According to convention, the Shia faithful must follow a marja or “source of emulation” in religious matters. Ali Khamenei, who was swiftly named a marja after he became Supreme Leader of Iran, now regularly answers questions put to him by followers about fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence on his website.
Recently the website of the Office of the Supreme Leader published a series of fresh responses, spelling out Khamenei’s position – and by default, the line that his devotees must follow. One of the queries was, of all things, about social media.
In answer to the question “What is ruling on selling real or fake ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ [on platforms like Facebook and Instagram?]”, Khamenei decreed: “If it is real, it is not inherently wrong, in cases when nothing corrupt is involved. But it is not allowed if it is fake and made up.”
The Supreme Leader, then, expressly banned Shia followers from buying and selling online ‘likes’ and ‘follows’. Some bona fide ones remain permissible, but the subjective and highly flexible nature of the term “corrupt” in Persian left in doubt which ones.
Elsewhere, Khamenei was asked a legal question about whether women could herself include a clause in marriage contracts allowing them to divorce their husbands if the man in question took another wife. This Khamenei expressly rejected.
“Giving the woman the right of divorce is invalid,” he said, “unless the woman is granted the power by the husband, so that if he marries again she can be granted a divorce on his behalf. In such a case it is valid.”
Khamenei’s position as a “source of emulation” has been questioned ever since he was belatedly chosen as the successor to Ruhollah Khomeini. “Pity an Islamic society if even the possibility is raised that someone like me can be its leader,” Khamenei himself said on June 4, 1989, during a crucial meeting of the Assembly of Experts. Then the president of Iran, he added: “I don’t deserve this position. My leadership would be ceremonial and not genuine.”