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The Right to Criticize Rulers must be Recognized

Iranian Students News Agency 9 October 2006


Addressing a students gathering organized by Sharif University’s students union, Abdulkarim Soroush said: ‘The Koran brings you the message of fear; Mowlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi brings you the message of love; and I bring you the message of courage, in the sense that you should have the courage to do away with superstitions and things that aren’t right, because you won’t become learned by pure imitation.’

When a student asked, ‘Why don’t you invite officials to feel fear and the people to feel courage?’ Dr Soroush replied: ‘I invite you to feel fear before God. Besides, they don’t listen to us very much. But whatever rank they hold, we hope that they’ll open a space and an opportunity for the people, and at least allow the people to encourage virtue and discourage vice, and to point out to them where the injustices have occurred.’

Dr Soroush said: ‘The flow of preaching from on high to down below creates a fatal deadlock in our society. We hope that this deadlock will be removed with prescience and that they’ll wholeheartedly devote themselves to serving the people and listening to their criticisms, because, if the people’s right to criticize rulers is recognized and its religious importance noted, it will set in train an auspicious movement that will rid us of social ills.’

Dr Soroush added: ‘Unfortunately, many people suffer from the delusion of repletion and imagine they have no need of our words, whereas this is exactly what has created the barriers between us. Of course, we’ve always said that some of our rulers have faults and we’ve paid the price for this. And we have to recognize that we, too, have faults and we must be exigent with ourselves; we mustn’t blame others whilst exonerating ourselves.’

Dr Soroush, who was speaking on the subject of ‘Koranic Fear’, said: ‘I believe that the Koran can be called the book of fear because there is much evidence to show that fear is one of God’s central teachings to Muslims. Fear is a frequently recurring theme in the Koran and prophets are depicted as bearers of both warnings and glad tidings, in the sense that those who benefit from the warnings are worthy of the glad tidings. First the warnings arrive and have their impact. Then, the fear-ridden audience becomes deserving of glad tidings and you experience a total revolution within your being.’

Dr Soroush said: ‘Our mystics discovered a new point in Islamic culture: that the relationship between human beings and God is one of fear and love. Fear is the most important lesson that the Koran teaches. It prepares you to face God in a particular way. It is through this same fear that human beings can heal themselves.’

Dr Soroush said: ‘Fear is a fright that is combined with shame and it can be called a kind of loving defeat. Fear is a state of being whereby you feel reduced to nothing before God’s grandeur. Self-knowledge is achieved to the utmost degree; you recognize the fundamental limits of your being and sense that you are a segment of God’s grandeur.’

Dr Soroush also said: ‘The gist of my message is that sorrow and fear are depicted in the most effective way in the Koran. Of course, mystics found that there was another key to conquering the peaks which was the key of love. And, as the inheritors of both these things, we must value both fear and love.’

Responding to a student’s question, Dr Soroush said: ‘No sect within Islam is opposed to the fear within Islam; the differences arise over loving God.’

Dr Soroush also said: ‘The truth of religion is that we must prepare ourselves for encountering the limitless. Whether the encounter is rational or mystical, this is the task of believers: a fateful encounter, although the bulk of the people can’t bear to encounter the limitless.’

Explaining the notion of fear, Dr Soroush said: ‘Invite the limitless into your being, like a shadow that wants to embrace the light; the result is the destruction of the shadow. Don’t let them prevent you from moving towards the limitless be it in the name of irreligion or religion.’

Responding to a question from a student who described fear as a bitter truth, Dr Soroush said: ‘My main aim is to explain that fear is not because God is frightening but because of the lover’s surrender and submission to the Beloved, and the future belongs to love. Fear means that I, the limited creature, feel that I’m limitless.’

Dr Soroush also said: ‘Atheistic existentialists don’t approve of the encounter between the limitless and the limited and they say that this leads to the destruction of the limited. For this one moral reason, they believe that God must be abandoned because belief makes human beings humble and servile and servility is a reprehensible thing.’

In response to another question, Dr Soroush said: ‘The Koran is an exceptional, different and amazing book; a civilization-founding book, which has created this great civilization.’

Another student asked whether mystical sorrow was the same as a lover’s joy. Dr Soroush replied: ‘Some people experience mystical sorrow and others experience a lover’s joy; fortunate are those in whom this sorrow and joy is combined.’

Dr Soroush also said: ‘There are two ways of arriving at fear; one is to focus on the vices and virtues like Al-Ghazzali did and to drive away the vices and implant the virtues in your heart. The other is to do what Rumi did and to spend time with and become the companion of someone who has these characteristics.’


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