Rafed English

The Secular Intellectual

Our society has, a religious identity. All throughout Shiism's history, the clergy have played a crucial role in awakening people to social, pathologies, inciting them to fight injustice, awakening their religious identity. In our history, Islam has perpetually invited people to unity in religious belief, protecting their individual and social dignity. With their incessant calls to social justice throughout the history of Islam, populist religious leaders have served as society's most astute pathologists and healers.

That is why Muslim societies have never harbored a negative view of religion. This stands in stark contrast to Western societies where unsavory and misguided religious leaders have turned people away from religion.

In the Muslim world, especially in Iran, whenever oppressed people have risen against tyranny, their activism has been channeled through religion. People have always witnessed the fiery and bloodied face of religious revolutionaries who have risen to fight oppression and despotism.

Our social conscience is replete with memories of the clash of true believers with hypocrites who have used religion to justify people's misery. Our part of the world has witnessed the historical antagonism between truth and justice-seeking religion and the oppressive and misguided views of religion that have been the tool of oppressors.

Is it not true that, in the history of Islam, religion has opposed religious and secular tyranny? Have not most martyrs of truth been religious activists? Is it not the case that over the past hundred years, religion has been the greatest champion of the fight against despotic agents of colonialism? Has not the experience of religious struggle, among other revolutionary and nationalist experiences-some of which are worthy of praise been the most successful?

Our society is religious and it is natural that secular intellectuals have never enjoyed a social base or a place in our people's hearts.

Unfortunately what has been called intellectualism in our society has been a movement that has been superficial and cut off from the people. Never has the voice of self-appointed intellectuals traveled beyond the cafeterias and coffee houses where they have posed as a political opposition. Even if people have heard their voice, they have found it incomprehensible. Thus, there has never been any mutual understanding.

And if public-minded intellectualism came to the fore and gained respect, it was through people who cast their claims in authentic, traditional, and religious terms. This was the reason for the vast popularity of figures such as Jalal Al-e Ahmad 3 and Ali Shariati 4 These two were real intellectuals, and our society felt that they were a part of the people and spoke to the people's pains and concerns.

The secular intellectual, knowingly or not, pours water into the enemy's mill, the same enemy who is against our independence, who opposes our people's authentic culture, religion, and freedom. History testifies that this group has on the whole been on the same side as, and has sometimes actively cooperated with, despotic systems propped up by foreigners. But fortunately, because it lacks deep roots in our culture and people's souls, it has not had much effect. Today also, I believe secular intellectuals present no real danger, even though they may foment chaos in the minds of the young and other susceptible parts of society, or provide a foothold and opening for the enemy to penetrate society.

3. Translator's Note: Jalal Al-e Ahmad (1923-1969). Seminal and prolific Iranian writer who popularized the effects of the cultural imperialism of the West or 'Westoxication' among his generation.

4. Translator's Note: Ali Shariati (1923-1977). Iranian sociologist and reformer of religious thought who played an important role in bridging the gap between Islamic thought and modern Iranian intellectuals. His numerous books and speeches, widely disseminated before the 1979 revolution, were instrumental in arousing Islamic revolutionary sentiment among Iranians.

Adapted from the book: "Islam, Dialogue and Civil Society" by: "Sayyid Mohammad Khatami"

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