The Discourse of Democracy in Shi‘i Islamic Jurisprudence: The Two Cases of Montazeri and Sistani
Title: The Discourse of Democracy in Shi‘i Islamic Jurisprudence: The Two Cases of Montazeri and Sistani
Author: RAHIMI, Babak
Series/Number: EUI RSCAS; 2008/09; Mediterranean Programme Series
An attempt is made to study two influential Shi‘i Muslim thinkers of democratic rule and religious authority in the context of contemporary Iranian and Iraqi histories. It is argued that a new discourse and a practice of democratic governance is currently under reconstruction by two senior Shi‘i clerics, Ayatollah Morteza Montazeri and Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who in both explicit and implicit language and body of practices advance a Shi‘i normative theory of what authentic Islamic governance should be like in terms of an inclusive and pluralistic idea of political community. The term “democratic Usulism” refers to such democratic-minded clerical tradition that these two leading clerical figures both in theory and practice advocate in Iran and Iraq. The article is divided into three sections. The first part provides a brief historical and theoretical description of “democratic Usulism” as a distinct mode of Shi‘i modernist thought that innovatively links sacred normativity with democratic form of politics. The following two sections give account of the role of (post-1989) Montazeri and (post-2003) Sistani. My focus here is to describe political-theology of two connected yet different democratic Usuli clerics who both in theory and practice attempt to revise Shi‘i authority in terms of democratic norms and practices. In conclusion, the study considers the potential perils and promises of democratic Usuli thought, while emphasizing that the tradition should primarily be recognized as a critical response to authoritarian rule by rearticulating normative judgments about political community through a transcendental ideal of divine law manifested in popular sovereignty.
Subject: Shi‘i Islam; democratic rule; pluralism; Islamic governance; political community; Shari'a; constitutionalism
Type of Access: openAccess