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Criticism from Outside

Asghar Schirazi, ‘Criticism from Outside’ Chapter 16, in The Constitution of Iran, I.B.Tauris, London, New York, 1997: 277-287

There is also a category of criticism which comes from Islamic reformers who, depending on tactical or other considerations, distance themselves more or less openly from the concept of velayat-efaqib. When the author of the lead article in a i992 issue of the journal Ayeneh-e Andisheb (1) 'having first taken a survey of the consequences of guiding the revolution on the basis of feqh', concludes that this guidance is sick and suffering from historically conditioned weaknesses, and when he demands that it be replaced by people who are 'responsible and motivated by patriotic-liberal (melli) ideals and who base their thought on science', he is, in the given circumstances' clearly expressing the views of those who were once Islamicists, or may still be Islamicists, but who no longer want to have anything to do with the concept of velayat-efaqih.

Advocates of this third line of Islamic reform can be found, as groups or individuals, in various positions along the spectrum of Islamic-minded intellectuals among the laity and even the clergy. In the political arena the liberation Movement, whose critical attitude to velayat-efaqih was described at some length in Part 1, can be counted among this group. That its members have maintained their position, despite the pressure on them to conform in recent years, is confirmed by a book published in 1988 which is critical of the conception of the Islamic state contained in the notion of the absolute velayat-efaqih. The book argues that 'after the end of era of the Prophet the acts of divine communication, there are no grounds for the dominion of one group of people over another on the pretext of being God's representatives,' and that absolute velayat-efaqih is nothing but 'autocracy and religious despotism' which will destroy 'freedom, personality and independenc e'.(2)

Again in response to the declaration of the absolute velayat-e faqih the leader of Ommat, Habibollah Peiman, published a pamphlet in which he argued that :feqb with its current methods and principles cannot be reconciled with the needs of today's society.' In his view, 'the superficial changes infeqh and the more open attitude to it over the last few years have not created the necessary dynamism and cannot produce a congruence with the demands made on it.' The source of these problems, according to Peiman, lies in the fundamental world view of feqh. The theory of velayat-e faqih may indeed contribute to eliminating the long-standing obstacles feqh has placed in the way of legislation, the state and the solution of social problems, but it could also very easily become the theoretical foundation of a centralised, exploitative and capitalistic state 'in which the mass of people no longer have the legal possibility of resistance, or of expressing disagr eement and protest.' Peiman hoped that 'the right to legislation, to establishing the interests of society and to choosing the trustees who regulate public affairs be concentrated completely in the hands of the people.' To this end, it would be necessary to declare the whole of existing feqh with its foundations, ordinances and principles invalid.(3)

Radical criticism outside the circle of the ruling clergy is carried on by a large number of other Islamic intellectuals, amongst whom two draw the greatest amount of attention: Mohammad Moitahed Shabestari, a theologian who is a member of the clergy, and the layman 'Abdolkarim Soroush who is a professor of philosophy. The ideas of both men are available in numerous publications. Since they represent the position of the third group of reformers most clearly, a brief description of the key points of their ideas, in so far as they affect the debate we are examining, is in order.

Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari

Shabestari, whose articles usually appeared in the periodical Kayhan-e Farhangi, argues that although religion and the state have been merged in the Islamic Republic, legislation is totally devoid of any theoretical foundation. Resolutions passed on the basis of the rules of Zarurat and maslahat are merely reactive. The religious academics are not in a position to conduct a serious discussion about, for example, what they understand by the concepts 'ownership', 'employment' and 'exploitation'. Not only have they paid no attention to these problems; they do not even allow discussion of them.(4) Moreover, the issues which have arisen in the Islamic Republic are not of a juristic kind and can only be resolved if they are discussed in the context of anthropology, theology and sociology. What must be aimed for is that 'in our religious culture' new views 'on the social transformation of people' be expressed and accepted.(5)

This goal cannot be achieved unless account is taken of modern philosophy and the modern sciences, and the information which they have made available. Such information serves the purpose of acquiring knowledge of the laws that govern social processes. Knowledge of this kind is necessary if we are to set ourselves the task of drawing up plans for regulating the social fife of human beings.(6)

From this standpoint Shabestari criticises the particular understanding of Islam current in the religious academies which displays no connection with the modern sciences, especially not with the human sciences. Since the Koran and the message proclaimed by the Prophet can only be properly understood today with reference to the sciences, it is necessary to question the interpretations laid down by the academics. As products of a human understanding of religion that is ignorant of the modern sciences, fatvas issued on this basis are devoid of any claim to sacredness. Nofatva imposes a religiously binding duty on people. As a collection of fatvas, feqh represents the product of the theoretical work carried out by jurists and therefore, like every other intellectual discipline, must be seen as a human endeavour. To describe the products of such endeavour, with all its limits of time and place and its fallibility, as ordinances of the shaiia and to take them to be unc hanging, would be not only to attribute something to religion that is alien to its nature but also to help stagnation prevail over Islamic societies.(7)

Another critical feature in Shabestari's thought which runs counter to the official interpretation of Islam is his historically oriented view of the mmands and prohibitions contained in the Koran and the sunna. These are contingent phenomena which correspond to the political and social conditions of the time in which they were proclaimed. They cannot therefore be understood as absolute and timeless. Only the 'fundamental values' (osul-e arzeshi) laid down by God and the Prophet possess that character, and they must be applied in concrete terms by Muslims in every day and age in accordance with the prevailing conditions of life. To maintain that the statements of the Prophet have a binding character for all people until the Day of judgement, is to proceed on the basis of theological, philosophical and aesthetic considerations which are not necessarily correct.(8)

Shabestari has also contested the interpretation that the jurists give to the proposition that Islam is perfect, thus simultaneously contesting the legitimating foundations of velayat-efaqih. The perfection of religion does not mean that it has an answer to every question. It means simply that God has expressed what He wished to communicate to man in perfect form. The notion that statements are to be found in the Koran and the sunna concerning everything that occurs in politics and economics, will only lead people into error. 'Religion does not wish to replace science and technology, and lay claim to the place of reason ... God has only offered answers for some of the needs of human beings. As for other needs, He has left it to reason and human effort to supply the answer.' Furthermore, it would be false to want measure the perfection of religion in terms of human needs. That would tobe an attempt to define the content of religion by means of man, more specifically by means of man's needs.(9)

Shabestari also questions the assertion that God has a legislative function. God only establishes values, not laws. 'Eternal divine mercy only requires the determination of the direction of human resolutions and measures, and not the determination of laws ... The primary reason for sending the prophets was to proclaim truths and lay down eternal values, not to make laws.' This is confirmed by the fact that most Islamic laws were borrowed from moral practices and habits, as well as the customary law, current amongst the Arabs at the time of Mohammed. 'The sacred precinct which people are forbidden to enter concerns values and not the determination of individual cases affected by those values or their specific realisation in changing social circumstances.(10)

Following close behind the negation of God's legislative function is the negation of this function in connection with the Islamic jurists. According to Shabestari the jurists have only two functions: establishing fundamental Islamic values in politics and economics, and determining whether or not in a given society laws, regulations and political decisions correspond to these values. Moreover, since such judgements are of a human character, they do not possess any binding force. The people are free to compare them with the opinion of experts on politics and economics and make their own choice.(11)

The logical conclusion that Shabestari draws from these considerations is that Islam has not provided any particular system of government for regulating man's political and social life. 'According to the teaching of the Koran, it is not consistent with the dignity of religion to define the forms and methods of governing the state.' Religion only determines the relevant values, which include justice. What is important in determining the form of the state from the standpoint of religion is the exclusion of contradictions to the values religion has postulated. It cannot be said of any government system that it automatically corresponds to certain standards. No one can claim to make Islam a reality or create an Islamic constitution. What is correct is to work for a constitution that does not disagree with Islam. 'If the people, on the basis of their own experience and knowledge, come to the conclusion that a form of government based on elections and a system of councils will better guarantee ju stice, then religious duty clearly lies in the creation of a system based on these principles.'(12) Shabestari goes so far as to declare that the values anchored in the Koran and the sunna have no predetermined definitions. Rather, they represent universal and abstract formulations which in every new case must be checked and interpreted with regard to the concrete capabilities, needs, realities and possibilities of the people involved.(13)

Similarly, Shabestari denies the assertion made by the proponents of velayate faqih that political actions, including the founding of a state, are a religious duty or a form of worship. Instead, such actions are for every person a right or a practical measure (tadbir). People who cite Koranic verses and the sunna to assert that founding a state is a religious commandment both confuse different concepts in these sources, and interpret their meaning erroneously.

The identity of religion and politics does not mean that a political action is [necessarily] one in conformity with the sharia undertaken for the purpose of achieving a closer relationship with God. Rather, such is the case when an action aims at creating and leading a good life which, if the action then pursues the above mentioned purpose, will lead to attaining satisfaction and God's love.(14)

Shabestari questions the validity of another of the claims of the jurists, namely to a monopoly over the process of forming opinions in matters of religion and law. Anyone who has acquired the appropriate knowledge can practice ejtehad. No one can make a monopoly of the right to express opinions on whether a government system, a law or a government policy is or is not congruent with the fundamental values of religion. Ejtehad is not susceptible to a monopoly because the knowledge acquired through it is human knowledge. No one has the right to impose his understanding of the law on others or to forbid others from discussing alternative interpretations of the law. Since all opinions possess the same worth, space in Muslim society for thought and discussion of fundamental values, government systems, laws and politics must be kept open for everyone. Such space will offer the possibility of observing and controlling how the jurists deal with the law.(15) Since the fundamental polit ical values recognised by Islam do not represent 'truths based on the sharia', the interpretation of these values and the decision about whether a particular political system is in agreement with them is a matter for all people. The matter depends on the level of political development of the people, and on the technological and political information available to them. 'Although the religious scholars can and must lead this general cultural and intellectual process, the acceptance of such a form of leadership cannot be equated with imitadon.(16)

The last of Shabestari's ideas we should take note of here concerns the distortion which, in his view, the religious institutions create in humankind's relationship with God. They are responsible, on the one hand, for the reificadon of God and, on the other, for restricting human freedom and self-reliance. However, since these institutions cannot be removed from the world, they must constantly be subjected to a process of purification." Shabestari considers denying the jurists' claim to a monopoly over judging religious questions as a useful way of accomplishing this.(18)

Abdolkarim Soroush

The ideas of Soroush come from even further outside the established frameworks of religious thought. A layman who works within the university system, Soroush has made the 'lords' in the academies the target of his freeranging irreverent remarks. In recent years he has drawn attention to himself particularly through a critique he published in Kayban-e Farhangi under the title 'Theoretical Contraction and Expansion of the Shari'a' or 'A Theory of the Development of Religious Knowledge', which later appeared in expanded form as a book with the first of these titles. In this book he argues that, firstly, on the basis of epistemological considerations, religious knowledge is dependent on the development of knowledge in general. Consequently, religious knowledge must be described as changeable and as endowed with a worldly and human character. Being utterly devoid of sacredness, it is obliged to adapt itself to the development of the sciences. Secondly, he poses fundamental questi ons about the validity and the use of feqh. Thirdly, from this relativisation of the knowledge cultivated in the academies, he derives certain political conclusions which lead to the demand that 'a religiousdemocratic state' replace the regime based on velayat-efaqih.

The intended audience for this epistemologically constructed criticism of the understanding of the Islam the foqaha have declared sacred is in part the jurists themselves, whom Soroush tries to win over to the view that their religious rulings are human, and in part the jurists' supporters, particularly amongst students and government functionaries. He appeals to the latter to give up their imitation of authority and encourages them to think independently and carry out their own research on religious questions. For whatever reasons, Soroush is concerned to emphasise that he is not out to reform religion, or to clarify how people conceive of religion, how this conception is transformed, and why the reform of religion is bound to remain incomplete as long as insight into these processes is lacking.(19)

The starting point for Soroush's critique of the conception of Islam put forward by the academies, in other words for the reform of Islam, is the assertion that such reform is chiefly a matter of establishing what is changeable and what is not changeable over time. By this method, which he has not always applied consistently, Soroush comes to the conclusion that religion itself is an unchanging entity, whereas the religious sciences are subject to constant transformation. Religion is characterised by its lack of contradiction, freedom from doubt, perfection, sacredness, unchangeablity, divinity, and so on, whereas the religious sciences are continually subject to change, contradictions, disunity and depend on the other sciences. Indeed, they have no access to revelation and are products of human effort.(20)

According to Soroush, the connection between the religious and the nonreligious sciences is of the same nature as that between the non-religious sciences in general. They are all in a state of flux. When a transformation takes place in one part of the stormy sea of the human sciences, the wave it creates sets the whole sea in motion." By this Soroush does not, as his critics maintain, wish to give the impression that truth is a relative matter. On the contrary, in his view this constant process of transformation moves in a forward and cumulative direction.

According to Soroush, the connection between the sciences appears in different forms. These include:

1. Connections based on common methods, so that methodological transformation in one discipline entails transformation in the others.

2. Connections between the productive disciplines like mathematics, philosophy and the fundamental medical disciplines on the one hand, and the consumer-oriented disciplines like medicine, law and Koranic exegesis on the other.

3. Connections based on dialogue between the sciences, so that they ask questions and receive answers from one another.(22)

Apart from these forms of connection between the various scientific disciplines, Soroush distinguishes four special forms of connection between the religious and the non-religious sciences which can be summarised as follows:

1. Non-religious sciences ask the religious sciences questions which have a present-day relevance, and demand answers which must correspond to the present and the state of today's non-religious sciences. Because of the increase and differentiation of such questions, the shaiia has the opportunity to manifest itself more effectively.

2. The transformation of the non-religious sciences necessitates the transformation of the religious sciences in harmony with the former. The correct understanding of the sharia cannot deviate from a correct understanding of nature. In this case, the non-religious sciences become the judge over religious understanding and eliminate a false understanding of religion.

3. The non-religious sciences produce processes of transformation in the shaiia, while they provide new definitions of the concepts which have entered into the shari'a during its transformation. Man's conception of the sun in the eleventh century, by which God swears an oath, is quite different from that of people in our century.

4. The non-religious sciences influence the expectations which people have of religion, so that science's transformation entails the transformation of human expectations of religion.

In the development of the non-religious sciences, Soroush sees a source for the development of the religious sciences and therefore for their drawing closer to the truth. A better knowledge of the cosmos, in his view, leads to a better knowledge of God and the Prophet. The most important point, however, is that, as the religious sciences develop, precise knowledge of what is unchanging in religion increases.(23) Soroush energetically contests the notion that the development of the non-religious sciences could affect the kernel of religion or bring it into doubt.

On the basis of his epistemological approach, Soroush, as already mentioned, draws two concrete conclusions which have a direct bearing on the conception of Islam represented by the religious academies. Firstly, this conception is not consistent with the requirements imposed on religion by the modern sciences, and secondly the religious authorities are not in a position to meet these requirements because they have inadequate knowledge of the modern sciences. 'The religious knowledge of our clergy is basically restricted to fqh ... Their knowledge of other subjects is quantitatively and qualitatively small. Therefore, it is no wonder that they equate Islam with feqh or characterise feqh as the most important of the Islamic sciences.'(24)

For Soroush no error is as serious as reducing Islam tofeqh. This is not simply the result of the clergy's narrow-mindedness but also comes from their wish to be 'a source of imitation' and to exercise undisputed rule over others. 'What thefoqaha's form of Islam today suggests is that the substance of religion can be reduced to imitation and feqh. There is no place for a dialogue between the imitator and the imitated, but only format, on the one hand, and imitation, on the other'.(25) In an essay which he wrote in honour of Abu Hamed Ghazali and Molla Mohsen Feiz Kashani (two prominent theologians from the eleventh and seventeenth centuries respectively),(28) Soroush articulates his opinion of the jurists by quoting their words:

jurists who reduce research in religion to knowledge of feqh ... especially that group of jurists who only concern themselves with the offences (khelafiya4 dealt with in feqh and pay no attention to anything but disputes, suppressing their opponents and boasting victory over their enemies ... and take pleasure in exposing the misdeeds and the weaknesses of their fellow-men, were fiercely derided and scolded by Ghazali and Feiz Kashani and deemed to be afflicted with arrogance and intellectual opacity. Ghazali referred to the second group in particular as 'beasts of prey amongst men' because their effort was directed to strife and their nature tended towards tormenting other persons.

In another passage, Soroush quotes Ghazah where the latter speaks of jurists as people who have ceased to struggle against their own shortcomings and instead are ever urging others to do so. It is the same with.

... that wretched student of feqb who has fallen prey to love of the world, passion, hypocrisy, envy, arrogance and other deadly character traits and who will probably leave this world before repenting and thus come face to face with the wrath of God. None the less, he has dropped everything else and turned to studying the ordinances which deal with advance sales, leases, ritual purification, criminal punishments, blood-money, lodging complaints, witnesses and the book on menstruation.(27)

In a lecture at the University of Isfahan, Soroush attacked the jurists directly and accused them of vulgarity, hypocrisy and hunger for power. He reminded his audience that in the classical critical literature of Iran the hunger for power of the jurists and their craving for pleasure have always been the object of reproach. And he entreated his listeners to reflect on the negative effects of the religious academies' access to political power: 'One of the consequences has been that they now speak the language of power and have abandoned the language of logic.'(28)

For Soroush the reduction of religion to no more than feqh is also an offence because under the Islamic Republic the jurists have used it as a weapon to suppress the diversity of religious thought that prevailed before the revolution. 'Before the revolution one could find no trace of emphasis on the legal aspects of Islam in the writings, in the ideas or in the lectures of our thinkers.' The concepts 'Islam based onfeqh' or 'Islam of the resaleh' were unknown. Formerly the anthropological and cosmological aspects of Islam, along with certain mystical ideas, were dominant. Islam 'based on research' had the upper hand, whereas today the Islam of imitation prevaiIs.(29) Soroush also denies the sacredness which the jurists are pleased to attribute to their discipline and its products. This he denies from his epistemological viewpoint and often in a biting language. He demands that the academies declare that their syllabus has been created by human beings and is therefore whol ly devoid of any sacredness.(30) The law they teach is not only devoid of sacredness but also lacks the capacity to guide society. Creating order and stability, solving or helping solve problems, eliminating difficulties - these are capacities feqh possesses in the context of simple and undifferentiated societies that have few needs. In societies in which 'the conception of another pattern of life, another strand of social interaction and new needs' was not even possible, in which 'the regular patterns affecting social life, the market, the family, professions and the state had not yet been discovered, one might assume that problems could be solved by means of the ordinances of feqh and the skill of the jurists.' But today can anyone deny 'that feqh is not in a position to clear away the dust that is raised by industry, trade and obscure international political relations?' Can anyone maintain that all the problems in the world are of a legal nature? Consequently, one cannot expect them to be res olved byte. Today's world has need of experts, scientists, managers and organisers of leisure to solve its problems, not jurists.

Nevertheless, Soroush does concede certain tasks to feqb and the jurists, but these he formulates in rather vague terms. The task of feqh today consists in ascertaining values, 'defining the boundaries in the field of human endeavour beyond which humankind must not step. Everything else is a matter for science.' For example, when traffic regulations are drawn up, feqh has the right to declare that they should not violate the legitimate right to ownership, but it is not its task to draft the actual regulations. (31)

Soroush does not attach any importance to the ideas produced in the academies for solving the current problems of religion. Ejtehad is also ineffective in this respect, the contemporary stagnation of feqh being a clear proof of this. Along with Shabestari, he believes that the problems lie much deeper, in the views of man and the world held by the religious authorities, and that they cannot be solved until those views are renovated through adaptation to the modern sciences.(32)

Soroush's criticism of the jurists also contains a clear appeal to his public to recognise their own potential as experts in the modern sciences, to value their own capacity and right to be leaders of the state and not to allow their relation with the jurists to be determined by imitation.

Your task is firstly to inform the 'ulanra about the serious problems of the day, and secondly to engage in a critical dialogue with them ... Have no doubts about it! As long as you are simply imitators, you will not be able to move the 'ulapia to educate themselves about matters outside the realm of feqb.(33)

Soroush's criticism of feqb and the jurists indicates the position he holds on the political ambitions they cherish. Indeed he has recently advocated a form of government he calls 'religious democracy'. However, his inclination to political liberalism was visible earlier in his sympathy for the liberal philosopher Karl Popper. In one of his articles inspired by sapire aude (dare to know), according to Kant the most important motto of the Enlightenment, Soroush devotes his attention to 'studying the liberal school from its beginning to the present day' in such a way that makes clear his admiration of this school. At the same time he maintains that 'no believer can be a liberal' because there are values which a believer cannot doubt and which cannot be the object of investigation. Nevertheless, 'liberalisation of the economy and the state in the sense of renouncing the absolute concentration of power and information, and understood as abandoning totalitarian itatisme, i s a matter which can also be talked about and discussed in a religious society.' This has nothing to do with philosophical liberalism but is based on scientific considerations which are in harmony with the fundamental principles of the shari'a.(34)

In 1992, Soroush read a paper entitled 'A Religious Democratic State?' in a seminar on the theme 'Human Rights Between Universality and Cultural Determinism' organised by the German Oriental Institute of Hamburg.(34) He bases his answer to the question of whether a religious democratic state can exist on his epistemological approach to the religious sciences. Since all forms of the democratic state are based on reason ('aql):

the religious democratic state means rendering flexible the conception of religion by emphasising the role of reason in that conception; however, [we do not mean] individual reason but social reason, which is the product of the participation of everyone and the result of the experience of humanity.

According to Soroush, the application of reason to the conception of religion is justified because the latter, in contrast to religion itself, is itself the product of reason, in particular of social reason.

Democratic states are those which allow social reason to judge controversies, and they see the solution to problems in it. Religious states reserve this judgement for religion, and dictatorial states reserve it for individual violence. But as we know, it is never religion itself that judges but a particular conception of religion, and this conception is a matter of reason.

Building on this consideration, Soroush comes to the conclusion that the democratisation of a religious state is possible. To achieve this it is not necessary to abandon religious faith. Democratic religious states, by way of being religious, make religion their leader and their judge when resolving their conflicts and problems. So that they can be democratic, they make their conception of religion based on ejtebad more flexible to bring it into harmony with reason. 'In this manner, liberalism is denied but democracy, based on social reason, is connected to a rational and learned faith. Thus, one of the preconditions for a religious democratic state is created.' Soroush's religious democratic state presupposes the existence of a corresponding religious society. In such a society any form of non-religious government would be undemocratic. How such a state and the society which provides that state's foundation are to come about Soroush does not say. What is perfectly clear is that in addr essing the question he originally posed, he gives two negative replies. Firstly, he denies the validity of those ideas that dispute the agreement between democracy and a state based on religion, and secondly he says no to the non-democratic religious state with which he presently finds himself confronted.

In this paper Soroush also goes into the question of the religious state's relation to human rights, in particular to freedom. He comes to the conclusion that the religious state and freedom are mutually dependent. Indeed, the legitimacy of the one stems from the respect it gives to the other. 'If humanity is a precondition for the justification of a religion, it is also a precondition for the legitimacy of the religious state. Therefore, consideration for human rights (such as justice and freedom) not only guarantees the democratic nature of a state but guarantees its religious nature as well.

Soroush expresses his deep respect for freedom in another lecture entitled 'Reason and Freedom' delivered in the spring of 1992 at Beheshti University (formerly the National University) in Tehran.(36) Here he maintains that reason and freedom are dependent on one another because reason without freedom can no longer be reason. This is the same relationship as exists between humanity and freedom. 'Just as humanity is not possible without freedom, reason cannot exist without freedom.' He enumerates the various forms of mutual interdependence of reason and freedom, and formulates them in sentences such as: 'Freedom is the precondition for the liberation of reason from ideology', 'Reason is by its nature a free zone ... if lack of freedom and constraint enter this zone, it loses its quality of reason'; 'Just as reason is nourished by reason, so freedom is nourished by freedom'; 'Discovering the errors made by reason is only possible through reason, and the elimination of the mistakes of fr eedom is only possible through freedom'; 'Freedom is the greatest right'.

Soroush's attempt to be an intermediary between religion and democracy also finds expression in his criticism of Shari'ati's conception of Islam. He accuses Shariati of ideologising Islam, which he takes to be a big mistake. Thus in a three-part lecture delivered in a mosque, he enumerated the negative epistemological, social and political characteristics and consequences peculiar to ideologies, and then, in a second step, related these to the ideologisation of Islam as Shariati had practised it.(37) In this case, Shariati obviously functions as a representative of others who have justified their claim to rule by ideologising Islam and have exercised rule while making use of all the privileges they have acquired in this manner.

The Reaction to Shabestari and Soroush

Shabestari and Soroush are treated differently by their opponents in legalist, Islamicist circles. Whereas the former seldom evokes audible reactions, the latter has been the target of attacks which are aimed at the positions represented by both men. The reason for this lies, first of all, in the rather provocative manner in which Soroush behaves, and in the way he promotes his views and treats his opponents and secondly, in all probability, to the fact that he is not a cleric. A large number of attacks on Soroush have been published in the Iranian press - sometimes several times during one week in the different newspapers and magazines that officially or semi-officially support velayat-efaqih. If he happens to give a talk somewhere, it is certain Shabe5 that a flood of responses will inundate the reading public.(38) Amongst his opponents there are such authorities as Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, the chairman of the Administrative Council of the Academy of Qom. The reproaches levelled against Soroush chiefly refer to the damage his speeches and writings cause to the authority and dignity of the clergy. He is accused of 'speaking the same language as the enemy', 'being in step with the widespread conspiracies hatched by the enemies of the clergy' and 'consciously or unconsciously' devoting most of his efforts 'to weakening the clergy'.(39) Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi considers his speech at the University of Isfahan as 'a conspiracy' and 'a large and powerful injection of poison against the academies', the Islamic sciences and 'in a certain sense against Islam itself'.(40) Occasionally, the polemic against Soroush displays a higher quality. Clerics like Sadeq Larijani, Hosein Qa'em-maqami and Ja'far Sobhani enter into what may be called a scientific dispute with him and in this way maintain the discourse on the reform of the conception of Islam.(41)

Through their attempt to free the Islamic state from the burden of the Islamic jurists and the Islamic law they champion, Shabestari, Soroush and other like-minded Islamic intellectuals have taken the most consistent steps to eliminate the obstacles that stand in the way of running the state and passing legislation. To varying degrees, their attempt has also contributed to a reconciliation of Islam and democracy. As for the practical effect of their ideas or the influence they have on Islamicists, the academics or amongst the explanation general public, this cannot be estimated with accuracy in circumstances which uncertain mcause many to adopt an attitude of secrecy (taqiyyeh) about their thought. A positive reaction to these ideas on the part of the majority in the established system of power can scarcely be expected under prevailing conditions, for such a reaction would depend on first eliminating the very conditions that guarantee their interests. On the other hand, it would not b e justifiable to link the question of the ultimate effect of these ideas to the future development of the Islamic state, because the efforts to reform Islam and its relation countering to the state must continue even if the Islamic state ceases to exist. Soroush himself, though he rejects the ideologisation of Islam, makes this mistake in accomplish clinging to the idea of an Islamic, albeit a democratic, state. As already mentioned, he explains that the democratic state must be Islamic because the underlying society is Islamic. What he does not explain is why this society, which allegedly is thoroughly Islamic, has the desire to impose on itself an Islamic state.


1. Ayeneh-e -Andisheb : Nos 6/7, 1992. 32

2. Nehzat-e Azadi: 1988, PP. 145 and 150

3 1988, PP. 9, 13 f., 17 and 25

4 See his interview in HowZeh, NO. 42 (1990), P. I09.

5 Shabestari: I987-9o, No. 1 (1987), P. ii and No. 2 (1989), p.15.

6 Ibid., No. 2 (1989).

7 Ibid., No. 6 (1987), NO. 2 (1989); 'Shahid Motahhari' in Kayban, II/5/86 and his interview in Aghan, 10/9/87.

8 Shabestari: 1987-9o, No. 2 (1989), p. 14 and his interview in Howzeh, NO. 46 (199I), 129 f.

9 See Shabestari's interview in Howz,eh, NO. 48 (1992), P. 130 ff.; I987-9o, NO. 5 (1989), P. 14. Mohammad Saidi (1989) also put forward this view when, amongst other things, he wrote: 'If we say that religion or the Koran are perfect, we mean they are perfect in terms of the goals they pursue.'

10 Shabestari: I987-9o, NO. 2 (I989), P. 16; cf. his interview in Howzeh, NO. 42 (1991).

11 Ibid: 1987-90, NO. 5 (1989), p. 15.

12 I987-9o, NO. 4 (1989), P. 11 f.

13 Ibid, NO. 2 (I989), P. 16; and his interview in Howzeh, NO. 42 (1991).

14 Shabestari: 1987-1991, No. 2 (1991), p. 19.f. and NO. 5 (1989), P. 14.

15 Ibid. NO. 5 (1989), P. 14 f.

16 Shabestari: 1987-9o, No. 2 (1992), p. 21 f. and his interview in HowZeh, NO. 46 (199I), P. I34.

17 Shabestari: 1992, P. 70 f.

18 Shabestari: I987-9o, NO. 5 (1989), NO. 2 (1991); HowZeh, NO. 46 (1991), p. I34.

19 Soroush: 1991, p. 8 of the Foreword.

20 Soroush: 1991, Foreword, p. 6 ff.; 1992, No. 1., p. 7 ff.; 1989, NO. 4, P. 7. In this explanation Soroush avoids an attempt to define the concept 'religion'. He is obviously uncertain what ultimately remains unchangeable and where the boundaries can be drawn between religion and the religious sciences. It is this uncertainty which explains why he occasionally (ibid, 1989) equates religion with the Book, the sunna and the sharia, although the last two are not spared in his criticism.

21 Soroush: 1989, No. 5, p. 6.

22 Soroush: 1989, No. 9, p. 11

23 Soroush: 1991, No. 1, p. 13; 1989, NO. 4, P. 11 and No. 9, p. 11 f. Soroush feels that it was his merit to have explained these kinds of connections. He admitted, while countering a criticism of Peiman's (1992), that before him Shariati had discussed the connection between religious and non-religious sciences, but he believes it was his accomplishment to have worked out the connections more precisely (1992).

24 Cited here from his speech before the gathering of the members of jehad-e Daneshgahi published in kiyan, No. I (1991), p. 15.

25 Ibid.

26 Soroush: 1989a, p.12.

27 Ibid. p. 13.

28 Salam, 6/1/93.

29 Kiyan, No. 1 (1991), p. i3.

30 Ibid.

31 Soroush: 1989a, p. 38 f.

32 In an interview with the author in Tehran (6/9/92), Soroush expressed his conviction that these proposals for reform were useless. They had arisen as a reaction to external pressure and were devoid of my foundation. When students were sent abroad to study philosophy, it was not with the intention of integration new perspectives into their own conceptions and drawing out the consequences of this, but merely to indulge in polemics against philosophy. Moreover, in this conversation he criticised the lack of historical judgement on the question of ahkam in the academics. They would divest the ahkam of sacredness, if they had any notion of historical change.

33 Kiyan, no. 1, 1991, p 15

34 Soroush: 1990a, p 41

35 The complete text of the talk was published in kiyan, no. 14, 1993, and in Spektrum Iran, no. 4, 1992. Here we are quoting from Kiyan.

36 Published under the same title in Kiyan, no. 5, 1992

37 See the complete text of the lecture published in Kiyan, no. 14, 1993a.

38 In response to his lecture at the University of Isfahan in January 1993, to 14 February eleven detailed rebuttals were published in Kayhan and Resalat alone.

39 Resalat, 10/2/93

40 Salam, 6/1/93

41 We cannot here go into their writing at greater length. M. Borqe?, 1992, deals with them breifly.


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