Frithjof Schuon Bibliography Mla




New Islamic political movements first emerged in the Near East, the Indian Subcontinent, and Indonesia in the middle of the 19th century in response to European imperial expansion and encounter with European intellectual currents, social values, political thought, and technological advances. They represented, at least in part, the weakness of Islamic societies in resisting Western encroachment and its accompanying modes of modernity. A variety of religious responses and political ideologies emerged in this context with pro-democracy, fundamentalist, and socialist tendencies each having an elective affinity with the interests of different social classes and strata. These movements paved the way for subsequent Islamic movements that emerged in early 20th century Iran and in other Islamic societies, and have continued to the present time (for earlier “Muslim” reactions to and engagements with Western political influences, ideologies, and “modernity,” see Hairi, 1988; see also Hourani, pp. 57-160; for a comparative treatment of these broad categories of Islamic ideologies, see Enayat, pp. 93-159).
Following a brief discussion of the historical background to the emergence of the above movements in a number of Muslim societies, this entry will focus only on Iran’s Islamic political movements. Examining the main phases in the development of various Islamic political movements in 20th-century Iran—before and after the 1977-79 Revolution—this entry will treat the main ideological orientations of pro-democracy Islamic groups and those leaning toward Islamic socialism and fundamentalism. The final section of the entry focuses on the three ideological platforms in practice since the 1979 Revolution.


Under the influence of Western liberal ideas, the underlying political-religious discourses of the early Islamic movements asserted the compatibility of Islam with democracy—for example, in cases of Refa’a Rafi’ Tahtawi (1801-73) in the early-19th century and the al-Nahda (al-Nahża) movement in the latter half of that century in Egypt. Some of these discourses advocated the rights of the citizenry to free and equal participation in national political processes. Another contemporary example of a modernizing movement was the “Islamic Reformist” platform of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan Bahadur (1817-98) in Aligarh, India. These movements, in turn, influenced Iranian lay and religious intellectuals in the course of the 1905-11 Constitutional Revolution (q.v.). The translation in 1909 of Adolrahman Kawakebi’s work, Tabāyeʿ al-estebdād (The Nature of Tyranny), by Mirzā Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Nāʾini, a prominent clerical figure in Najaf religious center, was another source of influence on the Iranian constitutionalists (see below; for intellectual influences from Egypt and India, see CONSTITUTIONAL REVOLUTION i; INDIA ix).

Other forms of religiously inspired responses to European imperial expansion and various aspects of modernity included a broad spectrum of ideological movements characterized by “traditionalist,” “revivalist,” and “fundamentalist” attributes. Some of these movements emerged with messianic undertones, such as the Babi movement in Iran (q.v.) and the Qadiri Sufi resistance to Dutch rule in Indonesia in mid-19th century, and the Mahdist movement in Sudan in late 19th century (see ISLAM IN IRAN 2. MILLENARIANISM AND MESSIANISM IN ISLAM). An example of the traditionalist movement with a fundamentalist leaning was the Deobandi/Devbandi movement, which emerged in British-controlled India in the second half of the 19th century in opposition to British domination as well as the Islamic reformist tendencies, and the pro-British stance of the Aligarh movement (see Metcalf, 1982). The news of these movements also had some influence on the new generation of emerging Iranian intellectuals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (see INDIA ix).

The most influential and distinctly Islamic fundamentalist movement to emerge in reaction to European imperial ambitions, secular political ideologies, and Western modernity was Hasan al-Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood (Eḵwān al-moslemin), which began in Egypt in 1928, and quickly spread to Syria, Jordan, and Palestine. In Iran it contributed to the formation of the Devotees of Islam (see FEDĀʾIĀN-E ESLĀM) in the mid-1940s. A younger generation of Muslim Brotherhood further radicalized in the 1960s-70s and moved from right-wing fundamentalism of Banna to the left-wing fundamentalism of Sayyed Muhammad Qutb (1903-66). Qutb had set forth his leftist ideas in a popular work, ʿAdālat al-ejtemāʿiya fi’l-Eslām (Social justice in Islam), which was translated into Persian as ʿAdālat-e ejtemāʿi dar Eslām, and reprinted several times from 1962 to 2001 (8th printing). Qutb’s other works were also translated into Persian and frequently reprinted during this period.

Islamic movements with socialist leanings emerged later in the Near East and Iran. Mustafa al-Siba’i (MosÂṭafā al-Sebāʾi), Dean of the Law School of Damascus University in late 1950s, and the author of a highly acclaimed socialist textbook in the Arab world, Ešterākiyat al-Eslām (The Socialism of Islam), is widely viewed to be the pioneering figure of both Arab and Islamic socialism (see Enayat, 1982, p. 144-50), whose ideas influenced a number of radical Islamic movements. The traditionalist, revivalist, fundamentalist, and socialist religious movements challenged Western ideas of modernity, including the notion of the compatibility of Islam with Western democracies.

In practice, the various Islamic movements partly adhered to ideal-typical forms of democracy and socialism or even traditionalism and fundamentalism. Some sought to combine Islamic fundamentalism and Islamic socialism, as in the case of al-Siba’i, the leader of the Syrian organization of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. Compared with Sayyed Qutb, Siba’i leaned more toward socialism than Islam, as can be seen by the name he selected for his fundamentalist organization, the “Islamic Socialist Front” (see Enayat, 1982, p. 144-50). Others have sought to fuse Islam with fascist ideologies, as in the case of the Egyptian Nationalist Islamic Party, founded in 1940 (formerly Young Egypt; see Gershoni and Jankowski, 1995).

In the broader discourse of Islamic modernism, one must include the recent contributions of those who have advocated democracy for Islamic societies, including Harun Nasusion, Mohammed Arkoun, Abdolkarim Soroush (ʿAbd-al-Karim Soruš) and Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari (Moḥamamd Mojtahed Šabestari). Drawing from modern hermeneutics in theology (see HERMENEUTICS), these “neo-Mu’tazelite” thinkers emphasize the primacy of “reason” in addressing modern social and political problems instead of relying on the “authentic sources” of scripture and tradition (see further below; for the advocates of neo-Mu’tazelism in Islamic societies, see, e.g., Martin and Woodward).


This period may itself be divided into several phases with respect to the development of Islamic political ideas and movements.

The 1905-1911 Constitutional Revolution. The platform of liberal nationalism, which was introduced in the second half of the 19th century, flourished in the course of the Constitutional Revolution. The idea of popular sovereignty, in particular, became the rallying call for the advocates of constitutionalism, progress, and equality. A rudimentary form of liberal nationalism, advocating the compatibility of Islam with democracy, also found a few adherents among high-ranking Shiʿite clerics who supported the Constitutional Revolution. These included Sayyed Moḥammad Ṭabāṭabāʾi and Mirzā Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Nāʾini as well as influential preachers, including Sayyed Jamāl al-Din Eáfahāni (see CONSTITUTIONAL REVOLUTION i-ii; see also Yaḡmāʾi), though some members of this group later abandoned the liberal tenets of the constitutionalist movement, such as some degree of tolerance toward secularism and equality of all faiths before the law.

An Islamic fundamentalist orientation, led by Shaikh Fażl-Allāh Nuri, also emerged in this period. This was in response to liberal nationalism and in direct opposition to the clerical and lay supporters of constitutionalism. In his lawāyeḥ (pamphlets), published in 1907 in the form of leaflets, treatises, and manifestos, Nuri argued that a constitutional regime and the key ideas of “modernity” are contrary to the tenets of Islam. His condemnation of constitutionalism—attacking liberty, equality, and representative government as “un-Islamic innovations” (bedʿa)—provided Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah with a religious justification for the bombardment of the Majles premises and the suspension of the constitutional regime in June 1908. Nuri’s orientation shared certain key characteristics with other fundamentalist movements of the 20th century (see below). It differed from other contemporaneous movements in the Islamic world, such as those espoused by Sayyed Jamāl-al-Din Asadābādi (see AFḠĀNI) in the 19th century and his disciple, the Egyptian Muhammad Abduh, in being “reactive” rather than “revivalist” (for the revivalist ideas of Jamāl-al-Din and Abduh, see Hourani, 1983, pp. 71-160; for comprehensive original, primary sources on Nuri’s ideas see Nuri, ed., Torkamān, 2 vols., 1983–84, which includes a revealing debate on the fundamental principles of “pro-democracy Islam” and “Islamic Fundamentalism” between Ṭabāṭabāʾi and Nuri, see Nuri, II, 1984, pp. 172-75; for English tr. of one of Nuri’s major manifestos, see Hairi, 1977b, pp. 327-39; Martin, 1989, pp. 181-96; see further ISLAM IN IRAN xvi. ISLAM AND FUNDAMENTALISM, forthcoming, online).

To refute Nuri’s criticisms of the constitutional regime as incompatible with the fundamental principles of Islam, Nāʾini published Tanbih al-omma wa tanzih al-mella (The Admonition of the Religious Community and the Refinement of the Nation) in 1909. With a preface written by two leading mojtaheds of Najaf’s important Shiʿite religious center, Aḵund Mollā Moḥammad-Kāẓem Ḵorāsāni (q.v.), and Shaikh ʿAbd-Allāh Māzandarāni, this book became an influential treatise in the constitutionalist period. However, like other works of the time in support of pro-democracy ideas in Islamic societies of the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent, Nāʾini’s treatise was criticized by some on the grounds that he misunderstood the Western concepts of freedom, equality, democracy, and separation of powers, and therefore glided over the problem of reconciling them with Muslim scripture (see, e.g., Hairi, 1977b, pp. 218-22; cf. Enayat, p. 134).

The 1941-53 period. Islamic protest movements in Iran, which had waned in the 1910s-30s, re-emerged during the 1940s. A significant development in this period was the appearance of religious intellectuals with ideological leanings toward democracy or socialist platforms at the University of Tehran, and in high schools in response to the challenge of the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party’s propaganda campaign among the intelligentsia, and the increasing popularity of the Party’s Youth Organization (Sāzmān-e javānān) among students (see COMMUNISM ii). The adherents of both democracy and socialism in Muslim societies attempted to offer ideological alternatives to Marx’s then-popular historical materialism, which claimed to offer a “scientific” interpretation of social problems and historical development (Rahnema, 1998, pp. 6-7, 12-19, 40-41, 50-51, 100-101; Jaʿfariān, pp. 15-46).

The ideas of the compatibility of Islam with democracy in the Constitutional Revolution also gained a new generation of adherents among the religious intelligentsia, mostly rallied around Mehdi Bazargan (Bāzargān), Yad-Allāh Ṣaḥābi, and Ayatollah Sayyed Maḥmud Ṭāleqāni. The continuity of these Islamic ideas from the Constitutional era may be seen in the reprint of Nāʾini’s Tanbih al-omma in 1955, with an introduction by Ṭāleqāni (see Bazargan, 1998, pp. 73-84; for Ṭāleqāni’s "Last Sermon,” see Kurzman, 1998, pp. 46-48; for a detailed survey of the movement in this period, see Chehabi, pp. 103-39).

The Devotees of Islam (see FEDĀʾIĀN-E ESLĀM) was a fundamentalist Islamic movement that was founded during the 1940s and early 1950s, led by a young, charismatic religious student, Nawwāb Ṣafawi. The movement held a hostile attitude toward the then secular Iranian state and the highest-ranking Shiʿite leader and source of emulation, the Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ḥosayn Ṭabā-ṭabāʾi Borujerdi (q.v.), on the grounds of the latter’s accommodating stance toward the regime. The Devotees of Islam influenced the course of political events in this critical period by carrying out two political assassinations: that of ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Hažir (q.v.), a former prime minister and powerful minister of the royal court, on 4 November 1949, which led to the suspension of the elections of the 16th Majles, and calls for new elections in Tehran. The assassination of Hažir, and the active participation by the Fedāʾiān in protecting the ballot boxes from tampering by professional thugs, were instrumental in the successful election of Moḥammad Moṣaddeq and a number of other National Front candidates to the 16th Majles from Tehran (ʿErāqi, pp. 41-45). Furthermore, with the assassination of Prime Minister Ḥāj-ʿAli Razmārā on 17 March 1951, the Fedāʾiān paved the way for the approval of Moṣaddeq’s proposal for the nationalization of the oil industries by the Majles, and his appointment to the premiership on 2 May 1951 (for a detailed account of their role in the politics of the early 1950s, see Rahnema, 2005, pp. 53-97).

An Islamic movement with socialist leanings, seeking the egalitarian transformation of society within an Islamic framework, also emerged in 1943 with the publication of a manifesto by Moḥammad Naḵšab, “Divine-worshipping socialists” (Sosiālisthā-ye Ḵodāparast). Although this movement remained in the shadow of liberal nationalism in this period, it significantly influenced the next generation of religious intellectuals in the radicalized era of the 1960s-70s, with the number of its adherents surpassing the adherents of Bazargan’s Iran Liberation movement in universities at this period. Naḵšab’s ideas were a form of “humanist Islamic socialism” based on the teachings of the Qurʾān, emphasizing social justice and equality of all pious Muslims based on the teachings and examples from the life of the Prophet, Imam ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb (q.v.), and Imam Ḥosayn (see further, ISLAM IN IRAN xv. ISLAM AND SOCIALISM, forthcoming, online; Nekuruh, 1998; for an account of this movement, see Rahnema, 1998, pp. 24-34).

The 1960s-70s period. Following a relatively dormant phase after the 1953 coup d’état (q.v.), the period of 1960s-70s saw the revitalization and expansion of all brands of political Islam, inspired by the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini as the charismatic political source of emulation (with access to religious networks and financial resources). Incited by his increasingly militant rhetoric, scores of veterans and sympathizers of the Devotees of Islam and other like-minded religious activists organized in a number of mourning religious groups (hayʾathā-ye ʿazādāri-e ḥosayni) during the 1950s-early 1960s, founded the Coalition of Mourning Islamic Groups in 1963 (Hayʾathā-ye moʾtalefa-ye eslāmi, changed later to Jamʿiyat-e moʾtalefa-ye eslāmi [q.v.] and to Ḥezb-e moʾtalefa-ye Eslāmi in 2004). They played a key role in the 1963 urban riots in reaction to Khomeini’s arrest, as well as in the assassination of Prime Minister Ḥasan-ʿAli Manṣur in 1964. They also participated in the revolutionary movement of 1977-79, forming a powerful right-wing fundamentalist camp following the revolution (for two insiders’ accounts of the development of the Coalition of Islamic Groups by their founders and leaders, see Mehdi Erāqi; Bādāmčiān; see further ISLAM IN IRAN xvi. ISLAM AND FUNDAMENTALISM, forthcoming online).

Also reemerging in this period was Bazargan’s pro-democracy nationalist movement that began in the 1940s adhering to the idea of the compatibility of Islam with democracy. It became a political party in 1961 as the Liberation Movement of Iran (Nahżat-e āzādi-e Irān). In its 1961 platform, the Liberation Movement advocated national sovereignty, freedom of political activity and expression, social justice under Islam, respect for Iran’s constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Charter of the United Nations. Although this movement had lost the support it enjoyed in the 1940s-50s in the University of Tehran, it played an important role in the political religious movements of this period, and also later in the 1977-79 Revolution. The popularity of Mehdi Bazargan and Yad-Allāh Ṣahābi stemmed from their presumed mastery of modern sciences. They were seen as examples of a pious Muslim, modern scientist, and pro-democracy nationalist all rolled into one. Bazargan and Saḥābi endeavored to theorize the idea of the compatibility of Islam with democracy through discovering the basis of human rights and democracy in “pristine Islam,” that is, through obtaining the needed theological and jurisprudential support from scripture and the deeds of the fourteen infallible Shiʿite leaders (see further, ISLAM IN IRAN xv. ISLAM AND DEMOCRACY, forthcoming, online; for a comprehensive treatment, see Chehabi, pp. 140-312).

Of all Islamic political orientations, “militant Islamic socialism” became most popular in the 1960s-70s, the period that also witnessed a surge in the popularity of secular socialist ideologies among the youth throughout the world. Beginning in the mid-1960s, Ali Shari’ati (ʿAli Šariʿati), influenced in part by Naḵšab’s ideas, became a source of inspiration to many religious-minded students and, more specifically, the members of the guerrilla organization, People’s Mojahedin of Iran (Mojāhedin-e ḵalq-e Irān) as well as other Islamic leftist groups, including the Party of Islamic Nations (Ḥezb-e melal-e eslāmi; for a treatment of this current and other small Islamic groups with militant leftist orientations, see Ḥosayniān, pp. 499-543, 806-74; see also Jaʿfariān, pp. 92-94, 145-70). The increasing popularity of Shari’ati among religious students derived from his passionate and mesmerizing style of sermons and writings, which featured a radical reading of the Shiʿite idea of human commitment to revolt against tyranny through martyrdom and jihad, combined with the revolutionary ethos of the French left in the era of rising radical movements throughout the world (see below).

The Islamic leftist currents emphasized the ideas of an Islamic classless society as well as solidarity with third-worldist national liberation movements and the Palestinian cause. Shari’ati made many bold innovations in the interpretation of Shiʿite doctrines, particularly as it applied to the relationship between religion and politics, and he supported the use of violence in transforming society into an Islamic utopia. He envisaged a classless society of Muslims (jāmeʿa-ye biṭabaqa-ye tawḥidi) under the leadership of committed religious intellectuals with no room for the clergy (Eslām bedun-e ruḥāniyat). Shari’ati’s ideology was a blueprint for a social revolution and a radical transformation of the social order, and his followers were primarily made up of young students (see further ISLAM IN IRAN xv. ISLAM AND SOCIALISM, forthcoming, online; for a detailed discussion of Shari’ati and his ideas, see Rahnema, 1998, pp. 35-370; for his relation with various Islamic orientations, see also Ḥosayniān, pp. 762-98; for his ideological orientations, see below).

With the emergence of Ayatollah Khomeini as a militant populist in the 1960s-70s, combining personal charisma and the will to power with the spiritual charisma embedded in the office of the Shiʿite source of emulation, all variants of Islamic political currents gradually found a place under the canopy of his leadership. They were later joined by a large number of leftist and liberal political forces in the final years of the 1970s, contributing in various ways to the success of the 1977-79 Revolution (see ISLAM IN IRAN xvii. ISLAMIC REVOLUTION OF 1977-79, forthcoming, online; for Khomeini’s charismatic authority, see Ashraf, 1994, pp. 101-55; for a discussion of various urban forces in revolution, see Ashraf and Banuazizi, 1985, pp. 3-40; idem, 2001, p. 237. Bazargan, 1982, pp. 16-76; for the role of clerical forces in the revolution, see Ruḥāni, 1985; Ḥosayniān, pp. 551-902; Jaʿfariān, pp. 47-91, 171-92).


With the founding of the Islamic state in 1979, many of the leaders and cadres of the revolutionary struggle representing the competing “Islamic” political orientations emerged as the elites of the new regime and began engaging in intense factional politics that continue to this day.

Revolutionary honeymoon. The immediate aftermath of the February 1979 Revolution was a brief period of revolutionary honeymoon. In this period, the liberal factions of both religious and secular currents in the revolutionary coalition, including Mehdi Bazargan’s Liberation Movement and secular veterans of Moḥammad Moṣaddeq’s National Front, occupied most upper and middle-echelon positions within the official bureaucracy. Yet from the beginning the “unofficial” bureaucracy was taking shape behind the scenes made up of both right-wing fundamentalists and socialist Islamic forces, which controlled local revolutionary committees (Komitahā-ye enqelāb-e eslāmi), and the newly founded Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (Sepāh-e pāsdārān-e enqelāb-e Eslāmi; hereafter, the Revolutionary Guards or Guards) and its affiliated organization, Mobilization Resistance Force (Niru-ye moqāwemat-e Basij or Basij-e Mostażʿafin, hereafter Paramilitary forces). The militants also controlled various foundations, which were established to manage confiscated property and nationalized enterprises with enormous assets. The militant groups monitored and obstructed the daily activities of the government (see Bazargan, 1982, pp. 79-209; idem, 1983, passim).

Constitution of the Islamic Republic. As early as August 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini banned twenty-one newspapers of liberal-nationalist and secular-leftist groups who were critical of certain provisions of the new Constitution. The main controversial issue at this time was the nature of the Constitution of the new republic: either an outright republican regime with sovereignty of the people or a hybrid of republican super structure and Islamic sub-structure with the supreme authority of the guardian jurist (welāyat-e faqih). A sharp division evolved between the followers of Khomeini’s platform (Ḵaṭṭ-e Emām), who supported his concept of the sovereignty of the guardian jurist or supreme spiritual leader, and those who opposed it, including Bazargan’s Liberation Movement and his cabinet, National Front supporters, People’s Mojahedin of Iran, and most secular leftist forces, including the Fedāʾiān-e ḵalq, who had a large group of followers among the students and youth (see COMMUNISM iii). Yet, the Assembly of Experts, whose members were popularly elected and predominantly supporters of Khomeini, approved the Constitution of the Islamic Republic in August, establishing rule by the Jurisconsult, consolidating the power of the highest political authority and the highest religious authority under Ayatollah Khomeini. According to the Constitution, the supreme leader is commander in chief of the armed forces and security forces, appoints the clerical members of the Guardianship Councils, a body of six cleric and six lay members, to approve the laws enacted by the Majles with veto power, and also appoints the head of the judiciary. He is the official arbiter between competing camps and separation of powers and, more specifically, between the Revolutionary Guards and other branches of the government. In other words, the Islamic Republic was founded as a hybrid of a Western type republican regime with an elected president, elected parliament, and elected Assembly of Experts, combined with an Islamic fundamentalist apparatus with no accountability to the Majles (see CONSTITUTION ii; for the debate on the Constitution, see Montaẓeri, pp. 522-57; Schirazi; Bakhash, pp. 71-91; for the structure of power in the Islamic Republic, see Buchta).

The radicalization process. In the years immediately following the revolution, several circumstances contributed to an atmosphere of terror, a resort to brutal repression, violent confrontations with the armed opponents of the regime, and, more generally, a move toward radicalization of politics in the Islamic Republic. These included the takeover of the American Embassy by Islamic leftist students in November 1979 and the ensuing hostage crisis, which led to the collapse of the liberal provisional government of Prime Minister Bazargan, and helped mobilize the radical forces of the secular and Islamic left in a new “anti-imperialist” front against the United States and the West in general (see Bazargan, 1982 pp. 77-154; idem, 1983, passim; Chehabi, pp. 253-304). Also of help to the radicalization process was Iraq’s invasion of the Iranian territory in September 1980 and the onset of the Iran-Iraq War (q.v.), which required a massive mobilization of nearly every segment of Iranian society for support of the war effort.

In January 1980, the first presidential elections were held and Abul Hasan Bani Sadr (Abu’l-Ḥasan Bani Ṣadr), who had leaning toward the Islamic left and liberal nationalism, emerged as the victor. His victory, in spite of intense objections by the Islamic republican party (IRP: Ḥezb-e jomhuri-e eslāmi, whose nominee was Ḥasan Ḥabibi), would have not been possible if Bani Sadr had not enjoyed the outright support of Ayatollah Khomeini. As a result from the beginning of his presidency Bani Sadr faced increasing obstructions by the IRP (see Montaẓeri, pp. 258-59). The subsequent elections of the First Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majles-e šurā-ye eslāmi), held in March, resulted in the landslide victory of the IRP and Mojahedin of Islamic Revolution (Mojāhedin-e enqelāb-e eslāmi) and a small group from Liberation Front, Bani Sadr’s supporters, and others (see Ḥajjāriān, pp. 140-41).

Following the hostage crisis and the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88, the Islamic regime faced a period of intense crisis marked by internal conflict and instability, which culminated in the impeachment of President Bani Sadr. This event led to a series of assassinations, masterminded and implemented by the People’s Mojahedin of Iran. They assassinated the powerful head of the judicial system, Ayatollah Moḥammad Ḥosayni Behešti, Prime Minister Moḥammad-Jawād Bāhonar, and President Moḥammad-ʿAli Rajāʾi as well as scores of powerful provincial clerics, cabinet members, and Majles deputies, most of whom were members of the Islamic Republican Party (for a diary of this critical period, see Hashemi Rafsanjani [ʿAli-Akbar Hāšemi Rafsanjāni], 1998).

The rise of Islamic left: 1981-89. This period saw a shift toward the left when Majles approved the appointment of Mir Hosayn Musavi (Mir Ḥosayn Musawi) as prime minister. In this period, the leftist Islamic forces rose to prominence with the support of Ayatollah Khomeini (hereafter referred to as “leftists”). During the last years of Khomeini’s life, the infighting between these leftist forces and the right-wing fundamentalist groups within the regime intensified over a number of basic socio-economic and cultural issues as well as over which faction monopolized the powerful state agencies and the media. An increasing factional conflict led to the dissolution of the Islamic Republican Party (1979-87), the bastion of the right-wing camp, as well as the leftist Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution (Mojāhedin-e enqelāb-e eslāmi). Meanwhile, the left-wing clerics left the Militant clerics association (Jāmeʿa-ye ruḥāniyat-e mobārez) and formed a new organization, the Combatant clerics society (Majmaʿ-e ruḥāniun-e mobārez). These developments led to a sweeping victory of the left in the elections for the Third Majles in 1988. Now in command of all branches of the government, the leftist cabinet of Musavi championed the interests of the peasants and workers. However, the Guardianship Council rejected a number of radical laws enacted by the Majles, including a progressive labor law, a law for imposing a ceiling on agricultural lands as well as urban commercial lands and real estates, and nationalization of foreign trade. To pave the way for the approval of these laws, Khomeini declared the absolute authority of the spiritual leader (welāyat-e moṭlaqa-ye faqih) and created the “Expediency Council” (Majmaʿ-e tašḵiṣ-e maṣlaḥat-e neẓām) in 1988 to review controversial bills, in the event the Majles (at the time dominated by the left-wing camp) and the Guardian council (dominated by right-wing camp) failed to reach a consensus on theological and legal matters. The members of the Expediency council, in addition to the conservative members of the Guardian council, included the heads of the legislative and judicial branches, as well as the then Prime Minister Musavi, who frequently supported the aforementioned radical laws. Khomeini’s son Aḥmad, as well as his chief of personal bureau, Majid AnsÂāri, who supported the radical laws, also became members of the Expediency council. President Ali Khamenei (ʿAli Ḵāmenaʾi) was the only relatively moderate addition to the new review board. The absolute authority of the faqih (Shiʿite guardian jurist; now specifically Khomeini as the supreme leader), it was now argued, would augment the powers of the legislative bodies, including both the Majles and the Guardian Council (see Ashraf, 1994).

At least four factors contributed to the leftward gravitation of the regime in the 1980s: the legacy of both the secular and religious left in Iranian society during the 1960s-70s; the exigencies of the Iran-Iraq War and Iran’s worsening international relations in the aftermath of the American hostage crisis, as well as the antagonism of regional regimes to Khomeini’s revolutionary stance, the revolutionary aura and prestige of Khomeini around the world and the expectations of militant Islamic movements in different parts of the world (irrespective of sectarian divisions in Islam) for emulating the example of the Islamic Republic; and, above all, the preservation and cultivation of Khomeini’s charismatic authority, intended to transcend all competing Islamic political currents in Iran.

The post-War/post-Khomeini era. The early post-war/post-Khomeini era, from 1989 to the mid-1990s, witnessed the demise of the Islamic left and the formation of Islamic pragmatism, a process inaugurated by the presidency of Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-97) and the incorporation of the offices of president and prime minister. Under these circumstances, a new centrist and pragmatist faction, seeking to strike a balance between the right and the left, was formed. The right-wing fundamentalists and their base of support in the bazaar-mosque alliance tactically supported this more moderate, pragmatist camp.

Iran’s many setbacks in the long and costly war with Iraq and the eventual acceptance of a UN-sanctioned settlement by Ayatollah Khomeini, who had previously declined all offers of a cease-fire after having publicly declared the overthrow of the Iraqi regime as one of Iran’s war objectives (referring to the humiliation of the cease-fire as “swallowing a chalice of poison”), led to the disillusionment of the people and discontent among the Revolutionary Guards (see IRAN-IRAQ WAR; for blaming the Guards for the setbacks, see Reżāʾi, pp. 9-11). Furthermore, the heavy death toll suffered, the destruction of cities and the country’s ravaged infrastructure, and the shattered economy all contributed to the growing sense of frustration among people from all walks of life.

The main issue in the immediate post-war period was the path to be followed in reconstructing the country. The pragmatists, enjoying the support of the new middle classes, promoted an economic policy of greater privatization and international trade, combined with a social policy of relative tolerance. The pragmatists advocated a mixed economy based on the coexistence of public and private sectors. However, they also wanted rapid economic development with foreign investments and assistance. This policy proved unsavory not only to the “left,” which pushed for a state-dominated economy, but also to the conservative forces opposed to Iran’s opening up to foreign powers, keeping in mind also reliance of some prominent members of the conservative camp on the traditional bazaar middle class who were wary of outside competition. The pragmatists’ social bases of support consisted of the new middle classes, the industrial entrepreneurs, modern commercial bourgeoisie, government employees, and the intelligentsia (Ashraf, 1994, pp. 101-55). However, following the victory of the right-wing fundamentalist factions such as the Militant Clerics Association and the Coalition of Islamic Groups in the elections of the Fourth Majles (1991-95), they obstructed moderate policies of the pragmatist president Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The new pro-democracy ideas and the 1997 reform movement. The period of the 1990s ushered in two new Islamic discourses in Iran: the “new pro-democracy” and the “new fundamentalist,” both either substantively or instrumentally informed by the new philosophical and social science discourses.

The most eloquent expression of the new Islamic pro-democracy reformist discourse may be found in the publications of the “Kiān circle” (Ḥalqa-ya Kiān), formed around the weekly intellectual journal Kiān, founded by Abdolkarim Soroush, Mojtahed Shabestari, Moḥsen Kadivar, ʿAli-Reżā ʿAlawitabār, Saʿid Ḥajjārian, and ʿAbbās ʿAbdi (see below; for details of their ideas, see ISLAM IN IRAN xiv. ISLAM AND DEMOCRACY, forthcoming, online; see also Soroush, 2000a; 2000b; Mojtahed shabestari, 2002; ʿAlawi-tabār, 2000; idem, 2007; Ḥajjāriān; Bāqi). The new “reformist” political discourse broadened the social base of support for pro-democracy Islamic forces. While the old, pristine “pro-democracy” discourse of Bazargan had lost its appeal for the intelligentsia, the new reformist ideology enjoyed overwhelming support among the younger generation of religious and even secular intelligentsia and, more specifically, among a large group of religious “leftist” forces who now shifted their ideological orientation from Shari’ati’s emotional discourse of authenticity to the rational political philosophy of Soroush and Mojtahed Shabestari as well as the modern social sciences. This ideological shift, which began in the late 1980s, was also influenced by the increasing disillusionment of many younger religious intellectuals with the authoritarian and repressive character of the post-revolutionary Islamic-leftist-dominated government, and coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of pro-democracy movements in countries such as China.

The coalition of the new pro-democracy currents, the reformed Islamic-socialist currents (including Mojahedin of Islamic Revolution and the Bureau of Consolidating Unity [Daftar-e taḥkim-e waḥdat]), and Hashemi Rafsanjani’s pragmatist clique, known as the Executives of Construction (Kārgozārān-e sāsandagi), succeeded in securing the confidence of the people, which led to the sweeping victory of Muhammad Khatami (Moḥammad Ḵātami) in the presidential elections of 1997 over Nāṭeq Nuri, the nominee of the right-wing fundamentalist camp. The 1997 presidential elections ushered in a new era in post-revolutionary Iranian politics. Mohammad Khatami’s campaign platform emphasized the rule of law, establishment of a civil society, a moderation in foreign policy and improved international relations, and the protection of civil liberties guaranteed under the Islamic constitution (see Bāqi, pp. 32-90; Ḥajjāriān; ʿAlawi-tabār).

Khatami’s election victory in 1997 was followed by the triumphant performance of reformist candidates in both the municipal elections of 1999 and the Majles elections of 2000. This unmistakably pro-reform popular mandate at the polls, however, did not translate into the legislative authority and effectiveness of the reformists. This failure can be attributed in part to internal divisions over the extent and priority of pro-democracy reforms among the main constituents of the reformist coalition. But the chief reason for this failure was that the new fundamentalists retained control of the security forces as well as the judiciary and, along with their allies from extremist currents, staged an offensive against the more popular reformers in the three elections. The offensive by the Paramilitary forces consisted of various tactics of intimidation, vigilantism, and acts of terror directed against their political rivals. They also launched a systematic crackdown against the pro-reformist press, intellectuals, students, and the pro-reform political activists, as well as the growing number of outspoken critics of the regime. These circumstances manifested the emergence and rapid expansion of a “garrison-state” (dawlat-e pādgāni) with the new fundamentalist orientation. The garrison-state is primarily concerned with maintaining control over the key political positions and the enormous economic resources they have appropriated, without any accountability as required in a democracy (see Ḥajjāriān, pp. 237-45, 596-603, 689-703; Bāqi, pp. 121-205; ʿAlawi-tabār, 2000, pp. 187-98; Yazdi, pp. 179-84; and Banuazizi, 1995, pp. 563-78).

The new fundamentalist current. After the mid-1990s a substantial discursive shift also occurred in the formulation and presentation of “fundamentalist” ideas, with the soon-to-be principal fundamentalist faction adopting a new language in order to reach the younger generation of devout Muslims. Notably, this transformed fundamentalist discourse also included an appeal to the Western philosophical tradition of anti-Humanism. This marked a major rupture with the former discourse of fundamentalism reminiscent of the Fedāʾiān-e Eslām, Hayʾathā-ye moʾtalefa (originally formed to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Ḥosayn), Militant Clerics Association, and Preachers Association of Tehran (Jāmeʿa-ye woʿāẓ-e Tehran). Immersed in traditional religious jurisprudence (feqh-e sonnati) and the popular religion of the masses, the right-wing fundamentalist discourse of these earlier organizations not only had no appeal to the university students, it was even unable to evoke support among the young veterans of the Iran-Iraq War who, with a populist agenda, found an organizational base in the Revolutionary Guards and its Paramilitary forces. Instead, these veterans were attracted to the new fundamentalist discourse as articulated, among others, by the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute at Qom (Moʾassesa-ye āmuzeši wa taḥqiqāti-e Emām Ḵomayni), directed by Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi (MesÂbāh Yazdi). This new fundamentalist discourse was heavily influenced by the discourses of anti-Humanism and anti-modernism in Western philosophy (see below). Equipped with these instruments of ideological debate, the leading new fundamentalist thinkers could claim to provide philosophically more sophisticated and fundamental critiques of the reformist and pro-democracy Islamic ideologies, as well as of the Islamic currents with socialist leanings (for ideological orientation of new fundamentalists, see below).

As the new Islamic reformist and pro-democracy forces were engaged in a bitter factional struggle with the older right-wing fundamentalist groups (symbolized by Khatami and Nāṭeq Nuri) in the latter half of the 1990s, the new fundamentalists appeared on the scene from within the Paramilitary forces as an Islamic third current (“jarayān-e sevvom,” see Reżāʾi, pp. 9-11; for ideological orientation of new fundamentalism, see below; see further, ISLAM IN IRAN xvi. ISLAM AND FUNDAMENTALISM, forthcoming, online).


The opposition and rivalry between Islamic pro-democracy reformist ideas, Islamic socialism, and Islamic fundamentalism—in addition to the vested material, as well as the more immediate political and cultural, interests of their adherents—also stems from their disparate ideological orientations vis-à-vis four key related issues: Islam and modernity; Islam and militancy; Islam and economic policy; and above all, the degree of an individual’s freedom in relation to God and the compatibility of Islam with democracy, human rights, gender equality, and the rights of minority groups.

Islam and modernity. Notwithstanding the diversity of Islamic political movements in contemporary Iran, their conception of “modernity” was, and remains, relatively stable: it refers to certain ideas, institutions, norms, and practices associated with the West since the late 18th century. While the various Islamic movements differ in their analyses of the particular European historical processes and perspectives comprising “modernity,” they nonetheless are shaped considerably by their respective response to Western influences. The pro-democracy Islamic movements emphasize Islam’s doctrinal recognition of the ideas of freedom and political participation, hence Islam’s receptiveness to “modern” concepts of constitutionalism and individual rights (for different pro-democracy perspectives, see below). The “socialist” Islamic movements, on the other hand, equate modernity with social and economic development combined with social justice and egalitarian distribution of wealth (similar to Liberation Theology, often characterized as a form of “Christian socialism” and enjoying widespread support in Latin America). For their part, the fundamentalist Islamic movements (similar to their Christian, Hindu, and Jewish counterparts) vilify Western “humanism” and, more specifically, the underlying “subjectivism” inherent in modernity. The fundamentalist movements also uphold a moderate or deep belief in messianic millenarianism. In modern Iranian history the deep conviction in the imminent coming of the Mahdi emerged for the first time in its extremist form in the ideological pronouncements of the new-fundamentalists (see below). Meanwhile, fundamentalists criticize modernity as a product of Christianity and/or Western imperialism. Fundamentalist and socialist Islamic movements—like their Western counterparts—often criticize the stagnant conservative religious establishment for not utilizing modern technologies and modes of mass mobilization to fight back against anti-Islamic elements of the political establishment and modernity. Their more radical elements even advocate an “Islam without clerics” (e.g., Ali Shari’ati and the People’s Mojahedin of Iran; see below).

In Iran, as elsewhere in the Islamic world, an ongoing debate is raging over which modern institutions, practices, and ideologies may be deemed to be consistent with the Islamic faith. Pro-democracy and socialist Islamic movements, despite their embrace of modernity, agree that some elements of Western modernity are inconsistent with Islamic doctrines and ought to be rejected; for pro-democracy Islam these would include totalitarian state ambitions and even secular liberalism, and for Islamic socialism the tenets of imperialism, capitalism and consumerism are seen as counter to many egalitarian and puritan Islamic values. Fundamentalist Islamic movements, despite their outright hostility toward the Western model of modernity, nevertheless agree that some elements of modernity are essential under new circumstances, such as modern science and technology and organizational skills. The essential cause of the animosity between fundamentalists, on the one side, and religious modernists—with both pro-democracy and socialist leanings—on the other, stems from controversy over Humanism, as a main element of modernity (see below, “The compatibility of Islam with democracy”).

Islam and militancy. Militant Islamic movements, whether with fundamentalist or socialist leanings, have significantly diverged from the moderate worldview of the mainstream religious establishment of the ulama and the popular Shiʿism of the masses. To mobilize their followers for radical political action, both fundamentalists and Islamic socialists have interjected the spirit of revolt into their interpretive framework of the principle of amr be maʿruf (q.v.)—“enjoining what is proper or good” (a principle religious duty in Islam)—radicalizing the otherwise quietist discourses of millenarianism, jihad, and martyrdom.

Amr be’l maʿruf. Since the advent of Islam in the 7th century, the topic of the legitimacy of resorting to physical force in resistance to oppression has been a key debate in interpreting the principle of amr be’l maʿruf. From the very early days, two polarized perspectives emerged: those who viewed amr be’l maʿruf merely as a moral standard for admonishing corrupt and unjust rulers and members of the Muslim community; and those who proclaimed it a mandatory religious justification for armed revolt against unjust rulers and their loyal subjects. The Majority of Sunnite and Shiʿite scholars generally have upheld the former quietist reading of amr be’l maʿruf, while certain movements since the early years of the advent Islam—ranging from Kharijites to more recent “militant” Islamic currents—have espoused the activist “combative” reading of this principle (see further AMR BE’L MAʿRU).

Millenarianism and Messianism. The “quietist millenarianism” of the majority of the ulama and of the masses simply anticipates the return of the Mahdi before an unspecified millennium to commence it. This “expectant” (enteẓār) perspective had nurtured an attitude of quietism among most Twelver Shiʿites for centuries and, more specifically, since the Safavids. This orientation led to noninvolvement in protest movements and accommodation with the established political order during the “Greater Occultation” of the Mahdi (see ḠAYBA). The active millenarianism of the militants, on the other hand, anticipates the return of the Mahdi only after the millennium, having been inaugurated by the faithful themselves. Yet, the earlier “political” fundamentalists such as Fedāʾiān-e Eslām and Jamʿiyat-e moʾtalefa, as well as the Islamic socialists, adopted a more moderate version of militant millenarianism, primarily against the quietist stand of the Ḥojjatiya Association (q.v.; see also ḤALABI), and other admirers of the Mahdi (welāyatis) who ardently advocated an accommodationist stand vis-à-vis the temporal authority. Therefore, the doctrine of millenarianism and the return of the Mahdi remained at the periphery of Islamic political movements and the Islamic regime in the period of the 1980s-90s (for a detailed survey, see ISLAM IN IRAN 2. MILLENARIANISM AND MESSIANISM IN ISLAM).

Militant conception of jihad. The activist idea of amr be’l-maʿruf and militant conception messianic millenarianism requires a new reading of the principles of jihad and martyrdom. There are two basic views of jihad in Islam: defensive and offensive (for other views, see ISLAM IN IRAN xi. JIHAD). A fight to defend Islamic society (dār al-Eslām) against the aggression of enemies of the faith is incumbent upon the faithful in Islam. The ulama and the masses adhere to the defensive idea of jihad. The legitimacy of offensive jihad and, more specifically, a revolutionary call for jihad during the greater occultation of the Mahdi, is questionable in Twelver Shiʿism. It has been strongly prohibited by numerous Hadith attributed to the Imams (see ISLAM IN IRAN x. THE ROOTS OF POLITICAL SHIʿISM; xi. JIHAD IN ISLAM). While the ulama cast doubt on the legitimacy of offensive and revolutionary jihad during the absence of the Mahdi, militants have appropriated the idea of jihad to mean not only a duty to defend the Islamic community (omma), but also an offensive revolutionary strategy.

Ayatollah Mortaza Motahhari (Mortażā Moṭahhari), who, along with Shari’ati, is considered as the ideologue of the Islamic Revolution, declares that, “There is a complete agreement amongst scholars that the essence of jihad is defensive, not offensive.” However, he extends the notion of “defensive” jihad to rebellion against the tyrannical regimes, to the export of Islamic revolution, and even against cultural aggression. “Islam says that we must fight those tyrants so as to deliver the oppressed from the claws of tyranny.” This militant conception of jihad is also extended to the export of revolution: “Rushing to the defense of the oppressed, especially if they are Muslims, such as the Palestinians, is certainly permissible; in fact it is obligatory.” Finally, the idea of jihad is also extended to the defense of Islamic society against cultural aggression, “So, when we say that the basis of jihad is defensive, we do not mean defensive in the limited sense of having to defend oneself when one is attacked with the sword, gun or artillery shell. No, we mean that if one’s being, one’s material or spiritual values are aggressed or in fact, if something that mankind values and respects and which is necessary for mankind’s prosperity and happiness, is aggressed, then we are to defend it” (all quotations from Motahhari, 1991, online, see bibliography). The new fundamentalists go even further and propagate the idea that jihad is necessary and essential in expediting the coming of the Mahdi (see Saviyon). Another conception of jihad, which is also popular among many Shiʿites and most Sufis, is spiritual jihad, the idea of individual struggle to elevate the mundane existence of the faithful up to the realm of the sacred, leading to refinement and concern with the higher things in life (see ISLAM IN IRAN x. THE ROOTS OF POLITICAL SHIʿISM; xi. JIHAD IN ISLAM).

Militant conception of martyrdom. The activist reading of amr be’l-maʿruf, millenarianism and jihad, in turn, has evolved into an innovative interpretation of the meaning and significance of the martyrdom of Imam Ḥosayn. The popular Shiʿism of the masses is marked by such symbolic religious rituals as “passion play,” commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Ḥosayn (taʿzia), and collective mourning, which includes such practices as self-mutilation and flagellation by mourners (see DASTA). Whereas the militants’ interpretation of the martyrdom evolved in the 1970s to become a rallying call for making individual sacrifices to propagate the establishment of a utopian Islamic society or against the tyranny of the existing order. The turning point was the dissemination of Shari’ati’s idea of martyrdom in his lectures in Ḥosayniya-ye eršād in early 1970s, later published as Šahādat, and publication of a provocative and controversial book, Šahid-e jāvid, Ḥosayn b. ʿAli, (The immortal martyr, Hosayn b. Ali) by Neʿmat-Allāh Ṣāleḥi Najafābādi, with two prefaces by Ayatollahs Ḥosayn-ʿAli Montaẓeri and ʿAli-Akbar Meškini, both ardent supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini.

The interpretation of the martyrdom of Imam Ḥosayn by Shari’ati and Neʿmat-Allāh Ṣāleḥi Najafābādi initiated a new debate on the subject in the 1970s. Ṣāleḥi believed that the Imam possessed a clear religio-political agenda when he mobilized a war against the usurpers of the Islamic government. Thus, he did not intend to attain martyrdom for its own sake, as understood by the masses and disseminated by the ulama, but rather, Ṣālehiá argued, the Imam acted as the exemplar for his faithful followers for generations to come to make permanent revolutionary sacrifices until the establishment of the “divinely guided” Islamic government. This bold innovation on a pre-existing deep-rooted quietist belief was met with the overwhelming indignation of the religious hierarchy on the pulpit, turning the masses against the author (see Ṣāleḥi Najafābādi; for a discussion on Ṣāleḥi’s idea, see Modarresi, chap. 2; Enayat, pp. 190-94). Like the traditionalist conception of martyrdom, Shari’ati propagated the idea that Ḥosayn b. ʿAli, The Lord of Martyrs (Sayyed-al-Šohadāʾ), believed in “martyrdom for the sake of martyrdom,” and that he was aware that he would be martyred when he staged a war with a small force of 72 against the large and well-equipped army of the tyrannical government. He deviated from the traditionalist reading of martyrdom, however, when he glorified martyrdom by propagating the idea that the Imam staged a war to set an exemplar for his faithful Shiʿites to be martyred as a dramatic act of protest and revolt against the tyranny of the established order, “if you are not able to be a victor, be a martyr” (see Shari’ati, 1973; Rahnema, 1998, pp. 312-27).

The new apocalyptic mood. The recent rise to power of new fundamentalists brought different readings to the activist conceptions of amr be’l-maʿruf, millenarianism, jihad, and martyrdom. The radicalization of Shiʿite millenarianism, leading to the rise in the cult of the Mahdi, may be seen as a bold innovation by the new-fundamentalists. It originates in a sort of extremist Shiʿism (see ḠOLĀT), a well-known and recurrent movement in the history of Shiʿism. The new apocalyptic mood helped the burgeoning of Jamkarān edifice near Qom, believed to be the abode of the Hidden Imam. Believing that the well of the mosque in Jamkarān is the host of the Mahdi, the faithful Shiʿites drop prayers and personal requests therein. The new fundamentalists brought, for the first time, the idea of imminent anticipation of the return of the Hidden Imam to a central place in the politics of the Islamic Republic. They have expressed, on various occasions, their deep belief in the universality of the return of the Mahdi, his imminent return to form a divinely ordained state throughout the world. To expedite the appearance of the Hidden Imam, they call for revolutionary mobilization and confrontation with the enemies of Islam through jihad and šahādat. The cult of the Mahdi is replacing the historical place of the drama of the Martyrdom of Imam Ḥosayn. The drama of martyrdom for the return of the Mahdi is even more inciting and more “real” in the mind of believers than the commemoration of the Martyrdom of Imam Ḥosayn. It shifts the orientation from the past to the imminent future. The new cult of the Mahdi, however, encountered growing criticism from the sources of emulation to religious intellectuals of both pro-democracy and socialist camps. They often accuse it of spreading superstition in society (for a survey of the emerging cult of the Mahdi in primary sources, see Saviyon and Mansharof).

Islam and economic policy. The controversy over the priority of public or private sectors became the main point of contradiction and dividing lines in factional politics during the period of 1982-89. In control of the state apparatus during wartime, the radical left championed land distribution among the peasantry, nationalization of foreign trade, imposing limitations on the ownership of urban real estate, and progressive labor laws. Both Shari’ati and Motahhari provided the Islamic left with a socialist platform. While Shari’ati contributed to such rhetorical slogans as “divinely ordained classless society” or “wretched of the earth,” Moṭahhari’s contribution was mainly a moderate and systematic treatment of an Islamic economic system as mediating between socialism and capitalism, public and private sectors of economy (see Motahhari, 1989; for Shari’ati, see above). On the other side were pro-democracy groups, right-wing fundamentalists, and pragmatists with modern capitalist agendas who fought for private ownership and freedom of economic activities. The right-wing fundamentalists even opposed the establishment of a minimum wage or any control by the state over economic enterprises, arguing that capital and labor are in constant interaction in the Islamic free market, and that labor accepts the proposed wage on its own free will. Thus, no intervention by the state in the economic life of the community should be permitted (see Ashraf, 1994). However, the new fundamentalists, with their populist agenda, have adopted more support for the public sector at the cost of private enterprises.

Compatibility of Islam with democracy. A more fundamental and controversial aspect of modernity for Islamic movements is Humanism and, more specifically, the degree of freedom of human agency and compatibility of Islam with democracy. Modern Humanism can be simply defined as “a system of thought that rejects all supernaturalism and relies primarily upon reason and science as well as a concern with the needs, well-being, and interests of people.” Secular Liberalism and Marxism may be considered as the two major political manifestations of Humanism, both having influenced particular Islamic movements. In Abrahamic religions, there evolved two polarized perspectives in response to the spread of modern secular Humanism: an uncompromising outright rejection of Humanism by fundamentalists versus a more moderate, compromising view that propagates the compatibility of religious faith with a modified conception of humanism as mediated by God. The receptive attitude toward modified definitions of humanism is evident in the pronouncements of the compatibility of Islam with democracy and socialism (see below).

Fundamentals of Fundamentalism. As with the adherents of fundamentalist movements in Abrahamic faiths in general—Judaism, Christianity, and other branches of Islam—a primary target of Iranian Shiʿite new fundamentalists is “humanism,” conceiving Man to be “the center of the universe.” The cardinal objective of fundamentalism is, therefore, to reinstate the idea and practice that “God, not man, is the center of the universe.” They also maintain that the path to social justice lies in a return to the original, fundamental message of the scripture (for Islamic fundamentalists, the šariʿa law), and the formation of a religious state combined with the rejection of “innovations” (bedʿa) and perceived anti-religious ideas and practices stemming from the secularization of the world. The targeted innovations include the modern secular state with its tolerance towards institutions of a pluralistic civil society, and the separation of “church” and state. In addition, most fundamentalist movements bitterly scorn any tolerance, much less the collaboration of their religious establishments with, the secular state. In the same vein, they oppose all religious intellectuals with pro-democracy or socialist orientation, accusing them of succumbing to the evils of “Humanism” and the ostensibly false belief of the compatibility of Western forms of democracy or socialism with Islam (for a comparative survey of fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, see Almond, Sivan and Appleby; see further ISLAM IN IRAN xvi. ISLAM AND FUNDAMENTALISM, forthcoming, online).

This stance also signifies the fundamentalists’ conviction of being the guardians of ‘absolute truth’—founded upon immutable and historically unchanging religious principles in pursuit of the right path enjoined by God (al-sÂerāt al-mostaqim)—as well as possessing the sole blueprint for establishing the perfect society in all its aspects of life (political, social, economic, religious, and cultural). The concept of “absolute truth” is evident, for example, in the title of the manifesto by the Fedāʾiān-e Eslām, “The Guide to truths” (Rāhnemā-ye ḥaqāyeq). Such a rigid notion of an invariable “absolute truth” rests upon a dualistic Manichean vision of the world and its division into two opposing forces of good and evil, faith and blasphemy, Allāh and tāqūt, true Islam (Eslām-e rāstin) and false Islam, and friends and foes of Islam. This worldview justifies extreme and violent political action without constraints in defense of Truth, serving as a rationalization for the envisaged totalitarianism of the Fedāʾiān-e Eslām and Jamʿiyat-e moʾtalefa, or even the extremist totalitarian worldview of the new fundamentalists. Another feature of fundamentalism in this regard has been the frequent recourse to violent enforcement of “prescribed” religious codes of conduct when and where possible by resorting to a principle of religious duty in Islam, al-amr be’l-maʿruf. It should be noted that the belief in the existence and knowledge of “absolute truth” also exists among the adherents of secular as well as religious left such as certain trends within Liberation Theology in Latin America and Islamic left, including People’s Mojahedin of Iran, who justify recourse to violence in bringing about their own order of truth in the form of “social justice” (see above section on militancy).

The new fundamentalist discourse and Western philosophy. The underlying epistemological difference between secular humanism and fundamentalism in Iran has been intensified by the new fundamentalists’ adoption of anti-humanist ideas, drawn from Western philosophy. These ideas could be treated in two related currents: perennial Traditionalism and Heideggerian anti-Humanism. The perennial Traditionalist persp ective—which can be characterized as essentially metaphysical, esoteric, and primordial—began to emerge in Europe and America at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of René Guénon (1886-1951), and Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877-1947). It was developed further by Guénon’s disciple Frithjof Schuon (1907-98), and their followers, including Sayyed Hossein Nasr, who edited The Essential Writings of Frithjof Schuon (New York, 1986). Most of the adherents of perennial Traditionalism converted to Islam, including Guénon, who adopted the name, Abd al-Wahid Yahya, and Schuon, who adopted the name, Isa Nur al-Din. A number of the works by these Traditionalist figures have been translated into Persian in the last two decades and have further bolstered the ideological position of new fundamentalism in Iran.

Martin Heidegger’s anti-humanism and anti-modernism has also influenced Persian religious thought through Henri Corbin (q.v.), an influential scholar in Islamic philosophy, and his disciple, Sayyed Hossein Nasr and, more specifically, through Aḥmad Fardid (Corbin was the first to translate Heidegger into French; for the influence of Heidegger on Corbin, see Nemo, “From Heidegger to Suhravardi: An Interview with Henri Corbin,” and Green, pp. 219-26; Corbin, 1983; Nasr, 1990; idem, 1998).

Heidegger’s ideas of the decadence of the West through the concept of the “Darkening of the world—”a recurring theme in his philosophy—introduced and articulated by Fardid through the coinage of its Persian equivalent, “ḡarb-zadagi.” This term means, metaphorically, the dusk of illumination (the Sun) in the West (translated as Occidentosis or Westoxication, meaning Darkening of the Western world, which has also contaminated the East). Drawing from this concept, Fardid and his disciple, Reżā Dāvari Ardakāni founded a new version of Heideggerian fundamentalism in post-revolution Iran (see Fardid, 2000). Heidegger spoke of a “darkening of the world,” to mean the loss of humanity or enfeeblement of the spirit and forgetfulness of Being in the modern world. Following Heidegger, Fardid emphasized that the decadence of the West had already begun with Greek philosophy which marked a human being’s (wojud) loss of “oneness” with spiritual consciousness (del-āgāhi). Western man, immersed in technology, is more concerned with his being than with his spiritual calling in the world. The Liberal conception of civil society and democracy are illusions in a world in which being and spiritual consciousness are no longer in unison but at odds (for an influential vulgarization of Fardid’s Heideggerian concept of ḡarb-zadagi, see Āl-e Aḥmad, 1977, and its English tr. as Occidentosis, 1983). Fardid claimed that the Islamic Revolution served as the vehicle for a return to the authentic spiritual ethos of the Orient. Fardid asserted, “Heidegger is the only philosopher whose thought corresponds to the fundamental ethos of the Islamic Republic, founded by Imam Khomeini.” Fardid gained followers among a circle of people in seminaries and the intelligence forces, as well as in the editorial staff of the major daily Kayhān newspaper, and in journals such as SÂura, Ḥawza-ye andiša, and Honar-e eslāmi (for Fardid’s ideas, see the posthumous publication of his lectures by one of his loyal students in 2000, particularly pp. 12, 347-65; Dāvari, 1984; idem, 2000).

These ideas, drawn from anti-modernist currents in Western philosophy and religious thought, were transmitted to Iranian audience through translation of a number of works of Western adherents of anti-Humanist ideas and by such scholars as Sayyed Hossein Nasr. Following the perennial Traditionalism of Guénon and Schuon, as well as the Heideggerian-Corbinian anti-Humanist ideas, Nasr advocated an apolitical Traditionalist Islam vis-à-vis both modernism and fundamentalism. Yet his ideas of anti-modernism have substantively buttressed the ideological position of new fundamentalism with a hard-line political agenda in the last two decades. These ideas are also transmitted to Iranian advocates of new-fundamentalism by such instructors as Gary Muhammad Legenhausen, among others, who have further equipped the proponents of new fundamentalism, such as Mesbah Yazdi, in developing discursive ammunition against humanism and the “pro-democracy” ideas of such religious intellectuals as Soroush and Mojtahed Shabestari (Legenhausen, an American student of philosophy with perennial traditionalist and new fundamentalist leanings, who converted from Catholicism to Shiʿism, has taught and propagated Western traditionalist and anti-modernist ideas at the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute at Qom since 1996; see Legenhausen, 1999; see further ISLAM IN IRAN xvi. ISLAM AND FUNDAMENTALISM, forthcoming, online).).

Consequently, the main division within the respective political factions since the 1990s has come to be defined by the conflicting ideological poles of “new fundamentalism,” with its totalitarian proclivity, on the one hand, and the “new Islamic pro-democracy thought,” on the other hand.

The pro-democracy and socialist Islamic ideas. The proponents of pro-democracy and socialist oriented Islamic platforms often resort to the idea that man, as God’s caliph (emissary) on earth, has been entrusted by God with a relative freedom of action (for a concise treatment of the basic ideas of religious intellectuals, see Narāqi, pp. 177-200). They often refer to Article 56 in the opening section of Chapter V of the constitution of the Islamic Republic on “the right of national sovereignty” and the powers deriving therefrom: “Absolute sovereignty over the world and man belongs to God, and it is He Who has made man master of his own social destiny. No one can deprive man of this divine right, nor subordinate it to the vested interests of a particular individual or group. The people are to exercise this divine right in the manner specified in the following articles” (Blaustein and Glanz, p. 39).

Referring to this Article, the proponents of varying brands of Islamic humanism occupy a middle ground between secular humanism and religious fundamentalism. This stance, in contrast to the absolute and diametrically opposed worldviews of religious fundamentalists and secular humanists, asserts the centrality of both God and man at the center of the universe. In this way, religious intellectuals with pro-democracy and socialist orientations rationalize the idea of human agency mediated by God’s will and God’s endowment of humanity with the capacity for freedom and creativity (for an application of Jurgen Habermas’s theory of inter-subjectivity to these debates, and the use of the notion of “mediated subjectivity,” see Vahdat, 2000; see also Narāqi, pp. 171-88).

The proponents of mediated humanism can be divided into two distinct orientations: First, those like Bazargan and Shari’ati, who meditate the distance between man and God by referring to the original sources, thereby demonstrating the compatibility of Islam with democracy or socialism through the adoption of universalistic Western political principles and their Islamic textual corroborations. Second, those like Mojtahed Shabestari and Soroush who, transcending the above old way, reconstructed a new theological approach concerning the question of the compatibility of Islam with the ideas of freedom and democracy (see below).

Compatibility of Islam with democracy through authentic sources. As a French educated engineer in the 1930s who was familiar with the modern sciences and political philosophy, Bazargan developed a pristine approach in a number of influential books, expounding the compatibility of Islam with Western science and technology, freedom and democracy. In Ensān o Ḵodā (Man and God), Bazargan sought to bridge the deep chasm between the place of God and Man in the center of the universe (pol-e bozorg miān-e do binahāyat-e dur). Bazargan maintained that the common element in both religion and democracy is the principle of “Man’s nobility,” from which the ideas of human freedom and human rights, responsibilities, and political participation are derived. In his view, Islam along with the monotheistic religions bestows great respect on human rights and considers mankind as free, responsible and autonomous agency. He makes a sharp distinction between the essence and precepts of religion, which belongs to God, and the administration of the polity, which belongs to the people. The former falls under religious rules and the latter under man’s rules. He concludes that “freedom to oppose and criticize and object” is vital and necessary for both government and religion. “When freedom is banished then tyranny will take its place” (Bazargan, 1976a; idem, 1998, pp. 78-82).

Religious intellectuals with socialist tendencies such as Shari’ati, have shown a similar inclination towards mediated humanism and authenticity. Shari’ati, given his emphasis on “authentic man” and his own version of attacking “West-toxification,” as evident in works such as Fāṭema, Fāṭema ast (Tehran, 1971), that were heavily influenced by Louis Massignon, has shown a strong leaning toward authenticity (see also Afary, 2003, pp. 7-35). Inspired by Jean Paul Sartre’s existentialist conceptions of “being” and “becoming,” Shari’ati developed a theory that found equivalents of Sartre’s concepts with the Qurʾanic terms “bašar” and “ensān,” arguing that God has created man as bašar, or merely “a being,” but with the ability and potential of “becoming” human “ensān.” Thus, he claimed, “from among all humans, everyone is as much bashar as the rest, but there are some who have attained insaniyat, and there are others who are in the process of becoming an ensān. . . . bashar is a “being” while ensan is a “becoming” (Shari’ati, “Humanity and Islam,” 1998, p. 188). Divine revelation, Shari’ati argued, has left certain matters up to human creative and inventive intervention, not because the revelation is incomplete or imperfect but because humans have been granted the capacity for rational and moral action. He argued that we are justified in using these powers to create a “social-democratic” system because these powers are what make us truly human (ensān). Shari’ati maintained that man is created by God with the ability to make choices and to create social and political systems in keeping with their authentic values, including the rejection of “traditional” clergy.

Islamic socialists may even go so far as advocating Deism, a belief in God based on reason rather than revelation, subscribing to the view that God has created the universe but does not interfere with how it proceeds, thereby underscoring the primacy and creativity of human agency and recognizing the role of socio-economic factors as a driving force of history (see, e.g., Mojāhedin-e ḵalq, Tabyin-e jahān [Explaining the world]).

A theological breakthrough. Both Soroush and Mojtahed Shabestari have constructed a novel theory of the compatibility of Islam with democracy, which seems to be based on a new theological approach. The old pro-democracy approaches—from the Constitutional Revolution to Bazargan’s Liberation Movement—referred mostly to the ideas of freedom, human rights, and democracy as contained in the original sources of scripture and tradition. This new paradigm, however, advances a “pro-democracy” Islamic theory by focusing on extra-religious sources. The new theory’s main objective is to seek answers to the following questions: “How is a system of democracy, freedom, and human rights possible in Islam?”; and “By what theological method and in what sources may one find an answer to the preceding question?"

Soroush begins his argument in support of the compatibility of Islam with democracy with the premise that human beings aspire to freedom in the modern age and that the best way to attain freedom is democracy. Yet, since the values of freedom and democracy and its criteria are extra-religious values, democracy cannot be reconciled with Islam without unearthing available sources for rationalization of the basis of democracy in religion. The task of the political philosophers in the world of Islam, Soroush believes, is to reconcile religion and freedom by giving a new interpretation of religion to make it possible to link religion with democracy (Soroush, 2000a, chap. 1).

Inspired by Iqbal Lahury (1877-1948) and new Mu’tazilite theology, Soroush calls for an essential reconstruction of the archaic orientation of Islamic philosophy (ḥekmat-e elāhi), theology (ʿelm-e kalām), and traditional jurisprudence (feqh-e sonnati). His mode of reconstruction recognizes the autonomy of the sphere of human values from that of religion (Soroush, 2000a, pp. 30-32). Resorting to philosophical and theological traditions in medieval Islam, Soroush shows that there are ideas which “could be independent of Islam without being incompatible with the faith.” To this end, Soroush constructs a new interpretation of religious ideas and principles by making a distinction between the absolute, immutable principles of religion and its mutable aspects. The main task for Soroush is, therefore, to unfold the basic purposes of the šariʿa by way of interpreting the concepts, theories, and principles of religious texts. Once we unfold the basic purposes of Divine law, Soroush contends, we would be able to undertake a new reading of the mutable aspects of the text. To meet the requirements of modern times, he suggests the theory of interpretation of Islamic theology, known as the “contraction-and-expansion of šariʿa” (teʾori-e qabż o basṭ-e šariʿat; see Soroush, 2000a, pp. 30-38).

In expounding his theory, Soroush makes a distinction between maximalist and minimalist perspectives of religion. Maximalists believe that all aspects of Islamic social life must be derived from religion. Soroush contends that most of the current problems in Islam can be traced to such a perspective. It leads, he maintains, inexorably down a path towards a totalitarian regime. Replacing this position with a minimalist view would solve the problem. He argues that some values cannot be derived from religion, such as respect for human rights and even freedom. Therefore, freedom has to be treated from the favorable sources of theology. Islamic philosophers, Soroush says, should change their conception of man and focus on the idea of justice (ʿadl), connoting man’s freedom of action in his relation with God’s justice—one of the five principles of Shiʿism and one of the key concepts in Mu’tazilite theology. Mu’tazilite theologians, Soroush argues, “have already explored this area extensively and provided us with the tools to solve many of our problems” (citations from Soroush, 2000b; see also Soroush, 2000a; and ʿAlawitabār, 2000, pp. 124-36).

Mojtahed Shabestari, a pro-democracy theoretician of clerical background, maintains that “democracy” and “human rights” are historically-evolving concepts and as such were not, either in their current form or substance, conceived at the time of the revelation of the Qurʾān and the formation of Islamic “traditions.” The foundational religious sources cannot, therefore, be expected to contain guidelines on attaining democracy and human rights in our time (for the very recent formulation and definition of “human rights,” as enshrined in the charter of the United Nations, see Ishay; Donnelli). The answer to the compatibility of Islam with democracy and human rights, Mojtahed Shabestari contends, should therefore be sought not in the foundational “religious sources,” but in “extra-religious sources.” He further suggests that in order to bring about democracy and human rights one must consult and follow models outside the foundational religious sources, even if these models tend to be secular and grounded in Western modernity and humanism. Not unlike Soroush, Mojtahed Shabestari espouses the view that, due to the limited capacity of religious dogmas to address the many complex issues and needs of the modern world, religion should be complemented with the extra-religious rational values and practices that have emerged in response to the new circumstances, challenges and requirements of modern societies. The complex political, social, economic, and cultural characteristics of modern times are historically specific and evolving variables and thus distinguishable from the “eternal values of religion,” which by definition are assumed to be unchangeable (Mojtahed Shabestari, 2000, pp. 143-44). Refuting Mojtahed Shabestari’s theory, new fundamentalist ideologues such as Mesbah Yazdi argue that, as an integrated system, the šariʿa does not allow any distinction between the eternal values of religion and the evolving values of democracy and human rights (Mesbah Yazdi, 1999a).

With the application of modern hermeneutics (q.v.) to Islamic theology and jurisprudence, Mojtahed Shabestari has thus made a significant methodological breakthrough in the controversy between pro-democracy religious intellectuals and those advocating Islamic fundamentalism. He constructs his concept of “variability of religious knowledge,” by refuting the validity ascribed to the totalitarian concept of political jurisprudence (feqh-e siāsi) and “official reading of religion” (qerāʾat-e rasmi az din), as advocates of new fundamentalism such as Mesbah Yazdi, who claim exclusive knowledge of the absolute truth (see Mesbah Yazdi, 1999a). Drawing on modern hermeneutics, Mojtahed Shabestari debunks any claim that God’s absolute truth could ever be accessible to man. In his view, the ideas of freedom and democracy are compatible with Islam not, as Bazargan believed, because one finds parallel terms in the Qurʾān or the traditions, but because one can rationally assume that these modern ideas are compatible with the spirit of Islam and its concept of justice (see Mojtahed Shabestari, 1996).

In a telling debate on Islamic democracy between Mojtahed Shabestari and two new fundamentalist disciples of Mesbah Yazdi (Moḥammad Fatāʾi Oskuʾi and ʿAli Ḏuʿelm), presented in four articles published in 1998, Mojtahed Shabestari summarizes their argumentations in a seminal article, entitled “Democracy of Muslims, Not Islamic Democracy” (“Demokrāsi-e mosalmānān, na demokrāsi-e eslāmi”). He suggests that his detractors, in their criticism of his article on “Democracy and Religiosity” (Demokrāsi wa din-dāri), claim that on the basis of the following considerations they endorse “Islamic democracy, but not absolute democracy.” Firstly, Mesbah Yazdi’s followers believe that “in an Islamic democracy, the state functions as the guardian of Islam, and cannot, therefore, afford to view other religions and worldviews indiscriminately.” Secondly, “Muslims must follow the divine laws, and the laws of Islam have not sanctioned such concepts as the equality of Muslims and non Muslims or gender equality. . . . Muslims, therefore, are not allowed to seek a democracy which is not bound by principles and rules of šariʿa.” Thirdly, “democracy, particularly in its absolute form, far from being merely a framework for a political system, derives its inner substance from humanistic concepts such as freedom, equality and the citizen’s right and ability to make rational choices.” And last, but not least, that “absolute democracy is based on the sovereignty of the people, which affirms the priority of man’s will over divine will, and the primacy of Man’s laws over divine laws” (see Mojtahed Shabestari, 2000, pp. 143-44; for the above four articles, see ibid, pp. 107-51). These arguments are intimately informed by anti-modernist ideas of perennial Traditionalist school and anti-Humanist ideas of Heidegger and Corbin (see above).

Mojtahed Shabestari suggests, however, that the preceding considerations laid out by Mesbah Yazdi and his followers are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of democracy. Whether people should follow divine laws and values in establishing a political order is in the domain of the philosophy of law and ethics and is, therefore, irrelevant to the nature of government itself. He further suggests that, “democracy is not divisible into Islamic and non-Islamic forms.” The nature of government in any society is either “democracy or dictatorial.” Summing up his arguments, Mojtahed Shabestari concludes that “although there are various models of democracy, any attempt to constrain the form of government by religious laws and beliefs would lead not to the establishment of a specific form of democracy, but to the emergence of a specific model of dictatorship” (see Mojtahed Shabestari, 2000, p. 144).


Considerable differences and animosities have emerged among the various proponents of Islamic pro-democracy ideas, Islamic socialism, Islamic fundamentalism, and a newcomer, Islamic pragmatism in the post-Revolution era, when their position was transformed from opposition forces, mobilizing against the previous regime, to one of competing factions for scarce political, economic, and social resources within the Islamic Republic. They often deny the shared elements of their ideas and practices, and their competition for the same Islamic political space has frequently involved denunciations and violence. Does this antagonism stem merely from their material interests and thirst for political power or is it born out of their conflicting ideas and utopian beliefs, or combinations thereof?

To answer this question one must note that ideology as an organized collection of ideas—forming the basis of a political philosophy or program—often shows an elective affinity with the material and non-material interests of certain social classes and groups who adopt them. This selection of ideas in turn influences the mode of thinking and behavior of the people. Political ideology either offers a rationalization for the survival of an established order or suggests blueprints for a desired change in social, political, or economic systems. A shift in conflicting ideological issues in society may also influence the competing political currents in modifying their ideological orientations. For example, the question of religiosity versus non-religiosity or allegiance to Islam versus anti-Islamic or even non-Islamic orientations became the main controversial issue during the early post-revolutionary period, whereas focusing on the priority of public versus private sectors of the economy became the main conflicting ideological issue during the period of Iran-Iraq War under the leftist government of Musavi (1981-89). Finally, democracy versus totalitarianism became the main controversial issue in factional politics during the period of the 1990s-2000s.

The proponents of various Islamic ideologies often formed coalitions and counter-coalitions depending on the political imperatives of the time. They have engaged in continuous intra—and inter-factional competitions and rivalries that have reflected their material and political interests no less than their ideological positions. A telling example is the coalition of the Islamic reform movement formed in the latter half of the 1990s by pro-democracy, pro-socialist, and pragmatist currents to compete in the 1995 and 1997 elections with the right-wing fundamentalist faction, who dominated the Fourth Majles and much of the security forces. Each current in the new coalition had its own political or politico-ideological agendas of either maintaining their hold on power or returning to power or changing the structure of power. The pragmatist “Executives of Construction,” organized around President Hashemi Rafsanjani, and the resourceful mayor of Tehran, Ḥosayn Karbāsči, as their campaign manager, were primarily concerned with maintaining their hold on political power by dominating Khatami’s government. The socialist currents, particularly the Mojāhedin-e enqelāb-e eslāmi and Majmaʿ-e ruhāniyun-e mobārez, who lost their hold on political power following Khomeini’s death and the fall of Musavi’s Cabinet in 1989, were fighting a life and death struggle to return to power. Neither the pragmatists nor the Islamic left could be considered to have genuine pro-democracy intentions in their ideological formation. Yet a large number of reformed socialists and, more specifically, the students organized around Daftar-e taḥkim-e waḥdat, who were influenced by the new pro-democracy ideas of Ḥajjārian, ʿAbbās ʿAbdi, Soroush and Mojtahed Shabestari, became the sincere supporters of democracy in the reformist coalition. Religious intellectuals, student activists, and the Islamic Participation front (Jebha-ye mošārakat), were the only segment of the coalition who were genuinely concerned with effecting basic changes in the structure of power in the Islamic Republic. Yet instead of entering a coalition with Bazargan’s Liberation movement, with whom they shared a genuine ideological affinity, they made it with the pragmatist and socialist leaning forces, in a well-thought out and rational political choice (for a round table discussion on factional politics in post-revolution period, see Yazdi, 2000, pp. 251-92; ʿAlawitabār, 2007; Yusofi Eškevari).

Since its formation in the early years of the revolution, the Revolutionary Guard Corps and its affiliated agencies, including the Paramilitary forces, intelligence services, security forces, and large commercial and industrial enterprises has vastly expanded its powers in relation to all other parts of the state. In the first phase of this expansion, which took place during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the Revolutionary Guards served as a military force that was entirely subordinate to the top leadership of the Islamic Republic, that is, Ayatollah Khomeini, as the commander-in-chief. In the last years of the war and, more specifically after the death of Khomeini, the Guards’ performance was criticized often by some leading figures of the clerical establishment (bozorgān-e enqelāb, in the words of Moḥsen Reżāʾi, the Guards’ commander during most of the war period; see Reżāʾi, pp. 9-11) for the War’s prolongation and setbacks. This prompted some commanders of the Guards to seek a relatively independent power base from the clerical leadership of the regime. By the late 1990s, the Guards had succeeded in achieving considerable power and were fast becoming a semi-independent force, “a state within the state.” As such, they exerted increasing influence over most government agencies and in many instances managed to appoint senior officers to key positions in the civilian bureaucracy. They also promoted a new hard-line fundamentalist ideological orientation, one that had emerged from within the Guards and its Paramilitary forces in the 1990s. In the ensuing years, and particularly since the defeat of the reformist movement in the 2005 presidential elections, the Guards and its affiliates and allies seem to have gained a near complete monopoly of power and control over the entire state.


Mehdi Abedi and G. Legenhausen, trs. and eds., Jihad and Shehadat: Struggle and Martyrdom in Islam (articles by, Ṭāleqāni, Moṭahhari, and Shari’ati), Houston, 1986.

Janet Afary, “Shi’i Narratives of Karbala and Christian Rites of Penance: Michel Foucault and the Culture of the Iranian Revolution, 1978-1979,” Radical History Review 86, Spring 2003, pp. 7-35.

Ḥ. Aḥmadi and M.-Ḥ. Fattāḥiān, eds., Jarayān-e rowšanfekri wa rowšanfekrān dar Irān” (Intellectual Current and Intellectuals in Iran), Tehran, 2000.

ʿAli-Reżā ʿAlawitabār, Rowšanfekri, din-dāri, mardom-sālāri (Intellectualism, Religiosity, and Democracy), Tehran, 2000.

Idem “ʿAqaba-ye fekri-e eṣlāḥ-ṭalabān, in Irān emruz (Iranian political online magazine), 7 March 2007.

Jalāl Āl-e Aḥmad, Ḡarb-zadagi, Tehran, 1977.

Idem, Occidentosis, a Plague from the West (Ḡarb-zadagi), tr. R. Campbel, Berkeley, 1984.

Gabriel A. Almond, Emmanuel Sivan, and R. Scott Appleby, “Fundamentalism: Genus and Species,” in Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, eds., Accounting for Fundamentalisms, Chicago, 1994, pp. 403-24.

A. Ashraf, “Charisma, Theocracy and New Men of Power in Iran,” in M. Weiner and A. Banuazizi, eds., The Politics of Social Transformation in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, Syracuse, 1994, pp. 101-55.

Frithjof Schuon (; German:[ˈfʀiːtˌjoːf ˈʃuː.ɔn]) (June 18, 1907 – May 5, 1998), also known as "Īsā Nūr al-Dīn",[1] was an author of German ancestry born in Basel, Switzerland. He was a philosopher and metaphysician inspired by the Hindu philosophy of Advaita Vedanta and the author of numerous books on religion and spirituality. He was also a poet and a painter.

In his prose and poetic writings, Schuon focuses on metaphysical doctrine and spiritual method. He is considered one of the main representatives and an exponent of the religio perennis (perennial religion) and one of the chief representatives of the Traditionalist School. In his writings, Schuon expresses his faith in an absolute principle, God, who governs the universe and to whom our souls would return after death. For Schuon the great revelations are the link between this absolute principle—God—and mankind. He wrote the main bulk of his work in French. In the later years of his life Schuon composed some volumes of poetry in his mother tongue, German. His articles in French were collected in about 20 titles in French which were later translated into English as well as many other languages. The main subjects of his prose and poetic compositions are spirituality and various essential realms of the human life coming from God and returning to God.[2]

Life and work[edit]

Schuon was born in Basel, Switzerland, on June 18, 1907. His father was a native of southern Germany, while his mother came from an Alsatian family. Schuon's father was a concert violinist and the household was one in which not only music but literary and spiritual culture were present. Schuon lived in Basel and attended school there until the untimely death of his father, after which his mother returned with her two young sons to her family in nearby Mulhouse, France, where Schuon was obliged to become a French citizen. Having received his earliest training in German, he received his later education in French and thus mastered both languages early in life.[3]

From his youth, Schuon's search for metaphysical truth led him to read the Hindu scriptures such as Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. While still living in Mulhouse, he discovered the works of René Guénon, the French philosopher and Orientalist, which served to confirm his intellectual intuitions and which provided support for the metaphysical principles he had begun to discover.[3]

Schuon journeyed to Paris after serving for a year and a half in the French army. There he worked as a textile designer and began to study Arabic in the local mosque school. Living in Paris also brought the opportunity to be exposed to various forms of traditional art to a much greater degree than before, especially the arts of Asia with which he had had a deep affinity since his youth. This period of growing intellectual and artistic familiarity with the traditional worlds was followed by Schuon's first visit to Algeria in 1932. It was then that he met the celebrated ShaykhAhmad al-Alawi and was initiated into his order.[4] Schuon has written about his deep affinity with the esoteric core of various traditions and hence appreciation for the Sufism in the Islamic tradition. His main reason for seeking the blessings of Shaykh Al-Alawi being exactly the attachment to an orthodox master and Saint.[5] On a second trip to North Africa, in 1935, he visited Algeria and Morocco; and during 1938 and 1939 he traveled to Egypt where he met Guénon, with whom he had been in correspondence for 27 years. In 1939, shortly after his arrival in Pie, India, World War II broke out, forcing him to return to Europe. After having served in the French army, and having been made a prisoner by the Germans, he sought asylum in Switzerland, which gave him Swiss nationality and was to be his home for forty years. In 1949 he married, his wife being a German Swiss with a French education who, besides having interests in religion and metaphysics, was also a gifted painter.[3]

Following World War II, Schuon accepted an invitation to travel to the American West, where he lived for several months among the Plains Indians, in whom he always had a deep interest. Having received his education in France, Schuon has written all his major works in French, which began to appear in English translation in 1953. Of his first book, The Transcendent Unity of Religions (London, Faber & Faber) T. S. Eliot wrote: "I have met with no more impressive work in the comparative study of Oriental and Occidental religion."[3]

While always continuing to write, Schuon and his wife traveled widely. In 1959 and again in 1963, they journeyed to the American West at the invitation of friends among the Sioux and CrowAmerican Indians. In the company of their Native American friends, they visited various Plains tribes and had the opportunity to witness many aspects of their sacred traditions. In 1959, Schuon and his wife were solemnly adopted into the Sioux family of James Red Cloud. Years later they were similarly adopted by the Crow medicine man and Sun Dance chief, Thomas Yellowtail. Schuon's writings on the central rites of Native American religion and his paintings of their ways of life attest to his particular affinity with the spiritual universe of the Plains Indians. Other travels have included journeys to Andalusia, Morocco, and a visit in 1968 to the reputed home of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus.

Through his many books and articles, Schuon became known as a spiritual teacher and leader of the Traditionalist School. During his years in Switzerland he regularly received visits from well-known religious scholars and thinkers of the East.[3]

Schuon throughout his entire life had great respect for and devotion to the Virgin Mary which was expressed in his writings. As a result, his teachings and paintings show a particular Marian presence. His reverence for the Virgin Mary has been studied in detail by American professor James Cutsinger.[6] Hence the name, Maryamiya (in Arabic, "Marian"), of the Sufi order he founded as a branch of the Shadhiliya-Darqawiya-Alawiya. When asked by one of his disciples about the reason for this choice of name, Schuon replied: "It is not we who have chosen her; it is she who has chosen us."[7]

In 1980, Schuon and his wife emigrated to the United States, settling in Bloomington, Indiana, where a community of disciples from all over the world would gather around him for spiritual direction. The first years in Bloomington saw the publication of some of his most important late works: From the Divine to the Human, To Have a Center, Survey of Metaphysics and Esoterism and others. Schuon continued to write poetry in his native German, to receive visitors and maintain a busy correspondence with followers, scholars and readers until his death in 1998.[3][8]

Views based on his written works[edit]

Transcendent unity of religions[edit]

The traditionalist or perennialist perspective began to be enunciated in the 1920s by the French philosopher René Guénon and, in the 1930s, by Schuon himself. Orientalist Ananda Coomaraswamy and Swiss art historian Titus Burckhardt also became prominent advocates of this point of view. Fundamentally, this doctrine is the Sanatana Dharma – the "eternal religion" – of HinduNeo-Vedanta. It was supposedly formulated in ancient Greece, in particular, by Plato and later Neoplatonists, and in Christendom by Meister Eckhart (in the West) and Gregory Palamas (in the East). Every religion has, besides its literal meaning, an esoteric dimension, which is essential, primordial and universal. This intellectual universality is one of the hallmarks of Schuon's works, and it gives rise to insights into not only the various spiritual traditions, but also history, science and art.[9]

The dominant theme or principle of Schuon's writings was foreshadowed in his early encounter with a Black marabout who had accompanied some members of his Senegalese village to Switzerland in order to demonstrate their culture. When the young Schuon talked with him, the venerable old man drew a circle with radii on the ground and explained: God is in the center; all paths lead to Him.[10]


For Schuon, the quintessence of pure metaphysics can be summarized by the following vedantic statement, although the Advaita Vedanta's perspective finds its equivalent in the teachings of Ibn Arabi, Meister Eckhart or Plotinus: Brahma satyam jagan mithya jivo brahmaiva na'parah (Brahman is real, the world is illusory, the self is not different from Brahman).[11]

The metaphysics exposited by Schuon is based on the doctrine of the non-dual Absolute (Beyond-Being) and the degrees of reality. The distinction between the Absolute and the relative corresponds for Schuon to the couple Atma/Maya. Maya is not only the cosmic illusion: from a higher standpoint, Maya is also the Infinite, the Divine Relativity or else the feminine aspect (mahashakti) of the Supreme Principle.

Said differently, being the Absolute, Beyond-Being is also the Sovereign Good (Agathon), that by its nature desires to communicate itself through the projection of Maya. The whole manifestation from the first Being (Ishvara) to matter (Prakriti), the lower degree of reality, is indeed the projection of the Supreme Principle (Brahman). The personal God, considered as the creative cause of the world, is only relatively Absolute, a first determination of Beyond-Being, at the summit of Maya. The Supreme Principle is not only Beyond-Being. It is also the Supreme Self (Atman) and in its innermost essence, the Intellect (buddhi) that is the ray of Consciousness shining down, the axial refraction of Atma within Maya.[12]

Spiritual path[edit]

According to Schuon the spiritual path is essentially based on the discernment between the "Real" and the "unreal" (Atma / Maya); concentration on the Real; and the practice of virtues. Human beings must know the "Truth". Knowing the Truth, they must then will the "Good" and concentrate on it. These two aspects correspond to the metaphysical doctrine and the spiritual method. Knowing the Truth and willing the Good, human beings must finally love "Beauty" in their own soul through virtue, but also in "Nature". In this respect Schuon has insisted on the importance for the authentic spiritual seeker to be aware of what he called the "metaphysical transparency of phenomena".[13]

Schuon wrote about different aspects of spiritual life both on the doctrinal and on the practical levels. He explained the forms of the spiritual practices as they have been manifested in various traditional universes. In particular, he wrote on the Invocation of the Divine Name (dhikr, Japa-Yoga, the Prayer of the Heart), considered by Hindus as the best and most providential means of realization at the end of the Kali Yuga. As has been noted by the Hindu saint Ramakrishna, the secret of the invocatory path is that God and his Name are one.[14]

Schuon's views are in harmony with traditional Islamic teachings of the primacy of "Remembrance of God" as emphasized by Shaykh Al-Alawi in the following passage: Remembrance (dhikr) is the most important rule of the religion. The law was not imposed upon us nor the rites of worship ordained except for the sake of establishing the remembrance of God (dhikru ʾLlāh). The Prophet said: ‘The circumambulation (ṭawāf) around the Holy House, the passage to and fro between (the hills of) Safa and Marwa, and the throwing of the pebbles (on three pillars symbolizing the devil) were ordained only for the sake of the Remembrance of God.’ And God Himself has said (in the Koran): ‘Remember God at the Holy Monument.’ Thus we know that the rite that consists in stopping there was ordained for remembrance and not specifically for the sake of the monument itself, just as the halt at Muna was ordained for remembrance and not because of the valley. Furthermore He (God) has said on the subject of the ritual prayer: ‘Perform the prayer in remembrance of Me.’ In a word, our performance of the rites is considered ardent or lukewarm according to the degree of our remembrance of God while performing them. Thus when the Prophet was asked which spiritual strivers would receive the greatest reward, he replied: ‘Those who have remembered God most.’ And when asked which fasters would receive the greatest reward, he replied: ‘Those who have remembered God most.’ And when the prayer and the almsgiving and the pilgrimage and the charitable donations were mentioned, he said each time: ‘The richest in remembrance of God is the richest in reward.’[15]

Quintessential esoterism[edit]

Guénon had pointed out at the beginning of the twentieth century that every religion comprises two main aspects: "Esoterism" and "Exoterism". Schuon explained that the esoterism itself displays two aspects, one being an extension of exoterism and the other one independent of exoterism; for if it be true that the form "is" in a certain way the essence, the essence on the contrary is by no means totally expressed by a single form; the drop is water, but water is not the drop. This second aspect is called "quintessential esoterism" for it is not limited or expressed totally by one single form or theological school and, above all, by a particular religious form as such.[16]

Criticism of modernity[edit]

Guénon had based his Crisis of the Modern World on the Hindu doctrine of cyclic nature of time.[citation needed] Schuon expanded on this concept and its consequences for humanity in many of his articles. In his essay "The Contradictions of Relativism", Schuon wrote that the uncompromising relativism that underlies many modern philosophies had fallen into an intrinsic absurdity in declaring that there is no absolute truth and then attempting to put this forward as an absolute truth. Schuon notes that the essence of relativism is found in the idea that we never escape from human subjectivity whilst its expounders seem to remain unaware of the fact that relativism is therefore also deprived of any objectivity. Schuon further notes that the Freudian assertion that rationality is merely a hypocritical guise for a repressed animal drive results in the very assertion itself being devoid of worth as it is itself a rational judgment.[17][18]


Books in English[edit]

  • Adastra and Stella Maris: Poems by Frithjof Schuon, World Wisdom, 2003
  • Autumn Leaves & The Ring: Poems by Frithjof Schuon, World Wisdom, 2010
  • Castes and Races, Perennial Books, 1959, 1982
  • Christianity/Islam, World Wisdom, 1985
  • Dimensions of Islam, 1969
  • Echoes of Perennial Wisdom, World Wisdom, 1992
  • Esoterism as Principle and as Way, Perennial Books, 1981, 1990
  • The Eye of the Heart, World Wisdom, 1997
  • The Feathered Sun: Plain Indians in Art & Philosophy, World Wisdom, 1990
  • Form and Substance in the Religions, World Wisdom, 2002
  • From the Divine to the Human, World Wisdom, 1982
  • Gnosis: Divine Wisdom, 1959, 1978, Perennial Books 1990
  • Images of Primordial & Mystic Beauty: Paintings by Frithjof Schuon, Abodes, 1992, World Wisdom
  • In the Face of the Absolute, World Wisdom, 1989, 1994
  • In the Tracks of Buddhism, 1968, 1989
  • Islam and the Perennial Philosophy, Scorpion Cavendish, 1976
  • Language of the Self, 1959
  • Light on the Ancient Worlds, 1966, World Wisdom, 1984
  • Logic and Transcendence, 1975, Perennial Books, 1984
  • The Play of Masks, World Wisdom, 1992
  • Primordial Meditation: Contemplating the Real, The Matheson Trust, 2015 (translated from the original German)
  • Road to the Heart, World Wisdom, 1995
  • Roots of the Human Condition, World Wisdom, 1991
  • Songs Without Names Vol. I-VI, World Wisdom, 2007
  • Songs Without Names VII-XII, World Wisdom, 2007
  • Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts, 1954, 1969
  • Stations of Wisdom, 1961, 1980
  • Sufism: Veil and Quintessence, World Wisdom, 1981, 2007
  • Survey of Metaphysics and Esoterism, World Wisdom, 1986, 2000
  • The Transcendent Unity of Religions, 1953
  • The Transfiguration of Man, World Wisdom, 1995
  • Treasures of Buddhism ( = In the Tracks of Buddhism) (1968, 1989, 1993)
  • To Have a Center, World Wisdom, 1990, 2015
  • Understanding Islam, 1963, 1965, 1972, 1976, 1979, 1981, 1986, 1989
  • World Wheel Vol. I-III, World Wisdom, 2007
  • World Wheel Vol. IV-VII, World Wisdom, 2007

Schuon was a frequent contributor to the quarterly journal Studies in Comparative Religion, (along with Guénon, Coomarswamy, and many others) which dealt with religious symbolism and the Traditionalist perspective.[19]


  • Art from the Sacred to the Profane: East and West, (A selection from his writings by Catherine Schuon), World Wisdom, Inc, 2007. ISBN 1933316357
  • The Essential Frithjof Schuon, World Wisdom, 2005
  • The Essential Writings of Frithjof Schuon, ed. S.H. Nasr, 1986, Element, 1991
  • The Fullness of God: Frithjof Schuon on Christianity, Foreword by Antoine Faivre ed. James Cutsinger (2004)
  • Prayer Fashions Man: Frithjof Schuon on the Spiritual Life, ed. James Cutsinger (2005)
  • René Guénon: Some Observations, ed. William Stoddart (2004)
  • Songs for a Spiritual Traveler: Selected Poems, World Wisdom, 2002
  • American Gurus: From American Transcendentalism to New Age Religion, Arthur Versluis (2014), Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199368136
  • Splendor of the true : a Frithjof Schuon reader, James S. Cutsinger, State University of New York Press, 2013. ISBN 9781438446127[20].

See also[edit]


  1. ^Vincent Cornell, Voices of Islam: Voices of the spirit, Greenwood Publishing Group (2007), p. xxvi.
  2. ^Schuon, Frithjof (1982). From the Divine to the Human. USA: World Wisdom Books. p. 1. ISBN 0-941532-01-1. 
  3. ^ abcdefFrithjof Schuon's life and work.
  4. ^Frithjof Schuon, Songs Without Names, Volumes VII-XII, (World Wisdom, 2007) p. 226.
  5. ^J. B. Aymard and Patrick Laude. Frithjof Schuon, life and teachings. SUNY press 2002
  6. ^See "Colorless Light and Pure Air: The Virgin in the Thought of Frithjof Schuon" for some reflections, and J.-B. Aymard’s "Approche biographique" for chronological details.
  7. ^Martin Lings, A Return to the Spirit, Fons Vitae, Kentucky, 2005, p. 6.
  8. ^J.-B. Aymard, "Approche biographique", in Connaissance des Religions, Numéro Hors Série Frithjof Schuon, 1999, Coédition Connaissance des Religions/ Le Courrier du Livre.
  9. ^Schuon, Frithjof (1982). From the Divine to the Human. USA: World Wisdom Books. pp. i. ISBN 0-941532-01-1. 
  10. ^Schuon, Frithjof (1982). From the Divine to the Human. USA: World Wisdom Books. pp. Backcover. ISBN 0-941532-01-1. 
  11. ^Schuon, Frithjof (1982). From the Divine to the Human. USA: World Wisdom Books. p. 21. ISBN 0-941532-01-1. 
  12. ^Schuon, Frithjof (1982). From the Divine to the Human. USA: World Wisdom Books. p. 37. ISBN 0-941532-01-1. 
  13. ^Schuon, Frithjof (1982). From the Divine to the Human. USA: World Wisdom Books. p. 61. ISBN 0-941532-01-1. 
  14. ^Schuon, Frithjof (1982). From the Divine to the Human. USA: World Wisdom Books. p. 73. ISBN 0-941532-01-1. 
  15. ^(Shaykh Aḥmad al-ʿAlawī in his treatise Al-Qawl al-Maʿrūf)
  16. ^Schuon, Frithjof (1982). From the Divine to the Human. USA: World Wisdom Books. p. 85. ISBN 0-941532-01-1. 
  17. ^Logic and transcendence, Perennial Books, 1975.
  18. ^A Mística Islâmica em Terræ Brasilis: o Sufismo e as Ordens Sufis em São Paulo. Mário Alves da Silva Filho. Dissertação apresentada à Banca Examinadora da Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo em 2012. (in Portuguese)
  19. ^Journal of American Society of Philosophy
  20. ^World Catalog

External links[edit]


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