Amazon Honor System

Ideology * Support
* Reproduction * Write for
* Editorial policy

The forgotten revolutionary
Ali Shariati

By Lawrence Reza Ershaghi
February 24, 2003
The Iranian

The fall of the bloodstained shah and triumph of the Islamic Revolution in Iran was not only one of the most remarkable events of the 20th Century, but I would argue of human history. The collective will is a theoretical tool which nobody had seen until the Islamic Revolution. In the words of Professor Hamid Algar:

"The revolution was genuinely a people's movement. One can say that the Islamic Revolution in Iran was an example of mass political participation, unique in modern times. It makes the parliamentary elections of the western countries appear as a mere game by contrast. In the United States a minority of the electorate turns out at the elections, and yet is celebrated as an expression of the popular will. In Iran, in the face of massive pressure, the danger of death, dismemberment, and torture, a whole nation took to the streets to enforce its demands."

The revolution defied all secularists' assumptions of religion having no effective power.
Twenty four years later the Islamic Republic is still in power despite all the false predictions of its demise. However, it is confronted with grave problems which are to be expected after a revolution. Whoever the problems are attributed to, whatever the causes of the problems are, and whatever the solutions may be, we must never forget the fervor and unity which made the revolution successful.

It appears that many Iranians have forgotten the ideals which were fought for and have simply given up on them. I do not wish to go into the intricacies of the problems which Iran faces today, but I want to explore an individual, more specifically an intellectual who served as a catalyst for the Islamic Revolution, but never witnessed its triumph. I wonder what he would have thought of all this. The man I am referring to is none other than Dr. Ali Shariati, the ideological father of the Islamic Revolution.

Hardly is there any discussion about Dr. Shariati, who must be regarded as the second-most important catalyst after Imam Khomeini. A man whom not many outside of Iran are acquainted with, but who yielded so much influence amongst the educated and youth in pre-revolutionary Iran. He is a man who has a street named after him in Iran today, but whose works are pretty much banned. He justifiably distrusted the clergy of his time as do the people of today.

However, rather than walk away from his roots, which were embedded in Shia Islam, he opted to reclaim and retain them. He was not the conventional religious thinker, but Dr. Ali Shariati was a deeply religious man and because of that he saw things with Islam in that day going in the wrong direction. As a result of that he created a new understanding of the religion which attracted friends and foes alike.

According to Professor Ali Rahnema,

"Shariati was a man of his times. He reflected the mood, conditions, problems, pains and conceivable solutions of his times . . . He does not fit into any classical stereotype. Those who try to portray him as such, simply deform the man. Whatever he wrote, whatever he said and whatever he did which excited and roused him was filled with riddles and puzzles. Such was his life. A true product of the fertile cultural soil of Khorasan, the land of epics and mystics, Ali Shariati was at case with words, the principal tool of his forefathers."

He was the personification and embodiment of what an intellectual should be. He used to say "I come to disquiet the quiet" and argue that the task of the intellectual is to awaken the masses and this is what he did. He was an agent in the awakening of the Iranian people, which culminated in the revolution. He gave fiery speeches at Hosseiniyeh Ershad, which drew the interest of large crowds from all segments of Iranian society. He did not shy away from controversy, but rather embraced it. He constantly invited the people to think and question.

He saw and identified the plague of Westernization amongst his people and he sought a cure from the malignant cancer in Islam because Islam was and is a direct threat to the rampant consumerism and materialism prevalent in the West. He was a man who studied and understood the west and saw its inherent weaknesses.

He was not like the modern day Islamic Thinkers which allows the West to dictate the discourse and generate an inferiority complex amongst Muslims, but rather he exposed and displayed the west's inherent weaknesses and flaws. He learned about the ideas of cultural alienation and psychological damage wrought by the excesses of imperialism. He revolutionized and modernized people's understanding and interpretation of Islam. He used to always tell the religious scholars of the time to tell the people to read about Marx and once they read it they will see it for what it's worth, which is nothing.

Rather today what we see amongst all "Muslim" governments is a suppression of these very ideas. He understood the truism that banned ideas and books become more popular than they might otherwise be. The Shah's repression of communism gave it a certain modish panache. This is why most Iranians joined the Tudeh party then or why they appeal to anything Western today. We as Iranians must shy away from this cultural schizophrenia which we suffer from.

To be sure Ali Shariati would have rejoiced at the sight of the Islamic Revolution, but at same time would not have been satisfied with the course it took. He would have demanded a more open atmosphere to live and breathe in. The reason he would have demanded all these things is simply because these would have been the very same demands of our exalted prophet and imams.

To quote our beloved Imam Ali, he wrote in a letter instructing the governor of Egypt at the time,

1"Maintain justice in administration and impose it on your own self and seek the consent of the people, for, the discontent of the masses sterilizes the contentment of the privileged few and the discontent of the few looses itself in the contentment of the many. It is the common man who is the strength of the State and Religion. It is he who fights the enemy. So live in close contact with the masses and be mindful of their welfare."

Unfortunately many Muslim "leaders" have either forgotten or grossly under emphasized this essential part of Islam; it's denunciation of exploitation and injustice and its tolerant nature.
As Shariati always said Islam was a becoming, not being in a static sense, but evolution. He reinterpreted the notion of waiting for the reemergence of the 12th imam, which might be taken as the pretext for a mere passive stance of idleness and inactivity.

He taught the people that waiting for the Imam meant trying to pave the way for him by bringing a just and pious society. This is why the Islamic Revolution was not a return to the 7th century, which was the time of the prophet, but rather a preparation for the coming of the 12th imam. We must continue this strive towards justice and help prepare the hastening of the 12th imam, which Insha'allah will rescue us from the injustices of our time.

Recently we saw a man emerge from the political scene in Iran which delivered a Shariati like speech and was subsequently arrested for it by the name of Hashem Aghajari. Ironically the speech was delivered during a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the death than yours truly Dr. Ali Shariati.

In his fiery speech Aghajari said:

"For years, young people were afraid to open a Koran. They said, `We must go ask the mullahs what the Koran says.' Then came Shariati, and he told the young people that those ideas were bankrupt. [He said] you could understand the Koran using your own methods." Mr. Aghajari concluded: "Today, more than ever, we need the `Islamic humanism' and `Islamic Protestantism' that Shariati advocated. Shariati used to say that the relationship between [the clergy] and the people should be like the relationship between teacher and pupil - not between leader and follower, not between icon and imitator; the people are not monkeys who merely imitate."

Aghajari and the likes are continuing the message which Shariati himself began. I ask that we follow in their footsteps.

Lastly, while President Khatami today talks about "dialogue of civilizations," what is really needed today is dialogue amongst Iranians. Many Iranians knowledge of the current political and social state of affairs in Iran is extremely outdated. Amongst these people are Iranians who firmly opposed the revolution and Iranians who are interested in the revolution and committed to Islam, yet dogmatically and blindly defend the events inside the country. Both groups seem to live in a time when the revolution was just born.

However, the fact of the matter is the revolution is now 24-years old and many of the ideas and ideals have changed. There are new circumstances and personalities in Iran today. Amidst all the turbulence going on in Iran today I ask for people to re-visit and re-examine the forgotten revolutionary: Dr. Ali Shariati, before it is too late!


Lawrence Reza Ershaghi, B.A. Political Science, University of California, Irvine.

* Printer friendly

Does this article have spelling or other mistakes? Tell me to fix it.

Email your comments for The Iranian letters section
Send an email to Lawrence Ershaghi


From monkey to man
A call for Islamic Protestantism
By Hashem Aghajari

The fourth generation
... of Iranian intellectuals
By Ramin Jahanbegloo

Still alive
Varieties of religious reform in Iran
By Ahmad Sadri

Attack from within
Dissident political theology in contemporary Iran
By Mahmoud Sadri


By Lawrence Reza Ershaghi

Largely a myth
Gandhi's nonviolent strategy

Selective morality
The Pentagon is conducting coverage of the Afghan war

Book of the day

An Islamic Utopian
A Political Biography of Ali Shariati

by Ali Rahnema

Revolution in Iran
The Transition to Democracy

by Omid Souresrafil, Nikki Keddie

Copyright © All Rights Reserved. Legal Terms for more information contact:
Web design by Bcubed
Internet server Global Publishing Group