Religious authority and managing the global affairs of the ShÐÝah
IJ: How should the global affairs of the ShÐÝah be managed, when they are spread throughout the world and there are five nations in which they constitute a majority? I would also like to ask another question: There are other ShÐÝÐ sects, such as the Zaydiyyah and IsmÁÝÐliyyah, do we include these sects also? Can we include them in the field of “renown”?
KH: No, never, because they have their own particular religious leaderships which differ from ours. The IsmÁÝÐliyyah have their own religious leaders, the Zaydiyyah have their own religious leaders, the ÝAlawiyyah have their own religious leaders; we cannot influence them because they do not pay any attention to us. Yes, we must ask an important question, but one that differs from yours, namely: How can we interact with the others, whether ZaydÐ, IsmÁÝÐlÐ or ÝAlawÐ, or any other sect, ShÐÝÐ or SunnÐ, or even the followers of other religions – Jews and Christians – or those who follow less well-known faiths, like Buddhists and so on?
But our present discussion is about the conditions of the religious leadership to which our ShÐÝah refer; the ZaydÐs do not refer to us nor us to them, but how do we interact with them? How do we speak to them? Here we can say that these other groups are either in agreement with us concerning some of the Imams, like some ShÐÝah sects, or they are not in agreement with us, like the SunnÐs. The latter is a completely different issue to that of managing the global affairs of the ShÐÝah, which we are discussing now. But by this I mean the ShÐÝah who accept [the Imams] and refer to them as leaders.
In this thirty years since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and after the fall of tyrannical governments which have ruled some Arab nations, we found that there are large ShÐÝah communities who have migrated to hundreds of nations around the world; from Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and others, you find them in their tens of millions, spread throughout the world.
There are also a number of nations in which the ShiÝah constitute the majority, like Iraq and Iran, so how do we manage their affairs there?
Perhaps a little under fifty or a hundred years ago, a marjaÝ could have sufficed himself with a small group around him, and this small group of people in his house or neighbourhood were those whose affairs he looked after. But today, these marÁjaÝ, however many they are, all have to appoint representatives in these countries who are responsible for looking after the affairs of the ShÐÝah there. But this diaspora has caused the affairs of the ShÐÝah to grow considerably – this is the important point – because a hundred years ago we were not spread out as we were today. Therefore this diaspora is the first principle.
The second principle is that these ShÐÝah have begun to set-up tens of centres in these nations.
The third principle is that in every region they inhabit, these ShÐÝah have special characteristics. This means that we cannot deal with those in country X – whete they make up only five per cent of the population – as we do with those in country Y – where they are seventy per cent. The basis of political and social engagement and interaction with others must be based on the conditions in which they live.
In reality, the question is: Is the traditional way of managing the affairs of the ShÐÝah sufficient for managing their affairs in the global age? Or will this approach no longer work?
‘Rightly-guided leadership’ and the project for managing global ShÐÝÐ affairs
Hence we put forward the idea of ‘rightly-guided leadership’ – an idea that originated with ShahÐd MuÎammad BÁqir al-Ñadr, and it is that leadership of the ShÐÝa in the modern world cannot be along the traditional lines. To clarify further, the state founded by the Prophet [p] in Medina is a state, but in comparison to the modern states today we find a great difference; life has increased in its complexity, its demands have grown and its problems multiplied. This change of circumstances necessitates a change of ruling and a change of leadership. If not, then the leadership in Medina was a group of people led by the Prophet through the state. But now consider another group of people who want to form an Islamic state in Iran, which requires a level complexity in matters of war and defence, which was not present at the time of the Prophet [p]. The same is true in matters of intelligence gathering, finance, economics and society.
I see religious authority as a state in microcosm; marjaÝiyyah during the Occultation – even if it does not control a state – when it wants to lead tens of millions of people spread across the nations of the world, this kind of leadership is much more difficult than it would have been had all these people been in a single state.
We require a new approach to managing the affairs of the ShÐÝah in the world. The traditional approach, until very recently, was sufficient for us. But today, rapid changes in circumstances and conditions, of time, place, contingencies and needs – and tens of other factors – which have been brought to bear, all of this means that we need to seriously consider creating a new institutional method for leading the ShÐÝah of the world. We cannot lead the ShÐÝah – whose number in the hundreds of millions across all these nations – as we would have led them one or two hundred years ago. We need an institutional form of religious authority.
What do we mean by institutional religious authority?
To give an example, the Foreign Ministry has a number of embassies around the world; a network of deputies to look after the concerns of the state, to represent its interests and its capabilities, and to form connections with others. This is the role that representatives perform for a marjaÝ. When we replace the foreign minister, does that mean we must also replace the embassies, ambassadors and their staffs too? Not at all; perhaps out of a hundred ambassadors, the foreign minister replaces three or four, but the fundamental structure of the system, its centres and institutions, remains the same. Unfortunately the same is not true in our hawzas; when a marjaÝ passes away, everything goes with him. And when a new marjaÝ emerges, he must start from scratch. This is something very dangerous indeed, because it means that our leadership of the ShÐÝah in the world does not develop. So we need a new, institutional approach to religious authority.
Now, someone might object: ‘You want us to become like the Pope in the Vatican!’ To which I would reply: No, not at all. We have our own traditions and idiosyncrasies; we have our own experience, ideas and methods. However, the experts must sit down and discuss the affairs of the ShÐÝah to find out what is the best way to lead them and look after their interests in the world, to appoint representatives, and to form relations with other sects and faiths. Now, you might ask: ‘One of the most important duties of a representative is how to interact with others? How can there by a natural relationship with others? The marjaÝ is sitting in a specific place and context, but his deputies are spead all over the world!’ But ever deputy must act as an ambassador, to form relations with others.
I believe that the spread of the ShÐÝah throughout the world is a good thing, as now you cannot find a country except that the ShÐÝah have placed their feet there. In fact, ShÐÝism is now spreading continuously because the people have begun to learn about its teachings – Imam al-RiÃÁ [a] says: ‘Inform them of our best teachings (maÎÁsin kalÁminÁ), for verily if people knew [that] they would follow us’ – so this traditional approach to leadership is no longer sufficient to look after the affairs of the ShÐÝah. No, now we need to set up a new form of leadership for ShÐÝah in the world.
IJ: But what’s wrong with using the approach of the Pope in the Vatican to provide leadership for the ShÐÝah?
KH: I don’t want to go into detail right now. Yes, we may find some positive aspects to adopt. But what is important is that our current way of doing things no longer works. As for what the new approach should be, this is a subject for specialists to discuss. These are practical issues, not theoretical ones for me to give a firm scholarly opinion on. These are matters of management, meaning that we must consult specialists and scholars in the science of management. All we are saying at the moment is that this is our situation, this is our present state in the world; how do we manage it? These specialists will tell us the best way to organize the leadership of the ShÐÝah.