a similar one in Iran is "democratic aspirations".When a 12 year old Palestinian throws a stone at an Israeli tank he is shot in the head and libeled a terrorist, but when an Iranian burns public and private property in Iran he is called a martyr....

    June 24, 2009