Ali Shariati, who some have called the Luther of Shiism, would become his faith’s most influential reformer. His eclectic use of Marx, Freud, Sartre, and Fanon, and his attempt to combine them with elements of Shia faith, allowed him to create an ideology appealing to the intelligentsia and the Iranian middle class. It was part fashionable piety (the way Kabbalah is the spiritual fad of Hollywood) and part facile radicalism. To many in the current generation of reformists, he is known simply as “the teacher.” He provided the possibility of a new reading of Shiism–one as compatible with Marx’s idea of praxis as with Muhammad’s notion of piety. But, as soon became evident, Shariati’s ultimate goal was less the reform of Shiism than using it as an instrument for social change. Many of today’s reformists, though inspired by his ideas, have not adopted this “instrumental” disposition toward their religion. Ironically, however, one person who did come to share Shariati’s “instrumental” attitude toward Islam was Ayatollah Khomeini. And this is an area where the traditions of Na’ini and Nuri–that is, reform and absolutism–would combine to legitimize despotism.
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