Khatami says Iran needs more than religious faith
By Mehrdad Balali
TEHRAN, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Reformist President Mohammad Khatami told
the powerful Islamic establishment on Tuesday that Iran needed more than
strong religious faith in order to keep pace with the West.
Khatami, a moderate Shi'ite Moslem cleric who advocates greater understanding
of other cultures, told a large audience of mainly senior clerics that
Iran should make greater scientific and industrial progress.
``Today, we are facing a giant and powerful civilisation in the West.
We have to show the world where we stand when we call for 'Dialogue among
Civilisations','' he told the seminar to promote prayers, held in the western
city of Hamadan.
``If we are a passive and backward nation, we will not earn the dignity
we deserve, no matter how faithful we are. To earn respect, we ought to
have greater material, scientific and industrial resources. We have to
Khatami delivered a message of peace and democracy in a speech to a
millennium summit at the United Nations in New York last week. He also
spoke of his pet project devoted to 2001 as the ``Year of Dialogue of Civilisations.''
Characteristically veiled in religious and philosophical language, Khatami's
remarks on Tuesday appeared to be aimed at his hardline opponents, who
have fiercely opposed his drive to democratise the Islamic system.
MEETING THE DEMANDS OF YOUTH
Unable to challenge the powerful establishment directly, the president
has tried to instil his more liberal philosophy into mainstream conservative
Khatami called for the easing of religious and cultural restrictions
on the youth, who make up the majority of the population.
``Young people have youthful demands. We should not be strict and make
unreasonable demands on the young. Youngsters can't be expected to behave
like old people,'' he said.
Khatami's more tolerant attitude has ensured his enduring popularity
with young people, who demand relaxation of the strict social and cultural
rules imposed after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
``We should instill our youth with greater faith and provide them with
greater knowledge and skill to build a better future for their country
and the world,'' he said.
``But this doesn't mean depriving them of their legitimate freedoms
and variety and fun in life.''
The president urged young Iranians to pray more, but he challenged the
notion of sacrificing worldly pleasures in search of spiritual salvation,
a practice long promoted by religious orthodoxy in Iran.
``Ascetics retreat from society, believing the way to true salvation
is to deny and suppress their natural human needs and urges,'' he said.
``Islam and a rational mind do not see things this way. God does not
want us to suppress our lusts and urges in order to reach loftier ideals.
Islam says we should rein in our lust, not suppress them,'' he said.