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Last Updated: 2011/11/21
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Concise answer

People are one of the fundamental factors in the Islamic government and play the following roles:

1- Choosing the Islamic government

2- Selecting the government’s high ranking officials, either directly or indirectly

3- Giving advice and consultation to the Islamic leader

4- Participating in the legislation of law through their representatives in the Islamic Consultative Assembly

5- Supervising the acts, deeds and performance of the officials

Detailed Answer

According to Islam and Quranic verses, people are one of the central factors of a government. The Holy Quran says: “لقد ارسلنا رسلنا بالبینات و انزلنا معهم الکتاب و المیزان لیقوم الناس بالقسط...” meaning that: “Certainly We sent Our apostles with manifest proofs, and We sent down with them the Book and the Balance, so that mankind may maintain justice;”[1] According to this verse, Islam, that has guidelines and instructions for the maintaining of justice in society, values such a thing when it is carried out by normal people, not officials and authorities.

We can summarize the relationship between people and the government within the following fields:

1- Choosing the Islamic government by the people:

In the Islamic government, people have chosen an Islamic political structure out of their knowledge, love and free will and long the execution of divine law, and obviously, an Islamic government will not be able to function without the selection and advocating of the people. It is on this basis that even though Imam Ali was granted Wilayah (Authority) by Allah and was divinely selected to lead the people, he did not carry out this responsibility until they came to him and swore allegiance, because the grounds were not yet ready for him to practice his authority and Wilayah.

But when the grounds existed he did not neglect his responsibility, as the Imam himself says : “لولا حضور الحاضر و قیام الحجة بوجود الناصر و ما اخذ الله علی العلماء ان لایقاروا علی کظة ظالم و لا سغب مظلوم لألقیت حبلها علی غاربها و لسقیت اخرها بکأس اوّلها و لألفیتم دنیاکم هذه ازهد عندی من عفطة عنز...[2] which means: “If people had not come to me, and supporters had not exhausted the argument, and if there had been no pledge of Allah with the learned to the effect that they should not acquiesce in the gluttony of the oppressor and the hunger of the oppressed, I would have cast the rope of Caliphate on its own shoulders, and would have given the last one the same treatment as to the first one. Then you would have seen that in my view this world of yours is no better than the sneezing of a goat!”[3]

These statements of the Imam show that even though establishing a government for the execution of justice and getting back the rights of the oppressed from oppressors is a duty that Allah has assigned to the imam, but because carrying out this duty is not possible without the support, allegiance and advocating of the people, until people do not take the required steps in regard to establishing a government, the infallible imam is not responsible to force people to obey him, instead he must guide people and advise them so that they do what is necessary out of free will.

The late Imam Khomeini says in regard to the role people’s advocating and allegiance plays: “Administrating Muslims’ affairs and establishing a government depends on the Muslims’ votes that is also mentioned in the Constitution, and during the emergence of Islam this was referred to as swearing allegiance to the ‘Waliyyul Muslimin’ (The Leader of the Muslims)”[4]

In the context of an Islamic government, the leader is one who carries out and executes divine laws and commands and swearing allegiance to another human being is only reasonable in the mentioned context.

2- The choosing of governmental officials by the people:

In an Islamic government, it is the people that appoint the officials (The leader, president, representatives of the parliament, etc.) in either direct or indirect forms.

People directly choose the president, members of the Assembly of Experts, representatives of the parliament and representatives of the city and village council.  The people also indirectly choose the leader through the Assembly of Experts.

The choosing of officials by people is one of the indisputable principles of an Islamic government. Imam Khomeini says in this regard: “It is the people that should appoint their expert and trust-worthy individuals as officials and hand the reign of affairs over to them.”[5] On another occasion he stated: “We say that one who is going to rule and administrate the country and people’s affairs, should be chosen by the people.”[6]

3- The Islamic leader consulting the people:

It is necessary for the leader to find out about the people’s opinion through consulting them and to employ their thoughts in the better management of affairs. However, it is the leader that determines finally whether or not he should act according to his own opinion or according to that of the people. Of course, if Allah and the infallibles have expressed their opinion in regard to a specific issue, then the leader must act accordingly, even if his act contradicts the people’s opinion, and in such a situation people have no right to object his act; because they have accepted for their government to implement divine law and the rulings of Islam. In this regard Imam Ali says: “About you asking me to consult you, by Allah I had no desire to have authority and power, but you called me to it and made me responsible of it, and I was worried that by not accepting your request, there would be dispute and contention among the Ummah. So when I became responsible of it, I examined the book of Allah and the Sirah and Sunnah (lifestyle) of the Holy Prophet and I followed the guidelines of the Quran and the Sunnah. I did not need the opinion of you or other people, but when I do not find the ruling to a certain situation in the Quran and the Sunnah of the prophet, and needed your consultation, then I will consult you.”[7]

When a person like Imam Ali, who stated many times: “سلونی قبل ان تفقدونی”; meaning that: “Ask me [whatever you wish] before you lose me[8], finds himself in need of people’s consultation in regard to some issues, then it is natural that leaders who are not infallible would need the consultation of experts and knowledgeable individuals in regard to new and present-day issues.

The necessity of the officials’ consultation with the people and following the opinion of the majority of advisors has manifested itself in the form of law and different advisory organizations. The main decisions made by the executive and judicial branch in the country are based on the opinion of the representatives of the parliament, and adhering to the opinion of the majority has been practically accepted at such a level. Even regarding the leader, the Supreme National Security Council and other groups of advisors play the role of strong and helpful consultants pertaining to the crucial and critical decisions he makes.

Therefore, in the Islamic government people have the opportunity to participate in the legislation of law (contemporary laws by which the country is run) through their representatives in the parliament and to participate in decision making and present issues of the country.

4- Participating in the legislation of law:

In the Islamic government, people have the chance to participate in legislating laws that are implemented through their representatives in the Islamic Consultative Assembly which is the law-making body of the country. This even goes for the constitution that the country is currently administrated by, as it was imposed only after the people vote for it.

5- The people’s supervision of the officials and authorities:

People oversee the acts and deeds of the officials with open eyes and sharp ears and for many years have employed the right of supervising the officials as a means of taking role in the government, and have stopped the government from making mistakes by examining and scrutinizing its acts and programs.

In the Islamic government, people oversee the execution of divine rulings according to Islamic manners such as the upholding of justice, eradicating discrimination, giving people their rights, the possessing of sufficient power and management in order to rule, avoiding false pride and vanity, feeling responsible to Allah and the people, the officials spiritually building themselves before others, being honest and avoiding wrongdoing and, in short, acting according to the Quran and Sunnah’s commands and rulings. This overseeing and supervising is carried out in different ways:

A: “Al amr bel ma’ruf wa al nahy ‘anel munkar” (The persuasion for good and dissuasion from evil): Islamic teachings greatly encourage people to carry out this task especially in regard to governmental officials and authorities.

Imam Ali says in this regard: “All the virtuous deeds including the war in the way of Allah as compared to persuasion for good and dissuasion from evil are like a drop compared to the sea. The persuasion for good and dissuasion from evil do not bring death nearer nor do they lessen the livelihood. And better than all this is to utter a just expression before the oppressing ruler.”[9]

The reason for the greatness of uttering a word of justice in the presence of oppressing rulers is that usually people are followers of their leaders. At the same time the acts of the leaders, due to its great dimensions and vast effect, lead to the corruption of the society. Therefore, the admonition and guiding of them is of great value and essence.

Imam Baqir stated: “One who goes to the presence of an evil ruler and calls him to Taqwa (forbearance) from Allah and admonishes him and warns him of the destiny and result of not having Taqwa, will be recompensed with a reward as great as the reward of all Jinns and humans and their acts.”[10]

From Islam’s points of view, Amr bel Ma’ruf and Nahy anel Munkar in regard to rulers and officials is of such essence that neglecting it will bring along divine punishment. Imam Ali says: “Allah never punishes the people because of the secret sins of a special group, but if a special group of people commit sins in the public and people do not oppose and object their acts, then both groups (the special group and normal people) deserve to be punished by Allah.”[11]

B: Advising the leaders and authorities:

When stipulating the mutual rights between him, as the Imam, and people, as the Ummah, Imam Ali states: “O' people, I have a right over you and you have a right over me. As for my right over you, it is fulfillment of (the obligation of) allegiance and consulting (well-wishing for) me in my presence or absence.”[12]

In the abovementioned phrase, consulting means well-wishing for the Imams and the leader; meaning that people should oversee and supervise their societies affairs and their authorities’ acts out of well-wishing and benevolence and should not withhold from them any means of help, assistance and obedience in the path of truth.

People’s supervision and overseeing over officials in the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran:

A: Direct supervision

It is mentioned in the eighth article of the first section of the constitution that: “In the Islamic Republic of Iran, " Al amr bel ma’ruf wa al nahy ‘anel munkar " is a universal and reciprocal duty that must be fulfilled by the people with respect to one another, by the government with respect to the people, and by the people with respect to the government.”[13]

B: Indirect supervision

Due to the expansion of societies and the diversity of acts and duties carried out by the officials and authorities, it is not possible for all people to oversee the acts of all authorities and therefore, the indirect supervision of people has been legislated.

People choose individuals as their representatives to take over the reign of affairs and in addition to passing their responsibility to their representatives, they also assign them to their supervising duty. However, by doing so, they do not deny themselves this right and power. In the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the people’s right to choose representatives in order carry out different duties on their behalf has been pointed out in many articles. For example:

1- Choosing representatives of the Islamic Consultative Assembly that not only carry out the crucial duty of legislating law and interpreting normal law, but also perform their screening function in a number of ways, some of the most notable are: Investigating and examining all the affairs of the country, warning, inquire, demanding explanations from a minister, the president and council of ministers and investigating people’s complaints in regard to the duties of different sections of the government.[14]

2- Choosing the president for the leading of the executive branch, implementing the constitution, supervising executive affairs of the country and the performance of each minister.[15]

3- Choosing the representatives of the Assembly of Experts in order to appoint a leader that possesses all qualifications, supervise his performance and consider the consistent possession of the specific qualifications of leading the Islamic society by the leader.[16]

4- Choosing the representatives of Islamic Assemblies of villages, divisions, cities and provinces in order to perform the duties they have been assigned to in the law, and also supervising the execution of law and different programs in regard to affairs that have been passed to them in the law within their specific region.[17]

C: Other means of people’s screening and supervising of authorities and officials:

1- Parties and political and cultural groups.[18]

2- The newspapers, magazines and mass media[19]

3- Gatherings, congregations and protests[20]

6- The people’s role in supporting and assisting the government

The same way the Islamic government relies on the allegiance of the majority of people to be established, it also requires the support and assistance of the people to continue functioning. People’s support and advocating can immunize the government to all foreign and domestic threats. Imam Ali alludes to this role in his words and commands, in a letter to Malek Ashtar, to rely on the enduring class of the society at all times and situations and to avoid relying on the self-centered and much-asking wealthy class, and to always think of pleasing the former rather than the latter.[21]

Imam Khomeini says in this regard: “The people should support their government; a government that is not supported and advocated will fail and collapse.”[22] On another occasion he says: “At all events we need the people; meaning that the Islamic Republic needs the (support of) people until the end. It was the people that brought the Islamic Republic to this point and it is them that will help it reach the final point.”[23]

7- The Islamic government serves people:

From Islam’s point of view, government and rule is perceived as a means of executing divine law including the causing of order and inner and foreign security, providing welfare, opposing oppression, injustice, etc.

From Islam and the Ahlul-Bayt’s point of view, Islamic governmental authority is only considered a value for the Islamic leader when it is employed as a means of getting back the neglected rights of the oppressed and serving the needy and poor, and in short, helping in regard to spiritual and physical development and growth of the weak servants of Allah.

In his letter to Malek Ashtar, Imam Ali says: “You must create in your heart kindness, compassion and love for your subjects and treat all of them kindly and friendly. Do not behave towards them as if you are a voracious and ravenous beast and take advantage of attacking and eating them. Because amongst your subjects there are two kinds of people: those who have the same religion as you have; they are brothers to you, and those who have religions other than that of yours, they are human beings like you.”[24]

Imam Khomeini, just like his master, describes the Islamic government as follows: “In an Islamic government, the state should serve the people and even if the prime minister oppresses someone, then people will complain to the judiciary branch and the judges will call the minister to court, and if he is found guilty, he will be punished.”[25]

These were some of the mutual rights Islam has legislated for people to demand from the government and the government demand from the people.

For more information you can refer to the following books:

1- Fundamental Rights and Political Institutions, Abulfazl, Qazi Shari’at Panahi.

2- Human Rights, Alikhani.

3- Supervision and Screening Organizations, Muhsen, Malek Afzal Ardekani.

4- The Fundamental Rights of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Seyyed Muhammad, Hashemi.

5- The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

6- The People’s Role in the Islamic System from Imam Khomeini’s View, The Institute for the Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works.

7- The Islamic Government Magazine, The office of the Council of Experts, second year, no. 4, pg. 134 and on.

[1] Hadid: 25

[2] Nahjul-Balagha, sermon 3, Translation, Muhammad Dashti.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jaygahe Mardom dar Nezame Eslami az Didgahe Imam Khomeini,pg. 9, The Institute for the Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works.

[5] Ibid, pg. 10, The Institute for the Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works Print.

[6] Ibid, pg. 11.

[7] Sheikh Tusi, Amali, pg. 731 (Noor 2 software)

[8] Nahjul-Balagha, sermon 5-189.

[9] Nahjul-Balagha, saying 374.

[10] Wasa’il al-Shia, vol. 12, book 3, the chapters on amr bil-ma’ruf wa nahy an al-Munkar, hadith 11.

[11] Ibid, hadith 1.

[12] Nahjul-Balagha, sermon 34.

[13] Chapter 1, article 8.

[14] Articles 62-76-88-79-90, Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran and ...

[15] Article 134 of the constitution.

[16] Article 107.

[17] Article 100.

[18] Article 126.

[19] Article 124.

[20] Article 127.

[21] Nahjul-Balagha, letter 53.

[22] Jaygahe Mardom dar Nezame Eslami az Didgahe Imam Khomeini, pg. 162.

[23] Ibid, pg. 166.

[24] Nahjul-Balagha, letter 2-52.

[25] Jaygahe Mardom dar Nezame Eslami az Didgahe Imam Khomeini, pg. 50.

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