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From Foreign Affairs, September/October 2000

By L. Carl Brown

Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam. Abdolkarim Soroush, translated and edited by Mahmoud Aadri and Ahmad Sadri. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, 236 pp. $29.95.

In 1979, Soroush became the youngest member appointed to Iran's post-revolution committee to purge and "Islamicize" Iran's universities. By the late 1980s, however, he was challenging the hard-line clerical rule in his writings and lectures, championing democracy, and calling for a synthesis of reason (or science) and Islam. For his efforts he was roughed up by thugs and forced into exile -- only to return to Iran soon after the 1997 election of the reformist President Muhammad Khatami. This selection of his writings reveals a genuinely liberal intellect rooted in Soroush's Iranian and Islamic culture but at home with Western thought, toward which he is neither aggressive nor apologetically defensive. Soroush, who has gained a following among Iranian students and even a few of the mullahs, cites the likes of Jalal al-Din Rumi, Muhammad Iqbal, Jörgen Habermas, and Alexis de Tocqueville as often as the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad. That might seem a recipe for a rambling, rootless philosophy, but his statements are penetrating and coherent. Although some observers have dubbed him the Luther of Islam, he is perhaps better seen as Islam's Erasmus, since he is carefully working within the system.

Copyright 2003 by the Council on Foreign Relations, Inc. All Rights Reserved


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