The Shi‘i Imamate Doctrine: Historical and Conceptual Developments

  • Farah W. Kawtharani
Part of the Middle East Today book series (MIET)


This chapter gives a brief history of the political crisis created by the question of succession to Prophet Muhammad, followed by a discussion of the evolution of the Twelver Shi‘i doctrine of the Imamate and the conditions that shaped it. It deals, second, with the Shi‘i concept of wilāya and examines how this concept lays the foundation for the authority of the jurist, the political-legal positions of niyābat al-faqīh (deputyship of the jurist), and wilāyat al-faqīh al-‘āmma (general guardianship of the jurist). The conceptual developments relating to wilāya and niyāba will be tied to three questions. The first question revolves around the nature of the Imamate and the existence of religious-theological aspects along politico-juridical ones; that is, to what extent does the Imamate doctrine claim governmental authority? The second question relates to the Imam’s delegation of his governmental authority to the jurist. As the leadership of the Imam is two-pronged, religious and governmental, the pertinent question is whether or not the Imam delegates, or can delegate, his governmental authority. The third question deals with the position of the Imamate doctrine on temporal governments. These three questions overlap around issues of the governmental authority of the Imamate, its legitimacy, and approach to temporal governments, interrogating whether or not there exists a governmental dimension to the jurist’s authority.

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© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Farah W. Kawtharani
    • 1
  1. 1.McGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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