Justice and vilayat in post-revolutionary Iranian Shiʿism

Meir Litvak*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Justice and the guardianship of the jurist (vilayat-i faqih) have been the two ideological pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran ever since the 1979 Revolution. Unlike vilayat-i faqih, the meaning and essence of justice in post-revolutionary Shiʿi-Iranian thought has not received due attention in the scholarly debate. The hegemonic Shiʿi discourse in Iran defines justice as based on three principles: awarding every person their due rights according to the law; ‘setting everything in its place’, and the elimination of tyranny and oppression. It maintains that true justice can be realized only within an Islamic system ruled by the ‘fully qualified jurist’. This formula has elicited additional debate, especially since 2011, over the reciprocal status and dependence of the two concepts. The debate was triggered by intra-elite tensions, and subsequently by the need to respond to public disaffection over the deficiencies in the implementation of social justice in Iran. It culminated in subordinating the ideal of justice to clerical authority and to the principle of expediency as determined by that clergy. Thus, vilayat-i faqih has been transformed from the means to implement justice to the ultimate self-serving end-goal of the regime’s ideology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-280
Number of pages14
JournalMiddle Eastern Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2023


  • Iran
  • Shiʿism
  • clerics
  • justice
  • vilayat-i faqih


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