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The Islamic republic of Iran is not a theocracy. Majority of the country’s population is Islam. For a long period, since the Islamic revolution the country was under the rule of Islam fundamentalists.
However, it was during this period that the country experienced the worst political and civil problems. The Islamic majority imposed a theocratic constitution on the secular Iranians, the mild Muslims, and others.
It is also true that at any one time, a fundamentalist Muslim will be at the helm of the political life in Iran owing to their huge demographic numbers. Majority of them will be Islamic leaders leading based on pure principles of Islam including mujahedeen teachings.
The majority may tailor the constitution to theocratic ways. However, these things do not reflect on the entire population of Iran. This paper will use the case study to lay bare more facts that support the view that Iran is not theocratic.
Chehabi (78) discuses politics and religion of Iran in a journal article published in 1991. He brings about historical facts that constantly paint religion and politics of Iran as the same thing. In most cases, religion takes precedence over politics and affects the political life of Iran.
Although Iran as a nation has historically been led by clerics, the author constantly features historical junctures at which religion clashes with politics leading to rife and unrests.
Since 1906 when Iran faced a constitutional revolution, there had been attempts to impose church to the Iranians. The battle was won in 1906 by secularism. Until 1940’s dictatorship that had no any connection to the church.
The leader of the dictatorship was captured and probably killed before Iran crawled back to self-rule. However, as Chehabi notes, the church, and active involvement in politics had been banned.
The constitution had been designed in such a way that active participation in both religion and politics was not possible. However, this did not stop many clerics from actively participating in the politics of the day.
The author paints a picture of a situation where the clerics may have wanted to participate actively in politics but could not owing to the previously mentioned rules that sought clear demarcations between church and politics.
Shah was the leader of the political outfit of that time. His political domination stretched to the 1960’s. By this time, shah had liberalized and relaxed most of these rules. The author paints a picture of a leader whose soundness of leadership had deteriorated.
Hence, he allowed formation of opposition mainly a controversial concoction of Islamic fundamentalists whom he had subdued for a long time. Islam had been subdued for quite some time. This had led to pent up anger and resentment at the government.
The long stay in power of forces other than church fundamentalists led to establishment of structures that were in favor of all. Although not entirely popular, the regimes had done a good job establishing an operational Iranian society.
Khomeini had become popular with the clear majority Islam fundamentalists. This led to his installation as a leader of politics in Iran in the late 1979. The author brings about the rise of Khomeini quite well.
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It is a journey filled with a sustained belief that the clergy should play a critical and leading role in the day’s politics. He runs away to stay in Iraq where he continues his doctrine of championing for clergymen to lead the Iranian society and politics. He publishes controversial lectures.
The author notes that this was the highest point of what had become Khomeini’s modus operandi since 1940. His message had reached crescendo and finally Iranians, at least a huge number of them, were listening. This formed the basis for the removal of Shah’s monarchy in 1979.
Dubbed the Islamic revolution, this was the beginning of a sustained attempt to install a theocratic society and leadership in Iran. Everything, from constitution to all cabinet positions was painted in clergy colors. However, as the author details, this was the last time that Iran enjoyed peace.
It was during the reign of Khomeini that catastrophic diplomatic errors were made. For example, the Iraq Iran war dragged on for close to three years following Iraq’s attempts to bring some political sanity in Iran. In the same regime, the US embassy was ambushed and its occupants held hostage.
This was a Khomeini’s reaction to any world installation, be it government, nongovernmental organization, or human rights groups. Locally, any voice that tried to sing the doctrine of separating religion from politics was punished.
Khomeini installed a constitution that recognized Islamic religion and its leadership as the only leadership. Effectively, all government departments fell in the hands of clergy. Non-Muslims fled Iran. Secular Muslims converted to Islam in droves.
The society was quickly becoming an Islamic nation. Schoolchildren were learning many Islamic teachings. The fact secular Islam and non-Islam were not united exacerbated the entrenchment of an Islamic society in Iran. The Khomeini era started facing trouble after internal wrangles.
The post Khomeini era saw a brand new clerisy take over. This group claimed to represent Islam although they did contrary to their teachings. Well, not entirely contrary but they did not conform to the fundamental core of the structures Khomeini had left behind (Chehabi 80).
The case study paints a picture where installation of a pure church cum political outfit has faced opposition at every turn.
When they finally took the helm of the government, these clergy installed controversial structures that permeated all government levels, including schools, to instill Islam in society. This was the highest theocracy went in Iran.
It was during the controversial clergy leader’s reign in power- Khomeini. Although Iran has close to 90% of its citizens confessing the Islam religion, part of this huge following could be attributed to structures Khomeini put in place during his era. Of the 90%, not all are fundamental Muslims.
The society may in many occasions elect leaders that are leaning too much toward Islamic fundamentalism. However, this does not make it a theocracy.
Theocracies are purely made of religious outfits. We cannot also say that a country where 90% are Christians, and whose leaders are always Christians, is theocratic. Theocracies have extreme association to teachings of the religion and the fixation sometimes reaches catastrophic levels.
In the case of Iran, the highest theocratic level was registered during Khomeini’s reign.
Subsequent leadership claims to be Islamic and even teaches Islam in schools but a blanket conclusion based on these simple facts that the society is theocratic is erratic. In conclusion, the Islamic Republic of Iran, in my opinion, is not a theocracy.
Chehabi, Henry. “Religion and Politics in Iran: How Theocratic is the Islamic Republic?” Religion and Politics 120.3 (1991): 69-91. Print.