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Iran's Ali Shariati: Intellectual in the Box

Bahman Aghai Diba

There is an old joke that someone was asked: "Do you have historical monuments in your country?" And he answered: "No. But they are under construction." Ali Shariati was in the business of making historical monuments. He is often called the spiritual source of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. He had a deep influence on a great spectrum of Iranian young generation, which later created the Islamic Revolution. Although many Islamic clergies, including Ayatollah Khomeini, rejected Shariati as an apostate, the deep clout of Shariati still remains in Iran. I would like to look at Shariati and figures like him from another angle: How did they deceive the people of Iran by creating a religion that did not exist?

Poster of Shariati in recent student protests

Many people have understood or introduced Islam as they saw it themselves. But no single one of these self-proclaimed interpreters of the divine messages has damaged the Iranian youngsters of the last two generations as much as Shariati. It is noteworthy that the present young generation of Iran does not care who Shariati is and what he says. The self-interpretation of Islam by Shariati and others reminds one of the famous stories of people who had touched an elephant at night, and they described the animal as the only part that they had touched. Almost all Muslims, and many non-Muslims, when asked to comment about Islam, claim that Islam is something that they have in mind and only that interpretation is the true meaning of the religion. What is the truth? The truth is that all of them are right and all of them are wrong!

If we understand that Islam is a collection of many different data, information, practices and ideas expressed in the form of the holy book and the practices of religious leaders (Imams, thinkers and believers) and scholars activities, then we can see that there are so many different interpretations of Islam. Probably the number of interpretations is equal to number of believers. Different lines of interpretation stem from the current necessities of times or circumstances. Ambiguity of main sources, which is a common fact regarding all main religions of the world, help to create more room for such interpretations.

It is definitely meaningless to read a line of Koran or refer to a practice of an Islamic leader [the action which is done constantly by mullahs, Shariatis and others] to prove that Islam stands for something or the other. People belonging to various spectrums of social and political ideas express their own interpretation as the true expression of Islam without even having the same terminology. Some years ago, I was really curious that many religious officials in Iran, when faced with the question of human rights abuses in Iran (reports of various human rights organizations and groups such as the UN Commission on Human Rights in this regards) claimed that the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights is not enough to cover the whole body of human rights and Islam has considered more "rights" for "human beings." Later, I came to know that they only refer to their own followers as human beings and of course they were ready to grant all kinds of rights to those who consider them as the sole representatives of God. They did not consider "the others" as human beings at all. They were supposed to be some kind of talking animals that bear no rights.

Another example is the discussion about cutting the hand of thieves. Some Islamic sources say that the thief's hand should be cut under any circumstances and some other sources say that the cutting of thief's hand should be left to such time that an Islamic society is established (which has not yet taken place even in countries such as Iran or Saudi Arabia. In fact some sources believe that even the holy prophet could not establish the ideal Islamic society in his time). Still another interesting example of diversity of interpretations is the enforcement of the Islamic punishment regarding "adultery." According to many well-known Islamic sources, adultery is proven only if five "qualified men" testify that they all have personally witnessed the whole process of unauthorized sexual intercourse. I do not think that you can find even one case that is compatible with such a strict criteria, but you can see that people are easily accused and punished by so called Islamic courts of Iran and other Islamic countries for adultery [the case of Amina Lawal in Nigeria].

The bottom line is that almost all persons with any ideology from any part of the political and ideological spectrum from ultra right to the ultra left may find suitable materials in Islamic sources for their cause. Even an atheist ideology like communism has found allies in Islamic thought for its cause. The expression of "Islamic Marxist" is real, as strange as it may look. The question of what does Islam say, unfortunately has no clear and common answer.

Is it what various Ayatollahs say in Iran (although they themselves do not agree on what is Islam? Some of those Ayatollahs have said in the past that if what the other Ayatollahs have said is the true interpretation of Islam, they do not consider themselves as Muslim). Is it what Ali Shariati Says? Is it what Kasravi claimed? Is it what Molana has described in his books, including the one about another man called Shams? Is it what Ighbal Lahori says? Or is it what my mother used to say when she saw the atrocities of the Islamic Republic: "No this is not Islam. Islam is the religion of forgiveness!"

The answer is again, they are all right and they are all wrong! Islam says everything and Islam does not say anything. Political players in and out of governing circles have used Islam as an instrument of getting and preserving political goals. Therefore the only way to solve the problem is to separate Islam from politics in concerned countries. The experience of Islamic revolution in Iran proved once again that mixture of politics and Islam, in the world, which is divided into nation-states and the governments, which are designed to follow the national interests, does not work.

For a long time in Iran (hundreds of years), religious people had claimed that all problems in the society came from non-observance of Islamic rules and if religious Islamic leaders become political masters in the society, everything would be in order and justice would prevail all over the state. The teaching of Ali Shariati was one of the most important of them. People like Shariati deserve closer look before and after the Islamic revolution. They pretended that they are different from mullahs as the traditional and backward and narrow-mined interpreters of Islam, and they have come to introduce a new version of Isalm, which is open minded, progressive and even democratic. These true lies paved the way for mullahs to get the power in Iran without really wanting it. If you read the memoirs of politically important mullahs like Rafsanjani, and the Butcher of the Islamic courts, Khalkhali, you can clearly see that the mullahs did not expect to get the power. The claim that Islam has an answer for all problems of the mankind was repeated in the works of Shariati and people like him only with new deceiving colors. Shariati and his followers sold a second hand car to the people of Iran with a high price, concealing the defective motor and rotten body of it. It is not important that they had good intentions in this transaction! Islam has no solutions for the present problems of the people of Iran. The people are entitled to choose their destiny without being intimated by the rules of any religion. More than two decades of Islamic government in Iran has showed clearly that the idea was not working. All those who criticize Ayatollah Khomeini and Khamenei and claim that this is not the Islam that they are practicing, are wrong. They are seeking the solution to people's problem in the wrong place.

A great number of Iranians are really ashamed of having a bunch of mullahs as the head of government. One of the most important services that the Islamic republic has done to Iran is to make people aware that religious people are not fit to lead any kind of human gathering let alone the countries. The time has come for Iranians to show more bravery and shout clearly that they do not want extremist Islam and Arabization. Iranians are free to follow any religion and at the same time organizations like the similar institutions in US and Europe should take form to keep religion out of government. Nomadic Arabs defeated Iranians more than one thousand years ago, but Iranians succeeded to preserve their identity by creating the Shiite as a defensive mechanism. They fought against Arabs through leaders like Babak Khorram Deen. They kept the language and culture because Arabs did not have anything to replace them. On the other hand the Arabs learnt many things from Iranians, including how to govern the places that they had captured and plundered.

Cleaning Iranian society from Arab influence has many sides and it is not directed against Arabs. I can claim that Arabs will be happy if Iranians stop meddling in their affairs like the issue of Palestine. Many Arabs feel humiliated that Iran tries to lead the countries in issues like Palestine that they consider as an Arabic issue. Iranians must try to put emphasis on their own cultural achievements and expand the local Iranian cultures like Azeris, Kurdish, Baluchy and others.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is going to collapse one of these days, with or without foreign intervention just like a rotten fruit. No Ali Shariati, no reformist, no street thugs, no Iraqi spies, no demagogue journalist, no bazaari traitors, and no terrorist organization will be able to save the corrupt regime, which has betrayed the aspirations of the Iranian people. The ridiculous play of the so-called reformists in Iran is over. A system based on Islam as a political religion can never be democratic. Asking the authorities of Iran to observe democracy is like asking these shopkeepers to close the business and go home. The people of Iran like almost all peoples in the world are seeking a democracy for their country. They have been struggling for this purpose during the last hundred years. Iranian people were far earlier than many other nations in these regards. Unfortunately, the efforts of Iranian people for getting to democracy have been undermined by various internal and external elements. Ali Shariati and the people like him, created a version of Islam that did not exist and sold it to the youngsters of Iran. Ali Shariati and people like him are responsible for wasting the time and energy of several generations in Iran. They have pushed the Iranian society down the abyss and after 24 years of suffering under Islamic regime of Iran, secularism is not enough for curing the wounds, Iran needs a process of de-Arabization and de-Islamization from what was imposed upon the country by such figures and the government they helped to create.

... Payvand News - 6/30/03 ... --

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