In a recent article in the New Republic, Abbas Milani predicts far-reaching implications for Shi’ite political theory as the Green Revolution takes root in Iran:
The Green Movement (and the Ayatollah Khamenei’s clumsy response to it) has exacerbated a split with Shiism. It has accelerated the development of profound and potentially far-reaching doctrinal innovations. The course of the coming months will determine the extent to which these innovations will transform Shiism and Iran.
The continuing unrest, which received new impetus following the disputed re-election of President Ahmedinejad, has galvanised secularists and those theologians adamant that a more democratic system, in harmony with Islam, must be brought about:
The most significant innovation—found in essays, sermons, books, and even fatwas—is the acceptance of the separation of mosque and state, the idea that religion must be limited to the private domain. Some of these thinkers refuse to afford any privileged position to the clergy’s reading and rendition of Shiism–a radical democratization of the faith. And others, like Akbar Ganji and Mostafa Malekian, have gone so far as to deny the divine origins of Koran, arguing that it is nothing but a historically specific and socially marked interpretation of a divine message by the prophet. The most daring are even opting for a historicized Muhammad, searching for the first time in Shia history for a real, not hagiographic, narrative of his life.
Some of these proposed reforms may seem unpalatable to some, but reality has caught up with Iran’s clerical dictatorship.
In spite of Ayatollah Khomeini’s role as the figurehead of the Islamic Revolution, even his intransigence, disregard for human rights and arbitrary use of power caused consternation amongst supporters of the Revolution desperate for an end to tyrannical rule. His chosen successor, Ayatollah Khamene’i, does not have same credentials. Chosen by Khomeini as his successor, Khamene’i attained the rank of Ayatollah without completing the necessary study and reflection, and his tenure will forever be associated with nepotism and disregard for the rule of law. Hence, he has all but invalidated his authority as Iran’s supreme spiritual and temporal leader, and any kudos he might once of enjoyed from being the Imam’s choice, has dissipated in two decades of political violence and, perhaps more importantly, hostility from some section sof the clerical establishment.
It’s not certain yet what sort of geopolitical entity Iran will evolve into, and what role Shi’ism will play in this new entity. What is certain though, is that the institution of the Vali and Khomeini’s most important legacy, the religio-political theory of velayet-e faqih, have been forever tarnished.
Could the Green Revolution usher in a new constitutional arrangement in keeping with Islamic dogma and tradition? According to the foremost scholars of Islamic government, the establishment of justice in the land and its decline under Khamene’i, could be grounds for his impeachment.
Although his role as Iran’s Supreme Leader is constitutionally guaranteed during his lifetime, Iran has the institutions, the Majlis-e Shura, to depose him should a plurality of the Ummah acknowledge his unsuitability and the irreparable nature of his role as the Hidden Imam’s representative on earth.
Disobeying and removing the Khalifa
Many Muslim scholars have discussed as to when it is permissible to disobey or remove the Khalifa, an act normally forbidden when the Khalifa is meeting all his responsibilities according to the Shari’ah.
Al-Mawardi believed that if the Khalifa has followed the Qur’an and Sunnah, the people must follow and support him. On the other hand, if he becomes either unjust or handicapped to the point of ineffectiveness (such as blindness or an amputation), then he must be removed.
Al-Baghdadi believed that if the Khalifa deviates from justice, the Ummah needs to warn him first to return to the straight path. If this fails, then he can be removed.
Al-Juwayni held that since Islam is the goal of the Ummah, any Khalifa who steps away from this goal must be removed.
Al-Sijistani wrote that if the Khalifa is found to be ignorant, oppressive, indifferent, or a kafir after his selection, then he must be removed.
Al-Ghazali believed that an oppressive Khalifa must be told to desist from his crimes. If he does not, then he must be removed.
Al-Iji believed the Ummah has a definite list of permissible reasons to remove the Khalifa.
Al-Asqalani wrote that if the Khalifa starts to act as an unbeliever, it is prohibited to obey him and obligatory to fight him. It is obligatory to stand against him if one can – and this entails a big reward. Those people who choose to ignore the situation are in sin, whereas those who cannot fight should emigrate (to organize resistance). Al-Asqalani used two ayahs from the Qur’an in particular to support his position. The first is from Surat al-Ahzab 67-68, “…And they would say, ‘Our Lord! We obeyed our chiefs and our great ones, and they deceived us as to the right path. Our Lord! Give them a double penalty and curse them with a very great curse’…”, and the second is from surat Al-Baqara 167, “…And those who followed would say, ‘If only we had one more chance, we would clear ourselves of them, as they have cleared themselves of us.’ Thus will Allah show them (the fruits of) their deeds as (nothing but) regrets. Nor will there be a way for them out of the Fire…”
Muslim reported that Ibn Umar said the Prophet ordered every Muslim to obey their leader unless commanded to do something bad, in which case they must neither obey nor listen. Muslim also reported that Ibn Malik said the best leader is the one where mutual love exists between him and the people, and the worst leader generates mutual hate. However, even in the latter case, fighting the Khalifa is prohibited unless he enters kufr by stopping prayers or zakat for example.
Ibn As-Samit reported that the Prophet said to obey him in all things and situations, and not to remove the leaders unless they openly practice kufr.
Abu Daud reports from Ibn Ujrah that the Prophet entered a masjid, and said there will come leaders after him who disobey the Qur’an and Allah. Those who help them are not of the Muslims, but if someone opposes them, he or she is of the Prophet’s people.
The Khalifa must be seriously and unrepentantly off the straight path if he is to be accused of kufr. Actions like neglecting prayers, ignoring the fast, and claiming that the Qur’an and Sunnah are outdated are the types of crimes that indicate kufr on the part of the Khalifa. In such circumstances, he must be warned quietly first before taking any physical action against him. However, in cases where the Khalifa is not a kafir, but is simply very belligerent (e.g., seizing the land of others unjustly), the people are obligated to yield their rights (including possessions) to avoid bloodshed. Instead, they should pray to Allah to restore their rights.
Who has the authority to remove a bad Khalifa?
In a the event of a bad Khalifa, the Majlis ash-Shura must be the voice of the Ummah which steps forward and orders the Khalifa to step down (although they must warn the Khalifa first of his crimes). If there is no Majlis ash-Shura, the general populace must create one first by nominating and appointing people to form it. No individuals should rise up alone in protest against the Khalifa. Muslim scholars have elaborated on this subject extensively.
Al-Juwayni has written that if the Khalifa acts strangely and is leading the Muslims to weakness, the Ummah should not allow individuals to step forward and challenge the Khalifa because this leads to anarchy. Rather, any change must go through the Majlis ash-Shura.
Al-Mindad believed that an oppressor cannot be the Khalifa, a judge, imam for prayer, or even a simple witness. However, if he is already the leader, then we must go through the Majlis ash-Shura first to remove him.
Ash-Shahastani believed that the Khalifa is very important, so in case of disagreement between him and the people, no individual should go about creating turmoil. Instead, the people should go through the Majlis ash-Shura.
Al-Ash’ari noted that the first fitnah or dispute after the Prophet’s death was the dispute over the Khilafa.
Ibn Taymiya believed that an oppressive Khalifa should not be fought against immediately, but rather after going through the Majlis ash-Shura first (and failing).
An-Nawawi wrote that a sinning, oppressive Khalifa should be removed by the Majlis ash-Shura. However, if much bloodshed among the Muslims is forthcoming, then the Ummah should avoid the fighting and bear him.
Ghazali believed that a bad Khalifa should be borne to avoid the possible killing of Muslims. However, the Majlis ash-Shura should warn the Khalifa quietly at first. If the Majlis ash-Shura is unsuccessful, and fighting is threatened, then the Ummah must weigh the possible cost of many deaths against oppression. Sometimes the bloodshed warrants that the oppressive Khalifa should be tolerated.
The removal of the Khalifa
The Majlis ash-Shura is the body which has the authority to remove the Khalifa if he behaves contrary to Islam. At first, the Majlis ash-Shura must advise the Khalifa of his deviant behavior, and warn him to stop. If the Khalifa does not change, then he must be told to resign. If he refuses and threatens to use physical force to stay on (e.g., a corrupt army backs him), then the Muslim Ummah has three options available to it at that point:
Fight him according to some scholars.
Be patient, and let him lead, to avoid Muslim bloodshed. This is the strongest opinion: the majority of the ahl-ul-hadith and scholars of the Sunnah advocate this view including Malik, Ash-Shafi’i, and Ahmad.
Depending on the circumstance, either fight or be patient according to some scholars.
When should the Ummah have to fight? Muslim scholars all agree that fighting is obligatory on the Ummah when the Khalifa starts to alter Islamic doctrine and practice. This makes him a clear kafir. Some scholars say that the Khalifa can be fought even when he becomes only a fasiq – e.g., he believes in prayer, but does not do it regularly. The majority of scholars say that this particular offense (neglecting prayer) is kufr anyway – not just fisq.