The Relationship Between Islam and Government in Iran

The flag of modern day Iran, which has at its core Islamic principles.
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In 1979, Iran experienced an Islamic revolution that put into power the current regime, for which Islam is a central aspect of government. Though this emphasis on Islam goes against the principles of democracy, and though the Iranian government has in recent years become increasingly authoritarian, Islam remains the primary religion of the majority of Iranians and the population generally supports the Islamic, if not the repressive, aspects of Iranian government.

1 Background

In 1925, the last Shah, or King, of the Qajar Dyansty of Iran was deposed by Reza Shah Pahlavi, a military officer who sought to model himself after Mustafa Kemal of Turkey and bring Iran into the twentieth century with an aggressive modernization program that included secularism. His son Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, who took power in 1941, was a more repressive leader, whose attempts to suppress Islam were unpopular.

2 Revolution of 1979

As a result of Muhammad Reza Pahlavi's unpopular policies, an Islamic Revolution broke out in Iran in 1979, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Khomeini had been in exile for more than 15 years for opposing the Shah, yet continued to exert tremendous spiritual influence as an Ayatollah, or a religious leader in Shiite Islam. The Revolution of 1979, therefore, was not only a popular revolution, but also a theological one.

3 The Supreme Leader

The government that formed as a result of the Revolution was a republic based on theocratic principles. One of the major theocratic elements of the new Iranian government was the appointment of a Supreme Leader, who at the time was the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Supreme Leader must be a Shiite cleric, and is not simply a figurehead: Instead the Leader is the head-of-state of Iran and also responsible for making many political appointments.

4 Guardian Council

In addition to the Supreme Leader, Iranian government has a 12 member Guardian Council, composed of six experts in Islamic law selected by the Supreme Leader and six Islamic jurists. The Guardian Council is responsible for approving candidates for political office on the basis of their commitment to Islam, and is generally regarded as a defender of Islamic principles. Together with the Supreme Leader, they demonstrate the fundamental role Islam plays in Iran's government.

Aatif Rashid writes on international politics and culture. His articles have appeared in magazines such as "The Oxonian Globalist" and online at Future Foreign Policy and ThinkPolitic. He holds Bachelor's degrees in English and history from U.C. Berkeley and a Masters degree from the University of Oxford.