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SHARIATI, ALI ( 23 November 1933 – 18 June 1977), one of the most important social thinkers of twentieth-century Iran. Shari`ati’s ideas are distinguished more by their practical impact than their intellectual content. In this regard, he can be compared in stature with Jamal al-Din alAfghani (1838 or 1839-1897) or the Egyptian writer and activist Sayyid Qutb (19o6-1966).

Life. Born in the village of Mazinan, near the town of Sabzavar, on the edge of the Dasht-i Kavir desert in Khurasan province of northeastern Iran, Sharicati’s worldview was influenced by his rural upbringing, as the title of his most revealing work, Kavir, indicates. He came from a well-known family whose paternal line included clergymen active in the religious circles of Mashhad, the burial site of the eighth imam, `Ali alRida (d. 818).

Unfortunately, much of Shari ati’s life remains obscure. Since his death, annual commemoration volumes have been published in Iran providing data about him, but these are incomplete, contradictory, and hagiographical, making it difficult to sort truth from legend. Outside Iran, scholars have contributed significantly to our understanding of his words and deeds, but these, too, have not settled all the questions that have been raised about this unique figure. We still do not have an authoritative intellectual biography of Shari`ati.

Shari’atu’s grandfather, Akhund Hakim, was a respected `slim whose fame apparently had extended beyond Iran to Bukhara and Najaf. He had spent some time at Tehran’s Sipah Salar mosque but soon returned to his native district, declining the shah’s posts and honors. Akhund Hakim’s brother, `Adil Nishabu ri, had also earned a reputation as a scholar in the religious sciences.

Sharl’ati’s own father, Muhammad Tag! Shari’ati, was of the same ilk, but he was also a modernist who had lost patience with the traditional perspectives of the `ulama’ which he saw to be suffused with abstract scholasticism. The father was a reformer who desired to apply new methods to the study of religion. He possessed a large and comprehensive library that `Al! Shari`ati fondly remembered, regarding it metaphorically as the spring from which he nourished his mind and soul. Shari`ati’s father not only taught students of the religious sciences in Mashhad (next to that of Qom, the country’s most important center for religious studies), but he was the founder of the city’s Kanfin-i Nashr-i Haqayiq-i Islami (Society for the Propagation of Islamic Verities). This institution was a lay organization dedicated to the revival of Islam as a religion of social obligation and commitment.

Little is known of Shari`ati’s early years. He went to government (as opposed to seminary) schools in Mashhad but also took lessons from his father. On graduating from secondary school, apparently in 1949, Shari’ati enrolled in a two-year program at Mashhad’s Teachers Training College (Danishsaray-i Tarbiyat-i Mu`allim).

He seems to have begun teaching at the age of eighteen or nineteen (1951-1952), probably in one of the government village schools near Mashhad. Both he and his father were involved in pro-National Front rallies held by the Mashhad branch of the National Resistance Movement (Nahzat-i Mugavamat-i Mill!) after the royalist coup d’etat in August 1953 that overthrew the government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh (Muhammad Musaddiq). The movement was founded by Mehdi Bazargan and the social-activist clergyman Sayyid Mahmud Talegani (Taliqani). [See the biographies of Bazargan and Tdleqdni. ]

Shari`ati was arrested in September 1957 for his role in one such demonstration, and he was jailed at Tehran’s Qizil Qal`ah prison until May 1958. He is also said to have affiliated himself with a political movement known as the Movement of Socialist Believers in God (Junbish-i Khudaparastan-i Susiyalist). Apparently, he had entered Mashhad University for the B.A. degree in 1956 and married that same year.

Shari`ati was therefore about twenty-seven at the time he received his degree, with honors, in French and Persian literature in 1960. He forthwith left for Paris, stipend in hand, to study at the Sorbonne. Since he later frequently alluded to the French Orientalist Louis Massignon, the sociologist Georges Gurevich, the historian Jacques Berque, and the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, many of his supporters believed that he had been formally trained in philosophy and social sciences. However, his doctoral dissertation was a translation of and introduction to a medieval book, The Notables of Balkh (Faza’il-i Balkh). If, therefore, he had received such training, it was not reflected in his research.

During these years abroad, he actively participated in the antishah student movement and came to know Ibrahim Yazdi, Sadiq Qutbzadah, Abol-Hasan Bani Sadr (Abfi al-Hasan Ban! Sadr), and Mustata Chamran, all of whom became principals in Iran’s early postrevolutionary government. During the 1962 Wiesbaden (Germany) Congress of the National Front in Europe, Shari’ati was elected editor of the organization’s newly established newspaper, Iran-i dzdd (Free Iran). He also contributed articles to the Algerian revolutionary resistance newspaper, Al-mujahid. Accordingly, he became familiar with the ideas of Third World liberation thinkers, such as Franz Fanon (d. 1961), Aime Cdsaire, and Amilcar Cabral (d. 1973).

Sharicat! returned to Iran in 1964 and was immediately arrested at the Turkish-Iranian frontier and jailed for six months for his political activities in France. After his release, he went back to Mashhad and briefly taught in a regional secondary school before securing an obscure post as an instructor in humanities at Mashhad University’s Faculty of Agriculture. Shortly thereafter, he transferred to the Faculty of Arts. Shari`ati’s lectures attracted students from outside the university as well and soon became so popular that the government engineered his dismissal. However, he continued to receive invitations to lecture from university student organizations on campuses in various cities.

Meanwhile, in Tehran, a group of religious reformers had established the Husayniyah-yi Irshad in 1965. This religious institution, like the Kanun-i Nashr-i Haqayiq-i Islam! of Mashhad, granted no degrees but instead sponsored lectures, discussions, seminars, and publications on religious subjects. Shari’ati joined the Husayniyah-yi Irshad in 1967 and not long after became its most popular instructor. For six years, his lectures were packed with students eager to hear a new interpretation of Islam and its role in society. His activities angered the orthodox clergy, who saw in him an untutored agitator who was undermining respect for the seminary and its teachers. However, the younger generation was enthralled by his innovative approach, so much in contrast to what they believed was the traditional clergy’s antediluvian methods, scholastic pedantry, and purely pietistic concerns. He sought to apply Islam to the requirements of the age, to make it relevant, in keeping with the hadith (saying attributed to the Prophet): “If it is a matter of religion, then have recourse to me, but if it is a matter of your world, you know better [than I do].” This hadith has frequently been interpreted to mean that scripture requires adaptation to changing historical circumstances in certain realms of human endeavor, such as politics.

Because of pervasive censorship, Shari’ati had to couch his discussions in elliptical language. One of the leading intellectuals of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Ayatollah Murtaza Mutahhari (d. 1979), remarked that he and Shari’ati’s other colleagues at the Husayniyah-yi Irshad believed that his talks were too overtly political in content and feared a government crackdown. By mid1973, the regime had indeed come to regard Shari`ati as a dangerous radical, and Shari’ati was again arrested and jailed, his father joining him for part of the time. Shari’ati was released on 20 March 1975 only because of the intervention of the Algerian government. The Iranian press then published his essay Marxism and Other Western Fallacies: A Critique of Marxism from the Perspective of Islam without his permission in a transparent attempt to suggest that Shari`ai had sold out to the shah and was collaborating with the regime-an effort that failed abysmally.

Under virtual house arrest for about two years, Shari’ati was finally allowed to go abroad in spring 1977. His plans were to meet his wife and family in Europe and then to proceed to the United States, where his son, Ihsan, was a student. However, the government prevented his family’s departure, and Sharicati, who had already flown to Brussels, went to England to stay with his brother pending developments. On i9 June 1977 his body was discovered at his brother’s house in southern England. The official ruling was death from a heart attack, but many believe that he had been assassinated by the shah’s secret police.

Shari`ati’s body was transferred to Iranian authorities in London, and the Iranian government sought to persuade his wife to go claim the body and return it for burial at state expense. However, she refused to participate in this blatant attempt to exploit Shari’ati’s death for the shah’s own propaganda purposes, and Shari’ati was buried in Damascus near the tomb of Zaynab, the Prophet’s granddaughter and sister of the third imam, Husayn ibn `Al! (d. 68o). Officiating at the funeral was Musa al-Sadr, leader of the Lebanese Shicah.

Thought. Shari`ati was less a disciplined scholar than a social and political activist. By the time of his final arrest, he had given over two hundred lectures at the Husayniyah-yi Irshad, many of which had been prepared for publication and sold thousands of copies in several printings. His early works include Maktab-i vasatah (The Middle School of Thought), which he wrote while in the Teachers’ Training College and which upheld Islam as the virtuous path between capitalism and communism, and Tarikh-i takamul-i falsafah (The History of the Perfection of Philosophy), written in 1955. He was also deeply impressed by the biography Abu Dharr al-Ghifari by Jawdah al-Sahhar, whose protagonist, Abu Dharr (d. 657), symbolized Muslim resistance to injustice. In fact, Shari’ati’s admirers affixed the sobriquet “Abu Dharr-i Zaman” (The Abu Dharr of Our Times) to his name after his death.

As a thinker, Shari’ari exhibited a paradoxical sensibility. He was an intensely private thinker engaged in a lifetime search for truth through a mystical, intuitive understanding of the world and God’s role in the scheme of things. Yet he took very public stands to promote a collectivist revolutionary course of action to bring about social justice and freedom for the downtrodden. The hallmark of his thought was his conviction that religion must be transformed from a purely private set of ethical injunctions into a revolutionary program to change the world. In this respect, he greatly resembled Ayatollah Ruhollah al-Musavi Khomeini (1902-1989), who repeatedly rejected the idea that Islam was merely a matter of arcane rules and rituals pertaining to such technical problems as ablution, menstruation, parturition, diet, and the like. [See the biography of Khomeini.]

Shanati was always looking for what was fresh and original in Islam and had little patience with traditional formulas and modes of thinking. The system of thought that he constructed was not parsimonious or logically rigorous. He was in too much of a hurry to be able to work out an elaborate, internally consistent social theory. His primary purpose was to exhort people to action in the mold of Imam Husayn, who, Shari`ati believed, had consciously sacrificed his life on behalf of the political and social liberation of his followers. In this view of Imam Husayn, Shari`ati scandalized the traditional religious establishment, which felt that he had converted their revered imam into a vulgar powerseeker and crude ideologist.

In calling for liberation through a reinterpretation of the faith, Shari`ati clearly rejected the fashionable Western revolutionary view that religion was the “opiate of the masses.” Religion, in Shari`ati’s perspective, lends itself to ideological commitment for the emancipation of the individual believer from oppression. In this respect, he shares much in common with the contemporary Egyptian philosopher Hasan Hanafi. The project of both thinkers is to undertake a fresh reading of Islamic scripture in order to reconstruct Islam’s concepts into a modern, autochthonous, and progressive ideology of mobilization to enfranchise and empower the masses. [See the biography of Hanafi.]

Shari ati’s detractors, mainly scripturalists with an ahistorical view of the sacred texts, felt that he had diffused and distilled the Qur’an and sunnah into a mere vulgate, with debasing appeals to “enlightened thinkers” to overturn the existing social arrangements for the sake of an anthropocentric “new order.” This view, however, ascribing to Shari`ari no more than a merely instrumental approach to the faith, falls to the ground in light of the role he ascribed to religious belief in the total life of the individual. Shari-`ati never invoked the metaphor of the individual engaged in a saga of epic struggle inevitably ending in his triumph over the forces of evil.

There might be a residual basis for the scripturalists’ concerns, however, because Shari`ati did invoke a central theme of the humanistic, Enlightenment tradition: the individual’s enormous potential for living a life of emancipation, harmony, and well-being through the exercise of right reason. For all of Shari`ati’s ecstatic paeans to Allah’s majesty and love, his system did seem to imply the vision of those who believed in history’s progressive march toward the liberation of mankind from the evils of superstition, obscurantism, and mystification. His scheme did at least imply the possibility that human reason was uniquely capable of achieving mankind’s emancipation and enfranchisement. Shari`ati critics blamed him for opening the door to the emergence of a human community that would vanquish the forces of evil through dedication to its own confraternity. Even if this community submitted itself to Allah, Shari`ati’s critics implied, such submission was suspect because it appeared to be contingent rather than categorical. Whether Shari`ati’s critics are right in suspecting that in Shari`ati’s worldview Allah’s role appears to be reduced to merely providing comfort from personal doubts, one thing is clear: Shari`ati was, perhaps more than anything else, concerned about human injustice and the need to act to eliminate it.

Shari`ati evinced a profound revulsion against injustice, which he viewed both as a symptom and, more important, as an integral consequence of a failed human emancipation. He dedicated his life to fighting injustice.

How can shi’is so devoted to the cause of Imams `Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 661) and Husayn, acquiesce in injustice, Shari’ati demanded. Rulers have oppressed the faithful, often in the name of Shiism itself. But the traditional clergy must share the blame, because they have for centuries encouraged stoic acceptance of despotism, some for opportunistic reasons, others in the expectation that the Hidden Imam would one day return to purge all the accumulated wrongs visited on the righteous. In this refusal to wait passively for the redeemer, Shari`ati once again had much in common with Ayatollah Khomeini. Nonetheless, Khomeini was not an admirer of Shari’ati and doubtless shared his fellow mujtahids’ views that Shari`ati was an ignorant hothead who made gratuitous attacks on the Shi`i clergy.

Although a controversial figure, almost all agree that Shari`ati’s was an urgent voice. Despite the prevalence of Shi`i symbols, his cause was humanity in general, especially the masses of the Third World. He believed that Western imperialism wished to transform the masses into slaves. Islam was, in his view, the answer to both Marxism and capitalism. Some of the key concepts in Shari`ati’s writings and speeches were shahadat (martyrdom); intizar (anticipation of the return of the Hidden Imam); zulm (oppression of the Imam’s justice); jihad i’tiraz (protest); ijtihad (independent judgment in adducing a rule of law); rawshanfikran (enlightened thinkers); tarikh ([the movement of] history); mas’uliyat (responsibility); and `adalat ([social] justice).

From Marxism, Shari`ati borrowed the notion of dialectical conflict and appropriated the term jabr-i tarikh (historical determinism). But he preferred Hegel’s primacy of contradictions among ideas along the path to an Absolute Truth to Marx’s insistence on the precedence of material contradictions and class conflict. From Western liberal thought, Shari`ati adopted the Enlightenment’s stress on reason as the corrective for the maladies of society. From all, he seems to have gained an appreciation of the dangers that institutionalized religion can pose.

In this connection, Shari”ati believed that ijtihad is the purview not merely of the experts but of every individual. All persons have the responsibility to exercise ijtihad on substantive, nontechnical matters. He likened the emulation of putative experts-the mujtahids-in regard to such basic problems as authority, justice, mobilization, and participation to abdication of individual choice and will. We can see, then, the manifest influence of existentialist and Marxist philosophy on

Sharfati. From the former, he adopted the notion that the individual must take responsibility for his or her actions. And from Marx’s mediation of the Prometheus legend, Shari’ati absorbed the humanistic admonition that religion can be made to serve despots, that the eternal verities represented by religion must be determined by individuals appropriating true knowledge from those seeking to monopolize it for non- or even antihumanistic ends.

It is difficult to summarize Shari’ati’s overall contributions. Although his ideas have suffered eclipse in official circles in the aftermath of the revolution that he struggled so hard to effect, he has left a legacy that Iranians will not easily forget and which will no doubt continue to be invoked.

[See also Iran; Shi’i Islam, article on Modern Shi’i Thought.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

For a comprehensive listing of Shari`ati’s works, see Yann Richard, Abstracta Iranica (supplement to Studia Iranica), vols. 1-2 (Leuven, Belgium, 1978-1979). For critical evaluations, see the following: Abrahamian, Ervand. “`Ali Shari`ati: Ideologue of the Iranian Revo lution.” Middle East Research and Information Project Report, no. 102 (January 1982): 24-28. Depicts Shari`ati as a cosmopolitan thinker seeking to synthesize socialism and Shiism and applying revolutionary theories of Third World revolution.

Ahmadi, Hamid, ed. Shari ati dar jahan (Shari`ati in the World). Tehran, 1365/1986. Series of essays on Shari’ati’s life and thought. Akhavi, Shahrough. “Shariati’s Social Thought.” In Religion and Politics in Iran, edited by Nikki R. Keddie, pp. 125-144. New Haven, 1983. Examination of the ontology, epistemology, philosophy of history, and political theory of Shari’ati’s thought.

Algar, Hamid. “Islam bih `Unvan-i Yak Idiyuluzhi” (Islam as an Ideology). In Shari’ ati dar,jahan, edited by Hamid Ahmadi. Publication of a lecture given at the Muslim Institute in London, focusing on the importance of ideology in Shari`ati’s outlook.

Bayat, Mangol. “Shi’ism in Contemporary Iranian Politics: The Case of Ali Shari’ati.” In Towards a Modern Iran, edited by Elie Kedourie and Sylvia G. Haim, pp. 155-168. London, 198o. Views Shari’ati as an “embourgeoise modernist” reflecting the identity crisis of modern intellectuals.

Dabashi, Hamid. “Ali Shari’ati: The Islamic Ideologue Par Excellence.” In Theology of Discontent, pp. 102-146. New York, 1993. Extended study of Shari`ati’s ideas, stressing his moral vision as a politically engaged “prophet.”

Hanson, Brad. “The `Westoxication’ of Iran: Depictions and Reactions of Behrangi, Al-e Ahmad, and Shari’ati.” International journal of Middle East Studies 15.1 (1983): 1-23. Examines Shari`ati’s antiWestern polemics.

Hermansen, Marcia K. “Fatimeh as a Role Model in the Works of Ali Shari’ati.” In Women and Revolution in Iran, edited by Guity Nashat, pp. 87-96. Boulder, 1983. Examines Shari’ati’s ideal type of She! woman as faithful, aware, and engaged, and critiques asutopian his lack of concern for women’s institutions and organizations to implement their goals.

`Irfani, Surush. “‘Ali Shar’ati, Teacher of Revolution.” In Revolutionary Islam in Iran. London, 1983. Stresses the revolutionary nature of Shari`ati’s message.

Malushkov, V. G., and K. A. Khromova. Poiski Putef Reformatsii v Islame Opyt Irana (The Search for the Path of Reform in Iran’s Experience). Moscow, 1991. Contains several chapters analyzing Share ati’s life and thought.

Sachedina, A. A. “Shariati: Ideologue of the Iranian Revolution.” In Voices of Resurgent Islam, edited by John L. Esposito, pp. i91214. New York and Oxford, 1983. Argues that Shari`ati was above all the founder of a discipline of “Islamology”-the study of how Islam may be applied to contemporary social problems in the search for solutions.

Shari`ati, `All. On the Sociology of Islam. Translated by Hamid Algar. Berkeley, 1979. Contains useful information on Shari`ati’s life and excerpts from his important work, Isldmshindsf.

SHAHROUGH AKHAVI

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/shariati-ali/
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