Let’s begin by referring to the fact that you’ve been selected
as one of the 100 most influential thinkers by the journal
which is published in the
You, Dr Zahra Rahnavard and Mrs Shirin Ebadi were the three
Iranians among the top 100 thinkers of 2009. And this is not the
first time you’ve brought this international esteem for
How do you feel about this ranking?
Would you accept it if I told you that I felt almost nothing? I
don’t mean to say that it meant nothing to me; but I could see
that there were many individuals who might have rated higher
than me, but nothing is known about their works. So, in some
instances, the people who made the selections clearly acted and
decided only on the basis of individuals’ fame. But if the
selection of my humble self or gracious friends, such as Mrs
Rahnavard and Mrs Ebadi, have, as you put it, brought esteem for
I’m glad of course. But I really have nothing more to say about
Non-Religious Intellectuals & Religious Intellectuals
next question is about ‘religious intellectualism’ as a concept
or a qualifier. You describe yourself as a religious
intellectual or an innovative religious thinker.
What new things do you have to say
about religion in the contemporary world? Why do you place so
much emphasis on the word ‘religious’. I’m asking you this
because you’re attacked and criticized by both traditional
believers and by non-believers.
divide your question into two parts: one, why do I use the term
‘religious intellectual’ and, two, what new things have I said
on the subject of religion.
I’m of the view that ‘religious
intellectual’ is a legitimate and acceptable term. As I’ve said
on other occasions, if we can have non-religious intellectuals,
we can also have religious intellectuals. Neither of these terms
means that intellectualisms’ qualifier is the begetter of the
type of intellectualism. In other words, we can’t say that lack
of religion begets non-religious intellectualism, nor that
religion begets religious intellectualism.
Religious intellectualism is the
intellectualism of religious people; that is to say, religious
people who want to think. I consider intellectualism to be a
kind of exercise in thinking and reasoning, and critical
reasoning at that. In my writings, I have enumerated a number of
defining features for intellectualism; one of them—the most
important one—is critical thinking.
I believe that if a religious
individual is a thinker and if, in his capacity as a thinker, he
attaches particular importance to criticism—and is acquainted
with the techniques and methods of criticism—he can rightly be
described as a religious intellectual; just as if a
non-religious person is a thinker and if, as a thinker, he
favours criticism, he can be described as a non-religious
It’s been said that intellectualism
is the offspring of modernism, and this assertion is correct.
But what I understand by modernism is that one of its most
important defining features and components is having a ‘second
order perspective’. Everything that falls under epistemology,
religious theory, ethics and meta-philosophy in the modern world
involves this kind of second order perspective, which was
practically non-existent in the pre-modern world. One of the
characteristics of the modern age is precisely this transcendent
perspective; exactly the perspective which is called
‘transcendental’ in Kant’s philosophy. Some people have
translated it as ‘transcendental’, but I prefer to translate it
as ‘second order perspective’.
philosophy is basically a second order philosophy. In other
words, it is not metaphysics. It is not philosophy in the sense
of philosophy in pre-modern times. It is a meta-philosophy. This
is why it is known as ‘Critical philosophy’. We have a range of
critical fields of learning—analogous to Kant’s Critical
philosophy—which are all second order field of learning. The
same thing has occurred in the realm of religion. Notions such
as philosophical critiques of religion, social critiques of
religion and psychological critiques of religion all belong to
the modern age; they are all, in effect, the offspring of
modernity. On this same basis, intellectual work—in the general
sense—is a second order activity.
In one of my writings, I defined
intellectuals as people who are ‘privy to secrets’. That is to
say, they examine things from a perspective that is different
from that of first order scholars. This is why we can have both
‘religious intellectuals’ and ‘non-religious intellectuals’. In
this sense, I don’t have the slightest qualm about using this
term and I believe that we can have religious intellectuals just
as we can have non-religious intellectuals.
Q. But some
people say that religious intellectualism is a kind of
contradiction in terms.
think that the people who say this do so out of
small-mindedness, ignorance or, on occasion, hostility. In the
light of what I said, far from being a contradiction in terms,
it is a wholly harmonious and congruent notion.
Secondly, we can’t set off from the
mind and then arrive at the external world! The correct thing to
do is to start in the external world and then to go to the mind.
We have to look around and see whether there are religious
intellectuals or not. If there are, then, it becomes clear that
such a thing can exist and that it is not a contradiction in
I said in one of my writings,
entitled “Milk and Sugar”, that someone may say—in the realm of
the mind—that milk is milk and sugar is sugar. Milk can’t be
sugar and sugar can’t be milk. These two things can never mix.
But just let this person look at
the external world and see whether milk and sugar can mix or
not. If we start by saying that intellectualism is one thing and
religion is another thing, and that since, in our minds and in
our imagination, these two things cannot mix, they cannot
possibly mix in the external world either—I think that
assertions of this kind are the sort of idealism, subjectivism
and illusion that is undone by looking at the external world.
second part of your question, which is more important, is: What
innovation do I have to my credit? It’s not easy for me to
answer this question. It amounts to blowing my own trumpet,
which is always difficult for me. What I can suggest is that
I’ve grasped a series of dichotomies. Researchers and interested
parties can organize the bulk of my works around these
dichotomies. I’ve drawn a distinction between ‘religion’ and
‘religious knowledge’, and I’ve differentiated between
‘minimalist religion’ and ‘maximalist religion’. I’ve paid
particular attention to the question of ‘reason’ and ‘cause’ in
epistemology, and I’ve also drawn a distinction between ‘Islam
as identity’ and ‘Islam as truth’, as well as between
‘duty-oriented’ human beings and times and ‘right-oriented’
human beings and times, and so on and so forth. I have, as a
matter of principle, been very committed to and interested in
these differentiations and distinctions.
dichotomies that I mentioned have been the products of prolonged
reflection, and they have, in particular, been products of
paying close attention to the types of fallacies that people
fall into in their pronouncements and their writings. I wanted
to figure out a way in which we could rid ourselves of these
fallacies. It was on this basis that I arrived at these
dichotomies and I believe that they are enlightening.
By way of
an explanation of the distinction between religion and religious
knowledge, I can say that, on one side, we have religion and, on
the other side, we have religious knowledge. Believers hold that
religion is a complete and infallible whole. But religious
knowledge is fallible, it is inconsistent and it can grow. This
became the starting point for many of the other ideas and
verdicts that I’ve formulated on the subject of exegesis. I have
expounded a kind of epistemological and sociological
hermeneutics. I’ve shown that religion can be interpreted in
different ways and that it can have many readings. In this way,
I’ve tried to highlight the relationship between religion and
the human fields of learning via religious knowledge.
Another example of the distinctions I’ve highlighted is
‘governing by fiqh
[Islamic jurisprudence]’ and ‘governing by science’.
these dichotomies, I’ve tried to resolve both theoretical
problems and practical problems. I hope I’ve been successful to
Sciences: The Most Bloodied Martyr
Let’s return to the situation in
today. It would appear that the Islamic Republic’s courts have
been busy prosecuting the social sciences, such as sociology,
philosophy and political science.[i]
As someone who has taught the social sciences in
and in the
how do you see the status of the social sciences in Iran
today? Where are we headed in the light of the short-sightedness
of the Islamic Republic’s leaders?
is a sorrowful and tragic tale. I’ve been faced with this
problem for 30 years and I’ve also been teaching, writing and
thinking about it for 30 years. And now, in addition to all
this, I grieve and weep over it.
I believe that the social sciences
have been one of the biggest and most bloodied martyrs in Iran
in the years after the revolution.
When I heard that, in a recent
speech addressed to a crowd of housewives, Mr Khamenei said that
the tenets of the social sciences must be extracted from the
Koran, it made me groan. I knew that Mr Khamenei was
unacquainted with the social sciences; what I didn’t know was
the he’s also unacquainted with the Koran. I realized that
has a leader who, in addition to his injustices, also imposes
his ignorance on the nation. He makes pronouncements that don’t
contain the slightest shred of thoughtful reflection.
I know that
Mr Khamenei is not conversant with philosophy and the field of
theology. The only part of the social sciences he might know
anything about is literature and history. But I know that, even
in the realm of history, he hasn’t studied the philosophy of
history and knows nothing about this subject. It is precisely
this ignorance that allows him to make such grave
pronouncements, which make one tremble. He says that the tenets
of the social sciences must be extracted from the Koran. And it
goes without saying that the eulogists, such as Haddad-Adel,
Kachooyan and others, endorse his pronouncements; eulogists who
have gone forth and multiplied and now comprise more than 30
people in the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution. They
endorse these pronouncements out of ignorance or out of ulterior
motives, and they fill the leader with glee. But it is the
Iranian nation which has to suffer the resulting grief and the
backwardness of the social sciences.
too difficult to understand the point that the leader of the
Islamic Republic is the
[guardian-jurist] and that, on the basis of the theory of the
he only has the right to comment on matters of
politics, and to issue fatwas and rulings; not the right to rule
on the social sciences? Mr Khamenei or anyone else who occupies
that post has no right to say that this or that philosophical
theory is correct and this or that one is incorrect. For
example, he cannot say that, from now on, everyone must adhere
to the principality of being and abandon the principality of
essence; that this or that field must be like this and some
other field must be like that. This falls neither within his
expertise, nor within his jurisdiction. God only knows what
these kinds of unlearned and inappropriate pronouncements will
do to the position of learning and learned people in our
As far as
I’m concerned, saying that the tenets of the social sciences
must be extracted from the Koran is no different from saying
that the tenets of the field of medicine must be extracted from
the Koran; or the tenets of mathematics, chemistry, physics,
astronomy or geology (and I know that some people harbour the
ambition to do this). There is no difference between these
pronouncements. They are all equally bizarre and uninformed.
They think that these sciences are a set of moral injunctions or
on a par with philosophical musings; they pay no attention to
their empirical aspects. They think that the social sciences are
transmitted fields, not empirical fields. I remember that
Ayatollah Javadi-Amoli said once that we would extract the
science of shipbuilding from the chapter in the Koran on Noah
and that we would extract the science of agriculture from this
or that religious narrative—which is not unlike the efforts of
that English priest who was looking for the Virgin Mary’s essays
on mathematics! Anyhow, this was the first point I wanted to
make in response to your question and it was mainly a kind of
gripe or grumble.
the second self-evident point is that only people who are
well-versed in the social sciences are qualified to make
pronouncements about them; people who are aware of the great
progress that has been made in these fields, as well as the
critiques that are directed at these subjects. In other words,
people who are acquainted with the philosophy of the social
sciences; i.e., the ones who have the second order perspective
that I mentioned.
The next point is that this work is
actually being carried out now. What I mean to say is that,
alongside the social sciences, there are fields of learning that
fall under the general heading of ‘the philosophy of science’.
Their task is to assess and criticize the social sciences. These
fields have put the social sciences—ranging from their methods
and viewpoints to their tenets and theories—under a magnifying
glass and assessed and criticized them.
If Mr Khamenei had proper knowledge
of these things and if his advisers helped him properly, he
would know that the philosophy of the social sciences should be
This is a good pronouncement and it should be carried out. And
over the past 30 years, I have worked in earnest to this end.
From the early years after the revolution, I taught the
philosophy of the natural sciences and the philosophy of the
social sciences at
universities. I have taught numerous courses on the philosophy
of history and I’m very glad to say that I’ve taught a
generation of students who are now familiar with these ideas.
business of the social sciences and the philosophy of the social
sciences should be carried out by academics themselves. Science
is not a robe that special tailors can sew in some mysterious
way, in a secret corner, and, then, clothe the people in it. Our
universities are where the sewing is done. Our academics should
be able to criticize and generate the sciences without fear.
This criticism can make the sciences trimmer and more robust. We
can’t refuse to take the social sciences from the West on the
pretext that they are Western and Westoxicated; learning and
thought are not an endowment that belong to any particular
tribe, era or generation. All of God’s servants are capable of
thinking. If we throw open the gates
of our universities, if we create
an atmosphere for our professors that’s free of fear and
intimidation, then, we can add something to these sciences.
the gains made by humanity in the realm of the social sciences
over the past few centuries truly requires audacity and this is
an audacity that only ignorant people can possess.
recommendation is that social scientists should teach these
fields freely and that philosophers of the social sciences
should freely teach the critical philosophy of these fields.
And, in undertaking this critical philosophy, they should
benefit from the cooperation of religious theorists and they
should also use the Koran, the religious narratives, history and
the Traditions as sources too.
point worth mentioning in response to your question is: Why have
the gentlemen suddenly thought of the social sciences today?
Thirty years have passed since the revolution and the ulema have
been free over the past 30 years (nay, over the past hundreds of
years) to study the Koran and extract theories from it. Has
anyone prevented the ulema from doing this hitherto? Is this
why, today, they are being advised to extract scientific tenets
from the Koran? Have our ulema, who benefit from people’s
religious contributions and other governmental and
non-governmental resources, had any other duty than this? Why
haven’t they come up with any offerings so far? If they had
produced any good, scientific offerings, they would undoubtedly
have found their way into people’s minds and taken pride of
place in the realm of learning.
absolutely clear to me that if Mr Khamenei’s advice is acted on,
a dark age will begin in the realm of Iranian culture and
learning. A bunch of ignorant people whose only claim to
knowledge is familiarity with Arabic and a few religious
narratives—the most inexperienced of inexperienced
seminarians—will step into the arena and terrorize university
professors. And against any point that any professor makes,
they’ll cite some incomplete and irrelevant religious narrative.
And, then, they’ll boast that “we’ve got the whole world under
the last few years, at Mr Khamenei’s instigation, we have seen a
development known as ‘the software movement and chairs for
theorizing’ in Iran.
I really don’t understand; can you set up chairs for
theorizing?! I mean, is it possible to extract theories from
your mind deliberately and forcibly?
Scholars who freely engage in
research and reflection over many years may suddenly have an
idea, which is then recognized by the scientific community as a
new theory and presented as such. But the notion that a bunch of
people should gather together for the express purpose of
theorizing and that they should knit their brows and try to
force themselves to produce some theories—this is exactly like
having a bunch of people gather together for the express purpose
of producing some poetry. Great poetry is produced by poets. And
not poets who have to knit their brows and force themselves to
produce some verse. Poetry has to bubble up from within and
this, in turn, hinges on years of effort and experience on the
part of the poet.
gentlemen are unacquainted with the history of science and the
way in which scientific theories are born. They don’t realize
that you can’t joke with science. You can’t mess with science.
You can’t resort to shortcuts in science. You have to approach
science with humility. If you have any talent, you should make
your small contribution to the world of learning and help the
caravan of learning along.
things have got to a point where they give a know-nothing
seminarian by the name Sadeqi-Reshad the prize for theorizing
and they give the Farabi Prize to
The Philosophy of Farabi,
which was written by Dr Davari 40 years
Destructiveness Hidden in Foucault’s Thinking
like to refer to another point too. In our country, some people
take some of the theories of the West’s social sciences, like
the ideas of Michel Foucault, and they try to use these theories
to condemn the West’s social sciences on the grounds that these
social sciences are biased and are all tainted by power; that,
according to Foucault, their truths have all emerged under the
shadow of power and relative to it. In this way, they nullify
the achievements of the West’s social sciences. Then, they leap
into the ring triumphantly and say: Now that others have failed,
it’s our turn to display our talents. Regrettably, I believe
that this cheap and easy route will not lead us to the truth. It
provides temporary solace to ignorant people or opportunists.
from all this, Foucault’s theory should not be taken very
seriously, because, not just me, but also his critics say that a
very destructive relativism lies hidden within it. But if, for
the sake of argument, we overlook this problem and take it
seriously, then, we have to accept that Foucault’s theory does
not only apply to Western science, but also applies to Islamic
It also applies to Islamic philosophy and Islamic theology. It
discredits all of these fields too. These gentlemen truly cheat.
(I’m using the word ‘cheat’ advisedly and with deliberation.)
They cheat when they use Foucault’s theory to condemn and
nullify the West’s social sciences. If his theory is correct,
then its destructive blade will also mow down the Islamic fields
of learning; not just the learning that has accumulated thus
far, but also the learning that will emerge in the future. No
field of learning will remain credible, including the sciences
that these gentlemen fancy they will be creating.
Khamenei Wants an
that Thinks like Him and Sees the World as He Does
Let me refer to the open letter you wrote to Mr Khamenei two
months ago. Since then, there have been some very meaningful and
far-reaching developments in Iranian society. Where is he taking
Since you’re asking me to say where he is taking Iran,
I have to use physics to answer your question. In physics and
geology, there is a phenomenon known as artesian wells.
‘Artesian’ refers to wells that are filled by water from sources
that are higher than ground level. When the water comes out of
these wells, it gushes into the air. Geologists have told us
that the water can only gush as high as the source of the water
and it can never go higher than that. Now, this is Mr Khamenei’s
tale. He really wants to make Iran
the same height as himself. So, in response to your question as
to where he is taking Iran,
we have to look at Mr Khamenei’s thinking, his worldview and the
extent and/or limitations of his knowledge and outlook.
These are the pointers to take into
account because, if Mr Khamenei gains total control and can act
with an open hand—of course, he always complains that enemies
don’t allow it—he will create an Iran in which people think like
him, grasp Islam to the extent that he does and see the world in
the way that he does. Of course, it will be regrettable if this
happens, because Mr Khamenei’s record over the past 20 years has
shown that he has a very uneven and erroneous perception of
things. If Mr Khamenei was in a seminary or if he was the prayer
leader in a mosque, it would be no problem. But given his
position and given the fact that he wants to make Iran
in his own image, his perception is ruinous. This is because Mr
Khamenei’s viewpoint on Islam is similar to Sayyid Qutb’s
viewpoint. Mr Khamenei has basically taken his viewpoint from
Sayyid Qutb. Mr Khamenei has not written many things but one of
his works is a translation of a book by Sayyid Qutb. Sayyid
Qutb, may he rest in peace, was a man of stature, with a fervent
temperament. He was an exegete and, in some respects, superior
to Mr Khamenei. His perception was that Western civilization is
the ignorance of the modern age; that this ignorance does not,
in the least, merit enduring and being followed, and that it
should be rejected. Of course, Mr Khamenei also says that he
admires Iqbal of Lahore, but he hasn’t benefited much from
Iqbal’s perception and learning.
If Mr Khamenei grasped Western and
Eastern philosophy as well as Iqbal did, then, our country’s
fate would be shaped differently. But, unfortunately, this isn’t
the case. Islam as Mr Khamenei grasps it and the world as Mr
Khamenei sees it are wholly a product of and in accordance with
Sayyid Qutb’s ideas. Mr Khamenei also has very little knowledge
of mysticism. He does not see the vast world that mystics saw
and does not share the spiritual affinity that they had with the
Prophet. And, unfortunately, because he wants to occupy the
position of the velayat-e faqih,
he has taken on the characteristics of
[Islamic jurists]. And from fiqh,
he has only taken a kind of ruinous respect for its superficies.
of these things, taken as a whole, tells us that, if Mr Khamenei
has enough power—and he has had it so far—he will, first, set us
at loggerheads with the entire world, which he has already done.
Secondly, he will entrench a superficial perception and practice
of Islam in Iran,
which he has already done. And, thirdly, because of his
understanding of the history of the Safavid era, he believes
that he should surround himself with an elite group of people
on this basis. And he has assembled this elite group of people.
Some of members of this group are speakers and they are all
eulogists and individuals with little learning (such as
Rahimpur-Azqadi, Haddad-Adel, Sadeqi-Reshad and Haeri-Shirazi).
These individuals are exactly what Mr Khamenei needs, and he can
trust them. And the other members of this elite group are
bearers of naked brawn. I’m referring to the plainclothes
militia forces and the members of the Basij, and, more recently,
the Revolutionary Guards. These people put thinkers (or, from
their perspective, ‘the troublemakers’) in their place and
silence and suppress them.
that that Mr Khamenei has adopted is wholly the offspring of his
thinking and his perception. The harmfulness of this perception
and method was not visible as long as society still bore the
glow of the revolution and was advancing with revolutionary love
and fervour. Unfortunately, there were also some philosophers in
society (like Dr Davari, Mesbah-Yazdi, etc.) who supplied
theoretical underpinnings for Mr Khamenei’s improper behaviour.
But, gradually, the cracks and divides came into view. And the
Iranian people, especially our young, educated people, realized
that this perception of the world will not lead us anywhere.
certain that Mr Khamenei has neither a correct understanding of
liberalism nor a correct understanding of Marxism. He knows
neither Western philosophy nor Eastern philosophy well. It
doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t know these things. There are
many leaders in the East and the West who don’t know these
things. But if someone, who doesn’t know, insists on making
pronouncements and passing judgements about them, dragging the
country behind him, tormenting opponents and prosecuting the
sciences, then the serious objection arises as to why a nation
has to suffer the consequences of these distorted pronouncements
and perceptions for years.
Real & Legal Intervention in Politics
next question is about the role of religion, in general, and
Islam, in particular, in politics, government and the state. In
the 1990s, you raised the idea of a democratic, religious state.
In your recent letter to the leader, you spoke about a state
that transcends the religious. In your joint statement [with
Messrs Mohajerani, Kadivar, Bazargan and Ganji] you attacked the
unjust, absolute guardianship [velayat].
What is the state of your choice? Is it religious or does it
transcend the religious? Is it secular, in the American sense,
or laic, modelled on
I know that you’re a critic of philosophical secularism, but to
what extent do you agree with political and sociological
A. In my
view, there are two ways in which religion can intervene in
politics: Real intervention and legal intervention. I believe
that real intervention is unavoidable. That is to say, religion
has always had and continues to have a hand in politics
everywhere in the world. Real intervention means that, if
religion, in the true and natural sense of the word, is present
in society, it will inevitably play a role in politics. In other
words, it will point people in a particular direction, it will
put particular ideas in their minds and it will make them likely
to do particular things.
The idea that religion belongs to
the private sphere is, in my view, misleading and fallacious.
Certainly, belief and faith reside in the heart and no one can
know about them. But the religion that is built on belief, that
becomes entrenched in society, that becomes the subject of
books, that has institutions built around it and that brings
together congregations of believers can no longer be a private
matter; it is social through and through, and it will manifest
its social effects.
at all the religious feuds in the world today! Are they a
private matter? If religion were a private matter, things
wouldn’t be as they are. Now, one person kills another in the
name of religion. Another person builds a mosque in the name of
religion. Another person still sets up a charity in the name of
religion. People are friendly or hostile towards each other
depending on their religions. These are the social effects of
religion, which also has an undoubted effect on politics. So,
religion has a real hand in and a link with politics. This has
always been the case and will always be the case. The case of
and the dispute over mosques’ minarets—which has been in the
news in recent weeks—is a good example of how social religion
is. The feud itself is over religion’s social aspect. I mean,
even the people who believe that religion means performing the
ritual prayers, fasting, etc. also acknowledge that religion is
social, because prayer, too, needs mosques and churches, which
are social institutions. George W. Bush won the votes of
churchgoers and that’s how he became president and
politician-in-chief. This is why I say that a real link between
religion and politics is unavoidable.
But the legal link between religion
and politics is a different issue. Here, the question is whether
or not we should give priority to religion when it comes to
lawmaking and legislation. Should religion be the basis of the
state’s legitimacy or not? These are questions that determine
the legal link between religion and the state. This is where I
speak about political secularism. I’m of the view that political
secularism is a good thing. That is to say, the modern world has
shown us that we have to accept the real link, recognize it
officially and allow it to operate freely. In fact, we have no
choice but to recognize it. But it’s best if we sever the legal
link. In other words, we should proceed on the basis of
religious pluralism, grant all citizens equal opportunity in
politics and benefit from all religions in lawmaking. But when I
speak about a state that transcends the religious, I mean we
should seek a vessel and an identity that is more broad and more
far-reaching than religion and make the state abide by it. I
believe that this more far-reaching vessel is morality.
Let me also add that the legal link
is not an invariable link. If, in a society, religion becomes
very strong and leans towards monopolizing things, it can wash
away that absence of a legal link and do away with it.
Secularism and non-secularism are not absolutes either; they can
become more or less diluted. Britain
is secular and has no official religion. At the same time, the
Queen is the head of the Church and she is a proponent of
Christianity if her duty demands it.
Post-Theocratic State is a Moral State that Transcends Fiqh
Let me also ask you about religious intellectualism and
You have been a critic of the clergy and the traditional reading
of Islam. You have, at the same time, had good relations with
clerics, such as the late Ayatollah Montazeri and, currently, Mr
Kadivar. You criticize each other, but you are friends. What is
the relationship between religious intellectualism and
fiqh, and can
morality take the place of the
shari’ah and the law?
have many friends who are clerics. They’re very decent people. I
have no problem with them. The clergy, like any other
profession, contains good, amiable individuals, and it also
contains individuals who are malefactors. In this respect, I see
no difference between clerics and doctors, carpenters,
engineers, etc. They are all professions and they have their own
interests. But the clergy is different from other professions in
one important respect. The clergy sells a product called
religion, which is particularly important in a religious
society. Now, if the other professions sell a defective product,
people will recognize it as faulty while they are still alive.
If a doctor isn’t proficient, after he sees a few patients and
prescribes the wrong treatments, people will stay away from him.
Conversely, if a doctor is skilled, people will flock to him
when they’re ill. The same can be said of the other professions.
That is to say, they’re performance is tested empirically. But,
in the case of the clergy, if the religion that they’re selling
is defective, it will be hard for people to identify it as such.
Clerics say: Do this or that and you’ll achieve felicity. But
you won’t know whether what they advised was right or wrong
until Judgement Day.
In this sense, there’s a huge
difference between the clergy and other professions. This is why
I’ve said that, because of what their job consists of, clerics
shouldn’t receive any imbursement for their clerical work; they
shouldn’t pitch the canopy of their livelihoods on the pillar of
religion. Because it’s not clear what they’re selling.
The second point is that if this
clergy, with this basis, comes to political power, it will cause
a great deal of damage, because, in politics, too, it will tell
people: What we say and do comes from God, so just accept it
unquestioningly. In other words, in politics, too, the clergy is
not prepared to be tested empirically. For example, if the
implementation of penal laws has the opposite effect from the
intended one, the clergy is still not prepared to abandon them.
This is why, if the clergy comes to power, it will lead to more
harm than good.
Certainly, individual clerics can
take part in free and fair elections and win against their
rivals. But granting them a unique prerogative will produce
I’ve told them repeatedly in my
writings: Clerics! Now that you hold the reins of power, take
care not to darn the holes in your reasoning with the thread of
power. In other words, don’t use force to silence your audience
whenever you fail to convince them. This will harm not only you
but also religion and the country.
As to what my view is on
my writings are full of
explanations on the subject of fiqh.
In one respect, I’ve praised fiqh
a great deal: The fiqh-oriented
mentality that our people and our clerics have brings them close
to respect for the law. Far from being a small matter, this is a
very precious trait that is beneficial for democracy. But the
important point is that fiqh
is a duty-oriented aggregate. Being totally duty-oriented
distances us from concern for rights. This is one of the
dichotomies on which I’ve placed a great deal of emphasis: The
duties versus rights dichotomy. And I’ve explained on this basis
that the modern world is a rights-oriented world; whereas the
traditional world was a duty-oriented one. I can see many points
in this dichotomy. Fiqh
is law-oriented but the laws it deals with revolve around
duties, not rights. I don’t mean to say that there’s no sign of
rights in it, but the amount is small. In order to perfect
we have to inject rights-oriented tenets into it. In this sense,
has a serious shortcoming.
fiqh’s second shortcoming is that,
bearing in mind that religion is an aggregate composed of
morality and fiqh,
leaning on fiqh
alone and disregarding morality is very harmful. I believe that
one of the serious flaws in Iran
since the revolution has been that morality has been badly
crushed. Normally, many things in society trample on morality;
selfishness and greed, to name just two. But we shouldn’t allow
it to be trampled by fiqh
as well, although this is what is happening now. A whole range
of immoral deeds and vices are being carried out in our society
in the name of fiqh
and in the name of acting in accordance
This must be stopped.
I believe in a moral religion and I
think that the best product that you can buy in religion’s shop
is morality. And the noble Prophet said: I came to complete
morality. He did not say: I came to complete
aggregate, morality is treated inequitably. Morality has to be
given its due and treated equitably. This is what I mean when I
talk about a post-theocratic state; I mean, a moral state. That
is to say, a state that leans on morality more than it leans on
The fact of the matter is, when they speak about ‘a religious
state’ in Iran
today, they mean, ‘a fiqh-based
state’, and it cannot be understood in any other way. So, when I
talk about ‘a state that transcends the religious’, I mean ‘a
state that transcends fiqh’.
And by ‘transcending fiqh’,
I mean ‘moral’.
society, religion should be presented as the source and
repository of morality; I mean, a well-assessed and
well-cleansed morality, not a contradiction-ridden morality that
is based on ancient psychology and is sometimes propagated from
pulpits. I believe that the moral aspect of religion should be
strengthened and that people should benefit from religion’s
ethics. If this happens, things will improve for us.
Religious Intellectuals’ Joint Statements Set to Continue
Q. My last question is about the
joint statement that you issued, along with four other religious
intellectuals, about the demands of the Green Movement. It
seemed to me that the statement itself, its contents and its
timing were very surprising. The five signatories have had
differing stances and views in the past. What made you think
that it was necessary to issue such a joint statement and at
that particular point in time—just two days after the
publication of Mir Hossein Mousavi’s statement?
Do you intend to continue issuing
joint statements? Are we witnessing the birth of a Green nucleus
of activity abroad or a new ‘think-tank’ for the Green Movement?
A. The five
of us are like clerics in a way; we’ve all written our religious
dissertations in the past and can’t take them back now. The
individuals who signed the statement have differing views on
other subjects. But they all believe in the minimal points that
have been set out in the statement. What motivated us to draw up
and publish this statement was that we felt that the Green
Movement has been a movement in the streets and in action, but
that its theoretical framework has not been set out anywhere. We
came together to write the statement at a time when Mr Mousavi
hadn’t issued his statement yet. So, even after he issued his
statement, we didn’t abandon our work; we even added some things
to it that he had left unsaid. I think that we both stayed
completely faithful to Mr Mousavi’s statement and clarified the
lines of the Green Movement at this stage to a large extent.
As to whether or not we will
continue to issue joint statements, my answer is, Yes, the
intention is to continue. And it is by virtue of continuing that
these statements will find their place.
For the time being, I won’t give
this group of five individuals any name. I won’t call it a
think-tank and I won’t call it the movement’s expatriate
leadership. I won’t choose any of these names for it. When this
group does other things, takes other stances and issues other
statements, it will gradually become clear what it is, what role
it is playing, what position it has in the movement and what
name is appropriate for it.
Translated from the Persian by Nilou Mobasser
In the partially-televised ‘trials’ of reformists after
the disputed June 2009 presidential elections, reformist
politicians and theorists ‘confessed’ that the teaching
of Western ideas, such as the theories of Max Weber,
were to blame for the protests in Iran.