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The Emergence of a Modern Intellectual Climate and the Change in the Ideological Scene: 1988-1996

Jalaei pour, H. R. The Iranian Islamic Revolution: Mass Mobilization and its Continuity during 1976-96, PhD. Dissertation, Royal Holloway, University of London, 1997

Chapter 6

The Causes of the Challenges inside the Mobilizer Core after the War 1988-96

Section 3

The Emergence of a Modern Intellectual Climate and the Change in the Ideological Scene: 1988-1996

Another change which occurred during this period is a potentially fundamental one in the intellectual climate, particularly amongst the religiously oriented educated networks. The most notable issues under consideration in the new climate are: what are the roots of modernity; what are the causes of the intellectual crisis in Iran; how is the pattern of development in societies under transition; who is the relationship between religion and ideology, religion and politics, state and civic society, and development and democracy; religious pluralism; and the question of identity (i.e. issues involving the national, Islamic and universal identities of Iranians at the end of 20th century). These issues are under consideration by a new generation of modern Islamic intellectuals, both liberal and radical, through media, round-tables, scientific lectures at the universities and religious gatherings, and articles in scientific journals. More importantly, an unprecedented debate has began between a new generation of religious and secular intellectuals on these issues. In contrast to the previous record of intellectual activities in Iran, which was overwhelmed by ideological clashes, this new climate is indicative of the formation of a more open intellectual arena and perhaps a sort of Islamic pluralism.(1)

An important consequence of this new intellectual climate is a fundamental change in the ideological and conceptual commitments of the religiously oriented educated networks. In this new climate, the educated, with due regard to the experiences of two decades of the ideological nature of the Iranian society, over this period, prefer to assess and analyse rather than sanctify the concepts of religious ideology and Islamic government, which constituted the dominant norm during the first decade of the revolution. During this evolution, a number of intellectuals became known, of whom Dr. Abdolkarim Soroush is the most distinguished. The prominence given to Soroush among the new Islamic intellectuals in this study is due to several factors. Soroush`s thought has deeply influenced a large segment of the religious educated network who themselves form a major component of the mobilising core. This depth and scope of influence is comparable with that of Dr Shari’ati, with the distinction that Sha ri’ati was theoretician of a religious revolution, whereas Soroush theorises on the formation of a religious and political pluralism in the religious (and revolutionary) society of Iran. Moreover, Soroush`s view is a product of an Islamic intellectual struggle during the last two decades, where a generation of Islamic oriented educated individuals were involved in the revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In other words, he has actively witnessed the Islamic ‘ideological sealing’ which has influenced the hearts and minds of the young generation in the country, and he is closely familiar with the internal conditions of the mobilising core. Therefore, in this chapter, it is necessary to expand on the life and intellectual activities of Soroush and then to describe the focal points of his thinking which have so influenced the Islamic intellectual climate. In so doing, I will also expand on the opposition of the traditional right faction to Soroush and also the emergence of the newly founded Ansar-e Hezbollah group, [and newly born radical tendency (chap-e jadido al- veladeh)].


3.1 The Character, Life, Intellectual Activities and the Focal Points of Soroush`s Thoughts.

Dr Soroush is a multidimensional character, and this has enabled him to influence the religious educated and intellectuals even more. He is a deeply religious man. He is also pious and conscientious in the performance of religious rites. According to him, such observance is a protective shell encircling the essence of religion, and the essence itself is composed of religious, mystical and ethical leanings. Thirdly, he is well acquainted both with the primary Islamic sources such as the Quran, Nahjol-al Balaghe-h, Sahife-ye Sajjadiyyeh and also Persian cultural sources including the works of Rumi, Hafez and Sa’di. He is proficient in Islamic philosophy and he is well versed in the latest issues in the study of the enlightenment, modern philosophy, epistemology and the philosophy of human sciences. A good memory, probing intellect, creativity and systematic activity are among his attributes. Moreover, his speech is attractive and calm and his writing is authoritat ive. Unlike Marx or Shari'ati, Soroush`s intention is not to change the world through revolutions but to recognise, through a rational critical approach, the complexities of religious life in modern times. Nevertheless he has the revolutionary boldness to challenge the sanctity of official religious interpretations and their custodians, the clergy, and to bravely resist and engage the pressures arising from a clergy-led incitement of religious people. Fifth, Soroush is an author, a university professor and a powerful religious orator. Above all, he is a modern Islamic revivalist at the end of the 20th century. His principal concern is the protection of religion at a time of the universal hegemony of modern civilisation. Yet, he does not initiate his defense of religion by a dismissal of modern civilisation. He also does not intend to secularise religion through its adaptation to the affairs of the modern world. Rather by marking the celestial and eternal position of religion, albeit distinct and limited, he i s determined to secularise society and government. In the following pages, the formation of this multidimensional character is examined both in regard to his continuous and personal efforts as a youngster, his family upbringing, education, and intellectual influences on the one hand, and the major socio-political development of his life on the other.


3.1.1. The life and intellectual influences of Soroush

Hosein Haj-Faraj, who later chose Abdolkarim Soroush as his name, was born in a lower middle class family in a religious neighbourhood of southern Teheran in 1945. Both his father, a traditional chemist, and his house-wife mother were deeply religious. He spent seven years at the Islamic primary school before moving to the newly founded Alavi modern religious school for five years of further education. At the Alavi high school, he was much influenced by the head master, the late Mr. Reza Rozbeh. Rozbeh was a self-made and self-restraining man, knowledgeable in physics and mathematics. He also paid particular attention to the education of his youngsters. Soroush was not a first-rate student in high school. However, his self-respect, and intellectual abilities were exceptional among all the other students. It was during this period that he reinforced his knowledge of Arabic literature, the Quran, and the interpretation of Rumi`s work.

After high school, Soroush studied pharmacy at Teheran University. Apart from the university course work, he also became familiar with the thinking of the Islamic philosophers, like Ay Mottahari. After the opening of Hoseiniyyeh Ershad, he regularly attended Dr. Shari’ati`s lectures. Later, when Shari’ati passed away in London, he was among those who performed the ablution of the deceased. During this period the student activists and graduates of Alavi high school were attracted to two organizational trends in their extra-curricular activities. The more religious and conservative usually joined the ‘Peyvand’ grouping which was among the organizational cells of the anti-Baha`i association. Soroush refused to join this group and instead chose to study the interpretation of the Quran. The second group was the under the influence of units of the Organization of the People`s Mojahedin of Iran. Soroush also refused to join this group although high ranking members of the organization, including Ha ssan Alad-poush and Montazer al-Zohour had been amongst his friends. Soroush`s views on the Mojahedin organization were indirectly hinted at in his book Who is Able to Struggle? which was published later in London and Tehran in 1978. After receiving his doctorate in pharmacy from Teheran University and later performing his military service, Soroush left Iran for the UK to concentrate on his study of modern philosophy. In London he studied analytical chemistry and rational philosophy at the University of London, Chelsea College, for a period of 5 years before returning to Iran at the outset of the revolution.(2) Soroush`s later works indicate that during his studies, he was much influenced by the ‘rational-critical philosophy’ of Kant and, much like Popper, he criticized the absolutist philosophy which was so deeply rooted in Hegel's legacy. Among other western and Islamic thinkers whose influences are visible in his works are Mohammad Qazali, Rumi, Hafez, Mollah Sadra, Eqbal Lahouri, Jamal al- Din-e Asadabadi (al-Afghani), Fayez-e Kashani, Alame-h Tabataba`i, Morteza Motahhari, Ali Shari’ati and Mehdi Bazargan, Popper, Weber, Marx, and Weinch. Yet his loyalty to their ideas is not absolute, and criticism of their works abound in his writings. Among the Iranian intellectuals, he in known an activist student of Popper and in some circles, he is considered as one of the most prominent commentators on his work.(3)


3.1.2 Intellectual achievements of Soroush

The fruits of Soroush`s intellectual activity first began to appear in the second half of 1970s. Much like Shari’ati, these were initially in the form of speeches which were taped, reproduced, and distributed by his students. However, unlike Shari'ati, Soroush was able to edit these carefully before distribution. From the mid 1970s, when the leaders of the Mojaheddin organization explicitly accepted Marxism as a scientific method of struggle and underlined the scientific value of dialectics, Soroush began a series of lectures under the headings of Philosophy of Science, Dialectical Conflict and Who is Able to Struggle?. These lectures were mostly addressed to the Islamic Iranian students living abroad. Relying on a number of prominent philosophers of science, Soroush argued that theories and scientific methods are not suitable tools for exploring a school of thought or world view in their totalities, and scientific methods are more exact than multi- dimensional dialectical methods in this endeavour. During the same period and with due attention to the captivating concept of movement in the Marxist ideology, he wrote a book titled The Volatile Nature of the Universe, introduced the younger generation to the fundamental thoughts of the great Islamic philosopher, Molla Sadra, on the intrinsic and substantive motions of existence. Hosein Haj Faraj, or Abdo al-Karim Soroush, became a much talked about personality amongst the religious educated from this time onward.

After his return to Iran and in the leftist/Marxist climate of universities during the revolution, he embarked on a series of lectures against ideological Marxism under the heading of Masked Dogmatism.. These lectures were later published as a book titled Satanic Ideology. During the same period, he commenced a series of discussions titled A Method For the Critique of Thoughts where by he enumerated the particularities of scientific, philosophical, non-scientific, non-philosophical, and normative thoughts and asked his audiences to refrain from amalgamating their principles with each other. He also began university courses on the subjects of Philosophy of History and Philosophy of Knowledge and published two other books under the titles of What is Science and is Philosophy? and Knowledge and Values. In all these efforts, Soroush strove to mark distinctly the boundaries of philosophy, science, and values, and in line with Popper`s notions in his book The Poverty of Historicism, to intellectually challenge unscientific and absolutist concepts, widely propagated (in Iran) as scientific thoughts and philosophy, on society, humanity and history. Alongside his discussions of the study of epistemology, he also began a series of commentaries on the mystical poetry of Rumi at the instigation of National Radio and TV network (which were discontinued later on the advice of Imam Khomeini, because of pressure from traditionalist quarters). Thus, during this period, Soroush`s important activities were confined to the introduction of the concepts of epistemology in Iran and an intellectual campaign against the (in his view) misguided teachings of Marxism and the People`s Mojahedin Organization, and not against the political clergy who were actively engaged in forming the structure of the Islamic state. Importantly, rather than supporting or approving the theoretical foundations of the new political system he trie d to bolster the intellectual abilities of the religiously oriented students through the presentation of criteria in scientific values, and philosophical ideas.(4) Soroush was appointed by Imam Khomeini as a member of the Cultural Revolution Committee after the closure of the universities where the entire higher education system, including the curriculum contents, were to be reassessed. However, he resigned from his post after four years despite the fact that the position was regarded in high esteem by the religiously educated networks, again devoting his time to research and teaching.

From this time onwards, which coincided with the institutionalization of the Islamic Republic, the prime focus of his activities was directed at what was in his view a distorted use of religion. Before the end of war and until the demise of the Imam, Soroush did not disclose his thoughts explicitly. He was mainly concerned with teaching the philosophy of science, the philosophy of social sciences, the interpretation of Rumi`s poetry in the universities and the Society of Metaphysics and Philosophy (Anjoman-e Hekmat va Falsafe-h). He had also been teaching the ‘new theology’ in the seminaries of the holy city of Qum from 1985 onwards and had been giving lessons on Nahjol Balaqe-h in Aqdasiyyeh Mosque in north Tehran every Friday evening during which he reread and reinterpreted the religious concepts, like reliance (tavakkol), patience (sabr), contentment (qena’at), and abstinence (zohd),..., which had so often been misunderstood. These lessons were b roadcast live on National Radio but were discontinued after the demise of Imam Khomeini. Contrary to the traditional methods, Soroush, in his interpretations, defended Islamic values for their humane nature and indirectly argued that in Iranian society, despite its Islamic government, humane Islamic values could come under threat of religious despotism as well. His audience at the Aqdasiyyeh mosque were generally postgraduate students and a number of high ranking state officials.(5) The influence of these sermons on the students is only comparable with that of Shari’ati`s Hoseiniyyeh-Ershad lectures.

During the war, Soroush`s main disagreement with the clergy centred around two issues. The first was his defence of the independent nature of the social sciences from that of the classical knowledge which was taught in the seminaries. During the period of the cultural revolution, the traditional right tendency had maintained that Islam was a complete and all-encompassing religion, and by its nature, shaped both society and mankind; hence, social sciences, including sociology, psychology and economics, which deal with human and societal affairs, should be rooted in seminaries and not in secular and western-oriented universities. In this climate, Soroush, through the use of the modern analytical approach, defended the independent validity of the social sciences as widely understood in reputable learning academies throughout the world. The result of this clash with the traditional tendency was published as a book intitled God`s Recreations (tafarroj-e son’a).(6) The second disp ute with the clergy arose during the latter days of the war, when Soroush began to compile his arguments as articles under the title of The Theoretical Expansion and Contraction of Religious Knowledge.`(7) These articles were first published in the state affiliated Keyhan-e Farhangi Magazine. After the refusal of Keyhan to continue their publication, a number of its editors left and founded, with personal investments, the Kian Magazine. Soroush`s articles have been published in Kian constantly. During the war, Soroush phrased his arguments in indirect and highly intellectual and technical terms. The resulting quarrels were confined to a limited number of the religious educated and theology students of the Qum seminaries; hence their reflections were not nation-wide and the reactions of the traditional right tendency were as yet muted. After the end of the war- i.e. the period under consideration in this chapter- and in particular after the attempts by the traditional right tendency and their supporters, under the banner of Islam, to seize the entire power of the state and to demand the citizens`conformity, rather than to uphold their rights against its coercion, Soroush began to express his thoughts explicitly through university speeches which were usually attended by over a thousand students. These views directly challenged the theoretical foundations of the ideologies of both the traditional and political clergy (or Eslam-e Feqahati). Due to the far reaching impact of this part of Soroush`s activities on the intellectual climate of the country, in the following section, we expand on his main ideas which, directly assess the `ideological situation` of the religious educated networks.


3.1.3.The theory of expansion and contraction of religious knowledge

In a series of articles, Soroush attempted to express his theory of expansion and contraction of religious knowledge. The assumptions and suppositions of this theory might at first seem simple but their impact on the religious society of Iran, in which clergy play a prominent role in both political and social domains, are quite profound. The basic tenets of this theory can be summarised in the following five principles. First, Islamic sciences do not intrinsically differ from other human sciences. Both are attempts by mankind to understand events through the application of concepts, theories and specific methods. For instance, natural and religious sciences seek to define nature and religion respectively. Second, human sciences are continuously evolving due to new developments in theories, suppositions, methods and their content and religious sciences are not excluded from this general rule. Third, just as transformations in various domains of human sciences affect each other, they also have an impact on religious sciences and vice versa. In other words, natural sciences are indispensable for religious scholars and their transformation has an indirect impact on the understanding of scholars of religion. This is so in the fields of philosophy of religion, history of religion, sociology and anthropology of religions, economics and politic. Fourth, religion, in its essence, is sacred, real, and absolute. However the knowledge of a religious scholar is not celestial but rather temporal and all the inaccuracies that confront the scholars of other fields in understanding their domains, also threaten the understanding of religious scholars. Religion is complete in its essence, but religious sciences are expanding and contracting continually. Finally, the identity and evaluation criteria of various fields are not dependent on a single person but on a combination of methods and criteria which scholars have come to agree upon. Religious sciences are not an exception to this general rule and in the scientific domains, individual emulation do not exist.(8)

In short, the implication of this theory for the religious educated network, which had been deeply influenced by the clergy since 1980, were as follows: for a thorough understanding of Islam, the Shi’ite jurists are in need of the philosophical and scientific domains and cannot claim to be the true interpreters of religion; Islam is celestial but the clergy are similar to other scholars in that they too are imperfect; the determination of the validity and veracity of Islamic sciences are not confined to single individuals rather to a ‘consensus’ among scholars. Soroush consistently argues that no single group has a monopoly; and finally, scholars, cleric or lay, complement one another and enjoy parity in their analyses of spiritual affairs. On the basis of his extraction and contraction theory, Soroush dismissed the prevailing view on the inherent primacy of the clergy in understanding religion, and positions the study of Islam, despite its celestial content, alongside other disciplines and even in a position of reciprocal need of them. His denial of the individual juristic authority in the understanding of religion prepares the ground for the establishment of intellectual and ideological pluralism in the intellectual spheres of Iranian society.(9) According to him, the understanding of religious truth is a collective affair and does not confine itself to a single individual or sect.


3.1.4.The critique of the theory of maximal religion

Soroush`s views on religion are not limited to the previous enumerations. A fundamental question proposed by Soroush concerns the expectations of the new generation from religion. He argues that the question has not received a suitable answer from the political clergy. They perceive religion as a complete order encompassing the entire enlightenment and knowledge and as an answer to the entire spiritual and temporal needs of mankind. They also seek from it the cure for social and humanistic tribulations in religious thinking.(10) Soroush calls this the theory of maximal religion. In turn he defends his minimal religion theory, where according to him, religion has descended to that minimum which in spite of developments in sciences and philosophy, mankind still needs. Soroush asserts that the advent of the prophets was not to construct a particular society, state or science and their calls for were irrespective of types of society, be they agrarian or industrial, tradition or modern.

In his challenge to the maximal theory, Soroush does not point to the thousands of questions to which religion has not provided answers to; rather, he believes that the question of mankind`s expectations from religion are, first, an open-ended issue, which scholars of each historical epoch confront and are not able to find single answers to, and secondly, the answer should not be sought in religion`s inner disciplines (such as religious jurisprudence) but requires the assistance of such sciences as philosophy of religion, history of religion, sociology of religion, and so forth.(11) In so doing, Soroush aims to familiarise the religious society of Iran, which is under the propaganda of the maximal theory, with new issues and arguments.


3.1.5.The critique of ideological religion.

The maximal theory of religion is directly related to ideologization of religion. In a number of writings, Soroush defends his definitions of religion and ideology by a critique of their meanings as put forward by a number of prominent intellectuals including Marx. He believes that six reasons prevent religion from being categorised in an ideological manner. First, as God has never presented religion as an ideology, religious texts are generally uncoordinated. Second, religion is an ineffable and bewildering domain and the clarity, precision, and popularity that exist in ideology are not visible in religion. Third, ideology is a garment for a particular society and a particular period but the aims of religion are not place/time dependent. Fourth, ideology is a theory of the revolutionary era whereas religion is for the institutionalization period (time of political stability) as well. Fifth, when religion takes on an ideological form, at its pinnacle, it is reduced to the levels of Islamic jurisprudence (feqh), and overlooks the essence of religion, which is what the mystics succeeded in arriving at. Finally, for the faithful, religion is a scale, a light, a rope, a ladder,... Unlike what ideology provides, these are all orientations.(12) According to Soroush: "Ideological thought is displeasure with string and rope and their substitution to a directional vector. However, religion does not admit this acquirement of direction or one-sidedness. The history of religion indicates that it is both a steering/hedayat and a mis-leader/zalalat, a glory/’ezzat and a lowliness/zalalat. It is up to the determination and prerogative of all Moslems to decide on how to benefit from it. Ideology aims to establish religion in such a manner and to install in it regulations and conditions which prevent it from following other than a particular road, and to allow its misuse to no particular individual, and this is tantamount to constructing an un-religious religion."(1 3)

On the basis of the above reasoning, Soroush assesses two forms of Islamic ideology in Iran. The first is the Islamic ideology of Shari’ati. He considers Shari’ati as an intellectual who introduced Shi’ite Islam to a new generation of Iranians in the form of a revolutionary ideology and constructed a powerful weapon which was taken up by the revolutionaries. (He argues that this was the result of Shari’ati`s concern for the religious society of Iran, which had become a prisoner under the Pahlavi regime). Soroush insists that after the triumph of revolution, ideology acquires its official interpreters (contrary to the views of Shari’ati, intellectuals are not interpreters in a religious society, as the task is taken up by the clergy). Official interpreters no longer allow contrasting opinions to be voiced and much like in the days of the revolution divide the society into friends-enemies and revolutionary-anti-revolutionary factions. All this contradicts the essence of the institutionalizati on of the political order in is which the state must approach all entities, regardless of their tendencies or ideological differences, equally. In other words, revolutionary Islamic ideology in a religious society is apt to appear in the form of 'Islamic juristical ideology' (Islam-e Feqahati).(14) This is the second form of ideology which Soroush criticizes. According to him:

In any event, to construct an ideological religion, in the sense I have implied, is to remove the outlines of religion from its contents; it is the obtaining of an Islamic code devoid of actuality, and jurisprudence devoid of ethics and mysticism; (and) it is the granting of sovereignty to crude and tiresome formalities and customs, over its affable and refreshing spirit and substance and the insertion of fleeting interpretation in its place; and its imprisonment in a cage of obtuse concepts; and yearning for indisputable (mohkamat) from similarities (motashabehat), and a shell without perplexity and secrets; and it is to bring out all from its chest (from art, philosophy, and industry to sovereignty, politics, nourishment, sports,..)and the employment of an official lookout as its guard; and to lean sovereignty and authority on it,... and to make numerous promises, to construct utopia, and to rip and cut and hate in its name [...]and today, juristical Islam has become an ideo logical religion, an Islam which is summed up in its jurisprudence or of which jurisprudence narrows the space for other beliefs and their standing. [Other branch of Islamic knowledge like] the ‘history’ of Islam, the ‘interpretation’ of the Quran, Islamic ‘ethics’ and ‘mysticism’ (‘erfan) is not widely supported. And they [that is Religious Jurists who govern in the each level of political system] have closed the way of adapting themselves to the modern era[...].

An awareness and knowledge which is the product of a group of sinners, if it sets itself beyond criticism, expects to resolve all macro and micro problems, and the location of intellect in its system is not clear, and everyday creates a sacred and unexceptional concept and is transformed into an inflexible, line like, and sacred apparatus from inanimate values and rules, and considers itself as the manifestation of wisdom and truth or even the measure of truth and wisdom, and emphasizes aversion and ignorance more than inclination and awareness and becomes the defender and licensor of the power and purity of a particular community, and thus it wants the arts, sciences, philosophy and literature to be the blind and deaf servants of its dogmas; it maims and deforms both the judgment (‘aql) and the report (naql) so that they fit into its mould; it puts a cover over truth for the sake of expediency; it is so interwoven with dominance and authority that it will sacrifice the trut h at the door of power and the means for the sake of the ends. Such a system of knowledge is in reality none other than an ideological system, whether it be religious knowledge or ‘scientific ideology’ or ‘Germanic science’ or ‘Zionist fascism’ or a ‘free masonic order.’ Such ideologization is harmful to science, to religion, and to religious knowledge even though it be disguised under the name of revolution, or reform or patriotism(or ommah), or(the sanctity of a) race.(15)

Therefore, in the ideological climate of a religiously oriented educated network, Soroush attempts to de-sanctity the religious ideology, arguing that it is capable of destroying the celestial spirit of religion, and to defend democratic religious rule as opposed to ideological religious government.


3.1.6.The theory of democratic religious rule

Soroush has to defend his concept of democratic religious rule against two groups; the secular proponents of the democratic political system who do not acknowledge an official role for religion in the political domain and the religious groups who do not easily accept the element of democracy in a religious state. Soroush clashes with both groups; for in each human and celestial rights are the pivotal concerns and supersede all else. Soroush believes that in a democratic secular state, human rights exceed celestial rights and the system does not concern itself with the latter for at least eight reasons: 1) God is capable of assigning his own rights; 2) tyranny against the divine is inconceivable; 3) the issue of God`s existence is disputable; 4) in the case of belief in his existence, his rights are not clearly identifiable; 5) the dismissal of inhumane religions is a human prerogative; 6) ‘to be human’ is sufficient enough to entitle an individual to certain rights, and probing into their b eliefs is inadmissible; 7) unfairness, and inequality in rights should be considered as an earthly acquirement [and not a divine creation]; 8) religious thoughts and instructions have evolved a great deal. For the above eight reasons, the separation of religion and politics is a rational endeavour in the secular democratic state.(16) In contrast with secular theory, Soroush`s democratic religious ruling theory recognises celestial rights, in addition to the concern of human rights. According to him: " The followers of religions and the faithful conceive of two points in regard to human rights. First, freedom of thought and belief are recognised as a fundamental human right, and thought is always accompanied by certitude, giving rise to decisiveness in action and it is this decisiveness which on occasions appears on the form of jihad,[…] and demands certitude in convictions [which] is not favoured by the champions of human rights […]. Second, if the democratisation of a religious state suggests the abandonment of certitude and surrender to reason which arise from disbelief or dissatisfaction with a religious society (due to the above 8 reasons), then it is unattainable […]. How can we ask the holders of certitude whether by protecting it, they should effectively remain oblivious to it and not hold it in reverence?"(17) In confronting religious groups, Soroush maintains that a religious state could be both democratic and undemocratic. This is dependent on their use of ‘collective intellect’ (‘aql-e jam’I) and also their respect for human rights, as the two fundamental requisites of democratic religious rule, and he explicitly challenges those who depict the Islamic jurist`s government, as independent of universal suffrage. Soroush argues:

In their understanding of religion, religious scholars could not remain aloof from the sciences outside religion and balance religion`s inner and outer body. On the one hand, a number of qualities ascribed to religion such as rightfulness, fairness and humaneness, […] are discovered and defended outside the domain of religion (and if we only depend on religious definitions, a vicious circle would be inevitable) and on the other hand, the reasons presented to justify the rightfulness and fairness of religion are all rational discussion [not religious-based discussion] which is crucial for the understanding of religion. […] Democratic states are states which consider ‘collective intellect’ as the referee in (all) disputes […] but the religious state ascribes this ‘refereeing’ to religion and dictatorial government to the coercion of a single individual. But as we know, religion never referees itself. It is always an interpretation of religion which referees and this interpretation is a ration al-human affair. (18)


3.1.7.In defence of religious truth and the critique of the clergy class.

In a society where clergy consider themselves to be the defenders of religion and protectors of religious truth, there is a motivation to form both clerical and religiously oriented educated networks, and attention to Soroush`s thoughts on the relationship between religious truth and the clergy becomes a necessity. Soroush`s thoughts on this subject differ fundamentally from those of other scholars. His analysis is mainly founded on such disciplines as sociology, study of the enlightenment and also the recommendations of prominent Islamic scholars. Soroush`s initial discussion begins with the criteria which identify the clergy class. In his opinion, virtue, abstinence, sanctity, study of Islamic jurisprudence and the wearing of clerical attire are not the essential yardstick, that being the manner of sustenance. Anyone who sustains himself through the propagation of religion, whether he is clothed in a clerical attire or not, belongs to the clerical class. Soroush`s second point appears in relation to the manner of sustenance of clergy. He believes that when defense of a truth (i.e. defense of a religious truth) is accompanied by financial benefits, then the possibility of its subversion in favour of financial gains increases. Therefore, it is crucial that the defense of religious truth, which is the wish of all the faithful, does not remain only in the clergy`s domain, in particular, as the clergy are sustained through the propagation of religion. In the religiously oriented intellectual climate of Iran, Soroush forcefully insists that "religion should remain for religion, not for financial gains, not (for) political power, not (for) social prestige."(19)


3.1.8.Soroush`s view of the west and modern civilization.

For over four decades, an anti-western tendency has enjoyed a prominent position in the intellectual-political arena in Iran. Consequently, Soroush`s thinking on the west is of extreme importance. His approach to the subject of the developed world or western civilization is not an ideological one. This approach distinguishes him from the western-oriented intellect of Taqizade-h; the antagonism of Al-e Ahmad or militant and political clergy who epitomize the West either by its colonial history or by moral decay. Rather he is concerned with a form of ’West-studies.’ Secondly, his concern with West-studies is not confined to the symbols of modern civilization, such as industrial production, but rather concentrates on its foundations which are rooted in its philosophy, sciences, and ethics. Thirdly, Soroush neither accepts nor rejects modern civilisation in its entirely. He also does not see an inherent relationship between its various components such as humanism and modern sciences or liberalism and industry.(20) Fourthly, Soroush considers the ‘enlightenment’ as the most prominent architect of modern civilization and writes:

[...] first, that organic cohesion amongst the components of modernism which has been claimed by absolutists, has never been provided with empirical or theoretical support. It is a serious claim that modern organs could work only within a modern system, and it is an even more serious claim that modern organs share this commonality that they are all a product of western modern society and are befitting of it. Further, they do not fit any other society and are not compatible with it. The remarkable thing is that no suitable answer has been offered for these claims. Yes, there is an articulate union (ittehad-e ta`lifi) amongst the components of modern society and its elements are fully related, and throughout history, they have become intertwined in such a manner that they have created a meaningful text together.[...] Yes, modern science is also an offspring of modernity and western modern civilization but it is inherently different from other offsprings. This offspring is one which im mediately after birth, left his mother`s embrace and much like Jesus, cast his message on all friendly and foreign communities. If not a single component or element of the modern world falls within our culture, religion or domestic identity, if modern civility, values, arts, and the industry of foreigners disturb and confuse our identity, new science, of course, does not destroy us.(21)

In the anti-western climate of the religious educated network, Soroush thus invites his audience to the study of the fundamental principles of modern civilization, like science and philosophy


3.1.9.The prophetic calls, secularism, and antipathy towards the government of divine claim.

As with the issue of the West, Soroush`s thinking is also much concerned with the subject of secularism. This is mostly due to the fact that anti-secularism has been a wide spread affair amongst not only the clergy but also the religious educated network. Sorouch goes behind the normal meaning of secularism i.e separation of church and state; for him secularism originates in an intellectual movement against those who claim "God given authority." For justification, Soroush tries to provide explanations for two questions: which are the fundamental calls of religions and the fundamental origins of secularism? For him, the primary element of the calls of the prophets is that mankind should not claim divinity on earth but be servants of God and not of his servants; the primary focus of the secularist trend is nothing but a scientific, rational and social approach in confronting those who claim divinity and legitimacy on earth.(22) According to Soroush: in the arena of religion, we are not permitted to perform a certain act and that is to rule as the Divine with all its privileges. [...] We have a primary duty and that is to be his `servants.` Therefore, the place of the faithful is between the repudiation of that right of (divinity) and the proof of this duty (to be a servant). [...]In simple terms, reign and directorship are not the manifestations of truth and not the reign of God fulfilled on earth. In order to enter the arena of human affairs, mankind should consider itself as human and not God. Those who do not want to stop acting as God should go to heaven. Those who are on earth are all human and should act in their human capacities. In the modern world, government and the ruler are duty-bound creatures of the universe and are never considered as the manifestations of truth. And the masses will not remain faithful to their generosity and nobility but will demand their rights from them.(23)

Therefore, Soroush, in the religious climate of Iran where the term secular has a strong anti-religious and occidental connotation, and where if it is branded on an intellectual, it defames him accordingly, attempts to present the relationship between religion and secularism as against religious dictatorship and to defend secular management for its role in social life.


3.2. The Reaction of the Clergy and Emergence of the Ansar-e Hezbollah

The de-sanctification of the religious state and religious knowledge were not issues on which the clergy in general, street hezbollah, and the traditional right clergy in particular, could remain silent. At least two reactions against Soroush may be discussed here. One includes opposition to Soroush by a number of high-ranking clergy from the seminary schools e.g Ay Makarem Shirazi and also by Ay Khamenei who at times indirectly chastised Soroush through his speeches. As a result of this opposition, Soroush`s radio programmes were stopped, all references to him on the National Radio and TV networks were deleted and since 1995, he has not been given the opportunity to continue his speeches at Aqdasiyyeh Mosque in. Despite all these obstructions and the spread of rumours about his personal character, Soroush, with the blessing of his followers, who insist on the continuation of his work, has continued his activities through occasional presentations of his thoughts at universities and t he publication of articles in Kian magazine. The second reaction has materialised in the form of prevention and disruption of his University speeches during the two years 1995-96. In the latest events, this form of opposition to Soroush has declared its existence under the name of Ansar-e Hezbollah. This group is supported by the traditional right tendency and Ay Jannati in particular, a member of the Guardian Council. It has announced that its members include hezbollah, basij, veteran combatants of the Iran-Iraq war, and the protectors of ‘martyrs` right. It also considers Soroush as a liberal and has disrupted his speeches. In the meantime, Soroush has continued to address his audiences through published material.(24) In order to present a better picture of the reactions of the traditional right tendency and Ansar-e Hezbollah group, the study of Soroush`s response to the accusation made against him by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is linked to the former group, is necessary.(25) Neverth eless, the thoughts and speeches of Soroush, which generally have been carried out through the efforts of the Islamic Student Association, have meant that this association is no longer an active component of the mobilizer core.


3.3 Soroush`s Thinking and the Religious Educated Networks

Despite all the pressure on Soroush by the clergy and dependent-clergy circles, his thinking has influenced the religious educated network for nine reasons, and disturbed the ideological climate surrounding this network. These include: 1) as mentioned before, Soroush is a deeply religious and abstinent individual; hence accusations from the religious circles are of less consequence. However if he was not so, his influence on the educated network would have been inconsequential. 2) Soroush`s intellect, in contrast to Shari’ati`s, is not merely based on sociology. His deep knowledge of Islamic philosophy and Islamic sources have given him a rational framework which could not easily be opposed by the clergy; 3) Soroush examines the most fundamental and vital questions of Iranian society, that is the relationship between religion and philosophy, science, ethics, politics and development. These issues address the structural causes of development and preoccupy the intellectual. In contrast, the traditional clergy often repeat the old issues of the revolution, that is the Islamic jurist ideology; 5) Soroush is well able to present the compelling intellectual issues in Western and Islamic philosophy in a clear language, hence his audiences often leave his lectures satisfied; 6) Soroush has trained a number of outstanding students who have been influential in spreading his thoughts in the entire Iranian higher education system; 7) a large segment of Soroush`s audience are the revolutionary element of that period and rarely retreat from their position under pressure from the traditional right faction. The same element also manages the Serat publication centre and Kian magazine, two centres which have been highly effective in the spread of his thoughts; 8) a number of state officials are amongst his audiences and admirers. These include members of the present government who have refused to support the actions of the traditional right tendency; 9) a large segment of the radical and modern right fact ions who have been forced out of office also support Soroush.(26) Thus, despite the reaction of the conservative clergy of the traditional right, Soroush has up to now been able to publish his thoughts and through this, the number of religiously educated individuals not familiar with his name or thoughts, are few.


1 For an introduction to the intellectual climate and issues of this period, one should refer to the printed media. Over 400 newspapers, magazines, and monthly, quarterly and annual journals were printed during this period. The most distinguished, critical and popular are, Iran-e Farda, Kian, Negah-e nou, Kelk, Ettela’at Siyasi-Eqtesadi, Goftegou, Arqnoun, Kayhan Farhangi[...]. Amongst newspapers, the most prominent are Salam, Hamshahri, Iran, Akhbar. Resalat, the organ of the traditional right tendency has a circulation of 5 thousand while Salam`s is over 70,000. Amongst the weeklies, the most prominent are Asre-Ma, and Bahman. For the latest and most independent analysis of the media in Iran during this period, see Ezzatollah Sahabi, editor of Iran-e Farda (a prominent figure in the Nehzat Azadi of Iran), CIRA conferences, Coventry, 1996.

Importantly, the themes of the magazines published inside Iran and outside in Europe and America, are similar. For a comparison see; Iran-Shenasi, Iran Nameh, Cheshm Andaz, KandoKav,[...].

2 The information on Soroush's life was gathered in an interview with Ali Sadeqi Tehrani in London on 1st April 1996. Mr. Sadeqi is from the Teheran neighborhood of Soroush and was his schoolmate in high school. His contact with Dr. Sorush has lasted until now. Sadeqi served as a Deputy Foreign Minister and Iranian Ambassador to the UN after the revolution. He is a faculty member of the Economics Department of the Allameh Tabataba`ei University in Teheran. He is presently defending his Ph.D Thesis at Exeter University in England. The title of his Thesis is The Economic Institutions of the Prophecy of Medina.

3 In one of his works, where he rarely speaks of himself, he discusses the impact of four Islamic thinkers on his own thought: "Asfar-e Arba’e-ye Aqliy-e of Sader al-Din Shirazi (Molla Sadra), al-Mohjjato al-biyza` of Mohsen Feiz-e Kashani, the Masnavi of Jallal al-Din Rumi Balkhi, and Divan of Khaje-h Shams al-Din-e Mohammad Hafez-e Shirazi. He says: "the first was nourishment for my intellect and the other three were nourishments for my soul/heart." A. Soroush, Qesseye Arbabe Ma'refat (Teheran: Serat, 1994), pp. 21-22.

4 Interview with Ali Sadeqi Tehrani.

5 Such personalities as the Minister of Health, Dr. Fazel; Minister of Finance and Economy, Dr. Nourbakhsh; Parliament Deputy, Attari;[...]were among his audiences, ibid.

6 See A. Soroush, Tafarroj-e Son`e [God`s Creations] (Teheran: Soroush, 1987).

7 See A. Soroush, Bast va Qabz-e Teoriye Ma'arefat-e Dini

(Teheran: Serat, 1991).

8 For a critique of the "Expansion and Contraction" articles, see articles by Sadeq Larijani, a cleric from Qum who ceased his published critical assessment of Soroush`s work after 1991. See Kian, No. 2-9, 1991-93.

9 The refutation of the concept of the individual jurist in religious thinking during the period under investigation is a highly sensitive issue. In Islamic juristic ideology, a number of managers and youths believe that the sphere of influence of the source of emulation has also grown in the intellectual sphere. In other words, it is the opinion of the source of emulation which determines the validity of a thought, in particular in the sphere of social affairs. This line of thinking is still upheld by the traditional right tendency and the Ansar-e Hezbollah. For an introduction to this concept, see Sobh weekly, No. 29, Nov. 1995 and No 30, Nov. 1995.

10 The confirmation of the absolutist religious theory has been visible in the thinking of a great majority of political clergy during the last two decades. For instance; see the booklet Our Stans (see Ch.5, note 72) which was published under the direction of Ay Beheshti; also the announcement of the Society of the Masters of Qum seminary. In their last announcements on the elections to the 5th parliament, the society asks people to vote for those who believe in the "comprehensiveness of religion in resolving all the issues of mankind". For the latest pronouncement of this view see the speech by Ay Khamenei in Mashhad. In this speech he emphasizes that "only Islam will solve the problems of this country and nation", Resalat, 25. March. 1996.


11 For an introduction to the minimalist religion theory refer to tapes of speeches by Dr. Soroush under the title of "What could we expect from religion?", in Aqdasiyyeh Mosque, 1989, Teheran. The tapes of these speeches in this Mosque up to 1995 are sold at the Teheran office of Serat publications; also see A. Soroush "Bast va Qabs-e, ma'refat-e Dini."

12 A. Soroush, Farbeh-tar az Edeolozhi, pp. 125-130.

13 Ibid, P.130.

14 For an introduction to Soroush`s view on religion, ideological religion, and religious ideology see A. Soroush "Farbeh-tar az Edeolozhi [More Comprehensive Than Ideology], Kian, No. 14, Sept 1996, pp. 2-20; A. Sourush "Edeolozhi Dini va Din-e Eideolozhik [Religious Ideology and Ideological Religion]", Kian, No. 14, Dec-Jan 1993, pp. 24-28; A. Soroush "Shari’ati va Jame’e Shenasi-ye Din" [Shari’ati and the Sociology of Religion], Kian, No. 13, July-Aug 1993, pp. 2-12; A. Soroush "Khedmat va Hasanat-e Din" [Services and Virtues of Religion], Kian, No. 27, Oct-Nov 1995, pp. 2-16. Also for a critique of Soroush's view's on religion and ideology see; Jahangir Salehpour, "Naqdi bar Nazariey-e "Farbeh-tar az Ideolozhy" [A Critique on the More Comprehensive than Ideology Theory]", Kian, No. 15, pp. 17-49; A. Tavassoli, "Mafhoum-e Jame’-h Shenasiy-e Din-e Ediolozhic" [Sociological Meaning of the Ideologiza tion of Religion], same issue, P. 28-35; Jahangir Salehpour, "Din-e Asri dar Asr-e Ideology" [Worldly Religion in the Era of Ideology] Kian, No. 18, April-May 1994, pp. 36-41.

15 A. Soroush, "Edeolozhi Dini va Din-e Edeolozhik", p.26.

16 Ibid; A. Soroush, "Hokoumat-e Democratik-e Dini", in Farbeh-tar as Ideolozhy, pp. 274-276.

17 Ibid, pp. 277-278.

18 Ibid, pp. 279-289; also see A. Soroush, "Modara va Modiriyyat-e Mo`emenane-h" [Tolerance and the Management of the Faithful] Kian, No. 21, Aug-Sept 1994, p.120. For an introduction to the articles for and against the theory of "Religious Democratic Ruling" see; Hasan Usefi Eshkevari, "Paradox-e Eslam va Demokrasi"[The Paradox of Islam and Democracy], Kian, No. 21, 1995, pp. 25-29; Majid Mohammedi, "Ghosl-e Ta’mid-e Sekularism ya Nejat-e Din" [the Baptism of Secularism or the Rescue of Religion], Kian, No. 21, 1995, pp.30-34; Jahangir-e Salehpour, "Din-e Demokratik-e Hokoumati"[Religious Democratic Government], Kian, No. 20, July-Aug 1994,pp.6-11; Seyyed Mohammed Saqafi, "Eslam va Siyasat dar dou Didgah-e Nafyi va Ethbati"[Islam and Politics in Two Views of Refutation and Proof], Kian, No. 25, May-June 1995, pp. 22-29; Sa’id Barzin, "Hokoumat-e Qanouni va Demokrasi"[The Government of Law and Democracy], Kian, No. 22, Nov-Dec 1994, pp.1 7-25, Alavitabar, "Hakamiyyat-e Mardom dar Jamme’e-ye Dindaran"(The Sovereignty of People in the Society of Faithful), Kian, No. 22, pp.26-29; Seyyed Hasan Amin, "Hakamiyyat va Hokoumat dar Feqh-e Shi’eh va Sunni" [Sovereignty and Government in Shi’ite and Sunni Jurisprudence], Kian, No. 24, April-May 1995, pp.24-32.

19 See A. Soroush, "Horriyyat va Rohaniyyat"[Liberty and Clergy], Kian, No. 24, April-May 1995, pp. 2-11. For an introduction to the objections of Ayatollah Motahhari`s son to Soroush`s view`s on the clergy and Soroush`s defense of his theory, see Ali Motahhari, "Ostad Motahhari va Hal-e Moshkelat-e Sazman-e Rohaniyyat"[Master Motahhari and the Solution of the Problems of the Clergy Organization), Kian, No. 25, June-July 1995, pp.12-15; A. Soroush, "Saqf-e Ma’eishat Bar Sotoun-e Shari’at"[The Limits of Earning a Living on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence], Kian, No. 26, Aug-Sept 1995, pp.25-31.

20 See A. Soroush, "Ma’refat-e Mo’alefey-e Momtaz-e Modernite-h"[Knowledge: the Primary and Prominent Element of Modernity], Kiyan, No. 20, July-Aug 1994, P.2-5; A. Soroush, "Ma`ishat va Fazilat"(The Earning of Living and Wisdom), Kian, No. 25, June-July 1995, pp.2-11. On his views on development and modern civilization see A. Sorush, "Dar Bab-e Touse’eh Va Farhang"[On the Issues of Development and Culture], and his article "Paradox-e Ideology-e Modernism"[The Paradox of Modernist Ideology], in his book Farbeh-tar az Edeolozhi.

21 A. Soroush, "Ma’refat Mo`allef-e Momtaz-e Modernite-h," pp. 4-5.

22 A. Soroush, "Ma’na va Mabna-ye Sekiularism"[The Meanings and Foundations of Secularism], Kian, No. 26, Aug-Sept 1995, pp. 4-13.

23 Ibid, p. 10.

24 For an introduction to the views and activities of the group against Soroush see the interview with Hosein-e Allah Karam, the Ansar-e Hezbollah Group spokesman, in Resalat, 26 October 1995; Ettela'at (international), 19 October 1995. In these interviews the Ansar-e Hezbollah explicitly expresses the view that they will stop Soroush from giving speeches if he does not discuss the Islamic issue with real Islamic ulama. On the support of the members of militant clergy see Resalat, 23 October 1995, 25 March 1995; Ettela'at (international), 31 July 195, 13th Jan 1996. For the support of Ayatollah Jannati, temporary Friday prayer leader of Teheran and member of Guardian Council, from Hizbollah elements, see Jomhouri Eslami, 17th Sept 1995. On the views of Mehdi Nasiri, editor of the weekly Sobh and prominent supporter of Hezbollah, see Asre-Ma, No. 31, 27th Dec 1995. In this interview Nasiri explicitly indi cates that "I oppose the airing of opinions and the considerations of various views in society". For foreign correspondence on Ansar-e Hizbullah, see BBC 2, 28th Feb 1996, 7 pm.

25 In a part of the response, Soroush argues:

"The picture that he [the Foreign Minister] has portrayed of Dr. Soroush is a picture of a sorcerer or a prophet. A person who has neither access to radio nor television, media tribunals, mosques, Friday prayer meetings, or religious menbar; a person, who night and day, is the subject of the most hideous attacks and accusations by the same audio-visual media and is accused of espionage, incompetence, treason, free masonry, orientation toward America, liquidation, sedition, liberalism; and resembling Salman Rushdie, Kasravi, Malkom Khan[...] (and in the same words of the foreign minister), a person whose speeches are disrupted and disbanded by beating and the tearing of clothing by agitators who are then given honoraria medals; a person whose only chance and opportunity is to write and publish an article every two or three months, and then only in a technical journal with a limited circulation, and then edit these as a book (though even this has come under threat now). Is it rational to say that such a person is impairing the foundations of national unity and independence and is weakening the state and destroying the foundations of national conviction and the substance of popular belief? Then where have all those sermons, articles, films, books, magazines, newspapers and all those orators and vocal men of letters, who night and day work for the good of the state and the guidance of the masses, gone? And how is it that all their attempts to reinforce national and basic values of the masses is in vain and it is only this injured and close-mouth author [i.e Soroush], who neither has freedom of speech nor security of life (and who repeatedly has heard the threats on his life by agitators and attackers, and has also seen their threatening letters) has succeeded and has managed to blacken all affairs? God knows that not even sorcerers have such a power. Anyhow, Soroush is neither a sorcerer nor a prophet, he is only a destitute servant of the Almighty."

For the text of Dr Velayati`s speech at Emam Sadeq university, see Keyhan, 26th Dec 1995. A part of Soroush`s response which was written on 31st Dec 1995, was published in Nimrooz (London) on 5th Jan 1996. A complete text which was printed by the Islamic Student Association in Teheran university is in the possession of the author.

26 For the support of student networks, the constitutional left, and modern right see the text of a letter by over 100 cultural and political personalities to the President in opposition to disrespect towards Dr. Soroush by those who break the law and disrupt order. At the end of this open letter, the group argues that "the struggle for fundamental rights [of individuals in society] and against opposition to all of these rights are considered by us as the best road towards a dignified and honorable life in the country" See Asre-Ma, No. 20, 27 July 1995. For a declaration by various Islamic student societies in support of Dr. Soroush and in condemnation of the agitators, see Asre-Ma, No. 26, 18 October 1995. For an explicit statement of support of Soroush by Ata’o al-Lah Mohajerani, Vice-President, see Ettela'at (international), 17 Oct 1995.


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