Dr. Abdulkarim Soroush, in his most recent speech
in London entitled "The Ideal Islamic State", has spoken about
the inability of fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence] to deal
with many of the concerns of modern-day society, as well as
about the challenges faced by Muslim immigrants in non-Islamic
Dr. Soroush argued that, despite the assumption
made by many Muslim thinkers that fiqh contains solutions
to "all human concerns", the experience of the establishment of
the Islamic Republic by an Iranian faqih [cleric/expert
in Islamic jurisprudence] proved that, despite its broad scope,
fiqh does not have answers to many of the questions and
concerns of modern-day human beings.
Rule by a faqih and secular society
Dr. Soroush remarked: "Traditionalist Islamic
thinkers have for many years responded to the question of how to
attain an ideal Islamic society by saying: We are Muslims and we
have the laws of the shari'ah, which has foreseen all
that a society requires, and if we have political power, we will
be able to bring about the ideal Islamic society."
He added: "Everything that Ayatollah Khomeini
did, said and wrote was on this basis but when the Islamic
Republic of Iran was established, realities reared their head
much more rapidly than anyone had imagined so that Ayatollah
Khomeini himself acknowledged that the fiqh that was
current in seminaries did not suffice and Sa'id Hajjarian
[reformist Iranian thinker], too, rightly wrote that a system of
rule by a faqih that emphasized the element of expediency
only opened the way to a secular society."
According to Dr. Soroush, the question that needs
to be asked is: Does the state make society religious or is it
society that makes the state religious?
He added: "The Iranian state may be the first
ever case of a state that intends to make society religious. But
the fact of the matter is that it is neither desirable nor
possible for a state to make a society religious, because faith
is not amenable to force and because the use of force is not the
best way to present faith."
Dr. Soroush said that no-one had a religious duty
to force others to become Muslims, adding: "Governments can make
people pay taxes but they will never be able to breathe faith in
God and the Prophet into people's hearts. Faith is made of the
same fabric as love and love cannot be created by force."
Moral freedom and religiosity
"I know that what I'm telling you does not agree
with what you've read," Dr. Soroush remarked and, addressing the
Muslims in the audience, he spoke about life in non-Muslim
societies, saying: "Today, 19 million Muslims live in Europe. Is
it their duty to return to their homelands or to live their
lives where they are and to try to remain Muslims and to strive
to spread justice?"
Dr. Soroush added: "A Muslim has a duty to fight
injustice, not necessarily to take power. Hence if you use
normal and rational methods and spread justice where you are,
you will have performed your religious duty in a most excellent
Dr. Soroush, a philosophy professor who has been
barred from teaching in Iran, answered his own question about
Muslims living in non-Muslim societies by saying: "Moral freedom
is equivalent to religiosity and it was Imam Hussein's
injunction that people should be pious or be free."
Dr. Soroush said that attempts to establish
utopian states were facing redoubled difficulties in view of the
fact that they coincided with the information explosion and the
collapse of the ideological states of the eastern bloc.
He added: "Now, public opinion and the public's
demands are undeniable realities that states cannot ignore. This
is exactly where the lacuna lies in all of fiqh's
"Mebah-Yazdi is neither a faqih nor a
In the concluding part of his speech, Dr. Soroush
said that the big error made by the rulers in Iran's religious
state was that "they are uniquely concerned about laws and
precepts and their implementation and they attach little value
and have scant affinity to morality." And, reacting to people
who seek to bring about a perfect Islamic society, he said:
"Don't pursue this unattainable quest."
The Iranian-Islamic thinker also said: "The law
cannot do what morality is able to do. But, when faqihs
came to power, they tried to use laws to take people to religion
and make them pious. It goes without saying that no state can
determine a society's morality and it is clear that morality
strides ahead of the law. The law contains a minimum of morality
but society needs more than this."
After the speech, a member of the audience
referred to Ayatollah Mebah-Yazdi and his students' remarks
about the unimportance of the people's opinions and votes, and
asked: "Don't you think that, in these circumstances, it is
idealistic of you to be speaking about an ideal Islamic
Dr. Soroush replied: "States have a duty to make
it possible for people to lead a moral life and the ideal
society that we have in mind is a pluralistic, moral society. As
it happens, Mr. Mesbah-Yazdi is neither a faqih nor a
political philosopher and the things that he is saying lag
behind even what Mr. Khomeini was saying in Najaf."