Where Shall We Begin
Dr. Ali Shariati
What was an enlightened Christian, a Protestant, doing during the
sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries? He was pointing out that by
ignoring and neglecting the progressive elements of Christianity, the
established church and priesthood had caused malice and misery.
Moreover, they had encouraged monasticism, introversion, individualism
and metaphysical beliefs and prayers. Thus, the enlightened knew that,
in order to implement religious reform and Christian Protestantism, he
should revitalize and revive the awakening and motivating elements of
his religion. In Islam, however, such is not the case. Islam has never
ignored the progressive, awakening and motivating elements. In a very
clear manner, the two slogans of "blood and sword" and "leadership and
justice," which embody all the relevant dimensions of the process of
generating movement and awareness, have been adopted as the symbolic
essence of Shi'ism. These slogans have endured in Islamic history.
Indeed, of all aspects of Islamic ideology and culture, people preserve
must dearly the uprising of Hussein. It is his martyrdom that they mourn
and commemorate yearly. On the other hand, the Prophet of Islam and
other religious leaders have always invited people to wage struggle
(jihad). Yet, in actuality, one sees little effect. Why? The reason is
that although slogans are authentic and genuine, their interpretation
has been negative. The form has been kept intact but the content has
been distorted. It is as though a benumbing mechanism is at work to
transform the rage of Hussein's blood to mourning tears. To be sure
Karbala is not forgotten, but the sword of Islam is. The sword is now
used only for beating oneself on the days of mourning.
An enlightened Muslim, thus, should not be easily deceived. He should be fully aware of the fact that he has a unique culture which is neither totally spiritual, as is the Indian culture nor totally mystical, as is the Chinese, nor completely philosophical, as is the Greek, and nor entirely materialistic and technological, as is the Western culture His is a mixture of faith, idealism and spirituality and yet full of life and energy with a dominant spirit of equality and justice, the ideology that Islamic societies and other traditional societies of the East are in desperate need of. Therefore, instead of being a translator of the works of foreign authors-which are useless to the masses anyway- a Muslim enlightened person should engage himself in discovering, extracting, and refining the life giving and powerful spirit of his society. He exists in the context of a dynamic culture and society as well as in the conscience of his people.
One characteristic of this spirit is that, unlike other religions, which justify poverty, Islam condemns it. A great student of Islam, Abudhar, says, "When poverty enters a home, religion exits from the window." The prophet of Islam and the founder of that religion declared: "Whoever is not able to provide for himself will not have a good life in the hereafter." These are contrary to the contemporary understanding of Islam which claims that "one who is caught in poverty and misery has a cleaner and humbler heart and is, thus, more amenable to receive unseen inspirations." An empty stomach lacks everything. A society, which has economic problems also, lacks spiritual wealth. Whatever is called ethics in a poor country is nothing but deviant customs and habits, not spirituality.
One way that the dynamic aspects of Islamic culture can be understood is through comparing Imam Ali's way of life with that of the Pope. When Ali assumed power he ordered all existing pay scales to be canceled, and began paying equal salaries to everyone whether the highest ranking military officer, who was at the same time an important social and political figure in the society, or the slave of the same officer. Is there any government in the contemporary world which is committed to the principle of equality as much? Is there any contemporary socialist system, which would be ready to implement such a measure? We ought to state and express the outlook, the objectives and the inclinations that make up Islam and tell the enlightened persons that, in the context of their society and culture, in order to be able to obtain mutual understanding with the masses and in order not to be separated from the masses not only must they rely on religion (i.e., Islam) but also honestly believe that the elements of this religion do not invite people to think of the past instead of the present. These elements are based on constant striving (jihad) and justice ('A^dalat). Islam pays attention to bread, its eschatology is based on active life in the world, its God respects human dignity and its messenger is armed.
A^dalat is not simply a religious principle but the spirit that governs all aspects of Islam, and is considered the very objective for which all the prophets were sent. One day Imam Ali noted that Maytham, one of his companions, had divided the dates that he was selling into two different Categories and was selling them at two different prices. He angrily reminded Maytham that he was not allowed to categorize God's people into different classes by dividing the fruits into various types. Then, he mixed the dates with his own hands and ordered Maytham to sell them for one price to everyone. Or, note the practices of Abudhar as compared with those of St. Paul. If one passes identical judgments about the two. It is not enlightenment but in fact the exercise of absolute ignorance and injustice Abudhar, who devoted all his life to the struggle against exploitation and eventually died in the process cannot be compared with St. Paul, who claimed that "the temples of God are built upon hunger," and that "hunger is accompanied by inspiration."
A philosopher or a historian can study religion any way he wishes. An enlightened person, however, is not allowed to consider religion, either scientifically or subjectively, as an absolute phenomenon. Every enlightened person must find out for himself what the social role of his religion is. This is extremely important because the mistake of an enlightened person is not similar to that of an ordinary writer it is the mistake of a social leader, of a social savior, of an heir to the prophet of Islam as well as other prophets in the history of mankind.