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The Basic Design for a School of Thought and Action
Part 1

Dr. Ali Shariati


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سايت فارسى

I present a geometrical figure of a school of thought and an ideology which every Islamologist and aware Muslim should have of Islam, not only as explanation of their religious belief but as a logo of a school of thought and ideology.

Gaston Bachelard, one of the greatest thinkers of our age, comparable to Descartes and Plato, who, unfortunately died a few years ago being quite unknown, believed that when an idea can be conceptualized in a geometric form, it has found its proper language in which to express and explain itself. That is, when an idea finds geometrical expression, this idea has found the best language of its expression.

Any idea which can be conceptualized and then expressed through a geometric form, is itself proof of its being both valid and sound. The most exact scientific concepts in the world are mathematical ones. If we are able to express our philosophical or ideological ideas in mathematical or geometrical language, we have both found the best language to express our concepts as well as the best proof of the fact that intellectual ideas are logical as opposed to philosophies and religions which have to engage in discussion, argumentation, sophistry, debates and comparisons to prove their logic. There, one will have chosen the weakest language of expression from the view of reasoning and logic.

If, instead, one could make use of mathematics as the language of expression for an intellectual, philosophical or religious school or even literary or artistic school, it is then that a school of thought will have succeeded in finding expression through logical reasoning, proving itself to be both logical and scientific.

I wanted to add just one point. A school shows whether or not it is a natural form, whether or not its curve is normal or abnormal, whether or not its form is heterogeneous or homogeneous through the geometric form in which it is expressed. That is, one can understand the natural qualities of a school from its geometric expression... 

Scholars and Scholars

There is a great difference between knowledge which has been understood and knowledge which has just been learned. You may know people who are very knowledgeable about a famous person, book or school but not understand the person, book or school. What is the difference between these two? If I succeed in expressing the difference between these two, I will, then, have succeeded in explaining the difference between a real Islamic scholar and a person who has simply learned about Islam but does not understand it.

There are some Islamic scholars who understand Islam and there are some Islamic scholars many, as a matter of fact who have only learned about Islam. On the other hand, there are some who understand Islam well but are not considered to be Islamic scholars.

The same difference exists in literature, in the case of some professors who know, for instance, how many manuscripts of the poems of Hafiz exist in the world, where each one is, what the weight or dimension of the volumes are, how many poems or which different ones are included in each edition and who know the names and attributes of all those who were praised by Hafiz, what effect they had upon him, what their position was in relation to him, etc. They know how many Persian or Arabic words exist in Hafiz's poems or they know all of the allusions and historical references made by Hafiz, but they in no way understand Hafiz. Understanding Hafiz is something else. These 'Hafiz-ologists' have no spiritual or intellectual sympathy with Hafiz. Thus, understanding Hafiz differs from having learned some things about him.

The same is true in regard to a person. Look at any thinker or artist. Someone may come along and take down all the physical characteristics of a person and define each cell in his body, know his complete physiology, his age, etc. and have very accurate information about him but not understand this person as a great thinker or artist. Another person may come along and in just one meeting, one encounter, with a simple exchange of ideas, come to understand this person better and more deeply than the other with all of his scientific information.

It is the same with knowing a school of thought. Understanding of a school of thought is not the same as having technical and detailed information about it. It is to have a feeling about the orientation of this school to understand it as a whole and not just knowing parts or sections of it. It is to feel deeply towards a religion or an ideology, to find the spirit and meaning which is hidden in an idea.

This is what I mean by understanding Islam or Islamology not as a culture. Of course, the valuable aspects of Islamic culture and Islamic sciences which are important sources of Islamic civilization, should be studied. By Islamology I mean the understanding of the ideology of Islam, not just Islamic sciences which are routinely taught in the schools and universities. It is as the poets, writers and artists of the people understand a poem, literature and art, not as those who are taught by professors of the Faculty of Letters.

All of the French literary schools of the 19th and 20th centuries were formed in cafes, not in the classrooms of the Sorbonne University. They began at first with the masses and those who had genius, feeling, sense of movement, enthusiasm and the courage to create a new school in music, painting, literature or poetry . Then it is spread to groups and gatherings in the cafes as well as through the intellectual and spiritual relationships of people here and there and on the streets.

It was then that the educated people of the universities began to oppose the new wave or school of thought referring to it as a deviation. They used the argument that the intention was to spoil art and literature and that the new ideas would impair the independence of their culture and literature.

The struggle and conflict began but the determinism of time and logic strengthened the new wave of thought and armed it with a new logic which weakened, defeated and destroyed the old logic. And, then, after a few years, the new 'condemned' school found official acceptance. It imposed itself upon the university. The professors of the universities were then proud that they taught the 'new poetry' and 'new art'.

Thus there are two kinds of understanding or knowing. One kind is seen in those who claim to be scholars of a school or a culture, who have specialized in the sciences and cultural ideas of that school. They have studied it and are university graduates. The other kind is seen in those who may or may not be specialists of that school of thought but they sense it. They feel it and thus know and understand it better than the first group because the second group have come to know the 'spirit' and 'orientation' of that school or movement and not to simply know it scientifically.

Islam as Culture vs. Islam as Ideology

Throughout the history of Islamic civilization, Islam, in the series of Islamic culture and Islam, in the sense of Islamic sciences, has become a complex of theological, interpretative, historic thoughts and words combined together to form what is known as Islamic sciences and each has its own specialized field of study. What one does is to study, gain technical knowledge and become an expert in one field.

But one comes to understand Islam in the sense of an ideology in another way. Islam, as an ideology, is not a scientific specialization but is the feeling one has in regard to a school of thought as a belief system and not as a culture. It is the perceiving of Islam as an idea and not as a collection of sciences. It is the understanding of Islam as a human, historical and intellectual movement, not as a storehouse of scientific and technical information. And, finally, it is the view of Islam as an ideology in the minds of an intellectual and not as ancient religious sciences in the mind of a religious scholar. Islamology, then, should be taught in this way.

To further this end, I will first give a general picture of a school of thought and will explain what a school of thought means. I will also explain what I mean when I say Islam should be viewed as an ideological school, not as a culture or complex of sciences. Two questions, then, should be answered: First, what is a school of thought or doctrine? Second, what is Islam itself as an ideological school? I will try to give an accurate description of ideological concepts.

The Idea of a School of Thought

I will first explain a school of thought as an idea and then offer it in the form of a geometric design. When I say 'maktab', school of thought, I mean a harmonious collection of philosophical concepts, religious beliefs, ethical values and practical methods which, through a rational relationship, create a moving, meaningful, directed and united body which is alive, all parts of it being nourished by one spirit.

An expert may or may not have a school of thought but if he has one, even if, for instance, he be a physicist, you can guess what his views are in regard to economic or class issues before he says anything about what he thinks. If he be an economist, and have a school of thought, you can foresee what his philosophical views are in regard to nature.

Why? Because all of the views on economics, sociology, religion, philosophy and even on art and literature of a person who believes in a particular school of thought, have a cause and effect relationship to each other.

Thus, by knowing one dimension of his views, you can guess the other dimensions of his intellectual concepts or his intuitions. If one believes in a school of thought, one's beliefs, emotions, way of life, politics, social views, intellectual, religious and ethical concepts are not separate but interrelated. They are alive with one spirit, existing harmoniously in one form.

A fascist, existentialist or Marxist has a school of thought. You may know a physicist who is, say, a fascist. In that case, you can say that from the psychological point of view, he believes in the psychology of racism and racial discrimination. From the political point of view, he believes in nationalism and realism and from the social point of view, he believes in the authenticity of the family.

As he has a school of thought, his political, economic or even literary beliefs are in harmony, coordinated and united. These develop a general form and this form is called 'ideological school'.

On the other hand, take a physicist who has no school of thought. What is his orientation? From the economic point of view, he has none. He has no opinion, or, if he has, what is it? Does he move on the left, right or center? You do not know. You have to ask him. Such a person discusses issues from all sides. You have to first listen to his discussions to see what his opinion is and then conclude that his view is this or that because it is possible that in every area, he take a different approach, a particular belief because he does not believe in a school of thought.

A person who has a 'maktab' thinks about all issues of life ideological, literary, artistic, historic, whatever. His conclusion about issues is coordinated and in harmony with his ideology and beliefs.

For example, you may see a man who believes in a committed social school. Although he has not said a single word about literature or art, because he belongs to a committed social school of thought, you know that he does not believe in literature for literature's sake, art for art's sake or poetry for poetry's sake or in 1iterature as a language for personal feelings', but he most certainly believes that art and literature must be at the service of social struggle because he believes in a school of social commitment.

Thus, a school of thought and action is like a galaxy in which every individual sensation, social behavior, ethical character and, in particular, philosophical, religious and social idea of a person, are each like a planet which revolves around one sun in a coordinated, meaningful galaxy, a galaxy moving in one direction and coordinated in movement. This is the mental image of a person who believes in a school of thought. This is the school of thought which creates movement, builds and brings about social power. It is this which gives a mission, commitment and responsibility to a person.

Expertise and science do not have the same effect

From the time when Islam turned from an 'ideological school' to 'cultural knowledge' and a 'collection of religious sciences', it lost its ability and power for creating 'movement', 'commitment', 'responsibility' and 'social awareness' and it was held back from having any effect or influence upon the fate of human society. When we say that 'a school of thought is a complete intellectual form of a person who believes in an idea', what is that form? I have not taken this very simple figure from anywhere. I have made it from my studies on different ideologies and research on ideas and beliefs and ideological, religious and social schools, I have designed a form which is not only useful from the point of view of expressing an idea, but it is also helpful as a means for teaching and explaining what is called 'an ideological school of thought', not only as a form, which is simple, but as a means of expression from the view of its contents which itself is of special concern in a 'maktab'. It is based on the theory that a perfect ideological school which includes all of the intellectual forms of a school of thought has such a complete form.

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