Iran and Islam, A primer
Via: Juan Cole
Iran is a theocracy that mixes religion and state more thoroughly than any other country in the world.
Shiite Islam gives a special place to its clerics and demands blind obedience to their rulings on religious law.
The commemoration of the martyrdom of holy figures is central to Shiite religious sensibilities and plays out in Iran’s populist politics.
Since 1979, the Islamic Republic has imposed a strongly patriarchal order, but pious women have found ways to assert themselves in society and education.
The contemporary Shiite revival has given Iran influence in the Muslim world and especially among other Shiite communities in the Arab world and South Asia, challenging the Sunni secular nationalists and traditional monarchies.
The 1979 revolution unseated the last dynasty to rule Iran from the Peacock Throne. But it also represented a revolution within Shiism, which had traditionally shunned direct clerical involvement in politics. Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini introduced the idea of clerical supervision of a modern republican state that has all three standard branches of government—the executive, legislature and judiciary.
Iran is today the world’s only clerically-ruled government. Shiite Islam is not just the religion of state, but also forms the framework for a theocracy. As such, religion and politics are inseparable. The starting point for debates in Iran is not secular law and civil rights, but the tradition of Muslim jurisprudence and practice called the Sharia. Lively debates center on issues such as the nature of a just government, women’s rights in Islam, economic justice and the extent of limits on personal liberty. Since the mid-1990s, the Iranian political divide has also played out over the balance of power between the republican and religious nature of the state.