Religious Authority and Political Thought in Twelver Shi‘ism From ‘Ali to Post-Khomeini By Hamid Mavani (New York: SUNY, 2013. 288 pages.)

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Liyakat Takim



Utilizing a wide variety of primary and secondary sources, Hamid Mavani
examines the locus of religious authority and its contemporary expression in
Twelver Shi‘ism. Starting with the time of the Prophet, he provides a comprehensive
and nuanced analysis of the doctrine of the Imamate and Shi‘i religious
and political authority from traditional, rational, theological, and
political perspectives.
The first part of the book, comprising three chapters, focuses on the doctrine
of the Imamate and contains some of the material that has already been
covered by scholars like Amir Moezzi, Wilferd Madelung, Mousawi, and Maria
Massi Dakake. Here, Mavani examines the authority of the Imams and that of
the jurists during the Twelfth Imam’s occultation. He stresses the Imams’ spiritual
and religious-political authority as well as the ensuing doctrines of taqlīd
and ijtihād during this period. Citing Shi‘i sacred sources, he provides a Shi‘i
self-understanding of the concepts underpinning the Imamate, namely, those
of wilāyah and walāyah (the Imams’ moral-spiritual authority).
Mavani argues, convincingly, that Khomeini’s model of governance
(wilāyat al-faqīh) has received a disproportionate amount of attention in recent
times. His theory was only one among others that have been proposed by such
scholars as Montazeri, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, Fadlallah, and Mahdi Shams
al-Din. Other Shi‘i theories of governance have been largely ignored. His discussion
and critique of this model is both incisive and erudite, for not only does
he examine the views of its proponents and opponents, but he also provides a
detailed and nuanced discussion of other possible forms of government and
the dangers involved in Iran’s currently centralized form of leadership.
The last three chapters cover material that has been largely neglected by
western scholarship on contemporary Islam. This is where Mavani’s major
contribution lies: his criticism of traditional ijtihād as being deficient and ineffective
as regards meeting contemporary challenges (pp. 226-27) and some
of the discriminatory rulings that are based upon it, many of which are casuistic,
arbitrary, and often based on the principle of secondary rulings.
Most works on religious authority in Shi‘ism focus on the authority of
the Imams and the jurists during the Twelfth Imam’s occultation. Mavani proposes
other state models to the one practiced in contemporary Iran ...

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