Ali Shariati - A Biographical Sketch

Developing Just Leadership

Gholamabbas Tavassoli

Rajab 25, 1398 1978-07-01

Occasional Paper

by Gholamabbas Tavassoli


Do not imagine those killed in God's path to be dead; rather they are alive, nurtured in the presence of then Lord. (Qur'an, 3:169)

Seeking refuge in history, out of fear of loneliness, l immediately sought out my brother Ayn al‑Quzat,[1] who was burned to death in tile very blossoming of his youth for the crime of awareness and sensitivity, for the boldness of his thought. For in an age of ignorance, awareness is itself a crime. Loftiness of spirit and fortitude of heart in the society of the oppressed and the humiliated, and, as the Buddha said, "being an island in a land of lakes," are unforgivable sins. [Ali Shariati, from the introduction to Kavir (Desert)]

YES, AWARENESS, sensitivity, boldness of thought, loftiness of spirit and fortitude of heart‑these were the great human attributes that he found he had in common with Ayn al‑Quzat, and with his sharp insight, he perceived that his fate would be like that of Ayn al‑Quzat‑premature death in the earliest part of youth. It is not surprising that when he applied his insight and perception to himself, he foresaw everything and was unafraid to speak. But he knew that in a society composed of the oppressed and the humiliated, in an age of ignorance, in the desert of neglect‑or, better to say, in an age that pretends to neglect and ignore the truth‑awareness and sensitivity are no longer synonymous with boldness of thought and fortitude of heart; on the contrary, the quality of intellectuality has become equated with ambition and the desire for position, and is thus in itself one cause for the oppression and humiliation of the conscious. It was he who chided and reproached with a painful smile those intellectuals who do not have the courage even to participate in corruption, who remain waiting, in perplexity and confusion, at the crossroads and who never take any exami­nation for fear of failing. For him, the choice of a path was not the "first step"; it was the whole of life, and hesitation and doubt were the result of our present intellectual servitude, which we designate metaphorically as "intellectualism." Throughout his extremely brief but fruitful life, he struggled boldly with all his strength and capacity against this ancient and familiar enemy of thought and humanity.

At the same time, he waged a campaign of resistance against the habit of regarding the actual as normal and acceptable, instead of seeking to replace it with the ideal; against the view of human life as vain and pointless; against banality and the sense of vanity; against the morphine that has submerged, in a state halfway between sleeping and waking, in the dream of neglect and a state of uselessness, not only the overwhelming majority of the people, but even a segment of the guardians of the religion of tauhid, and diverted them from the path of truth, with its rises and falls‑a path demanding vital faith, dynamic thought, and a wakeful conscience. He waged a constant strugg­le against the evil temper of our age and our society, the withered root of which can be watered only by the renunciation of all things, even life itself, by martyrdom!

I cannot endure remaining silent and being unable to say anything. I shall remain silent, but I feel like a person enduring the pangs of death who knows that peace and salvation await him, who is tired of the troubles of life, for whom there is nothing but a waiting that lasts a whole lifetime ....

Do you not see how sweetly and peacefully a martyr dies?

For those fully accustomed to their everyday routine, death is an awesome tragedy, a horrendous cessation of all things; it is becoming lost in nothingness. But the one who intends to migrate from himself begins with death. How great are those men who have heeded this wondrous command and acted accordingly‑"Die before you die." (Kavir, p. 55)

Everyone acquainted with Dr. Shari'ati knows well that not only is the study and reading of his works and thoughts instruc­tive and rewarding, but also his way and method of life were the reflection of a correct and profound vision of the world, a ray emitted by his faith. Here, we will set forth only an outline, a sketch, of a life that consisted entirely of work, activity, faith, love and responsibility‑the life of a conscious and dedicated man. We ask forgiveness of him and his friends for the inade­quacy of our presentation.

Sketch of a Life

In truth, life itself was no problem for him, but only how to live and for what purpose. For this reason, from the very begin­ning of his life, he was not only concerned with the shaping of his life and imbuing it with meaning, but he also felt intensely the weight of the burden of the trust that he had inherited from his forefathers and ancestors. He wished to carry that burden to its destination as swiftly as possible, and as he recalled in his last letter, he never wasted a single moment or permitted it to pass without profit and result:

By the grace of God Almighty, Whose miraculous love for me induces shame and pain in my heart and nearly causes my spirit to explode in its agitation, and without in any way being worthy of it, I have entered on Such a path that I cannot permit myself to spend a single instant of my life on personal happiness. God's support of me compensates for my weaknesses, and what pleasure could be greater than this, that my life, destined to pass in any event, should pass in this fashion? (From Shari'ati's last letter to his father)

There weighed upon his life not only the burden of the trust he had inherited from his own ancestors and forefathers, but also the heavy burden of the search for truth and justice that has been borne throughout history and in every age by the oppressed, the humiliated and the afflicted, the burden of the trust made fully manifest by Husayn, the heir of Adam, the burden carried by Zaynab to the very court of Yazid in Damas­cus, the burden that everyday weighs more heavily on the shoulders of the men of God.

The form of solitude, exile, defeat, despair and pain was to be seen, in that desert covered with blood; it raised its head above the red wash of martyrdom, and stood silent and alone. (Husayn, the Heir of Adam, pp. 16‑17)

He believed that inheritance is a philosophical and credal fundamental of Islam by means of which Islam wishes to estab­lish a purposive continuity running through the different events and occurences that have happened, are happening, and will happen in different times and places. They are linked together by means of this continuity; they are born and they die as the result of a logical causality and a scientific law; they succeed each other and influence each other; and each of them forms a link in a single continuous chain that extends from the beginning of humanity with Adam down to the end of the system of contradiction and struggle at the end of time. This logical continuity, this inevitable progression, is known as history.

This heavy burden of the trust of history, which he never forgot even for a moment, was transferred to him from his close ancestors and forefathers and illumined his whole life. His life began in the desert and ended with the attainment of a compre­hensive historical and social ideology, a message for the intel­lectual guidance of the young generation, and the search for discovery of that "median path" that is the need of our times. Consciously and deliberately, lie traversed the destined path of all those who felt and suffered, as he did, the pain of our age, and he became one more among the martyrs and witnesses of history‑

A pure essence's fit to receive God's grace;
Not every rock and clod is turned to coral and pearl.

It is not fortuitous that like many great figures of science and religion, Shari'ati had his roots in the countryside. He was indeed proud of his ancestors, who were among the first­ ranking religious scholars of their age, for choosing the isolation of the Kavir[2] in preference to the tumult and confusion of the city. Let us quote his own words:

About eighty‑five years ago, before the beginning of the Constitutional Revolution, my grandfather studied theology, philosophy and jurispru­dence with his maternal uncle, Allama Bahmanabadi, and used to engage in philosophical debate with Hakim Asrar. Even though he was living in the iernote and obscure village of Bahmanabad near Mazinan, his fame spread to the learned circles of Tehran, Mashhad, Isfahan, Bukhara and Najaf. In Tehran in particular he was renowned as a genius, and Nasir ad‑Din Shah invited him to the capital. There he taught philosophy at the Sipahsalar madrasa, but the urge for solitude and isolation, strong in his blood, drew him back to his retreat in Bahmanabad. It was the time of maturity, when he could have had position and authority, assumed the leadership and direction of men, and enjoyed fame and influence. But he deliberately turned his back on it all.

Shari'ati derived much benefit from the life of his pure ances­tors. He learned in particular "the philosophy of remaining a human being in an age when life is polluted, when remaining a human being is extremely difficult, and when a repeated Jihad is needed everyday, and when jihad cannot be waged!"

Akhund Hakim was my paternal grandfather. How delightful were the stories they would tell me of him! It is to these stories that I trace the origin of many of the deep and unconscious feelings that exist in the profundity of my soul.... It is almost as if I can see myself in him living fifty or eighty years ago ... and I am grateful to him that he was as he was and that lie acted as lie acted. (Kavir, pp. 9 If)

His paternal uncle was also one of the most outstanding pupils of the celebrated scholar Adib Nishapuri, but after study­ing jurisprudence, philosophy and literature, he followed the custom of his ancestors and returned to Mazinan.

Shari'ati regarded as his own the whole legacy of humanity and scholarship that his ancestors had left behind. He consid­ered their spirit as living on in him and looked upon it as a guiding lamp, lighting his path.

It was above all his father who was his spiritual teacher, in such a way that the son became a shining reflection of his father's essence.

Kavir: the extensive desert that makes up almost two‑thirds of the Iranian plateau. (TR)Kavir: the extensive desert that makes up almost two‑thirds of the Iranian plateau. (TR)Kavir: the extensive desert that makes up almost two‑thirds of the Iranian plateau. (TR)My father broke with tradition and did not return to the village after completing his Studies. He stayed in the city, and strove mightily to preserve himself with knowledge, love and jihad in the midst of the swamp of urban life .... I am the result of his decision to stay, and the sole heir of all the estates and property he left behind in the domain of poverty .... I am the bearer of his cherished trust, laboring beneath its awesome weight .... (Kavir, p. 19)

Aqa Muhammad Taqi Shari'ati, the great teacher and muja­hid and the founder of the "Center for the Propagation of Islamic Truth" in Mashhad, is one of the founders of the Islamic intellectual movement in Iran. He has continuously rendered brilliant service for forty years in the propagation of religion in a logical, scientific and progressive fashion. In particular, he has been in the forefront of efforts to bring the modern‑educated youth back to faith and Islam, delivering them from materialism, worship of the West, and hostility to religion. "The idea of taking the Qur'an as the central means for teaching, studying and propagating the teachings of Islam and Shl'ism, and the creation of a special school of Qur'anic exegesis during the last few years, is largely his work" (Shari­ati, In Answer to Some Questions, p. 162).

We emphasize the influence of his father upon Shari'ati because, as everyone will agree who knows this noble, dignified and scholarly man, this will help us to understand the different dimensions of Shari'ati's life. It will also confirm this truth, that when a person of genius and abundant intelligence is entrusted to a skilled teacher, to be educated under the proper conditions, he will be able to break the barriers of the common­place, to outstrip his own age, and to become a source of influence instead of a recipient, active instead of passive. Those who are acquainted to some degree with the elder Shari'ati, and are aware of the different dimensions of his life‑scholarly, religious, social, political and human‑know of his devotion, his patience and ability to endure, his profound knowledge.

They know, too, his religious and philosophical writings, such as Khilafa and Wilaya in Qur'an and Sunna, Revelation and Prophethood, Ali, Witness to the Message, The Promise of Religions, The Utility and Necessity of Religion, The Econom­ics of Islam, and, above all, his Modern Tafsir (Tafsir‑i Nuvin). Finally, they are aware of his courageous struggles against all those elements which stifle and kill talent, even in universities and the religious environment, and his significant role in changing the methods of approach to Islamic questions, and in choosing a correct and suitable method for their examination in the convulsed age in which we live. In a time such as this, there are few such fathers and few such children.

My father fashioned the first dimensions of my spirit. It was he who first taught me the art of thinking and the art of being human. As soon as my mother had weaned me, he gave me a taste for freedom, nobility, purity, steadfastness, faith, chastity of soul, and independence of heart. It was he who introduced me to his friends‑his books; they were my constant and familiar companions from the earliest years of my school­ing. I grew up and matured in his library, which was for him the whole of his life and his family. Many things that otherwise I would have had to learn much later, in adult life, in the course of long experience and at the cost of long‑lasting effort and Struggle, he gave to me as a gift in my childhood and early youth, simply and spontaneously. My father's library is now a world full of precious memories for me. I can remember cacti of his books, even their bindings. I love greatly that good, sacred room, which is for me the summation of my sweet, good, but distant past. (In Answer to Some Questions, p. 89)

But genius and talent break the limitations of every environment and outstrip their own age. In order to leave his mark, a man must regard existing fundaments simply as a point of departure for a creative leap forward, instead of permitting himself to be restricted and contained within his environment. Shari'ati was well aware of the restrictions of his environment, and the traditional forms that surrounded him, and lie was determined to subject them to his own purposes instead of being subjected by them. In this, he was successful. He taught while still studying, and he developed intellectually in numer­ous ways so that everyone was aware he had already taken a few steps outside his environment and age.

Talent, a suitable environment, and above all, a belief in the veracity of the pure sources of Islamic truth, as well as a love and attachment for them, joined to intellectual and personal modesty in thought and behavior, enabled him to gain the utmost possible benefit from the possibilities that offered them­selves to him, for the sake of his lofty aims. He described the general environment of his education as follows:

What great blessings I have enjoyed in my life! I have failed to appreciate them adequately. No one has benefited from life as I have. The extraordi­nary, great, beautiful, passionate and creative spirits with whose path fate has caused mine briefly to cross, have in some measure taken up residence in my own frame. Even now I can clearly feel their presence within me, and I live through them and in them . . . . (Kavir, p. 88[3])

Like the great spirits who were his teachers and preceptors, and those others who taught him meditation and jihad, and the various dimensions of true Islam, from whose abundant springs, he gained inspiration and the love of truth, he too came to tread the paths of thought and reflection, of exertion and responsibility, of striving for perfection and eternity. But he never severed his ties with his first environment, and his family‑and he never forgot the Kavir. Every mention of Mazi­nan he would preface with a smile of joy and contentment.

In his childhood and early youth, he appeared to be an ordinary student, one among countless others. Like the others, he went to school, took his examinations, and advanced from one year to the next, first of primary and then of intermediate education. At the same time, he was busy learning Arabic and the religious sciences. After he completed high school, out of love for the profession of teaching, he entered the teachers' training college‑at that time, a reputable and important insti­tution that prepared for the honorable profession of teaching people who, for one reason or another, had been unable to enter the university. At the same time, he began his career as a writer with works Such as the "Median School" (Maklab‑e Vasita), on the philosophy of history. He also gave lectures to the students and intellectuals at the Center for the Propagation of Islamic Truth in Mashhad.

What fashioned him and determined the direction of his thought was not so much his conventional program Of Study, not even the course of higher study that he followed abroad, as his love of learning and thought, and the creativity and commitment chat he derived from his firm faith in the perspicuous religion of Islam, as well as from his earliest environment, which always remained a source of guidance for him. The Center for the Propagation of Islamic Truth in Mashhad, which for thirty years was the active and vital center of committed, intellectual Muslims in the city, contributed much to his formation; and in return, he played a great role in promoting its activities by delivering lectures, answering questions, and pre­siding over its sessions. From the Outset, he was greatly inter­ested in writing and lecturing as a means of intellectual development and deepening faith, and he was encouraged to pursue these interests by his eloquence and powerful, expres­sive pen. His knowledge of French and Arabic, even before entering the university, was at a level that permitted him to translate books from those languages. His translation of a book on Abu Dharr al‑Ghaffari from Arabic, and a book oil prayer from French, both souvenirs of his pre-university period, dem­onstrate the breadth of his thought and the scope of his work at this time. In addition, the eloquent and expressive introduc­tions he wrote to the two translations, exemplify the direction and clarity of his Islamic thought in this period. In his view, Islamic might be regarded as a "median school" among the different schools of philosophy, one intermediate between socialism and capitalism, which adopted the advantages and positive aspects of other schools of thought while avoiding their negative aspects.

He was chiefly concerned, however, with the ideological and anti‑imperialist movements that at that time were sweeping

across the Islamic world, from North Africa to Indonesia, and held out the promise of broad and comprehensive action. His translation of the book on Abu Dharr and the little but rich book on prayer, both products of this period of his life, drew his attention to the pure and unsullied sources of Islam, and exem­plify his first interpretations of the life of the Prophet and the other leading figures of religion in the light of social concern. They both exercised air undeniable influence on the youth.

In 1956, the Faculty of Letters was founded in Mashhad, and Shari'ati became able to continue his studies while working as a teacher; he was, indeed, among the first students to be enrolled in the faculty. Here he had numerous clashes of opinion with his teachers, prompting him to develop further the line of thought he had chosen for himself. Even in the classes and lectures he attended, he played an active role, not being content to remain passive like the majority Of Students. Benefiting from this new opportunity for study, reflection, investigation and discussion, he developed a particular interest in the history of religion, the history of Islam and the philosophy of history. Many queries Occurred to him in particular concerning Toyn­bee's philosophy of history, and he raised numerous objections to it.

His independence of thought and belief was demonstrated above all by his determined defense of truth and justice and the particular attention he paid to religious, social and political events that affected the destiny of the people. In the deathly silence that prevailed everywhere at that time[4] he could never withdraw from the social struggles and conflicts, and the battle between truth and falsehood. With his speeches and his writ­ings, and other resistance activities, he had caused the authori­ties to open a file on him. He was never able to remain silent and to accept the negative equilibrium that had been established in society. He fought on two fronts simultaneously. He opposed the extreme traditionalists who had spun a web around them­selves, separated Islam from society, retreated into a corner of the mosque and the madrasa, and often reacted negatively to any kind of intellectual movement within society; they had covered the brilliant truths of Islam with a dark veil behind which they themselves also hid. He also opposed the rootless and imitative intellectuals who had made the "new scholasti­cism" their stronghold. Both groups had severed their relations with society and the masses of the people, and humbly bowed their heads before the manifestations of corruption and deca­dence of the modern age.

At the University of Paris

The five years Shari'ati spent at the University of Paris pro­vided him with the opportunity not only to continue his studies unimpeded by other concerns, but also to make the acquain­tance of books generally unavailable in Iran (or, if available, often only in distorted form). He was able to examine and gain direct knowledge of different schools of social and philosoph­ical thought and social behavior, as well as the works of philos­ophers, scholars and writers such as Bergson, Albert Camus, Sartre, Schwartz, sociologists such as Gurwitsch and Berque, and Islamologists such as Louis Massignon. He was particu­larly attracted to Islamic studies and sociology, and he studied these subjects formally. The analytical and critical school of French sociology left a considerable impression on him; but despite the attraction exerted on him for some time by this kind of sociology, his social vision was a compound of idea and action. He found unconvincing both the positivist approach to society, which regarded sociology as an absolute science, and the purely Marxist approach. Neither of these approaches was able to comprehend or analyze the realities of the non ‑industrialized world, the so‑called "Third World." Shari­’ati was constantly engaged in the search for a sociology that, irrespective of the status and development of capitalist society or the communist system, would be able to interpret and ana­lyze the realities of the life of those peoples whose subjection to imperialism had been approved even by the communists of Europe, but who were struggling to gain their dignity and independence.

We know that part of Shari'ati's stay in France coincided with the tumultuous period of the Algerian revolution, a period iii which different parties and groups in Europe, even scholars and sociologists, were adopting various positions, positive and neg­ative, on the fate of a Muslim people who had been subjected to imperialism for more than a century and were engaged in a fierce jihad, a life‑and‑death struggle, carrying their battle into France itself. The position of the French Communist Party and the Algerian Communist Party, both of which supported the continued annexation of Algeria by France and opposed the Algerian revolution, was extremely instructive. Shari'ati devoted much attention and thought to what was taking place in Algeria, for he never considered himself separate from the anti‑imperialist struggles of Muslim peoples and regarded him­self a partner in their destinies. But the bloody revolution in Algeria belonged to another category, one all its own; it was something nobody could ignore, whether friend or enemy. The anti‑imperialist struggle in Algeria had few if any precedents. It involved ten million Muslims‑peasants, mountaineers, the whole Muslim population of the country‑In a war against one of the most powerful armies of imperialism, and the French war machine that included 500,000 soldiers. The Algerian people produced a million martyrs, but finally cut off the enemy's line of retreat and brought it to its knees.

A factor of great significance was that all justice‑loving Mus­lim forces, whether in the Arab world or beyond, supported the Algerian movement, regarded it as their own, and felt it in their own beings. At the instructions of the Algerian National Liber­ation Front, a large number of Muslim students, even those who were in their last years of Study at the Faculty of Medicine and the Polytechnique, abandoned their studies and joined the ranks of the Algerian mujahidin, voluntarily filling all the dif­ferent posts and functions required by the liberation struggle.

Another dimension of the struggle consisted of the theories and ideas that it produced: philosophical, sociological and psychological analyses designed to understand and explain the deep roots of the Algeiian question. This theoretical activity, which took place both inside the Algerian movement and out­side of it, was reflected in numerous books and articles in different languages. El‑Moudjahid, the organ of the Algerian Liberation Front, played a particularly prominent role, reflect­ing and analyzing the struggle in ideal form. French intellectu­als also contributed much to this activity.

The essays and books of Franz Fanon drew particular atten­tion. Originally from Martinique, he had taken Algerian nationality, and he was a psychologist by profession. He joined the ranks of the Algerian revolution at its very inception, and produced numerous important works, such as The Damned of the Earth and The Fifth Year of the Algerian Revolution.

Fanon was discovered and presented to the Europeans by Jean‑Paul Sartre. But he was first truly adequately discussed by Dr. Shari'ati, in an article he wrote in 1962 for one of the sociopolitical journals published by the Iranian students in Europe. He regarded the book The Damned of the Earth, with its profound sociological and psychological analyses of the Algerian revolution, as a valuable intellectual gift to be pre­sented to all those engaged in the struggle for change in Iran. By expounding certain theories of Fanon, which previously had been almost entirely unknown, and translating some of the conclusions in his book, Shari'ati enabled the echo of Fanon's thought and outlook to reach the Iranian popular movement of which he was a part. Under the influence of Fanon, phrases Such as the following began to appear in his pronouncements:

Come, friends, let us abandon Europe; let us cease this nauseating, apish imitation of Europe. Let us leave behind this Europe that always speaks of humanity, but destroys human beings wherever it finds them.

Thanks to the suitable presentation of his ideas by Shari'ati, who fully sympathized with him and felt the truth of his statements in the very depth of his soul, Fanon became known and appreciated in Iran, with the result that a number of discerning people devoted themselves to further study and translation of his work.

Shari'ati similarly played a great role in making known the ideas of other African revolutionary writers, including Umar Uzgan, author of The Best of All Struggles (Afdal al‑Jihad), as well as a number of non-Muslim writers and poets. For he was convinced that the ideas that were taking shape in various Popular and Islamic movements in Africa Could inspire a new intellectual dynamism in the social and political struggles of the Iranian Muslims, and indeed, he always advised his friends and pupils to benefit intellectually from anything the genuine movements of Islamic struggle in our age have to offer.

His Study of the works and ideas of committed thinkers and writers, while lie was in Europe, as well as his personal encoun­ter with some of them, did not affect him in a passive sense (as we see all too often with our intellectuals); rather, it inspired him to the development of new ideas, to orginality and creativ­ity. He based his study and understanding of society not so much on formal and "official" sociology as on the actual and observable movements of society, and his objective studies and analyses were never devoid of criticism. Throughout the period of his residence and Study in Paris‑a period which ended in his receiving a doctorate in social sciences‑he was engaged not so much in studying, memorizing and preparing for examina­tions, like other university students, as in developing himself as a mujahid, self‑aware and discriminating.

There were three aspects of his activity that distinguished him from others at that time: intellectual struggle, practical struggle, and the struggle for the evolution of a true system of education. All three forms of struggle were oriented toward the people, or, more broadly conceived, to the umma. Instead of being totally absorbed by the tumult of student political activ­ity, he sought to accomplish something for the sake of his people, something lasting and worth while. His writings and efforts were for the sake of his people, and he, more than anyone else, viewed the masses as his unique and irreplaceable point of orientation.

Shari'ati's residence in Paris coincided with a new and vital phase in the development of the progressive wing of the Iranian religious movement inside Iran. After a brief interval during which the breezes of freedom had blown over Iran, tyranny and repression reasserted their former place in the life of the coun­try. Arrests and trials began again, long sentences of imprisonment were given, and barbaric torture was practiced. The chief target of the repression consisted of the religiously‑oriented nationalists, especially those committed persons who had joined the Freedom Movement (Nehizat‑e Azadi), the only group to come forward with a clear ideology and policy and a firm program of action. The glorious uprising of Muharram 12, 1383.,'June 5, 1963 also gave a new aspect to the Islamic move­ment in Iran, and separated the true mujahidin from the sea­sonal demonstrators.

Shari'ati belonged to this movement and considered it his own; hence he never desisted for an instant from writing and proclaiming the truth and analyzing the Islamic movement that had been shaped by the powerful leadership of Ayatullah Khumayni. At the same time, the majority of Persian‑language publications appearing abroad had a non‑religious or even anti‑religious tone, even though the movement within Iran was fundamentally an Islamic one, and its whole basis was a pro­gressive religious ideology. Iranian intellectuals abroad were overlooking the social realities of Iran and the true nature of the popular struggle, whether as a matter of evil intention, a con­spiracy of silence, or the result of ignorance. They would relate only the briefest of details concerning events in Iran, conveying at the same time air implied criticism.

Fortunately, Shari'ati, together with a number of like-­minded persons, was able to publish one of the most widely read Persian‑language journals in Europe, and with his powerful intellect and pen, he made of it the most serious and realistic organ published in support of the popular movement. In this Journal, a real harmony existed between the ideas of the intel­lectuals abroad and the nature of the struggle of the people within Iran.

In shot, Shari'ati's period of study in France was marked by constant reflection and activity, and he came to embody one of the most influential currents of thought among Iranians abroad, Despite the significance of the various aspects of his activity, we cannot offer here a more detailed description of them, and Must content ourselves with this brief indication of the influence exerted by the work of this militant thinker, Shari'ati.

Return to Iran

In an article published by Kayhan, one of the semi‑official newspapers of Iran, on the occasion of the death of Shari'ati, we read as follows:

In 1964, when Shari'ati deemed himself to be better equipped than ever before for the service of his country, his people and the perspicuous religion of Islam, he set out for Iran, with his wife and two children . . .. He was hearing with him a valuable gift for Iranian society. For he had discovered a whole new approach to religion, and it was his firm intention to wage a determined battle, with the weapon of logic and within the framework of true Islam, against the superstition, sectarianism, and hypocrisy that were harmful to nation and religion alike .... Upon returning to Iran, he was appointed professor at the University of Mashhad.

If we accept the first two statements quoted above, then the third would appear to be only logical and natural: if Shari'ati had brought such a valuable gift back to his country, it would have been entirely appropriate for him to be employed at a university. But this is not at all what happened. As soon as he arrived at Bazargan‑the main Iranian border crossing from Turkey‑after five years of absence from his country, he was arrested, in the presence of his wife and children, and imme­diately sent to prison. For a long time he was prevented from seeing his father. Even after being released from prison, he was obliged to work for many years as a teacher at various high schools and the College of Agriculture, at the same level he used to teach before going abroad; this, despite his doctorate and the "valuable gift for Iranian society" that he had brought. Such was the welcome given him by Iran. Throughout his life, his homeland was a prison for him where solitude, tribulation and all kinds of pressures bore down on him; but at the same time, this made him more determined to continue his struggle. After a number of years, without his seeking any appointment, he was appointed to the University of Mashhad, either by accident or by error. He then began to devote himself to the direct guidance of the young generation, and the students of different faculties all took great pride in calling themselves his students, accord­ing his lectures and classes an unprecedented welcome. But the University was displeased by this welcome; short‑sightedness, pettiness, envy and malice combined to place obstacles in his part, and the University of Mashhad found itself unable to tolerate the existence of his classes. Shari'ati preferred free methods of teaching to conventional methods, and saw no distinction between freedom and knowledge. In any event, he was soon honored with forced retirement!

This retirement from the University of Mashhad gave him the opportunity to enter a new stage of intensive activity. By means of his lectures, free classes and analytical books written on social and religious topics, he created a new current of thought in the younger generation and in society as a whole. And the outcome of this was five hundred days in solitary confinement, without any trial, and finally martyrdom in exile!

Dr. Shari'ati was, in the fullest sense of the word, a committed believer in tauhid, an intellectual with an acute sense of social responsibility who never shirked his responsibility for a moment. In this age of ignorance, he demonstrated, together with a few other self ‑sacrificing souls, how it is still possible to give one's entire life‑study, profession, work and even family ‑to the task of conveying the message. He devoted all of his time to jihad and to struggle, to the propagation of religion, in the hope that he might save this forgotten and unenlightened generation from its confusion and bewilderment. Despite the obstacles and difficulties, and the considerable attempts to sab­otage his work made by corrupt elements cloaking themselves in piety, with his firm and forceful logic and rational mode of exposition, he left his mark on Iranian society, inflicting dam­aging blows on the ideological positions of domestic reaction and foreign imperialism. His numerous works are a guiding light for the younger generation. May his memory continue to be cherished!

His Works and Ideas

It is not so much the personality and activity of Shari'ati that are important as the works and ideas that he left behind, in the form of recorded lectures, class notes, books and numerous articles, that have been repeatedly printed or duplicated in editions of ten thousand copies or more. They have been sought out by the younger generation with such interest and eagerness that their profound impact can never be effaced from our memories or hearts. All that he said and wrote was expressed with the utmost sincerity, faith and conviction and bore testi­mony to an extraordinary creative capacity.

Life and time no longer leave the pure and innocent alone and friendless. Their life will defend them and time will justify them. The impure can never pollute the innocent, however much they cast stones against them and loose their dogs upon them . . . . (Kavir, p. 282)

A glance at the fruitful, profound and original works of Dr. Shari'ati will show that he did not believe in over simplified and superficial work. Yet, with his powerful pen and eloquent mode of expression, he was able to tender comprehensible the most profound philosophical ideas and the most complex scientific and sociological topics; only the biased would dissent from this judgment. Some of his writings, however, appear to present difficulties: through his use of simile, metaphor and symbolic language, as well as by the concentrated meaning he injected into his words, doubts were aroused in the minds of people accustomed to thinking superficially. An opportunity for raising questions and objections was given to one‑dimen­sional minds, whose constant habit it is to raise petty objections when confronted by searching and dynamic thought‑in short, all those whose minds are sluggish and whose taste is perverted and who have forgotten the Qur'anic principle, "Dispute with them by the fairest of means" (Qur'an, 16:125).

Although the theories of Shari'ati have a religious orienta­tion, they have a sound epistemological, philosophical, histori­cal and sociological basis, and evolve from a constant dialectic of practice and reflection.

We can say that in the view of Shari'ati, correct thought is the prelude to correct knowledge, and correct knowledge is the prelude to belief; these three taken together are the necessary attributes of an aware conscience and of any movement that strives in practice and theory for the attainment of perfection. Superficial conviction and belief without awareness soon take on the form of fanaticism and superstition, and become obsta­cles in the path of social construction. Without ideological change, no profound change is possible in society, and it is precisely a profound ideological and intellectual change that is now needed more than anything else in the fast‑moving, mod­ern world. Such a change must originate in the depths of the being and consciousness of the individual before assuming the form of a general movement, in such a way that fixed and motionless forms that have become crystalized into ineffective “sacred" institutions should be transformed into moving and active elements, with a clearly defined role in the existential movement of society.

The correct knowledge of Islam is attainable on the basis of a philosophy of history grounded in tauhid and a "sociology of shirk," that sets forth the realities of society as they are. Shari’ati's historical and symbolical analysis in Husayn, the Heir of Adam demonstrates that Islam is not a human ideology, per­taining to a particular time or place, but is like a stream, running through the entirety of human history, originating in remote mountain springs and traversing its rocky path before reaching the sea. This stream never ceases to flow, and at certain times, the Prophets and their successors come to quicken the force of its current. The whole of history is a struggle between truth and falsehood, a battle between monotheist and polythe­ist, a clash between oppressed and oppressor, between the deprived and the Usurper. The form of this struggle and clash has been set forth symbolically in the story of Cain and Abel, as well as (in simpler form) in the struggle of the Prophet Moses, upon whom be peace, against the Pharaoh, Croesus and Balaam, who represent respectively Opulence, power and decep­tion in human history, as well as being all three mushrik.

The priesthood (mala') and the opulent (mutrif) together comprise the exploiting classes that have always opposed the prophets, whereas the deprived, the oppressed and the pious have always stood with the prophets and the martyrs. Belief in tauhid is inseparable from the social and historical responsibil­ity and commitments of those who profess it, so that the society that believes in tauhid is also a society that must practice jihad.

This eternal struggle begins in the very morning of man's social history, in tire time of Adam, and the standard bearers in the battle for justice have always been the Prophets and the right­eous. Thus the social movement of men has been joined to the world‑view of tauhid and brought into harmony with it.

The burden of the trust of tauhid was entrusted in history, after the Prophet himself, peace and blessings be upon him, with the institution of the Imamate, with Ali and his descend­ants. But in the Course of time, Shi'ism, which had begun as a protest by Ali, Husayu and Zaynab, became a tool in the hands of the possessors of money and might, and in the Safavid and post‑Safavid periods, despite the guidance of the Imamate, its true visage became hidden beneath the dust of opportunism, vacillation, and misinterpretation, and the truth became lost. The following books and classnotes of Shari'ati may be referred to in this connection: Husayn, the Heir of Adam, 'Ali: The School of Unity and Justice, Waiting for the Religion of Pro­test, Umma and Imamate, Alawi Shi'ism and Safavi Shi’ism, Abu Dharr al‑Ghaffari, Salman‑i Pak, Martyrdom, The Re­sponsibility of Being Shi'a. In them can be heard the re‑echoing voice of Shari'ati in defense of the truth and true Islam, and together they represent the direction of Shari'ati's thought and the profound historical and religious analysis in which he engaged.

Another direction of Shari'ati's thought was the sociology of Shirk, the realistic and critical analysis of present‑day societies. Under this heading, he discussed the role of the different groups and strata of society; particularly the intellectuals, the compet­ing ideologies and schools of thought existing in the world, and the role of different civilizations and cultures, all of them deprived of belief in tauhid. He finds that Contemporary man, without tauhid, is in the last analysis an "alienated being, and that his science, once deprived of conscience, becomes a kind of neo‑scholasticism, where pretenders take the place of true intel­leCtUals.‑ (See The New Scho last icism, Civilization and Re­newal, Alienated Man, The Sociology of Shirk, the Intellectual and His Responsibility, Existentialism and Nihilism, etc.)

Front the purely sociological point of view, we may say that few Iranian scholars have examined the reality of contemporary Islamic society in our age with the same penetrating realism as Shari'ati. What was important for him were not abstract con­cepts, but existing realities ‑values, modes of conduct, and the idea‑and belief‑structures prevailing in Islamic society.

In order to undertake such an analysis of society, Shari'ati did not think it adequate for intellectuals to be acquainted merely with European currents of thought on the one hand, and the social realities of their own society on the other. Such a limited knowledge might, in fact, lead them astray and suggest to them unrealistic conclusions. The analysis of existing realities is possible only through recourse to the terms, expressions and concepts that exist in our philosophy, Culture, religion and literature, which are, in sonic cases, richer and more exact than then, analogues in foreign languages. The translation and repe­tition of the stereotyped concepts of Western sociology, born of the analysis of nineteenth‑century European industrial society and the aggressive, imperialist society of the first half of the twentieth century, can in no way be of value to ' us, for those concepts have nothing in common with out‑ contemporary life.

We must analyze the particular values and relations that have taken shape within our society and correspond to the specific nature of our social life, our psychic make‑up and our modes of social behavior, as well as the existing realities in society and the psychological reactions of individuals to them. For this purpose, we must choose whatever has taken shape in the history of Islamic society in Iran and suggests a comprehensive system of sociological concepts and terms, and make out‑ analy­sis on its basis. From this point of view, terms such as umma, imamate, justice, martyrdom, taqiya, taqlid, patience, unseen, intercession, migration, unbelief, shirk, tauhid and the like, are far more expressive than corresponding or similar European terms.

Shari'ati always placed his finger on the realities and avoided abstract thought. He was a realistic and committed sociologist who was enabled by his specifically Islamic mode of vision and thought to go beyond both positivist and Marxist sociology in the examination of his own society, and through the applica­tion of a profound historical and religious method, he endowed contemporary Islamic sociology with new dimensions. He car­ried out a realistic analysis and sociological criticism of both the "static" dimension of society‑the present structure of con­duct, value and beliefs of different groups, religious and non­religious‑as well as the "dynamic" dimension, i.e., the historical changes and developments traversed by the Islamic umma and Iranian society in different eras. However, he did not accept the notion of "neutrality" in a science such as sociology, and could not accept that the sociologist should remain a pure observer of society, particularly in the present‑day world where the concept of scientific neutrality has largely lost its meaning and social commitment and participation have taken the place of observation and description.

It is, therefore, appropriate to examine almost all the works and ideas of Shari'ati from a sociological viewpoint. He laid the foundations for a true and multi‑faceted Islamic sociology, acting in this respect, too, as a pioneer.

What is important for us is that the examined history, the philosophy of history, religion and shari'a, and sociology, all within the framework of the general world‑view of tauhid, so that tauhid became the intellectual and ideological foundation of both a philosophy of history, uncovering the past fate of man and human society, and a prediction of their future destinies.

All of his philosophical, historical and sociological analyses were joined, their, to a belief in tauhid, as he himself explains in the clearest fashion:

Tauhid may be said to descend from the heavens to the earth, and leaving circles of philosophical, theological and scientific discussion, interpretation and debate, it enters the the affairs of society. It poses the various questions that are involved in social relationships‑class rela­tions, the orientation of individuals, relations between the individual and society, the various dimensions of the social structure, the social superstructure, social institutions, the family, politics, culture, econ­omy, ownership, social ethics, the responsibilities of individuals and society. Tauhid thus provides the intellectual foundation for all the affairs of society.

This aspect of tauhid may be said in a general sense to constitute the ideological basis, the intellectual cement for the tauhid‑oriented society‑a society based on a material and economic structure exempt from contradiction and an intellectual and credal structure free of con­tradiction. The question of tauhid and shirk becomes, then, one relating to a universal philosophy of sociology, to the ethical structure of society and its legal and conventional systems.

This new approach that situated the idea of tauhid on the social plane and connected the understanding of society to the concept of tauhid,represents a stage beyond contradiction and opposition. Shari'ati's sociology was a reflection of his world­view, a world‑view that brought practical results in society. He saw in the world of society a continual struggle between social tauhid and social shirk, a struggle that has lasted throughout history and that he analyzed in dynamic terms:

Just as the world-view of tauhid interprets human society in a unitary fashion. Just as on the plane of universal being tauhid is in opposition to diverse and contradictory forces, to the various deities of pagan pantheons, to the Unseen and supernatural forces that are to influence men's destinies, and the pro­cesses of nature, so too tauhid in human society negates the terrestrial deities that impose themselves on men, usurping their powers and determining complex systems of society and social relationship among classes‑in a word, it negates shirk on the human plane.

For Shari'ati, neither the Islam of the scholar nor the Islam of the common people was of value, but only the "Islam of the conscious and aware"; he preferred the intellectual and enlight­ened Muslim to both the scholar and the commoner. In Islam, the making of the self and the changing of the self presuppose arid accompany each other; it is in this sense that the celebrated sentence‑of which Shari'ati was so fond‑is to be understood: "Life is conviction and struggle, and nothing more."

This is the vital arid urgent message for the conscious Muslim of out age, a message he addressed particularly to the sincere and enlightened youth‑‑for once youth acquires conviction and faith, it will devote itself fully to them, and be swiftly transformed into air active element in the struggle for the reali­zation of the goals of Islam."

The work of Shari'ati was of undeniable effect in this respect.


The late Dr. Shari'ati was a hard‑working writer, a commit­ted intellectual eager to convey his message, and at the same time, he possessed great genius and creativity. He always had something new to say or to write, so that it is not possible to present here all of his works and ideas. The only correct method for gaining an understanding of him is to refer directly to the writings that he left behind in the course of his brief but active life. The number of his lectures, discussions, answers to ques­tions, sociological and historical analyses and writings, runs into the hundreds. Most of them have been frequently reprinted at home and abroad, in thousands of copies; taken together, they form a sort of "Encyclopedia of Islam." A glance at the titles of his works and lectures will show that he was always looking for new topics and subjects, and his mind never ceased its creative activity. His guiding light was the pure Islam of its first devoted adherents and the Qur'an. Despite the number of his writings, he seldom repeated any subject, and it is therefore necessary to refer to all that he wrote in order fully to appreciate his thought. Here we mention the titles of a few of his works accessible to us at the time of writing, in order to honor his memory‑the memory of a brief life lived with firm faith that created a new current of thought among the educated Youth, both in university and traditionalist circles.

May his soul rest in peace!

Abu Dharr Ghaffari, translation, Mashhad, 1335/1956.

Alawi Shi’ism and Safavi Shi'ism, lecture at Husayniya‑yi Irshad.

All: A Truth Shrouded in Legend, lecture at Husayniya‑yi Irshad.

Ali, the Perfect Man, lecture at Husaymya‑yi Irshad.

All: The School of Unity and Justice, lecture printed by Husayniya‑yi Irshad, Azar 1348/1969.

Allama Iqbal, congress in commemoration of lqbal held at Husayniya‑yi Irshad.

Appointment With Abraham, lecture given at the University of Mashhad on the philosophy of the hail.

Approaches to the Understanding of Islam, lecture at Husayn­iya‑yi Irshad, 1347/1968.

Approaches to the Understanding of Islam, second lecture at Husayniya‑yi Irshad, 9 Aban 1347/1968.

Art in Expectation of the Promised One, lecture at the Univer­sity of Mashhad.

Belief in Science, lecture at the University of Mashhad.

Civilization and Renewal, lecture given to the society of social science teachers of Khorasan.

Culture and Ideology, lecture at the Teachers' Training Col­lege, Tehran, printed by Husayniya‑yi Irshad.

The Economic and Class Roots of the Renaissance, lecture at the Commercial High School.

Existentialism, lecture at the National University.

The Extraction and Refinement of Cultural Resources, lecture at the Petroleum College, Abadan.

Father, Mother, We Are Accused, lecture at Husayniya‑yi Irshad.

Fatima the Unique, lecture on the role of woman in Islam, first given at Husayniya‑yi Irshad, 1350/1971.

The First Blossoming of Islamic Spirituality in Iran, translated from the French of Louis Massignon.

The Four Prisons of Man, lecture given at Pedagogical High School.

"From Migration to Death," part of the book Muhammad, Seal of the Prophets, vol. 1, published by Husayniya‑yi Irshad.

From Where Shall We Begin? lecture given at Aryamehr Uni­versity, printed by Husaymya‑yi Irshad.

A General Syllabus of Islamology, 19 lessons, 1350/1971.

The History of Religions, duplicated at the Faculty of Letters, Mashhad.

Husayn, the Heir of Adam, lecture given at Husayniya‑yi Irshad, Ashura 1349/1970.

If Ali Had Said Yes, lecture at Husayniya‑yi Irshad.

In Answer to Some Questions and Criticisms, talk given at Husayniya‑yi Irshad with the participation of Muharn­mad Taqi Shari'ati and Sadr Balaghi.

The Intellectual and His Responsibility, lecture at Husayn­i . iya‑yi Irshad.

Islamology, vol. 1, Mashhad, 1347/1968.

Kavir: History in the Form of Geography, Mashhad, 1349/ 1970.

Lessons in Tauhid, the History of Religions and Schools of Sociology, a collection of 25 lessons given at Husayn­iya‑yi Irshad.

"Let Us Arise and Advance," lesson 20 of Islamology, 1350/ 1970.

The Machine in the Captivity of Machinism, lecture at Arya­mehr University.

Man in Modern Civilization, lessons in the history of civiliza­tion given at the Faculty of Letters, Mashhad.

Man Without Self‑Two Concepts of Alienation, published by Muslim Students Association of the Faculty of Letters, Tehran.

Martyrdom and Its Sequel, two lectures concerning Zaynab given at Husayniva‑yi Irshad, Ashura 1351/1972.

The Median School, Mashhad, 1335/1956.

Methodology in the Sciences, lecture at the Commercial High School.

The Pain of Existence, lecture.

The Philosophy of History in the Abrahamic Religions, lecture at Husayniya‑yi Irshad.

"The Philosophy of Scientific Determinism in History," lesson 25 of Islamology, Urdibihisht 1351/1972.

A Plan for the Study of Culture, lecture at the Petroleum Col­lege, Abadan.

Reasons For the Decline of Religions, lecture at the National University.

Religion Against Religion, lecture at Husayniya‑yi Irshad.

Religion and Its Destiny, lessons given at the Faculty of Letters, Mashhad.

The Responsibility of Being Shi'i, lecture at Husayniya‑yi Irshad, Aban 1350/1971.

The Revolutionary Role of Remembrance and the Reminders, Husayniya‑yi Irshad, Shahrivar 1351/1972.

A Revolution in Values, lecture at the University of Tehran.

Science or the New Scholasticism, lecture at the Faculty of Medicine, Tehran.

The Sociology of Shirk, lecture at the Faculty of Letters, Tehran.

Specimens of Lofty Ethics, translation from the book of Kashif A‑Ghita.

Supplication, translation, Mashhad, 1328/1948.

"Tauhid, a Philosophy of History," lesson 21 in the series Islamology, Husayniya‑yi Irshad, Farvardin 1351/1972.

'Umma and Imamate," Islamology, vol. 11, 1352/1973.

The Unjust, the Disobedient, the Faithless, Husayniya‑yi Irshad, Aban 1351/1972.

Waiting for the Religion of Protest, lecture given at Husayn­iya‑yi Irshad, 1350/1971.

What Shall Be Our Support? essay, Paris, 1961.

World‑View, lecture at the Petroleum College, Abadan.

Yes, Thus It Was, 0 Brother, lecture at Husayniya‑yi Irshad.


Most of Dr. Shari'ati's lectures have been published in dupli­cated collections of up to 200 pages each. But since each sets out a particular concept and topic, I thought it better to mention each item separately without any attempt at classification.

There exist numerous unpublished and out‑of‑print works of Dr. Shari'ati, as well as numerous tape recordings of his lec­tures that unfortunately cannot be mentioned here. It will be necessary one day to draw up a complete bibliography of his work.

Gh. A.T.

Translator Notes

[1] Ayn al‑Quzat Hamadani: a Persian Sufi put to death in Baghdad in 526/ 1132 on charges of heresy. (TR)

[2] Kavir: the extensive desert that makes up almost two‑thirds of the Iranian plateau. (TR)

[3] Kavir, p. 88. Apart from his father, the first and greatest influence that he experienced, he mentions the following as having influenced him: Louis Massignon (the French orientalist), Muhammad Ali Furughi (Iranian scholar and politician), Jacques Berque (French Arabist and sociologist), and Gur­witsch (French sociologist). But these were all his teachers in a direct and famil­iar sense.

[4] i.e., in the early years after the overthrow of Musaddiq in August 1953. (TR.)

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