Will Iran's political turmoil shake Hezbollah?
The Shiite militant organization in Lebanon draws money and ideological guidance from Iran's supreme leader.
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The indissoluble thread that binds Hezbollah to Iran is the wilayet al-faqih (velayat-e-faqih in Persian) – the guardianship of the jurisprudent – which forms the ideological bedrock of Iran's Islamic state. The concept of the wilayet al-faqih originated with Ayatollah Khomeini, father of Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979. Khomeini's theory grants absolute authority over all matters – religious, social, and political – to a senior cleric chosen as the supreme leader. The supreme leader is regarded as an infallible source of emulation by some Shiite Muslims. Khomeini was the first, and Khamenei his successor.
The ideology of wilayet al-faqih is seen as a temporary measure pending the return of Imam Mehdi, who disappeared 1,000 years ago and was the last of 12 successors, recognized by Shiites, to the prophet Muhammad. His return, many pious Shiites believe, will usher in an era of perfect justice and global Islamic government.
Because the wilayet al-faqih is a relatively new concept, all fresh recruits to Hezbollah pass through a preparatory stage in which they are taught the tenets of the theory along with lessons in religion, politics, cultural, and social issues, as well as military training. The idea is to maintain ideological commitment.
Key decisions directly influenced by supreme leader
An example of the influence held by the supreme leader extends back to Hezbollah's founding in 1982, which came after Khomeini declared armed resistance to Israel's occupation of Lebanon a religious duty.
At the end of the 1975-90 civil war in Lebanon, a heated debate erupted inside Hezbollah over whether to submit candidates for the 1992 parliamentary elections or to maintain its ideological rejection of Lebanon's sectarian political system. Unable to reach internal consensus, Hezbollah sought Khameini's advice and he decreed integration into Lebanese politics. Since then, Hezbollah has become an important player in the Lebanese parliament.
"To participate [in parliament] or not to participate? The decision was to participate," Sheikh Qassem says. "Accept the occupation [by Israel in 1982] or resist the occupation and liberate the land? And the decision was to liberate the land."
Khomeini's ideas inspired a generation of young Lebanese Shiite clerical students in the 1970s who became the leaders of Hezbollah after it was established with Iranian assistance in 1982 in the wake of Israel's invasion of Lebanon. The connection to Iran is evident in Hezbollah-supporting areas of Lebanon. Posters of Khomeini and Khameini hang alongside portraits of Hezbollah "martyrs," fighters killed resisting Israel.
"We believe in the leadership of the [supreme leader]," Qassem says. "This is a religious issue as far as we are concerned. All those who want to be part of Hezbollah have to commit themselves to its [doctrinal] code, and wilayet al-faqih is part of this."