Country Profile: Iran

This Country Profile provides a basic overview of the legal history and institutional structures of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Iran), based on research produced by GlobaLex at NYU Law School and the Library of Congress. Under Iran's Constitution, Islamic law (sharīʿa or fiqh) is the principal source of legislation. 

Country Background

Iran is located in the Middle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf, and Caspian Sea. It is bounded by Afghanistan, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan. The capital of Iran is Tehran. The official language is Persian (Farsi). The country’s population in 2016 was approximately 82 million. The official religion of Iran is Islam. Iran is a predominantly Muslim country, with about 99% of the population Muslim (90-95% of which are Shīʿī and 5-10% of which are Sunnī). Iran is a member state of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Constitution & Legal Structure

Iran is referred to as a theocratic republic. After the Islamic revolution in 1979 and overthrow of the Shah, the current Constitution was adopted. Significant amendments were implemented in 1989. These changes were primarily focused on governmental structure, and included:

  • increasing the size of the Assembly of Experts to 86 members
  • giving the Assembly of Experts the authority to convene at least once a year and to determine whether the Supreme Leader is "mentally and physically capable of carrying out his arduous duties"
  • transforming the Expediency Council into a permanent body with members appointed by the Supreme Leader as well as representatives from the three branches of government, the armed forces, the intelligence service, and the Guardian Council

The system of government is based on principles of separation and checks and balances with several different bodies: The Supreme Leader (a lifetime position appointed by the Assembly of Experts), the President (the second in command, elected by the populace), Parliament (also elected by the populace), the Expediency Council (a body meant to negotiate between the Council of Guardians and the Parliament to help pass legislation), and the Council of Guardians (jurists appointed by the Supreme Leader). The Iranian legal system is a religious legal system based on secular and Islamic law. The sources of law in Iran include are Islamic principles, constitutional law, legislation, government by-laws, custom, and revolutionary principles; the Constitution provides that all laws should adhere to Islamic criteria.

Constitutional Status of Islamic Law

Islamic law is referenced throughout the Constitution of Iran, including Islam being the official religion and sharīʿa a principal source of legislation.

Jurisdiction(s) of Islamic Law

Islamic law is a primary source of legislation in Iran. However, although the legal system of Iran is a religious legal system that is primarily based upon sharī'a (with some secular law influences), it is integrated into a civil law legal system. It is also important to mention that the judiciary in Iran is a fully independent system, as designed in the Iranian Constitution. 

Dominant School of Islamic Law

The dominant school of Islamic law in Iran is the Jaʿfarī school of Shīʿī Islam.

Sources of Law for Legal Research

Official Publications

Unofficial Databases


For an extended list of legal resources for this country, see the Library of Congress’s Research Guide, and for a narrative review, see the GlobaLex Foreign Law Research Guide (most updated version, where available). The Constitution is available in the LOC Guide in its original language and at Constitute in English and Arabic translation. For full versions of past constitutions, amendments, and related legislation, see HeinOnline World Constitutions Illustrated or Oxford Constitutions of the World [subscription required for each].