Author Blog

with Leila Chamankhah

Leila Chamankhah on her latest book

While there exists a bulk of scholarly research on Muḥy al-Dīn ibn ʿArabī (d. 638 H/1240) and his theoretical mysticism, Western scholarship has surprisingly neglected his impact on intellectual activities in the Shīʿa world. My research focuses on the role of al-Shaykh al-Akbar in shaping philosophical developments in the post-Safavid Iran and scrutinizes the conception of wilāya and khatm al-wilāya, the Perfect Man, and waḥdat al-wujud in a variety of Shīʿa juridical trends, theological schools, and mystical doctrines. 

I address a number of issues by delving into the conceptions of wilāya through the examination and interpretation of key texts, and my main interest is to study the influence of ibn ʿArabī’s mysticism on his Shīʿa successors and expositors in later centuries. I used Quentin Skinner’s conventionalism in reading and interpreting ideas in history, but because Skinner’s methodology underwent a critique by Mark Bevir, who has discussed intellectual history from a post-analytic perspective in-depth, I synthesized both Skinner and Bevir’s methodology and created a method of my own. This new method helped me to examine the key texts and schools of thought, as well as the changes in the conceptions of wilāya in a two-hundred-year span of time. My research contributes to the intersection of politics and theology, politics and jurisprudence, as well as intellectual history.

In a corresponding approach to Akbarīan mysticism, wilāya occupies a central place in Ṣadrīyan ḥikma, and in the thought of the ḥakīms of the Schools of Tehran and Qum, as the crystallization of this discipline of philosophy. Wilāya is inseparable from imamate and from the status of imāms, namely the walī, ḥujja, and ghawth. In the esoteric School of Shaykhīsm, the conception of wilāya is overshadowed by concepts such as ẓuhūr (appearance), qīyāmat (Day of Judgement), intiẓār (expectation) and al-Qāʾim, and is finally replaced by the doctrine of Rukn-i Rābiʿ. A study and critical analysis of Ayatollah Khomeini’s theory of wilāyat al-faqīh exposes his fascination for the mysticism of ibn ʿArabī. However, the politicization of wilāya in Khomeini’s theory can be regarded as the climax of jurisdictional developments dating back to the writings of the jurists of the early Qājār period. 

Unlike mysticism, jurisprudence underwent significant changes and revisions in a number of terms, such as wilāya in socio-political affairs. Khomeini’s theory was challenged by his student, Ayatollah Muntaẓirī, who revisited it, placing more emphasis on the role of people and their rights in the Islamic Government. Muntaẓirī’s reform movement was similarly transformed by Muhsin Kadivar, who finally rejected the theory of wilāyat al-faqīh in favor of a democratic government.

Leila Chamankhah is a dual PhD in Islamic studies (with specialization inShia intellectual history) and political science (with specialization in Iranian studies). Her areas of interest are Islamic studies, Shia intellectual history, Iranian Studies and Middle Eastern politics. Her first book in English entitled “The Conceptualization of Guardianship in the Iranian Intellectual History (1800-1989): Reading Ibn ʿArabī’s Theory of Wilāya in the Shīʿa World", was published by Palgrave McMillan in September 2019. She also published several articles on different aspects of Islamic and Iranian Studies.