Persian Translation

I'd like to add a few other points not expanded upon by Fereydoun Hoveyda, which will amount to a brief history of Post Islamic Iran and the religious movements and western ideologies that have influenced Iran, to better explain the Islam in the Islamic Revolution.

The Prophet Muhammad was born into an Arab society that seemed doomed to perpetual barbarism.The tribes were involved in constant warfare. They were constantly being exploited by the great powers, for instance the more fertile region of Southern Arabia (modern day Yemen) was a mere province of Persia. Mohammad dies in 632 in a united community that would rival the empire of Chengiz Khan. The early moral message of the Koran was simple: it is wrong to stockpile wealth and to build up a private fortune, and good to share the wealth of society fairly. Muhammad preached an ethic that we might call today socialist.

During the 9th century a new type of Muslim emerged, dedicated to the ideal that they called Falsafah, broadly meaning "philosophy". The Faylasufs wanted to live rationally in accordance with the laws that they believed governed the cosmos. They keenly read the Greek texts, and studied astronomy, alchemy, medicine and mathematics. The only real difference between religion and philosophy at that time was that the latter expressed itself in concepts, while religion used representational language. However most common people were quite incapable of philosophical thought, and would be lost or doomed to error and confusion, since Falsafah appealed to those with a certain IQ and was thus against the egalitarian spirit of Muslim society. Falsafah remained a minority sect in Islam due to its elitism.

Since the eleventh century, Muslim philosophers had come to the conclusion that reason - which was indispensable for such studies as medicine or science - was quite inadequate when it came to the study of God. To rely on reason alone was like attempting to eat soup with a fork. Mysticism was able to penetrate the mind more deeply than the more cerebral or legalistic types of religion. Its God could address more primitive hopes, fears and anxieties before which the remote God of the philosophers was impotent.

For the mystic the revelation is an event that happens within his own soul, while for more conventional people like some of the ulema it is an event that is firmly fixed in the past. Muslim philosophers such as Abou Ali Sina (Ibn Sina in Arabic or Avicenna in Latin, the Persian medical scientist from Central Asia) and Ghazzali found that objective accounts of God were unsatisfactory and had also turned toward mysticism and had made sufism acceptable to the establishment and had shown that it was the most authentic form of Muslim spirituality.

Then, during the twelfth century the Iranian philosopher Yahya Suhrawardi (Sheikh al-Ishraq or Master of Illumination) linked Islamic Falsafah (philosophy) indissolubly with mysticism and made the God experienced by the Sufis normative in many parts of the Islamic empire. He attempted to link all the religious insights of the world, including paganism and Zoroastrianism, into a spiritual religion and believed truth must be sought wherever it could be found. "There are as many roads to God as people" he would say. Suhrawardi was put to death in Aleppo (modern day Syria) in 1191.

The most famous of the Sufi orders was the Mawlawiyyah, whose members are known in the West as the "whirling dervishes." The founder was yet another Iranian (Khorasani in fact), Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207-73) known by his disciples as Mawlana or our Master. Having fled to Konya (in modern day Turkey) before the advancing Mongol army of Chengiz Khan, Rumi had come under the spell of the wandering dervish Shams ad-Din, whom he saw as the Perfect Man of his generation. (Shams ad-Din perhaps never existed and is only a noms-de-plum created by Rumi to protect his own life when promoting Iranian pre-Islamic ethics). Shams ad-Din is said to have believed that he was a reincarnation of the Prophet and insisted upon being addressed as "Muhammad". He would say "Whether knowingly or not, everybody was searching for the absent God, obscurely aware that he or she was separated from the Source of being". He was known not to observe the Shariah, the Holy Law of Islam, thinking himself above such trivialities. Like Sheikh al-Ishraq, Shams was also killed (in a riot it is said).

The conservative tendency had surfaced during the fourteenth century in champions of the Sharia like Ahmad ibn Taymiyah of Damascus (d. 1328). He was dearly loved by his people and only wanted to extend the Shariah to enable it to apply to all circumstances in which Muslims were likely to find themselves. Like Luther and Calvin and more recently Rouholla Khomeini, Ibn Taymiyah was not regarded by his contemporaries as backward looking: he was seen as a progressives (eslah-talab), who wanted to lighten the burden of his people. At this time Islam was still the greatest world power, and in the 15th and 16th centuries three new Muslim empires were founded: by the Ottoman Turks in Asia Minor and Eastern Europe, by the Safavids in Iran and central Asia, and by the Moguls in India.

The Safavids under Shah Ismail, who saw himself as the Imam of his generation, was determined to wipe out Sunnism and force the Shia on his subjects with a ruthlessness not attempted since the Arab invasion of Iran nearly a millennium before. This movement had similarities with the Protestant reformation in Europe: both had their roots in traditions of protest, both were against the aristocracy and associated with the establishment of royal governments. The reformed Shii's abolished the Sufi tariqas in their territories in a way that recalls the Protestant dissolution of the monasteries.

It was at this time that the roots of contemporary Iran troubles were planted. For the idea that the clergy had more right to rule than the wine-drinking shahs gradually grew, albeit erratically.

The whole Iranian establishment was not fanatical. The Shii ulema of Iran looked askance at this reformed Shia: unlike their Sunni counterparts, they refused to "close the gates of ijtihad" and insisted on their rights to interpret Islam independently of the Shahs. They refused to accept the Safavids - and later the Qajar - dynasty as the successor of the Imams. (The Pahalvi Dynasty made no such claim of Imam hood.) Instead the Shia clergy allied themselves with the people against the rulers and became the champions of the ummah against royal oppression in Isfahan and, later, Tehran. Ever since then they have developed the tradition of upholding the rights of the merchants and of the poor against the encroachments of the shahs. (In 1979 they would come to use their accrued trust by the people to usurp power and gain material advantages exclusively for themselves, their families and their extended Bazaari merchant supporters.)

Mir Damad (d. 1631), the founder of Shia Falsafah, was a scientist as well as a theologian. He was a contemporary of the likes of Mir Findiriski and Sheikh Bahai, Iranian scholars who formed interfaith societies, most important of which became Sikhism. The supreme exponent of this Iranian school of tolerance, however, was Mir Damad's disciple Sadr ad-Din Shirazi, who is usually known as Mullah Sadra (1571-1640), regarded by some as the most profound of all the Islamic thinkers. He believed that knowledge was not simply a matter of acquiring information but a process of transformation. Mullah Sadra himself saw dreams and visions as the highest form of truth. (More recently, Mohammad Reza Shah indicated his preference for this type of mysticism in his various speeches and books, and guide his people in the direction of Mullah Sadra's visions of Islam). Iranian Shi'ism was, therefore, still continuing to see mysticism as the most appropriate tool for the discovery of God rather than pure science and metaphysics.

Mullah Sadra did not envisage God sitting in his "high chair" in another world, an external, objective heaven to which all faithful would repair after death. Heaven and the divine sphere were to be discovered within the self (Khoda), in the personal alam al-mithal which was the inalienable possession of every single human being. No two people would have the same heaven or the same God.

What we see examples of here is that human beings are the only animals who have the capacity to envisage something that is not present or something that does not yet exist but which is merely possible. The imagination has thus been the cause of our major achievements in science and technology as well as in art and religion. The idea of God, however it is defined, is perhaps the prime example of an absent reality which, despite its inbuilt problems, has continued to inspire men and women for thousands of years. The only way we can conceive of God, who remains imperceptible to the senses and to logical proof, is by means of symbols, which it is the chief function of the imaginative mind to interpret.

Meanwhile in Europe, in 1530 the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus had completed his treatise De revolutionibus, which claimed that the sun was the center of the universe. It was placed by the church on the Index of Proscribed Books. In 1613 the Pisan mathematician Galileo Galilei claimed that the telescope he had invented proved that Copernicus's system was correct. Summoned before the Inquisition, the Roman Catholic Church has shown it was instinctively opposed to change. Inevitably the condemnation of Galileo inhibited scientific study in Catholic countries.

At the same time that Mullah Sadra was teaching Muslims that heaven and hell were located in the imaginary world within each individual (khoda), sophisticated churchmen in Europe were strenuously arguing that they had a literal geographic location. How could the theory that the earth moved around the sun be reconciled with the biblical verses: "The world also is established, that it cannot be moved"; "The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down and hasteth to his place where he arose"; "He appointed the moon for seasons; the sun knoweth his going down".

The political ramifications of trials such as Galilei meant that Europe was approaching Rational and Scientific Modernity. The Christian theologians themselves were handing the future atheists the ammunition for their rejection of God who had little religious value and who filled many people with fear rather than with hope, faith and charity. Like the philosophers and scientists, post-Reformation Christians had effectively abandoned the imaginative God of the Mystics and sought enlightenment from the God of reason. Since then a "mystery" is something to be cleared up, frequently associated with muddled thinking. (In USA a detective story is called a mystery, the essence of this genre is that the problem be satisfactorily solved. "Mysticism" is associated with charlatans and indulgent hippies, though since 1960's this seems to be changing).

Though from the beginning, religion had helped people to related to the world and root themselves in it, more and more Christians were embarrassed by the cruelty of so much Christian history, which had conducted fearful crusades, inquisitions and persecutions in the name of this just God. Such beliefs revealed the dark underside of the Western spirit. During these hideous persecution, thousands of men and women were cruelly tortured until they confessed to astonishing crimes. They had to confess they had had sexual intercourse with demons, had flown hundreds of miles through the air to take part in orgies where Satan was worshipped instead of God. (All the more unbelievable that today the West Europeans would promote a candidate like Khatami, despite knowing full well that he participated and was an intellectual leader in the craze representing vast collective fantasy of returning to the time of Mohammedan purity, and even today he is a president presiding over mass tortures and executions of political opponents and closure of news papers, and the whole sale destruction of the Iranian economy and the future of our youth.)

As the West continued on its enlightened path, as society developed further and specialised, religion started to look like a device used by the rich to oppress the poor and render them powerless. Though the European people still believed in God, they did not really care if he exists or not. God had ceased to be a passionately subjective experience. For many the old God that used to be worshipped had been made to promulgate unnatural laws to repress sexuality, liberty and spontaneous joy.

Karl Marx (d.1883) would describe religion as "the sigh of the oppressed creature...the opium of the people, which made this suffering bearable".

Nietzsche wrote in Thus spoke Zarathustra (1883), that human beings would have to become Gods themselves, and would declare war upon the old Christian values (whose God was "a crime against life"), trample upon the base mores of the rabble and herald a new, powerful humanity which would have none of the feeble Christian/Semetic virtues.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) regarded belief in God as an illusion that mature men and women should lay aside. A personal god was nothing more than an exalted father-figure: desire for such a deity sprang from infantile yearnings for a powerful, protective father, for justice and fairness and for life to go on forever. God he believed is simply a projection of these desires, feared and worshipped by human beings out of an abiding sense of helplessness. Religion, he believed, belonged to the infancy of the human race; it had been a necessary stage in the transition from childhood to maturity. It had promoted ethical values that where essential to society. Now that humanity had come of age, however, it should be left behind. Science, the new logos, could take God's place.

All of this while Charles Darwin's publication "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection", in 1859, stimulated debates that fundemantaly upturned the intellectual world. While the passing of time had accustomed people to accept that the physical universe worked according to a series of natural laws - that a scientific genius like Farabi, Razi or Newton could tease out, define and publicise without being accused of being accused of heresy - the living world remained the preserve of God's will. Darwin didn't just contradict the teachings of the 3 Great semetic religions (judaism, Christianity, Islam), it suggested the living world was law driven in the same way as the physical world, leaving no room at all for divine intervention.

However, despite this view, the general consensus in Europe was that people must outgrow God in their own good time: to force them into secularism (or atheism) before they were ready could lead to an unhealthy denial and repression, as the Pahalvi regime found out in 1979. What the liberal and left leaning opposition to the Pahlavi reign would later have found out was that iconoclasm can spring from a buried anxiety and projections of our own fears onto the "other". In the case of the liberal opposition in 1979 this would ultimately result in their own persecution.!

The 20th century showed that atheistic ideology such as Nazi or Communism can lead to just as cruel a crusading ethic as the idea of "God".

Into this worldly mix of idea's, including the Bahaulla's Bahai contribution to Iranian theology, modern Iran was born. We have been wading in a sophisticated atmosphere created by the collision of Iranian (Arian) culture and Semitic culture. Not able to fully express our own culture, because it was presented in a secret/subtle language and works of art (to avoid persecution from our Arab invaders) and not knowing the Semitic culture because we did not know how to speak or read Arabic.

Reza Shah the great, the father of modern Iran, whilst admiring the young Turk, Kemal Attaturk, and his expulsion of illiterate clerics from the reigns of government, attempted a similar policy to Attaturk in re-building his country. The traditional aspect of Reza Shah 1st's formulae was devised after the pre-Islamic notion of the Iranian tradition of Kingship rather than the Caliphate model of the oriental monarchy. That is modern constitutional Monarchy was rather reinvented along the “Iranshahri Shahnameh” blueprint (from nationalist poet-philosopher of 10th century, Ferdowsi). By keeping the tradition of Shahanshahi he managed to incorporated elements of economic and social progress within the ancient fabric of a lethargic and underdeveloped society.

Later Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi would continue on a similar path of rational and scientific modernity, albeit with a more moderate stance towards the educated clergy... he supported the dignity and the freedom of all religions and the renovation of muslim shrines in particular. In this period, the Shia faith and general respect for the clergy dwarfed what it had been in the whole history of Iran.

The Pahlavi's managed to create a modern state, secularize the judiciary and the educational system, preserve Iran’s territorial integrity in two World Wars, save Iran from British colonialism and Russian communism, transform Iran’s near dead economy to the most vibrant in the middle east and at the same time permit freedom of religion for all. Also they both believed it is the sacred duty of statesmen to steer the world away from the tormenting hell it can become if the darker side of humanity is given free reign.

Today, after a quarter of a century of revolution, war, misery, poverty, sadness and most of all duplicity and lies by the leaders of Khomeini's Islamic Republic we have recieved an ocean of political education that we would never have asked for. It is from the lie that is the Islamic Republic that we can descern what the truth is. After the hundreds of thousands of Iranian's who have perished through executions and wars and 'accidents', it is worth while knowing the history of men who showed us the path to justice and those who stole justice away from us.

Human beings cannot endure emptiness and desolation; they will fill the vacuum by creating a new focus of meaning. As we have now seen, the idols of fundamentalism are not good substitutes for God. As in the past Iranian's will create new symbols to act as a focus for spirituality, since, throughout history, we have always created a faith for ourselves, to cultivate our sense of wonder and ineffable significance of life.

If a society does not believe in a higher truth or morality, ethics becomes simply a question of taste, a mood or a whim. Unless politics and morality somehow include the idea of "God", they will remain pragmatic and shrewd rather than wise.

For our future, happiness and joy are essential: there must be no more breast-beating or remorse, no guilt or anxiety about one's performance. Sadness springs from the forces of evil in the world. One should not live in a place of sorrow and pain.

After 25 years of Khomeini's Islamic Republic, I can see that we are all now united in the belief that it is a sense of peace, serenity and loving-kindness that is the hallmarks of all true religious insight, not an Islamic Republic or any of its derivative variations.