Study in Islamic Science and Polity

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Genuine despotism means obeying the divine decree. They believed that only one idea was right. That legitimacy will not wash away even if people stop supporting it. It comes from sources above. Who gets to interpret whether God is happy or not with the system? When we talk about whether the Islamic Republic is popular or unpopular, for an entire category of reactionaries, that is an immaterial consideration.

In terms of how much popular support this segment of the clerical community has, election after election and informal results show it to be about 15 or 20 percent of the population. They have access to corrosive power, which they use. They moved to the United States, Canada. Who wants them? In terms of how this religious perception affects cultural issues, economic issues, and foreign policy perceptions: in cultural politics, they spend much of their time worrying about the segregation of sexes — in the film industry, through newspaper censorship.

They have a running battle with the Iranian population, particularly the 70 percent that is under 30, about how to impose these cultural standards: control of media, female dress codes. Right now there is yet another campaign of trying to prevent headscarves from being this far back as opposed to this far back, and an extraordinary amount of time and money is spent on imposing these cultural ordinances because, after all, an Islamic state has to look like an Islamic state, as they understand that concept.

Golden age of Islam - World History - Khan Academy

This religious cohort has a level of contempt toward the Iranian population. They have to purify themselves. They have to become better Muslims. There is an open contempt for the Iranian people themselves, for the citizenry that is the basis of this republic. On the one hand, there is reverence for private property, because after all, if you read the Koran, it celebrates commerce and private property; the prophet was himself a trader, and the mullahs over the years have proven to be shrewd businessmen.

But their conception of free enterprise is different than your conception of free enterprise. There is another source of their economic perceptions, namely the revolution and the Koranic injunctions for social service, for lifting up the downtrodden, and social justice as a basis of economic planning. How do you deal with the economic inequalities of a private economy and the creation of poverty, class cleavages, and the unequal distribution of wealth? Is the purpose of economic planning social justice or a capitalist economy that is profitable and efficient?

How do you square that circle? The way they square it is with massive subsidies: fuel, bread, rice. Twenty percent of the GDP is spent on subsidies. The hard-liners are some of the few people that actually benefit from the current economic system. They have created these vast religious foundations called bonyads — there are bonyads for the dispossessed, bonyads for war veterans — whose purpose was to help in terms of offering social services for the downtrodden.

In practice they have become large conglomerate holding companies, which tend to dominate various manufacturing industries. So the hard-liners tend to be the beneficiaries of this opaque system. And as I mentioned, the Revolutionary Guards have also gone into business. What the hard-liners are offering the Iranian population is what they often call a social compact, whereby in exchange for relinquishing some personal and political freedoms — social freedoms, cultural freedoms — they will create a society that offers certain celestial rewards.

The hard-liners tend to sublimate suppression. The inflexibility of their hard-liner outlook is in stark contrast with the changing Iranian society. Under the veneer of the Islamic Republic, Iran is a changed society. Seventy percent of the population is under age A new demographic cohort has evolved under the structure of the Islamic Republic with its own demands, its own imperatives.

In order to respond to this new population, two other political tendencies have come into existence, which, like everything else in the Islamic Republic, rest their legitimacy on the revolution and therefore religion. The idea is to create a society that is economically efficient, culturally tolerant, and politically autocratic.

For the hard-liners, the West is objectionable on two fronts. On the one hand, it is the source of cultural decadence; it infiltrates Islamic lands with its cultural messages, which are subversive. America, for them, is an agent of cultural imperialism. America is not just an agent of cultural decadence; it is also a rapacious, imperial power determined to usurp the resources of the developing world for its own economic aggrandizement.

The rhetoric is Berkeley, circa — dependency theory and all that. On political issues, the pragmatist believes you should have elections. You should have a process in which the population participates. Along with that superficial process, you have some economic efficiency, economic benefits and, hey, everybody is happy. Largely this tendency became irrelevant, although, as I said, this is the Islamic Republic, and they still have a presence in institutions both formal and informal.

The reformists in the United States have often been unfairly referenced with former president, Khatami, which is actually untrue and unfair. The reform movement began in the early s. It was a vast collection of individuals. It was the liberal dissident clerics; it was politicians; intellectuals; academics; and, curiously enough, members from the intelligence community. Some of the intellectual architects of the reform movements — Said Hajarian, Abdollah Nouri — came from the intelligence community. In some way, the Iranian intelligence community resembled the Soviet intelligence community; the Soviets confiscated all the books and read them themselves.

Iranian intelligence services were the same way, though they were much more sophisticated. On the one hand is Islam with its holistic pretensions, maintaining how the society and individual lives should be governed. They tried to create a system called Islamic democracy, wherein the system would be religious and democratic at the same time.

How do those contradictions resolve themselves? The way democratic societies always resolve those contradictions — through debate, disagreement, compromise and concession. In essence it was a much more tolerant society. The concept of ijtihad , of reinterpretation of text, gives you an ability to make the scriptures living scriptures that change in their definition and interpretation, depending on the context of times. In that sense, they took concepts from the scriptures and associated modern political vocabulary with them. Two individuals — two notable ones — were the original intellectual architects of this, and one was the academic Abdolkarim Soroush.

In the early part of the revolution his responsibility was to go to Tehran University library and pull out objectionable books. He was trained in science and philosophy, and over time he went back to his training. He has the concept of a religious state versus a religious jurisprudential state. A religious state is a society in which individual citizens are given the right to vote and participate in the political process and, given that right, create a society that is religious.

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A religious jurisprudential state is a state ruled by a narrow segment of the clerical community that seeks to impose demands on the population. Those demands are resisted and eventually the system becomes inauthentic and loses its legitimacy.

Medieval Muslim societies (article) | Khan Academy

It might not be ideal, and there might be compromises and concessions. One of the more interesting and perhaps less-known individuals in the West is a cleric named Mohsin Kadivar. He was trained as a cleric. He looked at Shia history — Shiism has, of course, 12 imams, and the last imam went into occultation, to reappear at the end of time. Normative Shiism suggests all temporal power is illegitimate, because political authority rests with the Imam, and the Imam has disappeared.

But Kadivar went one step further. Nobody said that a narrow segment of the clerical community has the right to rule. Somebody has to rule; chaos is not good. Under those circumstances, he said, the only plausible form of governance is a democratic governance system wherein everybody has a right to participate in the political system.

God’s Will: Iran’s Polity and the Challenges of the Future

The current system, with the supreme leader and all that, is actually not consistent with Shia doctrine as he understands it. So a reform movement does come to power. The narrative is as familiar as it is tragic. Why did the reform movement fail?

The Madinian Polity: Visions of Islamic Governance

It never developed a political party like Solidarity or had a leader who reached deeply into society. Their debates were scintillating but esoteric. The reform movement created expectations it could not meet. It also underestimated the resilience and the ability of its hard-line counterparts to inflict damage. The movement expanded the infrastructure of the state through elections to city councils, but it never developed a cohesive strategy for resisting the totalitarian impulses of the hard-liners when they closed down newspapers and arrested people.

The Islamic Republic will not develop, in my view, into a standard post-revolutionary state. The Soviet Union in the s was a corrupt, bloated, bureaucratic state with an ideology that convinced no one. The Islamic Republic will not develop into such a state. Islam, however distorted and politically motivated, will remain a pillar of the state.

Because for many within the state, their ideology is a religion. To be an ex-Marxist is intellectual maturity. To be an ex-Shia is apostasy. Once the ideology of the state becomes an interpretation of the religion of the state, that state is unlikely to move into a post-revolutionary phase where there is articulated adherence to a governing dogma that, in practice, is ignored. There are a series of institutions, unelected and uninfringed by popular will, that will continue to seek to impose Islamic ordinances and standards on the population, however reluctant that population may be.

That tug of war will continue. These three political tendencies will always battle for influence. The reform movement may ebb and flow. It was dead in the early s. It went through renovations and came back in the late s. Now it has to figure out how to come back again. As I said, the Islamic Republic is the land of the permanent second chance. The way out of this contradiction is constitutional reform, and the Islamic Republic had constitutional reform in Ultimately, this system cannot be fully reformed unless the powers of the supreme leader are mediated by elections.

He has to have some accountability to institutions beyond narrowly defined clerical ones. You have a system that appeals to nobody. The way out of that is, in my view, constitutional reform.

Mecca and Medina

You just said you did not anticipate revolutionary upheaval. If this government is going to fall, what is the relative likelihood of it occurring from within or because of some confrontation from without — or do you see a realistic scenario for either one of those? How do revolutions come about? Also, a history of political activism. Iran has had a number of political actors and constitutional revolutions — , , and of course Revolutions need a population accustomed to taking to the street to reclaim power.

You put all this together, and, wow. There is no reason for this government to remain in power. There is no reason, but it keeps on going. The Iranian youth and the Iranian population as a whole have learned to circumnavigate the state but not subvert it. They have created a system that seems to function. A serious economic downtrend could provoke some dislocation, but in spite of all the inefficiency, in spite of the regime itself, Iran is the 20th largest economy in the world today.

It has five percent annual growth. Of course inflation is high — higher now because of some of the problems — and unemployment is chronically at about 14 or 15 percent. If you go to public schools in Iran — fourth grade, third grade — half of the school is empty because they expanded it after the population explosion of the early s, but over the years, population control has managed to reduce it.

If they manage to survive the demographic bulge, which gives them 6 to 7 years, Iran might experience the Japan problem: how do you deal with social security for an aging population? Revolutions are rare historical phenomena. I have read almost every book on the revolution in Iran, and I always hope it turns out differently — laughter — but they always win. The shah had so centralized the system, he had to make all the decisions.

Once he fell sick and had mental issues, he was incapable of making decisions — then the system collapsed. At any point during the revolution, the shah could have survived. The memoirs that are coming — the Iranian political leaders are prolific at writing their memoirs. All we did was have a few demonstrations. At any point during the revolution they were prepared to back down, as late as November , when the shah declared martial law. They were prepared to adhere to that.

How does that translate to this government? An entire range of Iranians were willing to leave because they saw no future for themselves there. My father thought he would do better economically in the United States than Iran. They have also, as I said, sublimated their rule.

They are potentially willing to shed blood to stay in power. The Islamic Republic did its own study on this. Between and , in this draconian, absolutist, bloodthirsty monarchy, there were 1, political fatalities in Iran. I do anticipate its possible transformation. Maybe it evolves the way the Chinese Communist Party evolves — not to the same degree of abandonment of its revolution heritage and patrimony, but to some extent a society that is more culturally tolerant, more politically representative, less religiously extremist, and inclined to integrate as opposed to isolate itself from the international community.

Do you think this is a group of people with which we can ever reconcile? Secondly, could you describe for us, in Cliff Note form, the major differences between the Shiites and the Sunnis? Islamic civilization has been greatly influenced by Western political thought. The West has been influenced by Islamic contributions. For the Huntingtonian idea of two civilizations to work, you have to believe they are not only mutually antagonistic, but also mutually apart. The transference of ideas is much more common in the global society and global economy today.

Can we reconcile with this system, these people? What does reconciliation really mean? Where are you trying to get to with negotiations between the United States and Iran, or negotiations between Western Europe and Iran? If the end point is a more ambiguous position — Iran with some nuclear capability, Iran with some influence in the region — what are you willing to live with? You have to first determine in your mind, what am I going to live with? What disagreements are going to be acceptable to me?

What sort of ambiguity am I willing to countenance? Those are decisions the local leadership of the United States, Europe and Russia have to make because there are serious issues with Iran that are somewhat irreversible and immune to either coercive pressure or economic and trade concessions. The Sunni-Shia divide largely began as a political disagreement about succession after the prophet. Where Shias — the party of Ali — believed succession should rest in the family of the prophet, the Sunnis believed it should be open to a larger segment of the community of believers.

Over the years this political disagreement yielded some doctrinal differences. In the Shia community, a series of imams developed who were vested with supernatural authority and infallibility, leading ultimately to occultation and a reappearance of the final imam. These things were rejected by the Sunni community. The Shia community develops a clerical class, a priestly class, which is structural and hierarchical. In the 20th century in particular, there have been attempts by the communities to reconcile their differences, develop some links, create mutual tolerance; it has been successful in some cases.

The more radicalized strain of Sunnism — Wahabism — tends to reject Shiites as apostates. The Shia also developed their own political ideas about how to live within a society where they are a minority. Most Shias live in states that have Sunni majorities. The differences may become more acute, but once again those differences are political, which, in due course, take on a religious coloration.

How does the elite attempt to overcome what we see in all this polling, that in terms of [Iranian] public opinion, America is viewed relatively favorably? Is there an attempt to propagandize the country and overturn that popular opinion? TAKEYH : I would make a differentiation between the governing elite and the larger political elite, those who are in power today, the extremists and militants. For those of the Ahmadinejad coloration, their experience of America is defined through the prism of the Iran-Iraq war.

They say it across the board. Again, the most colorful expression of the standard formulation comes from Ahmadinejad. If we give them human rights they will ask for animal rights. Scattered laughter. There is a larger political elite who may want some accommodation, even engagement with the United States.

There is this narrow public [of hard-liners] but, moving out from them, there is an appetite for things American. Iran is a contradiction. On the one hand it is a society that views itself with some degree of civilizational pride, which rubs against the idea of being ostracized in the international community. That was one of the essential pillars of the reform movement.

For the larger public, popular acceptance of relations with America does not mean acquiescence to American priorities and policies in the region; it means having a mature relationship with the United States whereby the two civilizations, the two countries, can engage and interact, through trade, visits, and exchanges.

Sometimes that figure of American popularity in the street is distorted to imply a propensity to accept American priorities. In the past three or four years those public opinion polls have been changing because the Iranian regime has been very adroit at the al-Jazeera thing. Do you want that? Is there an infinite supply of those young conservatives, given that 70 percent of the population is under 30? Where is that conservatism coming from, and will it just run out?

The youth have this favorable disposition toward aspects of American culture. Is it just a matter of waiting out [the conservatives]? The successors were going to be, by virtue of their demographic composition, necessarily more liberal, more secular, more pro-American. The Islamic Republic is certainly capable of surprising people because the successors were not necessarily liberal or secular or pro-American.

Where do they come from? It is largely a self-generating elite. They have this whole system of self-indoctrination and self-regeneration. They probably represent, as I said, 10 percent of the population. That has remained static over the years. To what extent will that 10 percent of the population continue to dominate the society? The statistics fail me, but the French Revolution involved maybe seven percent population of the public. The Iranian Revolution, which was one of the largest populist revolutions in history, maybe involved 10 percent.

At which point will the 70 percent overwhelm the 10 percent? Quite possibly the long-term trajectory of Iran, of the Islamic Republic, is toward a greater degree of tolerance, a greater degree of engagement abroad, a greater degree of being a normal country in a community of nations. But, in terms of immediate effects, the next election is going to be interesting because opposition parties in Iran tend to be like laser beams, very focused, very united. Can they get it together for the next election or are there sufficient divisions among them?

How much traction among young intellectuals in Iran does that kind of thinking have? Secondly, could you step for a moment outside of Iran and say is this kind of thinking going on more broadly? Is there ferment like this in the Islamic world? That disengagement became manifest in the last elections in which the reformist candidate came fourth or fifth, whatever it was. The idea of reforming the system, of harmonizing Islamic precepts and democratic ideals, has been a 20th century struggle in Egypt, in Pakistan, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Those ideas of Islamic reformism have been pervasive and widely discussed. What was unique in Iran was that such Islamic reformism came to power. It had executive power through the presidency; it had the legislature; it had the city councils. It was an entire range of elected officials seeking to realize this system.

If they had pulled it off — whatever that may have meant — then Iran would potentially have been a model for other states struggling with reactionary politics, institutional decay, presidential dictatorships, ruling-family classes, and so forth. In and , Iran had the chance to transcend itself in a positive way — chuckles — if they had managed to pull it off. But it was unique in a sense that, for a minute, it appeared to go from concept to opportunity to reality. Suddenly, all the things that were talked about appeared to come to some fruition.

Secondly, how is the nuclear issue playing into these domestic power struggles? Does that have any implications for how it should be handled by the U. The election of Rafsanjani was about economic reconstruction after the war. The Khatami election was about political liberalization. Iranian presidencies also have a trajectory; they come with a great promise and soon, they fail.

Usually within a year or two, the disillusionment kicks in. It became apparent in that there was not going to be a whole lot of balanced economic reconstruction. When people in the U. There are two rounds of elections in Iran. In the first round, eight or nine people run and the top two vote-getters go to the runoff. The top two vote-getters in were Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad. It is plausible the first round was rigged for Ahmadinejad.

He got to the second round. In the second round, I suspect anybody in this room, possibility including me, could have beat Rafsanjani. The populist campaign worked. The regime is certainly trying to promote that as a nationalistic cause.

Can it be exploited for political advantage? I doubt it. Can Ahmadinejad run for reelection again on the platform of more enrichment? The reformers would suspend it because the reformers tend to look at the nuclear issue through the prism of domestic politics. For them, the nuclear issue could provoke confrontation with the international community. That confrontation could be exploited for domestic crackdown. For reformists the nuclear issue is a domestic political issue. This is one issue on which Akbar Ganji , the prominent Iranian dissident, is for the normalization of U.

Security issues are used not as a means of political advantage but as a means of political crackdown. Is there any chance of alliance or at least cooperation between those two? Having said that about their mutually distinct ideas, can there be an operational relationship? An operational relationship based on mutual animosity? Mutual animosity to the U. For us Afghanistan came to surface in Can it be advantageous on some tactical issue?

We hear they are not happy with him. Do they see him as a plus in terms of his position on the world stage or as a minus for Iran? Do they see him as not religious enough or too religious? TAKEYH : The clerical community is a vast body of individuals and political tendencies in terms of religious perceptions. Among the hard-line religious community, he has some degree of popularity, and they believe him to be an earnest person who can restore a legitimacy to the system because of his own incorruptibility.

He has gotten into some trouble with them, curiously enough from the right. He made an announcement that women should have a right to participate [as spectators] at sporting events. But I suspect within the hard-line community of clerics, he has some degree of popularity. Within others, there is a degree of suspicion or unease. Conservatives basically won those elections, but different factions within the conservative community. The elections manifested divisions within the conservatives, and there is an attempt now to once again unify the conservative bloc.

The person who is really pushing that now is a deputy parliament speaker, [Mohammed Reza] Bahonar. He is trying to put the genie back in the bottle. I think it will be difficult. Is Ahmadinejad crazy? Ahmadinejad comes from a certain ideological position and certain experiences. He is assertive and emphatic about his beliefs. The long-term relationship between a religious community and any non-religious leader is difficult, especially when he speaks the language of Islamic discourse, Islamic propriety, and that gets him into a realm where he can be rebuked.

As I said, among some he is popular; among others, they view him as an infringement of their prerogatives. In the Islamic Republic, in a theocracy, there is going to be a structural tension between a political leader and a religious community, and those tensions are to some extent obvious. I suspect the level of tension that has come about is proving unappealing to a cross section of the official and non-official clerical community, but I also think that to ascribe to him the problems that Iran is having on the international stage is somewhat inappropriate.

Two points of reference. The rhetoric he uses about Israel, calling for its eradication — they have been using that rhetoric up and down the country for 28 years. I can give you memoirs they have written where they use that particular phrase. In the current context of the Islamic Republic, that has to be considered the moderate position — laughter — because it accepts the historical event. It accepts that something happened in Europe. It was born out of a conspiracy, out of cynicism, for the purpose of depriving Palestinians of their rights, but it happened.

It was not 6 million; it was , or whatever. Ahmadinejad, who is in complete denial of the historical event, is the more extreme wing of the rhetoric but he is not alone in that landscape. There are many who are there, particularly among the traditional clerical community. When he talks to domestic audiences, he says nezam , the system, made this decision. If he is to blame for that rhetoric then they are all to blame for that rhetoric because it is the standard discourse. With the appointment of judges, or qadis , to the various provinces and districts, an organized judiciary came into being.

Beginning in the second half of the 8th century, oral transmission and development of this science gave way to a written legal literature devoted to exploring the substance of the law and the proper methodology for its derivation and justification. Info Print Print. Table Of Contents. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback.

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