Ayatollah Khamenei

A Ruler’s Legitimacy Derives from People or God? Ayatollah Khamenei Answers

This article briefly reviews the statements and views of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei, on the issue of Wilayat, the Islamic government, and the role of the people therein. Furthermore, the text is based on sermons and speeches made on various occasions; thus, statements have been slightly modified and prepared in the form of questions and answers, in order to facilitate access to accurate and clear understanding of his views.

1. What is the aim of establishing a government in the Islamic view?

Amir al-Mu’minin (Imam Ali (as)) does not attribute real importance to governorship; governorship is not a goal for Ali (as); for him, governorship has little value. He would never ignore true values for the sake of a high position or rank. But, when he feels that it is his duty, that the ground is prepared, and that the time has come for him to take up the essential role of a governor, he accepts it.  June 12, 1987   

After accepting the position of a caliph (governor), Amir al-Mu’minin (Imam Ali (as)) stated: “If the people’s attention, acceptance, allegiance and desire hadn’t endorsed my duty--for confronting oppression, fighting against discrimination, and defending the oppressed--I still wouldn’t accept this position." By making this statement, he meant that he didn't want power for the sake of power… if power is used to combat oppression in all its aspects--interior, social, economic, which is the worst--then it is admirable. 
December 17, 2003

2. In the case of Amir al-Mu'minin (as), is Wilayat (governorship) a result of the divine establishment, or is it subject to the vote of the people? Or, does the vote and the allegiance of the people play a role in the process of its realization? In other words, is the acceptance and vote of the people important for the legitimacy of the Islamic ruler? Is the people's vote for Amir al-Mu'minin, Ali (as), only needed for the realization of his governorship, for his acceptability and efficacy, or is it also effective in the nature of his Wilayat?

Islam gives credit to people’s opinion; people's vote in choosing a ruler and in the ruler’s actions is regarded as essential. Therefore, you see that Amir al-Mu'minin (as), while considering himself as the official successor of the Prophet and the true owner of the right for governorship, when it comes to the vote and choice of people, he relied on the opinion of the people; that is, he deemed people’s vote essential. In the Islamic system, allegiance is a condition for the legitimacy of a governor.
If people did not pledge allegiance to a governor, then they did not accept him; that ruler would not have the right to rule over them. The legitimacy of the governorship would depend on the people's allegiance; or, we can say that the actuality of being appointed to the position of governor depends on the people's allegiance.
June 12, 1987

3. From the Islamic point of view, is the vote and allegiance of people enough for legitimacy of the governor’s authority?

In Islam, no Wilayat or governorship is acceptable, unless it is approved by God Almighty. Whenever, in the many jurisprudential issues concerning a governor’s, a judge’s or a believer’s wilayat (governorship), there are different types of Wilayat; yet, we doubt whether there is a religious legal basis for the administration of this wilayat or not: we say no! Why? Because, the principle is based on absence of Wilayat. This is the logic of Islam: Wilayat is approved, when it has been endorsed (validated) by the lawgiver; and the governor is endorsed if he--at any level of wilayat--has the necessary qualifications and competence: i.e. justice, piety, and admiration from the people; this stems from religious democracy, which is very solid and deep. 

December 17, 2003

In Islam, people represent one element for approving legitimacy, not a complete basis for legitimacy. The political system in Islam, in addition to the vote and desire of the people, depends on another essential basis: justice and piety. If the person who is chosen for governance, does not represent qualities of justice and piety, even if all the people unanimously accept him, his governorship is not valid, according to Islam. 
December 17, 2003

Hence, the basis for legitimacy of a government does not solely rely on the people’s vote: the main basis is justice and piety; yet, justice and piety without the vote and acceptance of people is not effective; thus, people’s vote is also needed. 
December 17, 2003 

Legitimizing the vote and allegiance of people is an Islamic principle. 
June 12, 1987

4. Is the government’s legitimacy dependant upon people’s judgment and vote only during the Occultation, or is it also true during the time of the infallible Imams (pbut)? From this perspective, what role do people play in the realization and actuality of Wilayat (governorship)?  

Amir al-Mu'minin (as), in Nahj al-Balagha, does not consider authority and force as the underlying basis of the government: and he, himself, proves this view, in practice. According to Imam Ali (as), the main basis of the government consists of a series of spiritual values. He deems governorship and wilayat as a result of a spiritual value; but, this spiritual value is not enough on its own for a person to be, actually and practically, a governor or Walli; the people also have their say in this; their allegiance is needed… people’s allegiance guarantees the right for governance. Values can help a person, actually and practically, reach the position of governor, only if the people accept him; this issue is again considered when regarding the role of the people in government. 
May 19, 1981

5. What is the underlying source of legitimacy for the Islamic Republic, from an islamic point of view?

The legitimacy of this system is dependant upon islamic thought and islamic foundations. The legitimacy of the leader and the parliament is also dependant upon the same principles. (May 28, 2003) In an Islamic Republic system, the keystone of development involves adherence to foundations. The element that is considered as the primary legitimacy of the system, i.e. God’s Willayat which is transferred to faqih (jurisconsult), is conditional on adherence to the divine commandments. If the individual who occupies the position of the leader, ignores the Islamic values, the Islamic laws, in theory or practice, he will lose his legitimacy: others do not have to obey him in this case; it is not even allowed to obey such a person. This is written in the constitution, i.e. the main document of the revolution. (June 04, 2006) My legitimacy and yours is subject to our efforts in fighting against corruption and discrimination, as well as our efforts in establishing justice. This the basis of our legitimacy: in the Islamic Republic, the system and its legitimacy is based on truth and justice. (June 28, 2010) Legitimacy of all the elements and components of the Islamic system relies on conformity with the divine commandments. (May 28, 1992) Legitimacy of us all is subject to performance of our duties and efficacy in doing so. I insist on the fact that efficacy and efficiency, of all officials, needs to be emphasized just as defined by our laws, which are derived from the religious legislation and the institution. When efficacy fades away, legitimacy will be lost. We have defined specific conditions in the constitution for the leader, the president, the parliament members, and the minister, and we say they can perform their duties only if they prove to follow the conditions. So, these conditions represent the criterion of legitimacy for assuming these duties and powers that the law and the nation grants us; that is, the act of Wilayat, with all its branches, is attributed to these titles, not to individuals. As long as these titles are preserved and available, this legitimacy exists. When these titles are not effective, either from the part of the leader or the rest of the authorities in different sectors, that legitimacy will be eliminated. (September 21, 2004)

6. Is it possible to ignore the people's vote and will in the legitimacy of the Islamic system?

No one in the Islamic system should deny the people, the vote of the people, and the will of the people. Some people consider the people's vote as the basis of legitimacy; at least, it is the basis of attributing legitimacy. Without the vote of the people, without the presence of the people, and without realizing the will of the people, the Islamic system cannot be established and cannot survive. (June 04, 1999)

7. What does the religious thought rely on, in order to achieve the objectives of the Islamic state and the legitimacy of attributing Wilayat (governorship)?

In religious thought, the basis of religious rule, the influence of religion, and the power of religion is reliance upon the people. Unless people have no desire and do not believe, religion cannot rule. In the Constitution, all centers of power, directly or indirectly, are linked to people's vote; people choose and decide, and if they do not want a government, this government has actually lost its legitimacy.(February 23, 1999)