Dr Abdulkarim Soroush, presenting a
brief review of the record of religious intellectuals in Iran, has said:
From the early days of the revolution, the call for a dynamic fiqh
[Islamic jurisprudence] was raised in Iran. Although the call did not
have a very strong theoretical foundation, it was a sympathetic cry for
us to go beyond 'ijtihad [reasoned opinion on religious matters] on
secondary principles' to 'ijtihad on primary principles'.
According to ILNA's reporter, in a talk delivered after the Kumail
prayer ceremony at Abdollah Nouri's house [on 26 October], Dr Abdulkarim
Soroush enumerated the results of religious intellectuals' work and,
assessing it, said: Religious intellectuals cannot be driven off the
stage with any ploy. If some people see this label as a lie and a
contradiction in terms, let them see that this lie is a truth today and
its contradictions have been resolved.
Dr Soroush said that the opponents of religious intellectuals consisted
of two groups and added: One of them consists of 'traditional clerics',
who see any kind of religious intellectual work as heresy and a rival to
the clergy; and the other consists of 'non-religious intellectuals' who
are not keen on religion and are trying to cause anxiety with false
arguments. But the followers of the religious intellectual movement
mustn't take these comments seriously; they mustn't be misled by the
tricks of deceivers or bow down to the sneers of the scornful.
Addressing some of the [reformist] parties that were unsuccessful in the
elections and their leaders, some of whom were in the audience, Dr
Soroush said: I've heard recently that some of these friends have come
to the conclusion that, since they weren't successful in the elections,
we must return to the people's traditions, because it was out of
disregard for these traditions that we didn't win. This idea is deadly
poison for religious intellectuals and it is a losing of the way. Of
course, this is not to say that we must turn our backs to people's
traditions and popular religiosity. But if a group of people takes on
the responsibility for providing intellectual leadership, their words
and deeds must conform. Although, in our crisis-ridden society, there
are many contradictions between words and deeds, this sin is
unforgivable if it is committed by people who are providing theoretical
leadership for religious intellectuals.
Dr Soroush said: In our society, modernity is everywhere, but they're
still preaching patience, fate and destiny in the most traditional way
from our pulpits. Our friends, for their part, must bear in mind that
you cannot expect people who don't have a traditional outlook to perform
traditional rituals. Religious intellectuals must express their new
understanding of the history of religion, the imamate and the
prophethood. As long as religion has not been demystified, the problem
will remain. Hence, our sermons, talks and gatherings must be of a
Dr Soroush underlined that 'insight in terms of theory' brings 'courage
in terms of action'.
Describing religious intellectuals, he said: Religious intellectuals are
really religious; that is to say, religion is not just a research topic
for them, it is a matter of faith. For example, Mr Mohammed Arkoun is
only close to Islam as a matter of identity and he can study it and
teach it; but no element or trace of religion is left in him. He doesn't
have any attachment to religion as a matter of faith; he's only attached
to it as a subject of study.
Explaining the meaning of minimal religion, Dr Soroush remarked: Another
lesson that religious intellectuals have taught us is that we no longer
have to turn to religious texts in order to extract modernity from them.
This was one of the traps that many intellectuals fell into. But thanks
to ratiocination and fair-mindedness, religious intellectuals overcame
this error so that all the time and energy that was spent on extracting
modern politics, philosophy and science from religious texts could be
better spent. Religious intellectuals' understanding of just this one
important point is itself like a big gift to them. In the history of
Europe, too, they say that when the thinkers in the West came to the
conclusion that philosophy does not come out of religion, the Middle
Ages came to an end. For religious intellectuals, too, the Middle Ages
has come to an end in this sense.
Dr Soroush added: We've learnt from other religious intellectuals that
we mustn't burden religion with a big load. It was Muhammad Abdo who
discovered this point: that religion has come to carry a specific
burden. It must be placed in its rightful place. As Kant put it, in the
Middle Ages, when expectations of God rose, God fell and was dragged
down to earth. Religion must be rescued from this bewilderment so that
it can concentrate on its main duties.
Dr Soroush said that combating superstition was another achievement of
religious intellectuals and added: Just as Mr Kadivar said in his Id al-Fitr
sermons, this year was the year of the proliferation of superstitions.
In such circumstances, religious intellectuals have a duty to combat
these superstitions in earnest, because, at the present time and under
the present government, there is a serious movement to promote
Dr Soroush said: Of course, none of us are completely free of religious
superstitions. We must believe that the simple and magnanimous religion
that was revealed to the Prophet, peace be upon him, did not have any of
these adjuncts, and far from being an impediment and a barrier to
Muslims, it made them light and fleet-footed. Today, we must release
ourselves from these restrictions and binds so that we can tread the
path of religion with the same lightness and fleet-footedness as Muslims
in the early days of Islam.
Dr Soroush said that religious intellectuals' liberty lay in the way
they make their living and added: Without exception, the canopy of
religious intellectuals' livelihoods doesn't rest on the pillar of
religion. But, whether they like it or not, clerics are seen as
religious people who gain their livelihoods through religion. Of course,
I've paid dearly for saying this, but it's a fact, since clerics are not
defined by their piety and learning, because there are people with
little piety and little learning among the clergy.
Dr Soroush also said: Past representatives of the religious intellectual
movement have a good record in this respect. Bazargan and Shariati are
two names that come to mind. I hope that, in the future, too, religious
intellectuals will not be constrained by their material circumstances
and not lose their freedom, because this is the kernel of religious
Soroush said that one of the other teachings of religious intellectuals
was to underline the need for ijtihad on primary principles, adding:
This is not to say that ijtihad on secondary principles should be
abandoned. But ijtihad on secondary principles will not solve our
problems without ijtihad on primary principles. From the early days of
the revolution, the call for a dynamic fiqh was raised in Iran. Although
the call did not have a very strong theoretical foundation, it was a
sympathetic cry for us to go beyond ijtihad on secondary principles to
ijtihad on primary principles. This also means that the meaning of
religion is fluid. If we throw open religion's windows, we will return
to the early days of Islam when everything was fluid and nothing was
Dr Soroush remarked: Ratiocination is an important tool for
intellectuals. Of course, the meaning of ratiocination is not clear and
it is an ambiguous and shadowy creature. But we must use its products
and fruits; we must use philosophy, science and modern theology.
Ratiocination basically means being committed to reasoning and its
Dr Soroush then underlined the affirmative aspect of religious
intellectuals' work and said: Intellectual work, whether religious or
non-religious, is a critical activity but its affirmative aspect must
also be borne in mind. In addition to recognizing pitfalls and acting
negatively/critically, positive aspects must also be understood. One can
even say that the affirmative aspects are more difficult than the
negative aspects; maybe one of the reasons why this aspect receives less
attention is society's constricting atmosphere because raising any new
point about the imamate and the prophethood are considered deserving of
all manner of punishments.
Dr Soroush said: Criticism is an important element of intellectual work.
If I've described Hafez as an intellectual in the past, this is why,
because scarcely in the work of any other writer and poet is the element
of criticism so prominent. Hafez was a critic of the Sufism-ridden
society of his own day and he performed this task with the full force of
his thought and expression. This was a great task and even a great man
like Mowlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi did not equal Hafez in this respect. What
brings Hafez close to our time is the element of criticism in his
poetry. If we take away the element of criticism, the intellectual
becomes like any other scientist who only discovers truths.
Continuing his examination and assessment of religious intellectuals'
record, Dr Soroush said: Religious intellectuals' achievements as a
whole in Islam are no less than those of the Mu'tazilite movement;
religious intellectuals' work is of a similar stature.
Dr Soroush added: By virtue of their criticism of the clergy and the
state, religious intellectuals inevitably enter the arena of politics,
but it has to be borne in mind that not all problems' solutions lie in
the examination of political problems. If politics is a matter of
concern, it has only one share. The work of religious intellectuals
cannot be summed up in politics. This, too, is a false notion: that if
political power were in the hands of religious intellectuals, all
problems would be resolved. At least the experience of the Islamic
Revolution showed that, if it is in the hands of the clergy, Iran won't
become a paradise. Our problems are far more deep-seated than this.
Dr Soroush said that some criticism could be levelled at the religious
intellectual movement, adding: The work of religious intellectuals has
not turned into a tradition yet. This movement should have its own
poets, writers, artists and filmmakers; it deserves having poetry
devoted to it so that it seizes people's minds.
Dr Soroush said: A poet receives payment to reject the Contraction and
Expansion of Religious Knowledge and writes poetry to this end, but, on
the other side, our religious intellectual movement doesn't have a
recognized poet who can act as the movement's poetic voice.
Dr Soroush remarked: So far, the negative/critical aspects of religious
intellectual work has had the upper hand. Now that the atmosphere has
opened up a bit, more attention should be paid to this movement's
affirmative aspects. For how long are we going to repeat that we are
critical of the velayat-e faqih [system of rule by a cleric]? For how
long are we going to repeat that we are critical of the West? Taken to
the extreme, this turns into Westoxication, which is a political term of
Dr Soroush said that religious intellectuals' lack of attachment to the
traditional clergy was important, adding: Tradition has nothing left to
offer in an affirmative sense; our religious intellectuals must open new
Dr Soroush said that religious intellectuals' duty should be clarified
and added: For how long are religious intellectuals going to distance
themselves from secularism and ignore it? When are they going to make it
clear where they stand on liberalism? If they really don't know and are
unclear about it, they should read more. Some of our religious
intellectuals are still afraid of being called liberal or secular. These
labels are only aimed at forcing us to retreat; there's no substance in
Dr Soroush said: Let a few idle talkers call you liberal or secular. You
must carry on with your own work. I was very glad when some officials
called us liberals; we can't keep mincing our words after all.
Dr Soroush advised religious intellectuals: Religious intellectuals
should read one another's works more and speak about them whenever they
get together. I've noticed that some distinguished people level
unmerited accusations at one another which make it clear that they
haven't gone beyond reading the titles of works.
Dr Soroush added: It is very important that religious intellectuals
should be familiar with the world of Islam. Unfortunately, our
intellectuals are not familiar with Turkish, Indonesian and the other
languages of the world of Islam. And, of course, the reverse of this is
not true; they study our works a great deal. The bulk of the books of
Hossein Nasr, Dariush Shayegan and myself have been translated into
Turkish. Unfortunately, we're afflicted with the delusion of repletion
in this respect. I don't know what this stems from.
Dr Soroush said that it was important to make critical assessments of
the religious intellectuals of the past, adding: When Shariati or some
of the other distinguished figures of the religious intellectual
movement are criticized, some friends become a bit upset. Smashing idols
is one of the duties of religious intellectuals. I haven't seen anyone
criticizing the ideas of Ayatollah Taleghani. This doesn't constitute
respect for Taleghani; it is disrespect. People have lost their courage
and no one criticizes distinguished figures. Who has so far presented a
critical assessment of Allameh Tabataba'i, the biggest philosopher of
contemporary times in Iran? How many people have criticized his Tafsir
al-Mizan? This is a problem that needs to be resolved with
Dr Soroush then answered some questions from the audience and, finally,
following a request from one of those present, recited some verses from
Shams's Divan in which the cure to ill-temper was described as lying not
in dwelling on oneself but in associating with eminent figures.
Some of the people present in the audience were Ebrahim Yazdi,
secretary-general of the Freedom Movement of Iran; Musavi-Lari, a member
of the central council of the Combatant Clerics Society; Javad Eta'at,
political secretary of the National Confidence Party; Saeed Hajjarian;
Hadi Khaniki; Hamidreza Jalaeipour; Saeed Shariati; Karim Arghandepour,
a member of the central council of the Islamic Iran Participation Front;
Hassan Yusefi-Eshkevari; Mohsen Kadivar; Mohammad Bastenegar; A'zam
Taleghani; Ahmad Bourghani; Javad Mozaffar; and some of the present and
former members of the confederation of students' unions.