Friday, October 26, 2007

Religious Democracy & Theocracy

    Friday, October 26, 2007   No comments
By:Dr. Bahram Navazeni[1]


There were different sole and combined forms of government that established and continued in the course of history of human societies. For their differences in basis and sources of legitimacy, two of these forms; democracy and theocracy, have entered into a severe confrontation with each other in both domestic politics and international relations first in Europe’s Middle Ages then now in our time and each attempts hard to deny the other’s legitimacy and prepares the ground for its collapse.

Because of a long history of Iranian Muslim’s struggle against imperialism and despotism and people’s keenness for the establishment of a government based on God’s teachings in post Islamic Revolution, there established a combined form of both theocracy and democracy and this combination asserted explicitly in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This combination, being not unprecedented, has plenty of examples in the old and contemporary history of Muslims and other religious followers and also were of necessary and enough stability. People insist on implementation of Heavenly guidelines in the private and social life of the community and seek a concrete supervision on this matter.

Key Words: Government, Religious Democracy, Democracy, Theocracy


The outbreaks of the late 20th century were especially notable in light of the Western assumption that less developed countries would naturally secularize their politics and culture as they modernized their society and economy. Instead, rapidly developing Iran initiated in 11 February 1979 a religious revolution led by Imam Khomeini. Soon after, an interim government in Tehran gave way to a political form of government in early 1980 that made so many changes in its policies, the most important one was to practice the idea of Islamic Republic in which the government was to wed with religion of the Shi’ite school of Islam indissolubly.

However, there exist different and even contending conceptions as to what form actually it is. Some argue that the form of Islamic Republic is just a “theocracy”[2] and some others has recognized the “constitutional theocratic character of the system.”[3] Some argue that theocracy as “the kingdom of God on earth” has not been fully realized yet and thus prior to this full realization, theocracy can coexist with any transitory system of human government. This combined form of government is an “ecclesiocracy” that seeks to give the human religious hierarchy absolute control over the political power of a state.[4] Whereas to another one, theocracy can occur in any society where a powerful religious group or combination of religious groups has/have the decisive voice in a ruling political or judicial system.[5]

On the contrary, some believe that the Islamic Republic is just “one kind among so many democracies”[6] or “one of the most democratic states.”[7] Even the US officials who used to oppose the new Islamic system ,now admit that there are some democratic characteristics found in there.[8] There are also others who observe it as a totalitarian , an absolutist autocracy, or even “all clerical oligarchy” and call the Islamic Republic a “clerical regime.”[9]

What I am going to argue here is that on the path of “human development towards perfection” and “human felicity throughout human society”, the Islamic Republic in Iran has brought a kind of mixed or combined form of government that includes the best characteristics of various forms prescribed by “the Islamic principles and norms” and the current practices that may ensure “the active and broad participation of all segments of society in the process of social development,” as explicitly mentioned in its Constitutional Law.

Forms of Governments

Most of the key words commonly used to describe forms of governments, such as monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy, are of Greek or Roman origin. The central question of politics in all these was always the same: the distribution of power among the citizens so that freedom and happiness is best preserved and defined. Plato believed that the object of politics was virtue, and that only a few would ever thoroughly understand the science, which believed to "contemplate all truth and all existence" by which virtue could be attained and only these trained few, then, should rule. To his view the best was the form in which "kings are philosophers" or "philosophers are kings" which could be either monarchy or aristocracy but the fundamental laws of the State will be maintained. To this perfect ideal of “just and good” succeeds different forms of oligarchy, democracy, tyranny after which Plato added “some other intermediate forms of government” but all “these are nondescripts and may be found equally among Hellenes and among barbarians.[10]

But his pupil, Aristotle, gave another classification of the forms of government. To him the government “which is the supreme authority in states” could be “in the hands of one, or of a few, or of the many” and based on “the purpose of a state”, it may seek either “the common interest” or “the private interest”. Accordingly there would be three (not one) “true forms of … kingship or royalty, aristocracy … or … a constitution” and three “perversions” that are “tyranny … oligarchy, [or] … democracy.”[11] In analyzing various forms of governments of the time, Aristotle, however, came to this notion that “the whole system of government tends to be neither democracy nor oligarchy, but something in a mean between them.”[12]

This combination form of government could be seen in the monarchy of Macedonia after the battle against Sparta and Athens (338 BC) and also in Rome that emerged as the strongest state in the Mediterranean after the victory of Hannibal at Zama (202 BC). The Greek historian Polybius, who chronicled Rome’s rise, suggested that its constitution was such a success because it was a judicious blend of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. The Romans, a conservative, practical people, showed what they thought of such abstractions by speaking only of an unanalyzed "public thing"--res publica--and thus gave a new word to politics.

From then onward various combined or blend forms governments were set up every where in the world. Justinian, the greatest of the eastern Roman emperors, in the 6th century, Charlemagne, king of the Franks, in 800, in later centuries the dynasties of Hohenstaufen and Habsburg and, as late as the 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte tried to restore the empire though none were succeeded. In the 7th century the Arab Muslims defeated the first of the two great powers of the time and conquered quite many parts of the second in North Africa and Spain. Besides the strong monarchies that gradually developed almost everywhere in the world, various institutions and social classes were to fill the gap too. The church and the mosque, against enormous odds, had kept the light of religion and learning alive and spread what was left of Roman and Islamic civilization into modern city-states. Military aristocracy called nobiles in the Roman fashion and appropriated various late imperial titles such as comes (count), dux (duke) and khans have also effective powers. This dynamism in European society and elsewhere in the world prevented it from setting permanently into this or any other form and pattern even in the most characteristic governmental form of the modern world, the nation-state.

The application of the principle of parliamentary representation together with the concepts of divine, natural, and customary law as a restraint on the exercise of power besides some other fundamental occurrences of the Enlightenment and the Renaissance, the Reformation, the discovery of America and the American and French revolutions caused a new form of government known as modern democracy which is quite different from that of old Greek. The modern democracy repudiated the divine right of kings, the ascendancy of the nobility and the privileges of the Roman Catholic Church. Equality before the law was to replace the system of privileges that characterized the old regimes and judicial procedures were insisted upon to prevent abuses by the king or his administration. By destroying the monarchy, a republic was set up and its centuries-old labours were crowned. Now in the name of rationality, liberty, and equality (fraternity is not a foremost concern anymore), the nation makes the quest its own. Free election of government bodies under (eventual) universal suffrage, competition for office through organized and permanent parties, freedom of speech and the press, and the rule of law together with greater influence for the working classes, women and foreigners are common in all three basic senses of a form of government either as direct, representative or constitutional (liberal) democracy.

Theocracy, too, derived from two Greek words meaning "rule by the deity", was the name given to political regimes that claim to represent the Divine on earth both directly and immediately. Most governments throughout history and across cultures have claimed to be following their gods’ designs or to be legitimated by a divine mandate. The kings in a number of ancient civilizations had been worshipped as gods on earth so, by definition, the king could not be wrong and in a number of others the God’s prophets or theologically trained elites were the rulers on behalf of Him and rule by divine right.

As the holy books, archaeologists, and historians show, the ancient Hebrews, Tibetans, and Egyptians lived in theocracies for some of their history. Theocracies are also found within the three great heavenly faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as well as in Hinduism and Buddhism. Some examples are Jesus’ message of the dawning of “the Kingdom of God,” and not anyone else[13] or “the fulfillment on Earth of God’s will” as the central theme of Jesus’ teaching, and his expressly rejection of any collaboration with the Roman emperor,[14] the community established by the Prophet Muhammad in Medina in 622, and ruled by him until his passing away in 632,[15] the Papal States under various popes whose purpose was to manage worldwide Catholicism, fundamentalism as seen within modern Judaism of Gush Emunim and the Haredim[16], within Christianity of Jehovah’s Witnesses, within Protestant Christians of Evangelicals and some political action groups,[17] within Hindu nationalists in India, Sikh radicals in Punjab, and Buddhist militants in Sri Lanka, within Sunni Muslims in the political activities of Muslim Brotherhood. The more important one within the Shi’ite school of Islam is the Islamic Republic of Iran, during, which based upon the teachings of the Ahl-al-Beit retrieved and developed into a politically useful doctrine: the Rule of the Jurist.

Religious Democracy

The form of government in revolutionary Iran is neither a sole theocracy in which people have no say in their political destiny nor a sole democracy in which people’s vote can change every thing from the bottom to the top of the political hierarchy whenever they wish. Rather, as the official name of “the Islamic Republic” illustrates, it is a combination of all forms of government previously known especially both these two particular forms: theocracy and democracy and in some parts quite different from both sole of them, if one can find or even imagine.

The characteristic of this combined form of government and the major building block of the Islamic system in Iran, as explicitly stated in several articles of the Constitution and the spirit surrounding it, is based on two pillars. One pillar is that of inspired by Imam Khomeini’s notion of the "Absolute Rule of the Jurist" (Velayat-e Motlaqeh-e Faqih) by which the leading cleric has no limitation over society and politics and he is the one last position that can make the decisions to the benefit of all citizens. He is elected by the whole people in referendum like what happened in February 1979 that led to the leadership of Imam Khomeini or by the Assembly of Experts (the representatives of people, mostly clerics) through a popular suffrage of both sexes of 15 years and more like what happened in the nomination of Ayatollah Khamenei in June 1989. The ruling jurist is just one nominee among so many other theologians and according to Shiite tradition, is identified as the representative of the 12th Imam. The latter kind of election is similar to the election of the US president by the Electoral College.

Standing at the top of the political hierarchy as the Supreme Leader and equal with others as per the law, the ruling jurist supervises the three branches of the government. The regular armed forces, the Islamic Guards Corps, the police, and the radio and television network are under his command and he determines the direction of foreign policy and any other whole compassing or general policy. He appoints the Supreme Judges, has the power to dismiss the elected President, and selects the six jurists of the twelve-member Council of Guardians.

The second pillar is the democratic institutions that have been well incorporated in the Constitution. Under section “The Form of Government in Islam,” the preamble of the Constitution reads that the “government does not derive from the interests of a class, nor does it serve the domination of an individual or a group.” It expressly asserts that:

… Government … represents the fulfillment of the political ideal of a people who bear a common faith and common outlook, taking an organized form in order to initiate the process of intellectual and ideological evolution towards the final goal, i.e., movement towards Allah [God]. … The Constitution guarantees the rejection of all forms of intellectual and social tyranny and economic monopoly, and aims at entrusting the destinies of the people to the people themselves in order to break completely with the system of oppression. (This is in accordance with the Qur’anic verse "He removes from them their burdens of the fetters that were upon them".[18]

The Constitution devotes Chapter 5 including six articles to “the Right of National Sovereignty and the Powers Deriving there from” and explains the fact that the Iranian people have a lot say in the management of their country and how every one of them is the "master of his own social destiny." The National Sovereignty is considered a “divine right” dedicated from “Absolute sovereignty” of God “over the world and man” and should never been deprived or subordinated “to the vested interests of a particular individual or group.” (Article 56) Separation of Powers into three independent ones of legislature, judiciary, and executive “functioning under the supervision of the absolute religious Leader and the Leadership of the Ummah, in accordance with the forthcoming articles of this Constitution” has been accepted in Article 57. “Direct recourse to popular vote through a referendum,” as a function of the legislature, is also anticipated by Article 59 for cases of “extremely important economic, political, social, and cultural matters.”

The Islamic Consultative Assembly, as national assembly, is constituted by “the representatives of the people elected directly and by secret ballot (Article 62) and has the power to “establish laws on all matters” (Article 71) and has “the right to investigate and examine all the affairs of the country” (Article 76) including “a vote of confidence” or “a vote of no confidence” to the Council of Ministers (Articles 87-88) and “can interpellate” the Council of Ministers or an individual Minister or even the President. (Article 89) In this way not only the national executive power, but all local governments of provinces, cities, divisions, villages and other officials appointed by the government “must abide by all decisions taken by the councils” (Article 103) “elected by the people of the locality in question.” (Article 100)

Democratic concepts such as equality before the law, rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, freedom of belief, conscience, association, assembly and the press, secrecy of communication, recourse to the courts, respect for minority and women’s rights, economic development, and social justice are all explicitly expressed in Chapter 3 (Articles 19-43) of the Constitution and several guarantees have been given to succeed. The judiciary as “an independent power” and “the protector of the rights of the individual and society” is one of these important guarantees. Concerning status and duties of the Judiciary, Article 156 reads such:

The judiciary is … responsible for the implementation of justice, and entrusted with … investigating and passing judgement on grievances, violations of rights, and complaints; the resolution of litigation; the settling of disputes; and the taking of all necessary decisions and measures in probate matters as the law may determine; restoring public rights and promoting justice and legitimate freedoms; supervising the proper enforcement of laws; uncovering crimes; prosecuting, punishing, and chastising criminals; and enacting the penalties and provisions of the Islamic penal code; and taking suitable measures to prevent the occurrence of crime and to reform criminals.

The concept of “Velayat-e Amr va Imamat-e Mostamir (rule by the leader and the perpetual leadership),” according to the preamble of the Constitution is another such guarantees of those democratic rights in which an all qualified and trustworthy jurist, recognized as leader by the people, is to “prevent any deviation by the various organs of State from their essential Islamic duties.” Article 107 too asserts that the Jurist is an “elected” one either by recognition and acceptance “as marja’ ’’ and Leader by a decisive majority of the people” as happened for Imam Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, or “by the Assembly of Experts” which is also “elected by the people.” The Experts are to “review and consult among themselves concerning all the fuqaha’ (jurists) possessing the qualifications specified in Articles 5 and 109” namely “scholarship … in different fields of fiqh, Justice and piety … right political and social perspicacity, prudence, courage, administrative facilities and adequate capability for leadership.” (Article 109) The Article adds that “in case of multiplicity of persons fulfilling the above qualifications and conditions, the person possessing the better jurisprudential and political perspicacity will be given preference.”

It is true that the Supreme Religious Leader is at the top of the government hierarchy and can make final decisions of general policies but it is only if “in accordance with the … articles of this Constitution” (Article 57) and after consultation with the Nation’s Exigency Council that consists of the heads of the three branches and some other relative cabinet and Parliament members, all Council of Guardians members, and a few more experts (Article 112) to which some heads of different parties and political fractions are added in action. When the revision of the Constitution comes, as Article 177 expresses, some contents “are unalterable” among them “the Islamic character of the political system; the basis of all the rules and regulations according to Islamic criteria and the religious footing; … the democratic character of the government; the Velayat-e Amr the Imamate of Ummah; and the administration of the affairs of the country based on national referenda.”

In so doing, the government in Iran is quite different from dictatorship or tyranny in which one person or a small group possesses absolute power without effective constitutional limitations. The religious democracy is thus a form of government which links religion and people’s beliefs to their will and wishes. There seems no conflict in its dual legitimacy of the Islamic Republic or any juxtaposition between popular sovereignty of the president or parliament and supervision of the ruling jurist. The letter of the constitution asserts on the equality of the two pillars in order to get the goal which is virtue, happiness and as a whole the movement toward God Almighty.

In theory too, as Poul Weber has noted, “there is no reason why a theocracy and a democratic form of government are incompatible--vox populi, vox dei ("the voice of the people is the voice of God"),[19] a combination that seems possible and rational for Peter Schmid to conclude that “because Islam is compatible with both secularism and democracy, a religious democracy is in Iran’s future.[20]

The sole democracy is not the best form of government either. That is why you see different types of democratic governments in the world. Even Great Britain and the United States, nations with relatively similar cultures, politics, and economies, have developed significantly different forms of democracy. Besides, many governments today (around 140 out of 191 states) in the most parts of the world claim to be democratic in the ascendant. Numerous authoritarian and totalitarian states, notably the communist nations of the 20th century, had also adopted outwardly democratic governments that nonetheless were dominated by a single authorized party with no opposition. States with Marxist ideologies asserted that political consensus and collective ownership of the means of production (i.e., economic democracy) were sufficient to ensure that the will of the people would be carried out. Moreover, there are some elements still threatening the existence of this democracy: class conflicts muted rather than resolved, nationalism still distorted voters’ judgments in matters of foreign policy, demagogues abounded as much as they ever did in ancient Athens, and many politicians were corrupt. Furthermore democracy places high value on the freedom of the individual and generally stresses the self-directed, self-contained, and comparatively unrestrained individual or ego. This characteristic as Alexis de Tocqueville described is a kind of moderate selfishness, disposing human beings to be concerned only with their own small circle of family and friends.


It is right that in some cases (such as Egyptian nationalism,) we may find some unclear forms of government which claimed to establish a true theocratic or democratic form of government but failed to do so, or some tried to use religious rhetoric, symbolism, and values for nationalistic purposes, or religious ideals may be used to win popular support for liberation from foreign domination, from an autocratic ruling elite or to encourage economic renewal, but one can surely find some historical and contemporary examples to support a true combination of different forms of government as the Islamic Republic in Iran was a combination of such ideals and facts.

This form of Iranian government is neither a sole theocracy or ecclesiocracy nor an oligarchy either clerical or financial or military, nor a sole democracy of its any kinds but a political order between them all: the head of the state elected indirectly on a universal suffrage is not a philosopher who claims to know the truth from the false out of any way he can, but he should be a Islamist jurist prudent that obliges himself to explore the Shi’ite cannon law and seek to find the truth out of shari’a and should think and function in the interest of the whole people not himself or any particular fraction. As the people try to elect the best as their rulers, the aristocratic element is also present in this regime. There are lots of legal conditions and qualifications for people’s representatives and heads of governmental departments that only part of the well educated and qualified bureaucrats can hold the official positions. For these reasons, aristocracy, in a more objective sense, means the upper layer of a stratified group. Thus, the upper ranks of the government form - both legally and factually- the political aristocracy of the state. The principles of the constitution distribute the powers and make the government and its rulers constitutional and obliged to uphold the Constitution. This form is thus quite different from any given sole form of government.


[1] Assistant Professor & Head of the Pol. Sci. Dept., Imam Khomeini International University.

2 Ladan Boroumand, “Illusion and Reality of Civil Society in Iran: An Ideological Debate,” Social Research, Summer, 2000

[3] Jose Casanova, “Civil society and religion: retrospective reflections on Catholicism and prospective reflections on Islam,” Social Research, Winter, 2001

[4] An interpretation given in 1877 by the Christian scholar J. G. Mueller cited in Gershon Weiler, Jewish Theocracy (Leiden: Brill, 1988) p. 16 cited in Stephen Palmquist, Biblical Theocracy: A Vision Of The Biblical Foundations, 1993

[5] John M. Swomley, “Another Theocracy: the Ties that Bind, (Watch On The Right),” Humanist, Nov-Dec, 2001

[6] Mostafa Kavakebian, Democracy in System of Juristprudent (Democracy dar Nezam-e Velayat-e Faqih), (Tehran: Islamic Propaganda Organization, 1969) p. 32

[7] Radwan A. Masmoudi, “Struggles behind Words: Shariah, Sunnism, and Jihad,” SAIS Review (Summer/Fall 2001) p. 22.

[8] State Department spokesman Richard Boucher cited in Bill Samii “RFE/RL Iran Report”, Vol. 6, No. 29, 14 July 2003.

[9] H. Tabarzadi, 2 Jun 1999 “If No Action is Taken Today, Tomorrow Will be Too Late.” Open letter to the president; Saeed Rahnema, “Clerical Oligarchy and the Question of Democracy in Iran,” Monthly Review, March, 2001; Paul J. Weber, Robert Wuthnow, eds. “Theocracy,” From Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion, 2 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1998), pp. 733-735

[10] See Plato, The Republic, Translated by Benjamin Jowett, >

[11] Aristotle, Politics, Aristotle, Politics, Translated by Benjamin Jowett, Book Three, Parts VI >

[12] Aristotle, op. cit., Book 2, Part VI

[13] Mark 4:26-29

[14] Mark 12:13-17

[15] David F. Forte, “Understanding Islam and the Radicals,” 12 October 2001

[16] Weber, op. cit., pp. 733-735

[17] David C. Leege, “Divining The Electorate: Is there a religious vote? (political campaigning to obtain support by religious groups),” Commonweal 20 Oct. 2000; Mark Anderson, “Our Religious Theocracy,” >; Swomley, op. cit.,

[18] Quran 7:157

[19] Weber, op. cit., pp. 733-735

[20] Peter D. Schmid, “Expect the Unexpected: A Religious Democracy in Iran,” The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Winter/Spring 2003 – Volume IX, Issue 2, p. 181

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Democracy Rebuffed

    Tuesday, June 19, 2007   No comments

June 2007

When all other excuses failed, the Bush administration pulled the trump card: the invasion of Iraq was necessary to bring democracy to the greater Middle East. It was argued that Iraq is the first piece of domino whose fall will trigger the inevitable embrace of democracy. The ideologues who supported the military intervention in Iraq argued that democracy is a universal value that no people can resist. In his most recent State of the Union address, President Bush offered his glad tiding of a new era of democracy in the Muslim world. To support his claim, he cited the elections in Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine. He promised that other countries too will eventually embrace democracy.

In 2007, the US needed to escalate the war in Iraq and send more troops to “allow democracy to take roots there.” In Lebanon, the government is paralyzed since the resignation of six members of the cabinet after the failure to accommodate Hezbollah and its allies who won a larger number of votes in the last parliamentary elections. Just this month, the US administration expressed its serious concern over the arrest and harassment of opposition candidates who were competing for seats in the Egyptian Shura council. And more recently, the second Palestinian government in 15 months was sacked by the Palestinian president and replaced by a non-representative one.

These setbacks point to flawed logic and serious contradictions: democracy is not the universal value hungry people or peoples under occupation desire; if democracy is a universal value it should not need to be served on top of a tank; and if democracy is universal, its fruits ought to be universal too and ought to be accepted by the believers in the democratic process.

The collapse of the Palestinian democratic government must be the single most significant event since the invasion of Iraq; an event that marks the collapse of Bush’s hyped idealism and the reaffirmation of Arab dictators hyped realism.

The Palestinian election was by far the best example of transfer of authority through election the Arab world ever experienced. To paraphrase US former president Jimmy Carter, it was a fine, fair, and transparent election that brought Hamas to power and reduced the corrupt Fatah regime to its actual level of representation.

Instead of rewarding peaceful transfer of power, the US and its allies moved to disregard the will of the Palestinian people and further punish them for voting for Hamas by imposing an inhumane embargo on the people of Palestine. The Hamas-led governments never had the power to govern since Fatah and its corrupt leaders retained control over all security agencies. When Hamas asserted its authority and crushed the corrupt and useless security forces of Fatah in Gaza, the Palestinian president moved fast and dissolved the government and replaced it with an emergency one: a government whose legitimacy (per Palestinian basic law) is disputed. The EU and the US applauded the move and declared that they will resume their political and financial support to the new government.

The implication of these events is that, Abbas has ultimately joined the club of Arab rulers who disregard the will of their people and act as legislators, executives, and judiciaries by the stroke of the pen. Just like all other Arab rulers, Abbas can now dissolve governments, ignore the constitution, bypass the parliament, and manipulate the courts all in the name of emergency or martial laws. As suggested by the New York times (June 19, 2007), the US is now complicit in power grabbing since “it has essentially thrown its support behind the dismantling of a democratically elected government.” Emerging evidence points to the US involvement in creating the conditions for events of Gaza that led to the dissolution of the Palestinian Unity Government. According to the DeSoto Report, the US and other Western governments pushed for a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas for months:

“Before going on, I want to stress that, in effect, a National Unity Government with a compromise platform along the lines of Mecca might have been achieved soon after the election, in February or March 2006, had the US not let the Quartet to set impossible demands, and opposed a NUG in principle. At the time, and indeed until the Mecca Agreement a year later, the US clearly pushed for a confrontation between Fateh and Hamas so much so that, a week before Mecca, the US envoy declared twice in an envoys meeting in Washington how much I like this violence, referring to the near-civil war that was erupting in Gaza in which civilians were being regularly killed and injured, because it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas. Please remember this next time someone argues that the Mecca agreement, to the extent that it showed progress, proved that a year of pressure worked, and we should keep the isolation going. On the contrary, the same result might have been achieved much earlier without the year in between in which so much damage was done to Palestinian institutions, and so much suffering brought to the people of the occupied territory, in pursuit of a policy that didn’t work, which many of us believed from the outset wouldn’t work, and which, I have no doubt, is at best extremely short-sighted.” (Read full report)

The Western support of a temporary emergency government in the West Bank in the face of a Hamas-controlled Gaza is short-sighted. This process essentially creates parallel Palestinian governments: one existing in the name of legitimate democratic process and the other deriving its power from the unlimited political and economic support of the West. If this situation continues, the Palestinian territories might be divided into two states. If division is to be averted, that must be done through dialogue between Hamas and Fatah which will restore the unity government sponsored by the Saudis and blessed by the Arab league but shunned by the West. Alternatively, the West may arm Fatah and encourage it to invade Gaza. Should Hamas feel that Abbas is in fact moving in that direction, it will order its followers in the West Bank to turn it into a war zone. If that were to happen, it will be in fact Gaza that will be living in peace while the West Bank will be plunged into an asymmetrical civil war.

Short of any just and fair political settlement and an end to occupation, the situation may turn into a crisis. It is very unlikely that the indecisive Abbas can reach a deal with the utterly unpopular Israeli prime minister through the mediation of an overwhelmed Bush administration. When considering the fact that the peace process stalled primarily because of the status of Jewish settlements in the West Bank (now in the hands of Fatah) and the fate of Palestinian refugees, it is highly unlikely that a comprehensive deal can be reached with the combination of these political players even if the economic situation for Palestinians improves.

By supporting a parallel Palestinian government whose control over Gaza is doubtful under these circumstances, the West (1) implicitly encourages Arab leaders to continue to rule without popular mandate, (2) discredits the secondary premise under which it invaded Iraq (spread of democracy), (3) casts doubt over its commitment to representative governance in the Muslim world, (4) gives credence to the claims that the West will never allow or tolerate true democracy if such a process were to bring unfriendly forces to power. In the end, the West’s double standard feeds the Arab dictators appetite for tyranny and despotism and radicalizes the Muslim masses that would other wise play by the democratic rules. Given these developments, it is likely that, before the end of his term, President Bush will see all his democratic “experiments” (in Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine) expire.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Faith and Science: Solipsist Implications

    Tuesday, May 15, 2007   No comments

by Mohammed Golam Ahad, University of Central Florida

Abstract: For centuries throughout history, paradigm shifts caused by scientific discoveries have placed religion on the defensive pertaining to the quest for truth. Discoveries attained via the scientific method have compelled theologians to change their model of God in an attempt to legitimize it by conforming it to facts of science. However, in this paper I will assume science and religion are indeed conflicting entities. I intend to employ the philosophical doctrine of metaphysical solipsism to promote skepticism towards empiricism and logically validate faith over science.

Indisputably the most hackneyed argument for atheism is simply the scarcity of empirical evidence for the existence of God. Science, the process of attaining knowledge through repeated observation and experimentation, remain the foundation for pursuing the unfalsifiable truths of the universe for most atheists. Richard Dawkins, eminent evolutionist at Oxford University and outspoken atheist clearly summarized the dilemma between religion and science:

“Well, science is not religion and it doesn't just come down to faith. Although it has many of religion's virtues, it has none of its vices. Science is based upon verifiable evidence. Religious faith not only lacks evidence, its independence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops.” [1]

Carl Sagan, eminent Cornell astronomer, shares similar sympathies towards science and religion:

Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science? [2]

The centuries of paradigm shifts caused by scientific revolutions in history have weakened the credibility of religious doctrines. Numerous theologians, such as William Lane Craig and Zakir Naik, take the “concordist” approach towards science and religion by accepting scientific theories and accounting them to their respective God. They assume science as truth and incorporate science into their faith in an attempt to legitimize it.

In this short paper however, I intend to employ the “conflicting” approach between science and religion, considering religion as primary truth while science being secondary. The study of metaphysical solipsism places science under scrutiny. With the implementation of solipsist principles, I intend to promote skepticism towards anything observed via the scientific method.

According to British philosopher Anthony Flew, solipsism is the “The theory that I am the sole existent. To be a solipsist I must hold that I alone exist independently, and that what I ordinarily call the outside world exists only as an object or content of my consciousness.” [3] Solipsism denotes that anything observable is actually a projection of the mind. In other words, the human mind has no valid vindications for believing the existence of anything in the material universe besides itself. Anything observed are actually sensory input conjured in the human mind and does not necessarily exist, which is analogous to dreams, as Rene Descartes elucidates:

“How can you be certain that your life is not a continuous dream, and that everything you think you learn through the senses is not false now, just as much as when you are asleep? In particular, how can you have learned that you were created by a superior being who, being all-powerful, would have found it no more difficult to create us just as I am describing than you create you as you think you are? [4]

Indeed this paradox explained by Descartes provides us a reason why we shouldn’t rest our trust on empiricism in our quest for truth. Descartes incorporates three justifications for this doubt:

1.) The dream argument: The idea that perceptions may not be caused by the external world but may actually be a dream.

2.) The deceiving God argument: The contention that an omnipotent God have deceived the human mind even pertaining to areas of logic.

3.) The evil demon argument: The idea that a demon, instead of God, is deceiving the human mind.

All three arguments share a theme that external world may not be experienced directly, but rather through images that may not be true representations of it. “Unreal world” solipsism questions the rational grounds upon which we perceive the things we perceive are real rather than unreal. Hence, since science is based on data attained from our senses, metaphysical solipsism undermines the truthfulness of the laws of the sciences since our perceptions have potential to fool us.

In conclusion, I believe that the presumed incompatibility between science and religion is a logically invalid reason to undermine religion and change our model of God. Metaphysical solipsism, as explained earlier in this paper, logically imposes the potential deception of the scientific method.


[1] Richard Dawkins, “Is Science a Religion,” Humanist (Feb. 1997)

[2] Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark (Ballatine Books, 1997)

[3] Antony Flew, A Dictionary of Philosophy, (St. Martin’s Press, 1979)

[4] Rene Descartes, The Search for Truth in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, Vol. 2, (Cambridge University Press, 1984)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Torture for Interests: The Denial of Human Dignity

    Tuesday, May 08, 2007   No comments
By A. E. SOUAIAIA (05/2007)

Recently, as I sat to dinner with several people, and during a moment of uncensored honesty encouraged by the intimate environment, one of these people, a middle class middle-aged lady who counts herself as a humanitarian liberal, made the most disturbing comment; a comment that reflects the attitude of the majority of American voters these days. As we discussed the senseless murder of innocent people at Virginia Tech and Iraq and the plight of the poor in Africa and Louisiana, she almost “killed” the conversation by saying something along these lines… there are too many people in this world and not everyone can be rich or have a great life… if people are not dying in Iraq, they could be dying elsewhere, may be here in our cities… there will always be rich and poor people in this world.

Those words mirrored other declarations by the leader of American conservatives, George W. Bush, who repeated on many occasions (and on the campaign trail during the 2004 presidential elections) equally disturbing supremacist ideas. Justifying his invasion of Iraq, he argued that if we don’t fight them in their backyard, we will be forced to fight them in our cities. In order to sell his immigration policy, he also declared that America must find a way to allow these “aliens” to do the kind of work that Americans don’t want to do.

And more recently, I heard George Tenet, the former boss of the CIA who is now promoting his book, refusing to use the word “torture” to describe the US treatment of some detainees and to defend the practice because “it saved lives.” When asked to comment on this argument, John McCain, the Senator from Arizona and hopeful 2008 presidential candidate, disagreed because “it [torture] doesn’t work.”

Sadly, these attitudes explain America’s apathy to inhumane practices if they are told or made to believe that their interests are at risk. We may never live in a world where everyone is rich, but we don’t have to live in a world where a minority is filthy rich and a majority is living in the filth of poverty.

The above comments show that American domestic and foreign policies are not manipulated by few power-hungry politicians; rather, it is expressive of deep-seeded egotism that blind most voters from seeing the inviolable dignity of every human being. In a democratic system where people elect their leaders, these leaders necessarily reflect the ethos, mores and values of their electors. If American politicians and policy-makers legitimize and practice torture, it is because a majority of Americans allow it to happen and those who disagree cannot articulate a convincing position against torture. McCain’s argument is widely used by opponents of torture, but it is very weak, counterproductive, and inaccurate.

The statement that “torture does not work” is inaccurate because torture “does work” and the evidence is overwhelming and that is why it has been used by governments, monarchs and other social control institutions since the emergence of the first of human civilization. From biblical times until modern era, rulers and control freaks used torture to achieve what they wanted and in many instances they succeeded. In South America and in the Arab world, dictatorial regimes lasted and some continue to govern thanks to their brutality that featured the most cruel and inhumane aspects of torturing dissidents.

The statement that torture is bad because it does not work is counterproductive because if the proponents of torture manage to show that “it did work” and “saved many lives” as claimed by Tenet and others, then those who oppose torture on the ground that “it does not work” will be proven wrong and thereby justifying torture in the eyes of all.

The statement that “torture is bad because it does not work” is a weak argument because it appeals to one’s concern for her or his personal interests instead of appealing to one’s sense of fairness justice and belief in the sanctity of human dignity. People should not oppose torture because it is an ineffective tool that does not produce results and that tarnishes “American image” in the eyes of the world; rather, people should oppose torture because it is a violation of human dignity which is the essence of and common link to human beings. Human dignity is the universal quality that is not qualified or forfeited by the color, gender, nationality, behavior, class, religion, sanity, or behavior of the human body in which it is vested. Society may have the right to impose some restrictions on the body of the human being who violates its laws, but society cannot and should not violate the endowed dignity inhabiting that body. In other words, society may control the vessel but society has no right over the dignity contained in that vessel.

Torture is unacceptable not because it is not effective in stopping lunatics and terrorists; rather, because our respect to human dignity outweigh and override our outrage over the acts of lunatics. Otherwise, we become them, we act like them, and we give credence to their ways.

It is undeniably the case, that the world community’s commitment to human dignity is tested in the most profound way. In the end, however, the victorious society will be the one that does not sell out in its commitment to respecting and protecting human dignity. Unfortunately, in the US, the patriotic zeal is being transformed into latent racism that places the interests of Americans above the interests of all other peoples. The blood spilled in the streets of Baghdad is seen by many as a necessary sacrifice for the security of the citizens of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles; we are made to feel the grief for the fallen only after his or her ID card is checked; we export chaos elsewhere in order to keep order in our streets; and we dump surplus grains in the oceans and we pay farmers to stop cultivating fields (through government programs) to keep the hungry begging and selling their dignity in order to “buy” sustenance.

It is wrong to think that some people are created to do certain jobs that others find beneath their dignity. It is wrong to think that some people’s security justifies the chaos inflicted on others. It is wrong to think that torture and other inhumane practices can be justified if such practices bring results. It is wrong, because no race, no nationality, no, ethnic group, no class of people have an exclusive monopoly on life with dignity.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Imam Musa Sadr and Religion in the Contemporary World

    Wednesday, May 02, 2007   No comments
Sunday, February 4th, 2007

by Seyed Javad

Although he is most known without Muslim World as a political leader who brought unity to the shattered Lebanese factions of various interests nevertheless Sadr’s political leadership was not solely based on his diplomatic skills. On the contrary it stemmed from his intellectual vision which was deeply rooted in the soil of Philosophy in its true sense namely Love of Wisdom or as, Seyyed Hossein Nasr puts, Philosophia Perennis. As a matter of fact, his political involvement was an expression of how he viewed the notion of ‘Worship’ as a philosopher as he was trained by one of the most distinguished contemporary philosopher from Iran, i.e. Allameh Tabatabaei. As Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr eloquently put it:

… his great political influence and fame was enough for people to not consider his philosophical attitude, although he was a well-trained follower of long living intellectual tradition of Islamic Philosophy.

One of his famous writings is a long introduction for the Arabic translation of Henry Corbin’s History of Islamic Philosophy. He is one those Muslim leaders who understood the plague of modernity (Kafkazli, 2003a,b,c) while being critical of the reactionary state of affairs that Muslims were enveloped by and for that he attempted and finally put his life for as he believed nothing true could come about when one is not ready to give up the best of him-self, namely life for the sake of the Holy (and whatever serves the Sacred). (Kafkazli, 2002) Here we shall look at Sadr’s view on the relevance or place of religion in the actual affairs of the globe, not only as a metaphysical episteme (which for him is of a great essential importance), but, in relation to the constitution of self and society or what is known within disciplinary sociology as the existence of social self (which is an expression of the complexities of the dynamics of self as a subjective objectivity and society as an imagined reality).

It is important to understand the approach Sadr takes in analyzing the intricacies of religion (not only as an intellectual question but) in its various interactional equations which becoming ever-important in the context of modernity (which for him is based thoroughly and metaphysically on Materialism (Kafkazli, 2004) that has not created only a problem for European societies but added a double crisis for East)

… [… that due to] … speedy development of technologies … Man is faced by the daunting situation which calls for ‘Tafakor’ (reflection, reflexivity, thinking) and ‘Barnamehrizi’ (planning) … . (1384. 29)

The question of the relevance of Religion in contemporary world (Meynagh, 2006c) is of twofold nature for Sadr and he explicates what he has in mind when poses the question of ‘relevancy’ of religion in relation to modernity. (Meynagh, 2006a,b) Lest we don’t judge him hastily as many of those who pose the question of interrelationship between modernity and religion most often incline towards either a relegation of religion or ending up distorting the religious universe just to fit the sacred within the parameters of the Enlightenment Tradition we should rest assured that Sadr’s approach is not of either secular or modernist and not even a fundamentalist one, which by denouncing modernity the proponents of this stance tend to refute the categorical significance of Time too as though the ‘Temporal Transformation’ is a secular invention. This results in a view of religion which is frozen in time and stuck in a past historical space. The spirit of Sadr’s approach is beyond these common trivialities and demonstrates a sense of comprehensiveness in relation to temporal transformations as well as spatial peculiarities within the parameters of Primordial Wisdom (Ahkam Avalliyeh).

The first sense of what he means by the relevancy of religion in contemporary era refers to the actual state of religion (and all those who consider themselves as religious forces or people who claim, right or wrong, to be the representative of religious traditions across the globe, in general, and among Muslims, in particular), on the one hand, and the relevance of religion in the sense that what kind of ‘role’ it can play or if it could have any managerial role in the affairs of society and self in a global sense as if it cannot have any role, then, in Sadr’s estimation, the very state of civilization or the very fabric of terrestrial existence of humanity shall be at grave risk or even to a point of annihilation (which already are evident in our ecological, political as well as economic domains).

In other words, although he firmly believes that

… the actual state of religion in our time is not very promising due to the fact that it depicts, so to speak, a very beautiful but flat portrait in the hearts of those who ascribe themselves to religion. It does not shine and it has no aura. Faith, in its best form, has become like a panacea to forget the pains and atrocities which envelop us from all sides … it has lost its energetic appeal for life-shaking acts … . The faith has become as a defining boundary between the children of Adam … and the Sharia [instead of being an avenue for flow of benediction it has] … turned into a legal heritage, which, in itself and by itself, is a beautiful ornament for those who respect and follow its decrees … but it is only a beautiful ornament … . (1384. pp 31-32)

For the modern man

… who desires to be free from all tutelage … these decrees have no appeal … and for those among modern people who still aspire for an ethical life the ethicality is only an aspect of individual self and has no connection to the fabric of society in its grand scale … . In other words, to be ethical is good only as far as it serves our utilitarian purposes in politics, business and/or economy … . (1384. p 32)

In this context which has been imposed by modernity in the context of culture, religion is only

… a frame of interpretation which belongs to the bygone ages … i.e. the historical past which has no managerial significance for the issues of contemporary life … and we can see this in the fabrics of all modern societies and personalities … . In other words, religion is not anymore on a leadership position but in an enslaved position … and those who speak on behalf of religion as a matter of fact live on at the expense of religion by giving the most distorted view of religion …. Which reduces religion from an awe-inspiring sense of consciousness into a ritualistic routine that is devoid of truth … and whenever those who sincerely work for religion and put themselves at the disposal of religious truth … sadly lack the Vision … which is the raison d’etre of religiosity … and by being oblivious to this fundamental visionary element of religion they turn it into a soothing recipe of collecting rewards for afterlife … . (1384. pp 33-34)

Since early days in 40s Imam Musa Sadr was concerned about religion, not only in the context of Iran or even Muslim Community, but on a global scale in terms of universal concern, i.e. ‘Manaviyat der Jahan’ (Spirituality and Religiosity in the context of Modern World). (Sadr, 1384. p 34) For him religion was an answer for the inner request of human being or it is the voice of ‘Fitrat’ which has lost its external foundations and sadly turned into a flat and spiritless thing of past historical significance. In order to understand the ills of today and why we have ended up in the contemporary miserable situation we need, argues Sadr, to analyze the role and nature of religious role which gigantically transformed the conditions of people then and drew the conclusions which could be of profound significance for us today that live in a world with different conditions. The question is, in other words, what role should or could we expect from religion today. (1384. p 34)

In understanding the role of religion we need to understand the metaphysics of Faith and on what grounds it is based. Faith means ‘delimitation’ of affairs and establishment of conducts within the ‘Divine Limits’. But now there is a question here for an inquiring spirit in relation to the nature of these limits which constitute the backbone of the Faith and which we may call the Divine Limits. The question is; are these limits ad hoc and artificial or expressions of true nature of reality in its most fundamental/primordial sense?

In other words, what we call the theophanic limits are just ‘cultural’, ‘ethnic’, ‘racial’, ‘national’, ‘historical’, ‘economic’, and ‘political’ limits which are clothed under the guise of ‘Revelation’ or are these the very nature of how God relates to the human nature (and existence in general) within the paradigm of the Fallen Condition?

Within the paradigm of Imam Musa Sadr’s philosophy religion in its first step relies on

… faith in unseen, faith in the absolute and faith in God. (1384. p 34)

But one needs to pause for a second and assess the foundations of religion in relation to modernity and see

… whether the modern man is in need of faith or belief in the absolute … the unsystematic approach may give us an illusion that in the face of modern technological and scientific advances there would be no need for faith and faith in unseen or reliance on God … or the Infinite … . (1384. p 34)

But the truth of the matter

… is contrary to this unsystematic impression which basically is only an impression and far from truth. Because, regardless of the length or depth and magnificency of achievements of human reason, whatever is made by Man is nothing but a product of human mind … and albeit a grand product … nonetheless a product and prone to changes … and this is an undeniable fact that … humanity shall progress, advance and change in all spheres of science, technology, philosophy and law … … … but progress is in essence equivalent to transformation and alteration and … by nature altering condition brings instability and insecurity … because what I may know today could be falsified tomorrow and replaced by a better or even its contrary … in other words, everything in every context is prone to change and in a state of impermanence … and this applies to all spheres of science, art, law and philosophy. To put it differently, whatever that changes is unable to act as a reliance for human being and hence devoid of a sense of Ultimate Reality or a Focal Point of Worshipping … . To put it otherwise; all these grand achievements of human civilizations along the march of history in all domains are creatures of Man and not Creator of Man. (1384. p 35)

Man in his terrestrial life is in need of instruments and all these achievements are of great instrumental significance but they are not man’s ma’bod or what gives him an existential grounding and a sense of reality as well as a direction in a reliable fashion. (1384. p 35) Man, by definition, is in need of permanence that is truly (true to the fundamental constituents of reality of Life) able to care and secure his-self. Once Man finds this reliable anchorage in his existence then he will feel a sense of prowess and this strength would bestow upon him a deep sense of grounding which would enable him to move towards lofty ideals and utopia (i.e. where it is desirable to be). (1384. p 35) Man

… works, learns, thinks and all these instruments are conducive for the furthering of civilization … and progress. But these are not one’s Ma’bod [the focal point which bestows meaning upon one’s life, i.e. Deity].

For Sadr faith in Unseen is not harbinger of despair but a source of permanent hope, on the one hand, and

… on the other hand, the hope is the essence of existence. In other words, hopelessness is akin to being torn apart and alienated from future. A hopeless person does not live even for the next hour, let alone planning for the future … there is no future for him and he does not exist in future … as a matter of fact he is stuck only in his present situation and immobility is akin to inertia and that is another name for disintegration and death. And to be above the vicissitudes of life while being part of the tides of this world requires that one is related to the source of life that imbues the whole reality with a sense of hopefulness and man cannot be in that state except by faith in the Infinitude. (1384. p 36)

In discussing the question of faith Sadr speaks of ‘Religious Work’ (Sazandegi Deeni) and by that he does not mean only

… the construction of mosques, churches … as in religious charity we don’t mean only prayers and fasting. On the contrary, what we mean by the ‘Religious Work’ is whatever that is conducive in the construction of human civilization and the role of this work in the make-up of individual human life. (1384. p 40)

This approach to religion is not what fundamentalists or modernists have in mind as the former reduces religion to a mere ritualism and the latter an epiphenomenon of the ‘social’ but Sadr as did Dr. Ali Shariati, Imam Khomeini, Dr. Beheshti, Muttahari, Iqbal, Taleghani, and so on goes beyond these reactionary approaches by arguing (in true spirit of religiosity) that

… whenever you view the whole life as a vehicle and not as an aim in itself … then whatever you do in life when the intention is for God it is akin to prayer and one should not understand the notion of prayer only in terms of rituals … . (1384. pp 36-40)

Therefore the distinction between religious work and secular approach is not in the domain of activity but in the direction of action as within a religious paradigm

… we work on the earth and develop it but under the commandments of Heaven. (1384. p 40)

In other words, everything within the parameters of sacred tradition is a form of prayer when it is based on ‘benedictory intentions’. But on the other hand, we have the secular approach which views Man separated from God in contrast to Man as a creature of the Divine. These two understandings are not only of metaphysical nature but have very serious consequences on our

… lives on this planet. (1384. p 44)

But the question is why are we worried to allow religion play a role within our lives individually and collectively? If we follow the arguments put forward by disciplinary social scientists on the question of secularization we can see that they focus on religion in terms of abuses which are not of sacred kinds but abused images of religiosity. We, on the other hand, need to enlighten people about these abuses and not throw the very fountain which connects the extremely finite into the tremendously infinite. (1384. p 44)

We need to elaborate Sadr’s view on Sacred Paradigm in relation to modernity or what he calls the West (and its materialistic civilization), which, in turn, would enable us to understand the perspective he has in mind when he employs the word ‘Deen’ in a context where the very existence of Religion within the individual self and society has been greatly polluted– not only in the West but in East too. Imam Musa Sadr has a very novel approach to the questions of modernity and its origin. Although we have had many such as Weber who discerned the origins of Capitalism within the theology of Calvin and Protestant Ethics but Sadr goes even deeper than that by suggesting where to discover the origins of the metaphysics of Protestant Ethics. The essence of life, as aforementioned, is hope but what is the primary substance of Faith? To put it differently; what made the secularization possible on a planetary scale?

In a nutshell the divorce of ‘Faith’ from the everyday life made the secularizing project possible and its expansion accomplished. Faith needs to be at work and have its connection with the daily life. Otherwise it

… weakens and loses its influence and we cannot find any replacement for it once it loses its role within the parameters of daily life. If we try to confine religion to its external manifestations such as mosques, churches, or by venerating the dignitaries of religion … we cannot ignite the fire of the faith within the hearts of men and societies they build … because … rest assured that none of these cannot replace the energy of faith which can alone nourish the human self and society … and that energy needs to be nurtured through involvement with daily life … . (1384. p 46)

It is important to realize that how this system of secularizing paradigm came about on a global scale. Because Imam Musa Sadr thinks that this whole civilization has been possible through a divorce of involvement of faith from the affairs of everyday life and in that life he includes scientific, technological, social and economic aspects too. When we look at

… modern civilization we realize that this grand world system has been edified based on the relegation of religion from scientific, technological and social life. Although the founders of modernity did not deny religion but they certainly ignore it as well as obstruct its influence upon (Zendegi) life. Therefore modern ideologies have all been borne out of touch with the Holy and the common denominator of all these isms and man-made ideologies is chaos which prevails all over human activities in all domains … and we can see these rebellious acts in Capitalism, Imperialism, Colonialism, imposed wars … pollution of the environment … and very recently in ideologies such as nihilism and hedonism or what is called sexual revolution … . (1384. p 46)

In Imam Sadr’s view in all aspects of modernity we can see the spread of chaotic movement due to the fact that this chaos (i.e. the lack of cosmos or order) is inherent within the edifice of modern civilization. Because

… this civilization is not based on the mores of Divinity … on the contrary it is a mundane civilization which is unfamiliar with the language of Heaven. (1384. p 46)

Like many religious thinkers such as Guenon, Schuon, Lings, Nasr, Buckhardt, Muttahari, Malcom X, Shariati, and Shahid Baqir Sadr, he thinks that the reasons for contemporary wars, conflicts, famines, global poverty and pollutions as well as diseases are not of external nature but

… only expressions of inner distortions which are in perfect harmony with their external forms. In other words, there is a balance within this unbalancing situation which is in perfect proportion to the foundations of modernity that are of chaotic character … and in this sense we cannot reap cosmos (order) out of disordering principles. (1384. p 46)

The result of modernity’s civilizing progress has resulted in grand systems and surveillance social orders with grand mathematical exactness but the condition of man qua man has not improved yet. (1384. p 47) This approach to modernity which does not deny its actual significance within contemporary historical context of humanity but also at the same time rejects its claim for universality enables Imam Mus Sadr to pose a very piercing question vis-à-vis Modern Civilization namely

Is this culture a human civilization or an anti-humanist social order which reduces the integral reality of man into one single fragmented dimension? (1384. p 47)

This question needs to be understood within the larger context of Sacred Tradition which views Man as part of Divinity and as a matter of fact Imam Musa Sadr argues that within the contemporary era we are faced with two broad anthropological conceptions regarding human being which one is based on Man as a Divine Image and the other Man as an Alienated Undivine Thing. In other words, when he asks whether modernity is a human culture it refers to the possibility of modernity (based on its undivine foundational principles) to pave the way for realization of Man as a potentiality into a self-realized Image of God which would establish a society that could express Beauty, Truth and Good in an integral fashion or what is called within Shia Tradition as Mahdavi Society. To put it differently; for Imam Musa Sadr to say human being it is equivalent to say Image of God and to deny or relegate and ignore God within one’s individual life or within the society is tantamount to destruction of Man qua Man as the essence of human being is his divinity and once it is ignored, denied or relegated it is as though making a grand palace with all material beauties for the corps

This idea of relegation of Divine into the periphery of human civilization which has been solely accomplished within modernity has led Imam Musa Sadr to reflect upon one of the most significant questions regarding the metaphysical foundations of Modernity. His concern is not of the Weberian kind which is at a theological level with sociological consequences but a unique one which is based on a piercing observation regarding the background assumptions within the edifice of anti-metaphysical domain of modern metaphysics with world-systemic consequences. In this sense Sadr’s approach along with Dr. Shariati, Dr. Beheshti, Shahid Seyyed Baqir Sadr, Ayatullah Taleghani, Allama al-Attas and Ustad Muttahari are among the most paradigmatic discourses on global civilizational issues of secularism and it’s planetary destructions from within a religious worldview.

By dividing the nature of world civilizations into four categories in relation to Religion or Tradition and Revelation (or what he calls the Path of Heaven), namely 1) a civilization that is based on Denial of Revelation, 2) a civilization that is established on the Relegation of Divine to the periphery of human life, 3) a civilization that is Indifferent (or simply does know anything) about God and finally 4) a civilization which is Tamaduun namely the direct result of Madina which has been possible due to the Deen or the reconnection of the Celestial and the Terrestrial via Revelation in the Heart of the Prophet (1384. p 47) Imam Musa Sadr remarks that the metaphysical foundations of modernity seems to be based on the Judaic (and not Mosaic, as the former has become as an ethnical index while the latter is of an ethical hence universal significance but with a very limited scope of influence either on the life of people or the formation of modernity) cultural ethos. He elaborates his point by reference to two sources of History and Tradition (Koran) and argues that

… the first people who argued that God has no relevance in the affairs of the world while not denying the existence of the Creator … were people of Judaic descendants … and apart from history of ideas we can find out about this position in Koran where it refers to the Judaic position … namely there is God but His Hands are enchained or … to put it otherwise … they believed that there is God but God has no influence within our lives … . (1384. p 47)

Sadr explicates his remark on the Judaic nature of modern metaphysics (which has resulted in a planetary civilization devoid of God) in the following fashion:

… this Judaic metaphysics is based on the notion of a creative God who made the world but since time immemorial left the affairs of the world in the hands of Man … . (1384. p 47)

This is the raison dêtre of planetary secularism and evident in all domains of global management or rather mismanagement and as long as modernity’s civilizing process is going to be continued upon these premises

… I doubt religion could play any role along with globalizing modernity which is based on segregation of Faith and Life … . (1384. p 47)

Because if the nub of faith is action based on religion within the world and if the meaning of modernity is the separation of faith from action in a managerial sense then we should not expect any role for religion in the world and its institutions. Here Imam Musa Sadr argues that the planetary civilization as we know it is pregnant with colossal transformative storms. In other words,

… I don’t believe that modernity is able to dissociate itself from being indifferent towards the demands of Heaven as this is raison d’être of being what it is i.e. a system based on materialism … and I cannot foresee any essential role for religion in this system and assuming that it can accommodate itself within this system then the question is what the religion can accomplish when the foundations, structures and goals are inhumane … . (1384. p 47)

The only way Sadr can foresee any role for religion in the world is a Grand Revolution against profane civilizations and reconstruction of these cultures anew. Otherwise whether this modernizing progress is positive or negative and Occidental or Oriental Religion cannot assume any leading role within the set conditions where the foundation is based on Materialism. He concludes his reflections upon modernity and spirituality by these words on the probable significance of the East in relation to declining state of humanity:

… maybe East can stave off this derisive march of destruction by awakening the humanity after it has been worn out from these belying sweet dreams … . (1384. p 48)

Imam Musa Sadr was not (or maybe he was and he is) around to witness one of those Grand Revolution against planetary materialism in 1979 in Iran but surely the Revolution needs the core of his vision for it’s creative renewal on a planetary scale. Otherwise it will turn into a new tyranny which is devoid of any sense of Sacred which is by nature emancipative as well as liberating in its telos. This is a point which Seyyed M. Xatami (the former president of Iran and Sadr’s son-in-law as well as the founding director of BARAN institute in Tehran) has been arguing for in the past twenty years within the parameters of his discourse on ‘Dialogue Among Civilizations’. To elaborate this thesis we need to write another essay but suffice to state here that the core of his thesis is what Shariati and Muttahari argued for almost half a century ago namely ‘Shenakht’ (Knowledge based on self-consciousness) as the only way forward to bring, firstly, religion back into the Public Square and, secondly, emancipate religion from ‘religion of ignorance’ that puts the mantle of Prophet and claims our total allegiance based on ‘blind imitation’ (see Shariati Religion against Religion).


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Kafkazli S. J. Social Theory Deconstructed? Religion between Developmental and Authenticity discourses. Xlibris: USA, 2004.

Meynagh S. J, Social Theory in the Balance of intercivilizational dialogue: A brief anthology of Chinese intellectual thought. Published by London Academy of Iranian Studies, United Kingdom, 2006a.

Meynagh S. J. Unknown Ku-Hung Ming: Rediscovering the Confucian Intellectual Tradition. Published by London Academy of Iranian Studies, United Kingdom, 2006b.

Meynagh S. J. Reflections on Sporadic Episodes of Modernity: Particular random issues within metatheory of secular hegemony. Published by London Academy of Iranian Studies, United Kingdom, 2006c.

Sadr Imam Musa, Der Ghalamroe Andishe Imam Musa Sadr: Nay ve Ney (The Thoughts of Imam Musa Sadr); Collected and Translated by Ali Hojjati Kermani; Imam Musa Sadr Cultural and Research Institute, Tehran, 1383.

Sadr Imam Musa, Adyan der Khedmate Ensan: Jostarhai darbareh Deen ve Masaele Jahane Moaser (Religion at the service of humanity: Issues on Religion and Global Questions in the Contemporary World); Published by Imam Musa Sadr’s Cultural and Research Institute, Tehran, 1384.


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