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Mojtahed Shabestari: Islam is in Crisis

By Fahimeh Abdollahi (source: Rooz Online)

The late Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani

Last Thursday, the famous Tohid Center in Tehran held its first gathering after a lull of five years and the occasion was to commemorate the moderate ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani, a theologian and reformist senior cleric, who had died seven months after the collapse of the Pahlavi regime in 1979. Tohid has a special place in Iranian politics, society and social movements because it was the place where reformist theologians, seculars and thinkers held gatherings and openly talked about social issues and religion. And this is precisely why the center was the target of attacks by right-wingers and hardliners who ultimately shut it down five years ago.

So this first event had a special significance. During Thursday’s tribute, the center was packed with 500 people including prominent national-religious personalities such as Abolfazl Bazargan, Hossein Shah-Hosseini, Mohammad Basteneghar, Azam Taleghani, Mohammad Tavasoli, Mohammad Maleki, Ibrahim Yazdi, Ahmad Montazeri, Ali Abdollalizadeh, Mohammad Mehdi Jaafari, Mahmoud Nekoorooh and Narges Mohammadi.

A number of people spoke and remembered Taleghani including Mohammad Mehdi Jaafari. He recalled what Taleghani had told the court house after being sentenced: “Tell your boss that it is you who is condemned, not us.”

Taleghani’s son Abolhassan Alai Taleghani was there and rather than speaking himself asked the soldier who had guarded Taleghani’s prison cell in Kerman to speak. Colonel Ahmad Kharazchi spoke and remembered those days. “They had scared us about him (Taleghani) and SAVAK (the intelligence agency under the Shah) had told us to report his every move. We realized right from the beginning that his concern was the people and he wanted to help the poor with their problems, repair roads, mosques etc. This spirit had an effect on us and we did not pass any reports. Instead, we assigned two soldiers to help him do attend to his needs.” “When SAVAK realized what I had been doing, it transferred me,” he relayed. After the 1979 revolution, ayatollah Taleghani assigned this officer to head the Kerman province gendarmerie department.

Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestar

The last speaker at the event was Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari, the prominent and hugely influential reform-minded theologian. As has been his practice in the last ten years, he came in civil clothes, not the normal clerical garb. He began talking by saying, “I am happy to be here because this event is taking place eight years after the cultural devastation that was effected by the previous administration.” Then, he talked about the different interpretations of Islam and groups that proclaimed them. “Even ISIL and al-Qaeda present interpretations of Islam. Many interpretations have been presented in the last decades and some of them are new. These include what the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis, the Takfiris, those supporting velayate fagih, etc have presented and they are all part of Islam,” he opined.

“But today we must present a new and critical view of (our) religion and the concepts that have been presented in the last 70 years. This is because (our) religion is in crisis and when that happens it indicates that the views of the theologians are in crisis. I therefore believe that a new approach towards religion must be undertaken. We need new thoughts. What has been said can no longer be the basis and cannot be relied upon, regardless of whether this was said by Taleghani or the ex-leader of the Islamic revolution,” he continued.

“We must press restart this intellectual re-examination regarding everything that has been said in the last 70 years. We need to invite all researchers and senior clerics to define our today’s needs and then present solutions for the future. They need to identify what is good and put aside what is not good in our faith and produce what is missing in it,” he explained.

He then issued this warning. “We (wrongly) believe that new thoughts cannot be produced in our faith. This is not so. So long as we do not engage in a re-examination, our conditions will remain as they are today. I predict that (unless we do this) we will be buried in this world. Talking and writing about such problems as what is religiously pure and what is not, which is what is happening now, will not solve the problem of Muslims and their lives. The Vatican too undertook such an internal re-examination and today one cannot find a cleric in Europe who presents superstitious ideas (of the past). In contrast, Islam today is in crisis. A religion that cannot present its values properly is in crisis. We are in a phase today where what has been said in the last decades has no value to us as Muslims. We need a new perspective so that we can live in this world which is full of threats and upheavals. While in Europe nobody talks of superstitious ideas, our very own national state-run radio and television says things that sound very strange.”

This gathering ended with Taleghani’s daughter expressing words of appreciation for those who had come to the remembrance.

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