Dr. Eshkevari has completed Islamic sciences in the seminary of Qom at the level of Ijtehad. Besides, he did a bachelor in social sciences at the Institute of Dar Rah-e Hag, Qom. He did his master in Islamic philosophy at Baqir al-Ulum Foundation (Qom). From 1992 t0 1994 he completed a Master of Art on comparative philosophy at the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University (Montreal Canada). In spring 2001 he was graduated with the degree of Ph.D. on Western philosophy from McGill University. During the last decade, Dr. Eshkevari has had numerous lectures on various intellectual issues in religious as well as academic circles thorough out North America.
He has published the following books (all in Persian):
Ours is the era of the clashes of the ideologies. With the dawn of the Islamic revolution in Iran understanding and learning about the Islamic system and its various aspects became a global issue. The Islamic ideology, social and political systems, its legal and moral principles all became the topics of discussions world wide and in a serious manner. It attracted the attention of many scholars, thinkers, writers and people in mass media. With the fall of Marxism the Islamic system as a political system in the equations of the world political arena emerged as a strong attractive pole. In the birthplace of the Islamic revolution, Iran the establishment of an Islamic government was the first experience in a long time. The system began to work in different walks of social, political and economy internally and at the international levels. It was and now is an independent system as compared to the other systems of governments today. With the emergence of this system in the global politics people every where, speak, read, discuss, research and study about it both in a friendly and hostile manners to show it negatively or support it ardently, give optimistic or pessimistic opinions about it. All these activities of pro and cons are signs of its great potential for progress. Thinking, research and analyzing of the Islamic system is always good for its proper understanding and its social progress. What is always not good is to be of a narrow mind in thinking about it and intolerant in dealing with this system. All the thinking and research about it must be within the logical limits, proper moral discipline and following the dictates of reason, justice and scholarly mannerisms.
The following is an interview with Mr. Muhammad Fana’i Ashkavari in which some of the today’s issues are discussed. The Persian version of this interview is published in the ‘News of Thinkers’. We hope people interested in such issues will benefit and will feel free to express their views on those issue or contribute to facilitate and promote exchange of ideas and communication of knowledge and human thinking.
Islamic Studies and the preliminary conditions
Who has the authority to speak for the Islamic system?
In other words, does it require certain qualification and learning to be able to speak with authority about Islam or there is no need for learning and education to do so?
In what part of the educational curricula has the Islamic system its place?
The subjects and issues of the Islamic system in the field of ideology as well as the laws and moral conduct require a student to devote a good deal of time and effort to become an authority there at. The Islamic laws, the Shari’ah is to maintain proper social order, teach, support and maintain justice.
We should keep in mind that in the Islamic system of beliefs and conducts and laws there are two major sources of literature that contain all the texts of the laws and the principles of beliefs of the Islamic system. One is the holy Quran. The other one is the Sunnah, which consists of the sayings, the deeds and the approvals of the holy Prophet (s.a). The Arabic word “Hadith” which according to the dictionary means “a report” or a “saying” or a “statement” in the Islamic literature often stands for the word “Sunnah” which literally means “tradition” or “custom” or “manners.”
The Muslim scholars of Fiqh, law, and the scholars of theology all agree that the holy Quran available today is exactly what was revealed through The Archangel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad (s.a). However, the meaning of many of the verses in the holy Quran is still not very clear. It perhaps is because they speak of certain facts that are not yet known to people such as the following verse: “Jinn and mankind, if you can penetrate the diameters of the heavens and the earth, do so, but you cannot do so without power and authority (55:33).” This verse, obviously, speaks of traveling into space. A thousand years ago people did not have the same idea of traveling in space as people today do.
In the case of Hadith the scholars do not complain about the unclarity of the meanings of the sayings and the statements of the holy Prophet (s.a). The major problem in the case of Hadith is the difficult task to verify if a certain statement said to be a saying of the holy Prophet (s.a) is really true or not.
1. Only The Qualified Faqih Gives Authoritative opinions in the Issues of the Islamic System
In Arabic, the word "Faqih" literally means someone who understands well. There is a difference between the two following forms of derivatives as 'Fiqh', 'fahm', "’ilm' and the like and the derivatives as 'Faqih', 'fahim' ' "’alim' and the like. Since in addition to expressing the characteristics of a noun the later group of words denotes experience, specialty and perpetuity of the related quality and trait, thus, Faqih is one who is an expert in the science of Fiqh. The same is true of Hakim, a philosopher or physician, that refers to someone who is well versed in Hikmah, philosophy, and Tibb, medicine. In the present study, therefore, the term 'Faqih' does not refer to any knowledgeable man or expert, it only refers to a particular class of experts who specialize in the science of Fiqh. Thus 'Faqih' is one who specializes in Islamic law, Fiqh and jurisprudence and is a Mujtahid, qualified to give expert opinion (Fatwa) in the matters of Shari’ah, the Islamic laws.
2. The Islamic teachings, and, in fact, the teachings of all heavenly religions consist of three parts. There is the theoretical, the theology and the practical aspect that form the laws and the ethical theories. It is harmonious with human nature, for whose instruction and development prophets and scriptures have been sent. Man from another point of view can also be considered of three aspects: such as body, soul and spirit. Each section of such teachings is meant to purify, guide, and bring about perfection to the related dimensions of human nature. The section related to man's intellectual dimensions is the section consisting of the basic doctrines of the faith. The section concerned with man's emotional and moral qualities and attitudes is ethics, while the section dealing with man's physical actions consists of the practical laws and commandments of religion. An expert in the first aspect of the teachings is called Mutakallim (theologian); an expert in the second aspect is called akhlaqi (moralist); and one who specializes in the third aspect is called a Faqih, a scholar of Fiqh. We need more details in this discussion about the third kind of expert, the individual who specializes in the subject of the practical laws and commandments of Islam.
3. To understand the term ‘Faqih’ and the requirements thereby (faqahah) properly one must first see what its definition is? One must also consider what qualifications a student of religious studies must acquire to become a recognized Faqih? Secondly, what are the preliminary stages, which a student must go through before qualifying for this designation? A Faqih may be defined as "an individual who possesses the ability to find most or all of the general rules and legal commandments of Shari’ah from the original sources." In other words, he should have sufficient training in the preliminary requisites to establish proper inference and reasoning. Given all the necessary means, he should be able to establish proper inference and deduce any one of the rules of the Shari’ah through investigating and examining the sources, should he be required to do so. In this aspect, the position of the Faqih is exactly like that of the physician, who can diagnose a disease if he is in possession of the necessary means, or that of the surgeon, who can perform surgery if he has access to the necessary instruments and means. The qualification, which forms the basis of the aforementioned definition of ‘Faqih’, is indicative of potential abilities to form logical inference and deduce the rules of Shari’ah from the proper sources. It also does not say that one should have actually found all the relevant rules from the original sources and hold them ready in his memory for instant presentation. The expertise of a Faqih is comparable to the kind of expertise required of a physician or an engineer in his own field; the difference being that the tools used by the Faqih are different, just as the job performed and the results obtained are also of a different class.
The Prerequisites to Become a Faqih
1. Linguistic skills
It is necessary to have good command over the Arabic language to correctly understand the meaning of the material constituting the Holy Quran and the traditions of the Ma'sumin (a.s).
2. Some logical rules and philosophy of language
It is necessary to have sufficient understanding of the various usages of Arabic words and the structure of sentences to have a clear idea of the meaning of the texts of the holy Quran and other original sources.
3. ’Usul al-Fiqh
To know this discipline is the most important requirement to become a Faqih. It consists of a number of general principles, which guide the Mujtahid in the formation of logical inference and deductions of proper results from the original sources of law. This discipline, therefore, has a direct bearing on the process of deduction of the rules (‘Ahkam) of the Shari'ah on grounds of the principles of reason, the holy Quran and the Sunnah.
4. ‘Ilm al-Hadith (The Science of Hadith)
From this discipline one learns to investigate Hadith, to distinguish the weak (da'if), the unreliable from the authentic (Sahih) and reliable Hadith. The authentic and reliable ones are accepted and what is otherwise is rejected.
5. ‘Ilm al-Rijal
This discipline investigates the reporters of Hadith and all those who form a link in the chain of transmission from the time of publication of the four main texts of Hadith (al-kutub al-'arba’ah) and other books dealing with textual evidence to find through a scholarly manner the rules, ‘Ahkam. The reporters and narrators of Hadith are investigated all the way up to the Ma'sumin, the holy Prophet or the Imam (a.s) from whom a particular Hadith has been reported. What is investigated is the character of the reporters, their veracity, honesty, justice (‘adalah), and reliability. The aim, of course, is to determine the degree of authenticity of the reported Hadith. However, since there is no ambiguity about the authorship of the popularly known collections of Hadith, there is no need to investigate the transmitters who lived after their compilation.
6. Full Knowledge of the Relevant Quranic Verses:
It is necessary for a student to have thorough knowledge of the meaning of the verses of the holy Quran that contain ‘Ahkam of the Shari’ah, as original sources of the practical laws of Islam. The number of such verses is about five hundred.
It takes from twenty to forty years to gain full knowledge of these disciplines, depending on ones natural aptitude and degree of diligence. Moreover, there is the supreme condition, though not mentioned independently, the heart of all the other prerequisites. That no one may become a Mujtahid without the blessing and approval of God Almighty.
Some people think that the religion that God has revealed is very easy and simple. The Holy Prophet taught it to people very uneducated people they learned and practiced it and achieved very high spiritual positions - People in the early days of the Islamic era were not philosophers, Gnostics or theologians but it would affect their faith and they understood the holy Quran and Hadith. Why it has become difficult to understand religious? Is it not deviation from the truth?
This question is a challenge for people to day who are more educated and more intelligent than the early Muslims, as one may find out from the answer.
They secret for the great achievements of the early Muslims was in their will to ask from the prophet the rules of the religion of God and practice those rules perfectly and sincerely. On the other hand the person who answered their questions was no other than the prophet of God. No one has yet claimed to know as much as he knew about religion and about man.
To day many people do not ask religious question and even if they did they fail to practice what they know about religion. Thus, if to day people ask questions to find out what their religious duties are and practice them fully and sincerely and also if we find people who can answer the questions about the Islamic system as good as the holy prophet did religious studies and learning will be come easy as before and since people to day are more intelligent and educated the degree of the spiritual achievement will become much greater.
Is learning and research in the Islamic sciences designated for a certain class of people or is it the responsibility of everyone? If it is the duty of every one then why should only a certain group become in charge of the Islamic sciences?
According to the teachings and strong recommendations available to us in the Islamic resources it is necessary for every Muslim to do the utmost to learn the Islamic ideology. The Islamic texts on the virtue of acquiring knowledge and the high position of the scholars all are exhortations to learn about Islam. However, as we have mentioned, to become scholars and specialists in the Islamic leaning is not possible for everyone. Would everyone spend all his or her time to learning and researching in religious matters social life would paralyze. All other tasks and occupations would remain vacant and social life would cease to exist.
It also is not possible for one person to become a specialist and a dependable scholar in several branches of sciences and disciplines. What we just said is self-evident. Despite this, the holy Quran requires everyone to think and contemplate about religious matters very often. The following verse of the holy Quran requires that a certain group should devote their times in learning and proper study of religious knowledge.
“Not all believers have to become specialists in religious learning. Why do not some people from each group of believers seek to become specialists in religious learning and, after completing their studies, guide their group so that they will have fear of God. (9:122)”
Following the previous question the issue of Ijtih?d and Taqlid comes up. What are Ijtih?d and Taqlid and who is a Mujtahid?
As mentioned earlier, everyone is exhorted not to let any opportunity pass them wherein they would remain unaware of the need to acquire religious knowledge. However, the depth and vastness of the religious science is as such that it, practically, is not possible for every one to become a Mujtahid, a scholar of the Islamic laws. Therefore, just like any other subject of science and art very few people can become Mujtahids, scholars in the Islamic laws. The dictates of reason and the practice of the people of wisdom also show that non-specialist seek help from the specialists in certain subjects. For medical treatment of an illness people seek the help of physician and follow his instructions even though they know that physicians are not infallible people and they make mistakes but they still seek the help of physicians. In religious matters also the dictates of reason and the practice of the people of wisdom is applicable. In the matters of beliefs, because of the fact that Islam is a strong supporter of thinking and knowledge, it is not permissible to (have Taqlid), follow others instructions and opinions. It is the duty of everyone to do the utmost and to the limits of their capabilities to learn about the Creator of the World and the Day of Judgment, the messengers of Allah and other pillars of religion and accept religion with proper awareness.
It is not necessary that every one become a theologian or a philosopher. Everyone by the help of the natural instinct and sound reason may find the way to the spiritual truth and such findings would be considered justifiable in sight of Allah as the following Hadith hints to this fact. “The number of paths leading to Allah is equal to the number of the souls.” Every head has a secret even though it may not be able to express it.
Taqlid is applicable to the legal matters, which are different from the matters of belief.
The issue of Taqlid, following others opinions and instructions in the matters of laws is not a question of blindly following others. Taqlid is based on proper research, which is acceptable and proper according to reason and the practice of the people of wisdom.
Ijtihad, to become a scholar of the Islamic laws called a Mujtahid is one who is learned enough to find out the rules of the Islamic laws from the genuine sources by the acceptable methods of inference and reasoning. Such capability comes from the learning properly and the study of the disciplines mentioned before. It comes from one’s capability of applying the principles to the individual issues and relating properly the individual issues to the applicable principles. It should, however, be mentioned that it is not enough for a scholar of the Islamic law just to have the knowledge of the Fiqh, the laws. He must also have a sound knowledge of the Islamic worldview. A Faqih, the scholar of the Islamic law, who expresses his opinion on the newly emerging issues, the social, political, economical systems of Islam as the best solutions, must have proper knowledge of those cultures and ideologies that relate to the social issues of his time. Although this task is a difficult one but it is not avoidable.
The issue of allowing people to become a specialist in a certain section of the Fiqh, Islamic law, is a matter that must seriously be considered. It is necessary for a Faqih to have proper knowledge of the Islamic principles in general and the Islamic laws in particular. He would then become a specialist in one of the sections of the law such as the laws of worship, or the laws of the system of economy, the laws of the political system, or the judicial laws etc. This issue is still at the planning stage and no definite plan has been worked out as of yet.
As it appears from the expressions of some people sciences and branches of human knowledge are related to each other. Therefore, changes in religious learning come from the changes in none religious learning. It then becomes necessary for a religious scholar to become a scholar in all the other branches of knowledge of the humanities or scientific nature. Is such a thing reasonable and possible to happen?
The sciences and different branches of human knowledge to some degree are related to each other. That changes take place in different branches of human knowledge is also to some degree possible. The changes in religious learning also to some degrees may come from the changes in none religious learning. Our expression of “to some degree” is to indicate that the relation and changes mentioned above are such changes and relations that might exist. However, it does not mean that every and all issues of every and all branches of human knowledge is related to each other and so also are the changes. Thus no principle and rule is constant or independent of others. A claim as such must have supporting evidence and clear proofs of existence. It is without proof to call such changes and relations as universal. In our book “epistemology of religion” we have examined such arguments and we have shown that such arguments are not capable to establish such claims. What such a claim may entail is also unacceptable to reason.
Changes in the understanding of religion also does not necessarily come from the changes in the understanding of none religious knowledge. Only in some cases changes in the understanding of religious learning may come from changes in none religious knowledge. Some times such changes may first take place in religious understanding and even some times the changes in none religious thinking may come from the changes in the understanding of religious learning. Such matters more often take place in philosophy and humanities sciences. Many of the philosophical beliefs exist under the influence of the individual’s religious beliefs. It is also possible that certain changes may take place in the none religious learning and it may not come from changes in the understanding of the religious knowledge or vice versa. The understanding and initiatives that work in none religious matters also may work in religious matters.
There is, however, no doubt that understanding of none religious learning may help one to have a better understanding of religious issues. The religious scholars in the past also would pay considerable attention to this matter. Some examples are the matters of astronomy and math that help in calculating the timing for prayer and the distribution of the inherited property among the heirs. Some times the study of such issues may encourage one to learn more about such subject and consequently one may become a prominent astronomer. Such relationships, certainly are not limited to the above mentioned examples but they are not universal also. On the other hand the existence of such relations does not make it necessary for the scholar of Islamic law to become a specialist in those subjects also, which is an impossible task in practical life. In such cases the scholars of the Islamic law may benefit from the knowledge of the specialist in those subjects and apply their findings and information to certain Islamic rule. It is not necessary for a scholar of the Islamic law to become a specialist in such branches of knowledge.The issue of allowing people to become a specialist in a certain section of the Fiqh, Islamic law, is a matter that must seriously be considered. It is necessary for a Faqih to have proper knowledge of the Islamic principles in general and the Islamic laws in particular. He would then become a specialist in one of the sections of the law such as the laws of worship, or the laws of the system of economy, the laws of the political system, or the judicial laws etc. This issue is still at the planning stage and no definite plan has been worked out as of yet.
What role can the establishment of harmony and cooperation between the universities and the Seminaries play in the dissemination of the Islamic ideology?
Considering the culture and ideologies of the time it plays a fundamental role in research and in the advancement of the Islamic ideology. If the task of research and propagation would not take place in the environment of the thought and culture of the time there would not be much chance for success. University is the place of shaping up and exchange of the thought and culture of the time. Close relations between the Seminaries and the universities can be a very blessed opportunity for the Seminaries to become familiar with the thoughts and culture of the time. In the same way the presence of Islamic thought and spirituality within the structure of the universities and the strengthening of the message of the divine revelation in the centers of learning and the scholars and in short to make the universities Islamic universities would be very beneficial.
There is no doubt that between knowledge, scientific or ideological and religion there is a strong relation. Having a good understanding of science helps the religious scholars to have better understanding of religion. In the same way a good understanding of religion would help the scholars of science to have better understanding of religion. Most of the differences, throughout the history, among the scholars of religion and science were because of not having enough understanding of the limits of scientific and religious learning. In these matters establishment of proper relation between the Seminaries and the universities will be beneficial for both sides.
The scholars of the universities without well-grounded world-view usually form their worldview from philosophical theories and other such sources. They would consider the big bang as the cause for the coming into being of the universe and for example the DNA as the cause for the existence of the living things such as man and other animals. Some of them consider Darwin’s theory of evolution as the reason and cause for the evolving of lower creatures to man and other animals and explain the existence of spirit through the functions of the nervous system and sensation in the genetic system. They explain the issue of free will and choice from the point of view of the elements of uncertainty and probability in the field of physics. Feelings and instincts are explained with the theories of the science of psychology and religion and ethics with theories of the science of sociology and other fundamental issues are explained in similar ways. As long as the university is not equipped with sound philosophical basis they would follow the same old method of materialist and mechanic theories. The relation between the religious and scientific knowledge is stronger and clear.
The scholars of the Seminaries are expected to have better understanding of today’s economic, political, sociology, education, philosophy and newer schools of thoughts. The most proper environment for such studies is the university. The establishment of proper relation between the Seminaries and the universities is very urgently needed. It prepare ground for the scholars of the Seminaries to be kept informed of the newest results of the progress in all fields of science as well as to keep the scholars of science informed of the current Islamic stand points. The seminary would need the university for science and the university would need the seminary for religion even if the seminary would teach none religious sciences and the university would teach religious subjects, even though such exchange is needed but it would not make them independent of each other.
To meet the needs of the time what kinds of adjustments the seminaries would need?
The seminary would need three kinds of adjustments: (a) Adjustments in teaching and research, (b) in management and organization (c) and in the publicity of the efforts. All of such adjustments have already been introduced to a certain degree in the seminaries.
In the field of teaching and research new subjects should be added to the curricula, such as humanities group, Persian literature, other languages, other religions and philosophy, other Muslim schools of thoughts, history and other Muslim groups, Islam and the Muslims today are some of such examples. To set different sections of the Islamic law as an independent subject of study and discipline is also one of the needed adjustments.
In the field of management a better management of the affairs of the seminaries is to provide the needed facilities for research and learning such as well-equipped libraries with large amount of book computers, access to Internet etc. The financial matters of the student and instructors of the seminaries should be well managed so they can preserve their independence from government and direct public assistance for their services. They should not suffer financial problems. There are several ways to solve such problems. One way to do this is investing in the endowment institution, which has been very successful in the Islamic world. This institution should be made to produce proper incomes to meet the financial needs of the seminaries. Of the other ways one is to provide for the scholars of the seminaries the jobs that would suite them well such as instructing in the field of education or producing scholarly works on needed subjects.
In the field of preaching and propagation also it is necessary to introduce certain changes. The first thing to mention is that preachers should know better about the culture and thoughts of the time so that they can provide effective preaching. Without knowing the language and the mental attitudes of the people of the time preaching, some times, may result with adverse effects. The best religious instruction in its effect on individuals and the society is that provided with clear examples. The task of preaching or the presentations of religious instructions can be persuade in many ways. Some of the simple ways are oral information, books, audio video presentations, and the art of carving and image presentations. The most important step in this field is to adjust the system of education from the primary school to the university.
Is it proper for the scholars of the religious learning to assume governmental positions such as in the parliament, serve as minister’s etc. or is it better for them not to go beyond the religious activities?
There is no doubt that the principle responsibility of the religious scholars is religious learning, its propagation and to under take religious affairs such as to assume the position of the high authority in religion, lead the Friday and other congregational prayers and the duties of judges. In the case of the social offices the aim is to let the trustworthy people handled the affairs of the trust. In this case the criteria is qualification not being a clergyman or a non-clergyman. If a person is well qualified the office and position should be made available for such person whether a member of clergy or not a member of clergy. If one is not well qualified for an office and position such person should not be assigned for the position whether a member of the clergy or not so. The important matter is knowledge, qualification and piety. If a member of the clergy would be well qualified for an office and position there is no reason why such a person should not assume the position. Only to be a member of the clergy is not enough reason for one to qualify for any kind of office. It is the knowledge and proper qualification for the running of the office that counts not all kinds of knowledge.
Are you aware of a phenomenon called cultural invasion and if you believe in such a thing then how should people rise up against it?
First I do believe that in Iran and other countries of the Muslims there is this invasion of the western culture. It is not a new thing. It was there for the past several centuries. Such invasion started in the times of the colonialist and during the neocolonialist this invasion has become rampant in different forms and fashions. The domination of the western culture over almost all of the affairs of the countries of the Muslims clearly shows the existence of such an invasion. Westernization is a common disease in all of the countries of the Muslims. The system of education, the press, the arts, the management of the social institutions, the games, the recreation, the dress, the food in some cases, the architectural designs and the city planning all have taken the shape of those in the west.
Wherever there is stronger opposition to this culture, naturally, the invasion becomes more intense and more complex.
Two extremities are involved in this case. Some people think all the educational difficulties are from the west and in this way exonerate themselves of all guilt. The other group totally denies the existence of cultural invasion.
As a matter of fact, the cultural invasion, which is there, in most case, the sources are out side but in many cases it has its routs in side as well. The cultural invasion with its various forms and shapes mostly works indirectly. It passes to people through the inside elements. At first the so-called broadminded people, the writers and speakers and artists become attracted to the thoughts and culture of the west and then they become the preachers of such culture.
Why do a certain group fall prey to the western culture one reason for this, certainly, is the presence of a vacuum in their thoughts and culture. In this case, the reason for it is the weakness inside. The foreign culture is not like a polluted air that when it is there every one breathes it. The foreign culture without inside buyers and consumer does not last very long. It is the vacuum in the thoughts, in the system of belief and the moral weakness that pave the way for foreign culture. Just to potentially possess a strong and perfect culture is not enough to secure and protect the people. It is the correct practice and its beautiful manifestation that protect people against the danger of this invasion. The existence of books on laws, on the commentary of the holy Quran and very rich and invincible theology but in Arabic language or in a very technical style that only those who have devoted their whole life to understand are not enough. Such books alone are not enough to provide protection to the old and young, man and women, peasants and city dwellers, instructors and students against the attractive culture, although in fact otherwise, of the west. Beside, we have not yet given serious thoughts to many of the issues of the world today. The clarification of subjects of importance and the attractive presentation are of the issues to which we have not yet paid proper attention. The way to stand against the cultural invasion is to fill this vacuum. People are thirsty and if crystal clear water is not offered to them they will be attracted to the polluted waters. The best way to abolish drug all together is when there is no one willing to consume it. Even if all the necessary measures to prevent the spread of drug in the society would be taken, which may prove very effective, still it should be kept in mind that seekers are finders. If one would seriously search for some thing he will eventually find it. To uproot it totally is to uproot its consumers. If the smuggler of drug would not have any buyers the smugglers will disappear. However, such task is not easy. It requires proper know-how, finances and planning. The social plagues also work in a likewise manner. The preventive vaccination against cultural and moral decadence is proper education and giving priority to cultural issues, strengthening of beliefs and moral values of the people.
“We shall certainly guide those who strive for Our cause to Our path. God is certainly with the righteous ones.” The Holy Quran (29:69)
What is your opinion about the Islamic studies in the west? Why do they conduct such studies? Are their studies reliable? Can one consider the opinions of such studies authoritative?
Islamic studies in the west are part of a larger topic called ‘Oriental studies’ that has been there for quite a long time. Apparently, it started in the colonial era in eighteenth century. The French were involved in it before the British, Germans and other European nations. The Americans also after gaining power took part in such studies. The primary goals were exploration of means of exploitation of resources and expansion of power and material gains. These nations had always used knowledge to gain power. In short, they had found that “powerful are those who have knowledge”. To make the world fully subservient one first must know the world. Therefore, they began to learn the language, economy, geography, history, culture, religion and other issues of the other eastern societies. Another important element was that of the Christian missionary works that the church had been conducting. In other words both the secular and religious people of the west each for a different reason, more so on the part of the later group, or better to call them people anxious to have the whole world, reached to most of their objectives.
The Islamic studies have been part of such objectives. At the beginning, it was in the form of individual’s endeavors that gradually took a more organized and academic form, which still continues. Edward Sa’id has written a book on this issue called ‘Orientalism’ that has been widely publicized. He points out that oriental studies are not an academic matter. It rather is an ideological movement of the European nations.
The Oriental studies came into being for the above reasons. It continued in such a way and it still is there for the same reason and objectives with greater strength. In the foreign ministries of these nations there is a section devoted to this task. A large number of experts who work on this issue within such departments as well as in the universities are assigned for these objectives.
It should also be added that some of the western scholars just for research purposes study the topics of Oriental studies and they have produce quite valuable results. Of such people are Luiy?????? (Spellings of the names of the scholars are needed) are a few of the scholars of the Islamic studies in the west who in the form of scholarly works as well as translation of the Islamic literature into other languages have rendered quite significant services. Today also most of the scholars and the students in the west follow the same path. However, the dominant environment in the academic circles and the press are to present a negative picture of Islam and the Muslims to the masses in the west.
The works of Barnard Lewis are of the clear examples of such activities. The political and power seeking objectives of power hungry people are still persuaded with greater force in the study and involvement in the subjects of Oriental studies.
Samuel Huntington in his works ‘the Clashes of Civilization’ after his presentation on the Islamic civilization as a threat and danger to the west, to face this threat proposes to the west to deeply and widely study the culture, history, philosophy and religion of the Muslims.
The answer to the question that should we study the works on Oriental studies or not is as follows. The Muslim scholars and students in the Islamic learning centers, the seminaries and the universities must seriously, deep and widely learn about the Oriental studies conducted in the west to benefit from both the positive and negative aspects of such studies. There is much in these works in methods and contents to learn. However, in the case of none specialist individuals, it is a better recommendation not to consider the works on Islamic studies in the west as authoritative. They should learn Islam through the Islamic sources. Learning about Islam from the works on the Islamic studies conducted in the west for an inexperienced mind would result in nothing but wrong guidance in the Islamic maters.
Islam, Freedom and Democracy
What is the Islamic view about democracy?
To what limit may the individuals in an Islamic society exercise freedom?
Freedom is one of the basic and fundamental values for man. It has in the phases of the history been of the ideals of mankind. The concept of freedom is one of the basic concepts in politics. It is also one of the criteria to measure the progress and that how much the members of a society are provided with the opportunity to enjoy reasonable freedom. The philosophical meaning of freedom is wider than its political meaning. The philosophical meaning of freedom is the ability to chose. This ability plays its role in every voluntary action. Opposite to this is compulsion. It is possible that one may believe in freedom from philosophical point of view in the sense that such ability exists for man to chose and he may not believe about the actions of man as taking shape compulsively. But he may not believe in freedom from political point of view. In a political sense freedom is what is opposite to tyranny and dictatorship. Political freedom exists when others do not limit one’s activities without good reason.
Freedom in practice does not necessitate the existence of the permissibility of that practice and even is not a correlative of the existence of the possibility for such practice to take place. For practice of freedom there are conditions and obstacles. The first condition is capability. We are all free to fly and no one keeps us from flying but the ability to fly is required. There is a natural limitation and we are not able to fly. It is possible for one to have the freedom to fly but the means for this goal may not exist. Everyone is free to buy an airplane and there is no natural barrier to stop but one may not financially be capable to buy an airplane. It may also be possible for one to like to have a certain practice but reason may not consider it permissible. On the basis of the meaning of freedom every one is free to commit suicide but reason does not allow it. When reason would not function one may commit even suicide also. It is also possible for one to be free in a certain action but moral principles, the laws and the Shari‘ah may not allow it. Such freedom is only freedom in a philosophical sense. The existence of freedom in this sense does not justify its practice. It is only the legally justifiable form of freedom in Shari‘ah that justifies its practice.
Freedom has two forms
There is the positive form of freedom and there is also the negative form of freedom. The negative freedom is the existence of liberty and freedom from obstacles, which means the absence of compulsion and obstacles.
The positive freedom is the freedom with possibility to practice. It is the freedom with the opportunity to exercise freedom.
The False Supporters of Freedom
One fact that an intelligent person should always bear in mind in the matters of the social and political activities is to know the false supporters of freedom. All who cry for freedom do not necessarily believe in freedom. Many people when speaking of freedom have no intention of valuable reform in political or social matters. Some people only do so for unlawful sexual activities, indecent reasons, freedom in the use of addictive substances, and obscene and lustful purposes. Their anger is also because of the inadmissibility of such activities in the society but not for social well being and progress of the country.
In many cases the demand for freedom is used as a weapon against the administrative authorities. In other words, one may not believe in freedom at all but in a fight against his opponent and to gain support of others and attract their attention, may cry in the name of freedom. Many individuals and groups when removed from power begin to sing the songs of freedom and mourn for it but when they reach power they forget all about it. The loyalty to and truthfulness of individuals and groups to freedom is in how much they support it in practice.
In the case of those who are in power, their loyalty and truthfulness in their quest for freedom is in how they behave within their groups against their opponents. Those who always cry for freedom and criticize others but they themselves do not yield to even constructive criticisms their claim of support for freedom is false.
Those who never limit themselves to the rules of freedom even within their own group and organization and instead behave tyrannically their cry for freedom is false. If such people would some day come to power their behavior would be nothing but tyranny and militancy. Freedom is not in mere claim and cry for freedom. It is in deeds and practice. There are people who blame the people in the administration of dictatorship and neglect of the demands of people but they themselves appoint for people leaders, kings and presidents or declare such positions for their own persons. Such people are really dictators who have no respect for the opinions of others. Some people for the future of the country appoint certain individuals for high administrative positions as the king, president or leader of the people. But what kind of democracy would allow such an appointment?
When speaking of freedom, some people only want it for their own selves and for their own group not the whole nation and country. In this sense all dictators are supporters of freedom a freedom that is above the laws and absolute and not for all people but only for their own persons. The kind of freedom that is one of basic values is freedom for a whole nation not the freedom for a certain group or certain individuals. In every dictatorial ruling party a certain group enjoy the most from freedom, the degree of freedom that does not exist not even in the democratic systems. It is not unexpected that the supporters of monarchy think of the return of freedom to Iran with the establishment of monarchy, the form of freedom that they enjoyed in times of monarchy and it does not exist anymore. The meaning of such freedom and the demand for it is very clear. Such freedom is the freedom of monarchy and the absolute freedom for a thousand families. In this sense of freedom they are absolutely right. In the times of monarchy there was freedom in Iran but not for the people. It was only for a particular group under the monarch and others proportionate to the degree of their closeness to the monarch. It was a freedom against the law and order and freedom in corruption and embezzlement of public treasury. It was freedom in indecent activities and show of power etc. Certain individuals in every city with desirable climate and even in other countries had luxurious palaces. What kind of freedom can be bigger than such freedom? Why one would not cry for and sing in praise of such freedom? This is how it explains the meaning of demand for the return of freedom to Iran.
This fashion of freedom is certainly contradictory to justice, respect to the public opinion, equality among people in respect to the law, freedom to criticize the government and freedom of people to remove from office unqualified persons. Such freedom is dictatorship exactly but since dictatorship is not a sweet sounding word they place it in a more honorable covering. Even children know that hierarchy system of monarchy is not justifiable in any logic, reason and supporting evidence. It is contradictory to democracy and freedom. The supporters of the monarchy also know very well how much detestable and degrading it is. For this reason they present it in the form of support for symbol 97 \f "SanskritP" \s 11 so to reduce its evil and ugly effects from the minds of the people. They are not aware of the fact that the problem does not come with the word ‘monarchy’ but it comes with the meaning and the practice of monarchy. Even if the meaning of monarchy would be expressed in some other words and it may not give for a while such a bad impression to the minds of people but after very short time its evil will transfer to the new word also.
The Pahlavi monarchy, as it is claimed, was the same symbol 97 \f "SanskritP" \s 11 government that some people outside the country support its return to Iran. Despite this, even the supporters of such system, to the evil and dictatorial nature of which history presents all forms of evidence, cry for the return of freedom. The dream of the sweet luxuries of the past and hope for its return to enjoy once again is of the nostalgic memories that they call freedom.
Even Saddam, who has made the worst criminals and tyrants of history look much more humane and kind, may become a standard bearer of freedom and would wildly yell to support it, in case he one day would escape with his life the wrath of the people of Iraq.
In a dictatorial government only the ruling party and their relatives and friends are free but the rest of the people especially the opposition is deprived entirely.
It is a fact that in an ideal form of the Islamic system of government, the public enjoys more freedom in their private lives than the office bearers of the government do. Every taxpayer is free to enjoy the blessings of their lawfully earned wealth. People may have good clothing, food and good houses even though morally one should only go that far when every other member of the community can afford such facilities. However, enjoying one’s lawful blessings is not a crime. The office bearers of the government should follow the tradition of Imam Ali (a.s). It is all right for the members of the public to join a plentiful table in a party of affluent people, but the officers of the government of Imam Ali (a.s) would have no right to join such a party and table. Otherwise, he would be subjected to the anger of the Imam (a.s).
Is freedom one of the basic values in the Islamic system? What is the difference between the Islamic system and the secular system on this matter?
Compulsion, tyranny, dictatorship and selfishness are evil practices. On the other hand, freedom is a blessing and the source of many other valuable principles.
One of the basic principles in private life and the social life is freedom of action that materializes the potentials of the resources and hopes. Limitation of freedom is a secondary matter. Whenever any individual’s practices would stand in conflict with his own interests or the interests of the others on the basis of reason and Shari'ah the question of limitation arises. One true example of freedom that has great effects on social life is the freedom to speak up and criticize the improper dealings of the government. In the dictatorial system of government people are not allowed to speak up against the government. In such governments all voices against it are suppressed.
In the Islamic system not only people have the right to criticize the government and speak up against mistakes and injustice but that they have the responsibility to do so. One of the well-established duties of a Muslim is to fulfill the duties of acting to ‘make others do their duties and stopping people from evil’. If a citizen would learn that an evil and unlawful act is taking place or a duty is ignored it is one’s religious duty to express it. It applies to all the departments of the government also. The advice of the leaders and the Imams of the Muslims have a greater priority. It is especially so when it would involve the loss of some ones rights, in such a case, no one would be exempt to remain impartial and ignore it for personal gains and interests.
Freedom is one of the noble principles of mankind. It is a gift that God has given to man and no one has the right to take it away. Freedom is an undeniable and well-established fact of the Islamic revolution. The declarations of the concepts such as “freedom”, “independence” and the “system of the Islamic Republic” are of the most spoken of ideals. A great deal of lives was lost upon the public pronouncement of such ideals in a great many of the road and the various cities of the country. The objectives of people were to establish the three above-mentioned principles that did not exist in the dominion of the monarchy. Ignoring any one of these ideals would amount to ignoring the principles and the ideals of the Islamic revolution. It is very unfortunate that from the expressions and the behaviors of certain elements one is reminded of the fact that there are still certain elements, which have not realized these solid facts of the Islamic revolution. Such people fail to discern between freedom and indecent and unlawful sexual activities to which the younger generation may fall easy preys. Freedom to them means anarchy, indecent behaviors, free for all sexual activities and disregard of the laws of Shari'ah. The difference between an Islamic and a none Islamic system is that the Islamic system along with due respect for freedom, strongly supports the laws of Shari‘ah.
Freedom of press
Freedom of press is freedom of expression and constructive criticism. It is interesting to note that the book of freedom in the Islamic system contains two chapters. One chapter is about the significance and value of freedom and the other is about the limits and fields of freedom. If one would only speak of the significance of freedom without saying anything about the limits of freedom his claim of being a supporter of freedom is not true or that he does not have proper knowledge of the issue.
The meaning of freedom in the Islamic system is not equal to a free for all sexual activities (and indiscriminate indulgence in it without any thinking about its negative and some times deadly consequences and without any understanding of its natural objectives and goals). A reasonable freedom is always lead with a sense of responsibility and within proper limits.
The laws of the Shari‘ah determine the limits of the activities of people. Unlawful sexual activities and consumption of intoxicant substances are sinful acts committed privately or in public but if it is committed in public then it becomes a duty of the government to step in to halt it although for those in private the government may not be directly held responsible.
Freedom of speech is also practiced within the proper and reasonable limits. The freedom of speech just because of the permissibility of freedom of speech is not a license to speak up against others in whatever form or manner that one may desire. Freedom of speech must be exercised with reasonable limits and away from the manners of Satan. The way to speak up for a good cause is in the manner of wisdom and sincere advise as the holy Quran say, “Call people to the way of your Lord with wisdom and kind words and through attractive arguments.” In the exercise of freedom of speech one must act responsibly because irresponsible speech is unlawful and does not serve the cause of freedom. In speech or in writing it is not permissible to target peoples’ honor and properties. The interests of the masses and especially the security of the public must not be compromised. Freedom of speech and the right to criticize is never permit for the spread of indecency, sexual activities out of wedlock, lies, accusations, insulting others and publicizing other’s private matters and issues of the national security.
The well-established laws of God must never be subjected to neglect and disregard. These are the limits that determine the fields of freedom of speech. Fear and threat of power must not stop one from the expression of constructive criticism. The existence of such fear is proof of the rule of dictatorship. In the words of some of the religious leaders, “A government is ideal only wherein when people can speak at the face of the ruler without the smallest degree of hesitations and feeling of intimidation.” The only thing that may limit freedom is moral standard and divine laws but not the power of the rulers.
The societies that have reached a higher stage of thought, moral standard and higher education may enjoy a greater degree of freedom with greater degree of blessings and advantageous results. On the other hand, a society with a lower degree of achievement in thoughts, moral behaviors and proper education will have a smaller chance to benefit from the advantages of freedom of speech and other instances of freedom. The exercise of freedom, in fact, is useful only in the societies that are more advanced in education moral standards and maturity of thought; otherwise, it may lead to chaos and irreparable damages in almost all aspects of life. The only thing responsible for such negative results would be backwardness in thoughts and moral standards not the freedom. The solution for such problem is not narrowing down of the fields of freedom but raising up the level of education, thoughts and moral standards. To achieve a greater degree of freedom we must take our education, thoughts and moral standards to the higher levels.
Criticism of the officials of the government is effective only when they are ready to listen and act accordingly and consider themselves in need of comments and criticisms of the people. They should not face criticisms as a mere objection to rebut; every one is required to fulfill the duties of ’amr bil Ma‘ ruf and Nahy ‘anil Munkar, make people do good and stop them from doing evil. The goal of freedom of speech is to speak up against dictatorial opinions, narrow-mindedness, totalitarianism and disregard of constructive criticism. Freedom of speech must be based on justice, for progress and the expansion of the opportunities. In the absence of justice wherein a cry against injustice never finds an attentive ear to listen and there would be no way to rescue the abused rights it would be a struggle for the establishment of a justice that can never be established. It would be no more than a fairy tale.
It is a condition for progress and the expansion of opportunities because they are the results of progressive thoughts and creativity, which can only exist where freethinking, is possible. Freedom in the exchange of ideas and communication exist. On the salty grounds of totalitarianism and narrow-mindedness there will grow nothing but militancy and suppression.
Will lawful criticism that is within the moral limits weaken religion and the government?
It will, absolutely, not do so. Constructive criticism strengthens the Islamic government. It is, in fact, the only way to protect the government against mistakes and deviations. Critics are reformers. They are the vigilant eyes of the society. Criticism may not always be in favor of individuals, but it certainly is for the benefits of the society and the system all the time. Free criticism some times may set the society free from the evil grip of an unqualified official of government.
Knowledge, fame, position, wealth and friends,
Become a sources of mischief for an unworthy person,
Take away the weapons from the hands of a mad man,
So that justice and reform may become possible,
What a high office may do to ignorant people
No greater disgrace than his could be caused even by a hundred Arsalan.
Only a reform seeking and well wishing critic prevents the dangers of mischief. Free criticism guarantees the enforcement of the law and curbs the violation of the law, unlawful discrimination, bribe and corruption. If tongues are harnessed, the ungodly individuals will continue to spread evil in the land.