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Twelver Shi'ism in post-revolutionary Iran Doagoo, Hasan


Twelver Shi’ism, also known as Ithna ‘Ashari, Twelvers or Imami Shi’a, is the main branch of Shi’a Islam and maintains the largest population of Shi’a Muslims worldwide. It has a population of around 200 million and constitutes the majority in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, and Azerbaijan. What characterizes Twelver Shi’ism in terms of their fundamental beliefs is their view on the successorship of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. For them, Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin, and eleven of Ali’s direct descendants, known as Imams, are the sole religious and political authorities after the Prophet. This belief further defines the way in which the religiopolitical identity of Twelver Shi’ism has been developed through the course of history. Iran has the largest Twelver Shi’a population, estimated at approximately 76-80 million, i.e. 90-95% of today’s Iranian population. Twelver Shi’ism is the state religion of Iran since the 16th century, and its legal and theological doctrines are integrated into the country’s legal code and constitution. After the Iranian revolution of 1979, Iran’s constitution was significantly revised to better reflect the Twelvers’ ideology and legal thought. Specifically, the theory of Vilayat-e Mutlaqe-ie Faqih [the guardian jurist’s absolute authority] was incorporated into the Iranian legal system. According to this theory, strongly advocated by Ayatollah Khumayni, the founder and former leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the state’s major decisions must be supervised and confirmed by a Twelver Shi’a Mujtahid, a scholar of the highest-ranking in Shi’a legal thought. Therefore, by the constitution, the head of the Iranian state today, i.e. its supreme leader, has to be a Twelver Shi’a Mujtahid, elected by the Council of Experts, a deliberative assembly of more than eighty other Twelver Shi’a Mujtahids.This suffices to show how religion and state are interconnected in Iran. Also, Twelver Shi’a ideology is deeply intertwined with various areas of Iranian culture, economy, education, etc. and its footprints can be observed all over the post-revolutionary Iranian public life. It also plays a significant role in defining Iran’s international diplomacy. For example, the Iran-Israel ongoing conflict is deeply rooted in the Twelvers’ religious ideology and the role of Iranian religious leadership in defining the state’s international relations. In sum, contemporary Iranian cultural, political, and social values are heavily influenced by Twelver Shi’ism ideology, legal thought, and worldview. For the purpose of this entry, our focus centers around documenting ideological, cultural, social, and political tenets that characterize Twelver Shi’ism in post-revolutionary Iran (1979-current).

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