۱۳۹۶ مهر ۳, دوشنبه

Iran Deal, Nuclear Bomb and A Fatwa for some Seasons

Iran Deal, Nuclear Bomb and A Fatwa for some Seasons

Abbas Khosravi Farsani* and Reza Parchizadeh** 
First Published at Khodnevis.org on: October 10, 2013

نسخه فارسی نوشتار (Persian Version): 

فتوای هسته‌ای آیت‌الله خامنه‌ای چیست، کجاست و چه اعتباری دارد؟
 عباس خسروی فارسانی

Cartoon: Nik Kowsar

In the context of the Iran-West nuclear talks, a peculiar issue that is occasionally conjured up by the Islamic Republic officials in order to demonstrate the “peaceful” nature of the I.R. nuclear activities is the so-called “Nuclear Fatwa” by the Islamic Republic’s incumbent Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

For instance, Hossein Mousavian, the I.R. senior nuclear negotiator during most of Khatami presidency (1997-2005) and second only to Rouhani (incumbent president) during the latter’s directorship of the I.R. Supreme National Security Council, who at present is “a visiting research scholar at Princeton University” and studiously works in favor of the nuclear position of the Islamic Republic, on February 7, 2013, published an article in the influential Foreign Policy under the title “Embrace the Fatwa” in which, in reference to the cul-de-sac there to fore with regard to nuclear negotiations, he stated: 

Luckily, there is a way out of this quandary. An important and novel proposal was announced publicly by Iranian Foreign Minister Salehi based on Ayatollah Khamenei’s fatwa banning nuclear weapons. Last year, Salehi declared that Iran is ready to “translate the fatwa into a secular, binding document that would bind the government to this fatwa” and “to transform it into a legally binding, official document at the U.N.” Salehi’s proposal presents a legitimate framework to guarantee Iran’s commitments beyond the NPT and should be seriously explored as a means to resolve the stalemate. Unlike the NPT, the fatwa has definitive boundaries and offers both parties a politically palatable way to back away from unrealistic demands. The validity of the fatwa should not be underestimated. Because of the strong bond between religion and politics in Iran, the supreme leader’s religious fatwas carry both legislative and religious importance. According to the Iranian constitution, the supreme leader has the ultimate authority over all three branches of government. As such, the fatwa has the status of law and cannot be subject to review of any kind.

Previously, in an interview with Voice of America in December 2012, Mousavian had claimed that the fatwa had already been officially registered at the U.N., which had made it the first of its kind to have ever been registered at the U.N. 

However, the crucial question which is raised here is that can this fatwa, as Mousavian and many other I.R. officials constantly claim, be of such an absolutely “binding” nature for the Islamic Republic to insure the world of the peacefulness of its hitherto highly suspect nuclear activities? In order to know the answer to that question, it is necessary for us to make a foray into the concept of fiqh (Shiite jurisprudence) and become familiar with the nature of a fatwa. 

What is a Fatwa? 

According to fiqh (Shiite jurisprudence), a “Fatwa” constitutes informing the believers of the divine will on general issues of faith, either stated just for the knowledge of the believers or issued as a practical order to them, on the basis of the four pillars of fiqh, namely, Kitab (Quran), Sunnah (Tradition), Aql (Intellect), and Ijma’ (Consensus). A faqih (Shiite jurisprudent), after comprehensive contemplation and investigation into the premises of and reasons for an issue of faith, concludes what the divine will is with respect to that issue, and then declares his conclusion as a fatwa. For instance, the prohibition of drinking alcohol in Islam in general and in Shiism in particular is predicated upon a number of influential fatwas by historical and contemporary faqihs. 

Fatwa: Relative, Limited, Different and Contradictory 

However, a Fatwa is not absolute, and is predicated upon a huge number of variables, including the personal deductions of the faqih, the circumstances of time and place, the expediencies of the society and the followers [of the faqih] and so on and so forth, each of which can change or overrule the validity of the validity of the hitherto binding fatwa, which in turn may lead to issuing of other new or even contradictory fatwas by the same faqih. For instance, a most famous case of change of fatwa belongs to none other than Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the first Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic. Being an unrelenting opponent of the monarchy and regarding the monarch as an “idol,” decades ago Khomeini issued a fatwa stigmatizing the game of chess as a manifestation of idolatry (because of its “imperial” pieces). However, as the circumstances changed, he later lifted that fatwa, so that today official chess championships in Iran are in order like anywhere else in the world. 

Fatwa by the Vali-e Faqih (Jurist Guardian) of the Islamic Republic 

So far, what we have examined was in the premises of the traditional fiqh. However, when we go beyond the tradition and enter the area of the contemporary political fiqh in the Islamic Republic, which is at times meaningfully called the “Dynamic Fiqh,” the relativity and changeability of fiqh and fatwa find a very broader extent; especially that in the arena of the political fiqh, the crucial constitutional concepts of Velayat-e Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist) and Maslehat-e Nezam (Expediency of the System) also play important roles.

In a signal epistle from Khomeini to Khamenei, then President of the Islamic Republic, dated December 1987, which has become known as the “Charter of Velayat-e Faqih,” the Expediency of the System has been prioritized even over such basic articles of faith as Namaz (Prayer), Rouzeh (Fast), and Hadj (Pilgrimage to Mecca); so that, for the expediency of the system, even those principles can be ignored or overruled by the Vali-e Faqih. Khomeni’s articulation of the idea, with which the whole existence of the Islamic Republic reverberates, has been most notoriously encapsulated in his sentence: “Upholding of the system [Islamic Republic] is the most essential of the essentials.” 

Rouhani’s Fiqh 

Since the present director-in-chief of the I.R. executive branch and presumably the mastermind behind the I.R. nuclear negotiations with the West is now none other than President Hassan Rouhani, it is appropriate to also become familiar with his views on the subject of fiqh. Perhaps Rouhani’s most significant points on fiqh have been lumped in the abstract to his doctoral thesis presented to Glasgow Caledonian University, dated July 1998, entitled “The Flexibility of Shariah (Islamic Law) with Reference to the Iranian Experience.” In this abstract, we read that:

This thesis verifies that no laws in Islam are immutable. Immutability is only applicable to faith, values and ultimate goals in Shariah. Those laws which look immutable even in ritual part of the religion are not actually immutable and are subject to change under special circumstances. Islamic laws have been developed out of certain conditions and necessities of the time and space. This flexibility must be known as the essential feature of the Islamic law. The framework for this flexibility and change has been predicted and verified in the main sources of Shariah i.e. the Quran, the Sunnah, Ijma, Qiyas [analogy], Aql and Urf [convention]. The primary source of the Islamic law (the Quran) is, in itself, flexible on the basis of the analysis that the Quranic legislation leaves room for flexibility in the evaluation of its injunctions. The Quran is not specific on the precise value of its injunctions, and it leaves open the possibility that a command in the Quran may sometimes imply an obligation, a recommendation or a mere permissibility. Commands and prohibitions in the Quran are expressed in a variety of forms which are often open to interpretation. 

But where is the fatwa? 

In addition to the relativity inherent in any fatwa which casts a shadow on Mousavian’s claim as to the “binding” nature of the Nuclear Fatwa, ambiguities increase and doubts rise when we realize that in fact there exists no such official fatwa by Khamenei on the issue. In this respect, Kenneth Pollack, the director of research at Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, in an interview with Khodnevis, by calling the talk about the mentioned fatwa “nonsense,” has stated that: “Such a fatwa has never been seen, and there is only the talk of it. A fatwa must be officially issued and accessible to the public.” It is to be mentioned that the author’s attempts to find the fatwa that Mousavian insists has already been registered at the U.N. led to concrete result.


There is an essential verse in the Quran that reads: “if one killeth another who hath not killed another [in vain] or hath not done any evil upon the earth, it is such that he hath killed all human beings” (5: 32). However, there are myriads of ways for fiqh to overcome this limitation imposed by the Quran through interpreting this verse in many different and even contradictory manners. 

The atomic bomb aside, the Islamic Republic is one of the major producers of ballistic missiles in the Middle East and probably the whole world. Here the question is, do the Islamic Republic’s many ballistic missiles not constitute Weapon of mass destruction (WMD)? If killing one human being, according to the Quran, equals killing all human beings, and the reason for the so-called nuclear fatwa is to prevent the killing of human beings, then there should be no difference between ballistic missiles and atomic bombs.

However, the Islamic Republic does produce ballistic missiles en masse, and they are frequently paraded before the Supreme Leader who not even does not disavow them but also expresses his pride in them. According to a fundamental maxim in Islamic Philosophy, “the strongest reason for the possibility of an issue’s occurrence is the very occurrence of that issue.” Now, the strongest reason for the possibility of production of WMD (atomic bomb) by the Islamic Republic is the very production of WMD (ballistic missiles) by the Islamic Republic. 

Therefore, in light of all this, it seems that the Islamic Republic is bent upon producing atomic bombs after all, and that all the claims of the Nuclear Fatwa and the charade of the “heroic flexibility” recently made up by Khamenei are in fact deceptive moves in order to buy time for the completion of the uranium enrichment. In case of the atomic bomb’s all of a sudden jumping out of the closet, in response to the complaints of the claimants to the fatwa, Khamenei could retort that his fatwa, according to new circumstances, has changed; or that the fatwa had principally been binding on the “non-use” and not necessarily the “production” or “accumulation” of the atomic bomb, which renders the previous fatwa still true. In the end, let’s not forget that since, as Khomeini once famously proclaimed, “Upholding of the system is the most essential of the essentials,” any fatwa can be bent to provide for the perpetuation of the system. In other words, it’s all about “maintaining the system.”

* Abbas Khosravi Farsani, is a researcher and former student of Islamic Philosophy at Imam Sadeq University and of Western Philosophy at University of Isfahan in Iran.

** Reza Parchizadeh, is a researcher and Ph.D. student of English Literature and Criticism at Indian University of Pennsylvania.