Ali Shariati


Ali Shariati (November 23, 19331977) was an Iranian revolutionary and sociologist, who focused on the sociology of religion. He is held as one of the most influential Iranian intellectuals of the 20th century and has been called the 'ideologue of the Iranian Revolution'


'Where Shall We Begin'Edit

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Who is an enlightened soul? In a nutshell, the enlightened soul is a person who is self-conscious of his "human condition" in his time and historical and social setting, and whose awareness inevitably and necessarily gives him a sense of social responsibility. And if he happens to be educated he may be more effective and if not perhaps less so. But this is not a general rule, for sometimes an uneducated individual may play a much more important role. A study of the societies that have leaped forward from the oppressive colonial state to a very progressive, aware and dynamic state demonstrates that their leaders and those who assumed leadership in the revolution and the scientific and social movements have often been unintellectual. The social movements in Africa, Latin America and Asia easily prove this principle, which has very few exceptions. One can safely conclude that revolutionary leaders have rarely belonged to the educated classes.

In the modern time, when man has reached a dead end in his evolving society, and when the underdeveloped countries are struggling with numerous difficulties and shortcomings, an enlightened soul is one who can generate responsibility and awareness and give intellectual and social direction to the masses. Accordingly) an enlightened person is not necessarily one who has inherited and continues the works of Galileo, Copernicus, Socrates, Aristotle, and Ibn-Sina (Avicenna). Modern scientists such as Einstein and Von Braun complement and continue their achievements. In principle, the responsibility and the rule of contemporary enlightened souls of the world resembles that of the prophets and the founders of the great religions-revolutionary leaders who promoted fundamental structural changes in the past. Prophets are not in the same category as philosophers, scientists, technicians or artists.

The prophets often emerged from among the masses and were able to communicate with the masses to introduce new mottoes, project new vision, start new movements, and beget new energies in the conscience of the peoples of their time and places.The great revolutionary, uprooting and yet constructive movements of the prophets caused frozen, static and stagnant societies to change their directions, life-styles, outlooks, cultures and destinies. These prophets, therefore, are neither in the category of the past scientists or philosophers, nor are they in the category of unaware common people. Rather, they belong to a category of their own. They neither belong to the commoners, who are usually the products and also captives of ancient traditions and social molds or structures, nor do they belong to the community of the scientists, philosophers, artists, mystics, monks or clergymen, who are captives of abstract concepts and are overwhelmed with their own scientific or inner explorations and discoveries.

Similar to the prophets,the enlightened souls also neither belongs to the community or scientists nor to the camp of unaware and stagnant masses. They are aware and responsible individuals whose most important objective and responsibility is to bestow the great God-given gift of "self- awareness" (khod-agahi) to the general public. Only self-awareness transforms static and corrupt masses into a dynamic and creative cantor, which fosters great genius and gives rise to great leaps, which in turn become the springboard for the emergence of civilization, culture and great heroes.

'‎Reflections of Humanity'Edit

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Assimilation: This is at the root of all the troubles and constraints facing the non-Western and Muslim countries. Applies to the conduct of an individual who, intentionally or unintentionally, starts imitating the mannerisms of someone else. A person exhibiting this weakness forgets his own background, national character and culture or, if he remembers them at all, recalls them with contempt. Obsessively, and with no reservation, he denies himself in order to transform his identity. Hoping to attain the distinctions, and the grandeur, which he sees in another, the assimilator attempts to rid himself of perceived shameful associations with his original society and culture`.

There is another kind of "control by jinns" which possesses humanity and alienates a person or an entire class from itself. This type of alienation is more real, more frightening, and more damaging, and it is this omnipresent form of alienation which affects us, the Iranians, Muslims, the Asians, and Africans. It is not an alienation caused by technology - we have not been alienated by machines. No machine is involved, nor any bureaucracy. A few administrative departments with a limited personnel are in no position to alienate any one. Nor has the Bourgeoisie reached the stage from which it could alienate us. Rather, what we are at grips with is something extremely unpleasant and dangerous - "cultural alienation."

What does "cultural alienation" mean? As we have already mentioned, alienation, in any shape or form, indicates a condition in which one does not perceive himself as he is, but rather perceives something else in his place. A man in this condition is alienated. What he conceives himself as is not his real self at all, and whether it be as money or as machine or as booth 345, his conception makes no difference at all and depends only on luck or taste.

What is culture? I am not going to quote the differing definitions of culture here. However defined, culture includes a collection of intellectual, non-material artistic, historical, literary, religious and emotional expressions (in the form of signs, traditions, customs, relics, mores) of a nation which have accumulated in the course of its history and acquired unique form. They signify the pains, desires, temperaments, social characteristics, life patterns, social relations and economics structure of a nation.

When I feel my own religion, literature, emotion, needs and pains through my own culture, I feel my own self, the very social and historical self (not the individual self), the source from which this culture has originated. Therefore, culture is the expression and super-structure of the real being of my society, actually the whole history of my society. But certain artificial factors, probably of a dubious nature, creep into a society which has well defined social conditions or social relations, developed through a specific historical framework, and acquaint it with pains, sufferings, emotions and sentiments which have an alien spirit and are a product of a different past, a different society (different both socially and economically). These artificial factors wipe out any real culture and substitute a false culture suitable for different conditions and an altogether different historical stage, a different economy, and a different political and social setup.

Then, when I wish to feel my own real self, I find myself conceiving another society's culture instead of my own and bemoaning troubles not mine at all. I groan about cynicism not pertinent to cultural, philosophical and social realities of my society. I then find myself harboring aspirations, ideals and anguishes legitimately belonging to social, economic and political conditions of societies other than mine. None the less, I treat these desires, ideals, and anguish as if they were my own.

Thus a being was created devoid of any background, alienated from his history and religion, and a stranger to whatever his race, his history and his forefathers had built in this world; alienated from his own human characteristics, a second-hand personality whose mode of consumption had been changed, whose mind has been changed, who had lost his old precious thoughts, his glorious past and intellectual qualities and has now become empty within. As Jean Paul Sartre puts it: "In these societies an "assimilae"- meaning a quasi-thinker and quasi-educated person - was created, not a real thinker or intellectual."

They have created a people who do not know their own culture, but still are ready to despise it. They know nothing about Islam but say bad things about it. They cannot understand a simple poem but criticize it with poorly chosen words. They do not understand their history but are ready to condemn it. On the other hand, without reservation they admire all that is imported from Europe. Consequently, a being was created who, first became alienated from his religion, culture, history and background, and then came to despise them. He was convinced he was inferior to the European. And when such a belief took root in him, he tried and wished to refute himself, to sever his connections with all the objects attached to him and somehow make himself like a European, who was not despised and looked down upon, and at least be able to say, "Thank God I am not an Easterner since I modernized myself sufficiently to reach the level of a European."

'Reflections of a Concerned Muslim on the Plight of Oppressed People'Edit

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(Dr. Shariati narrates about his visit to one of the Pyramids)

Wholeheartedly, I began to listen to the guide's explanations about the structure. We learned that slaves had to bring eight-hundred million blocks of stones from Aswan to Cairo in order to construct six large and three small Pyramids. Eight-hundred million blocks of stones were brought to Cairo from a place which was nine hundred and eighty miles away to construct a building wherein the mummified bodies of the Pharaohs were to be preserved. Inside, the graves are made of five blocks of marble. Four of the blocks are used for the walls and one is used for the ceiling. To imagine the diameter of the weight of the marble blocks used for the ceiling of the grave, it is sufficient to visualize that on this block, millions of blocks of stones were piled on top of each other until the top of the Pyramid was completed. Since five-thousand years ago, the ceiling has been supporting this load.

I was amazed by this wonderful work. At a distance of three to four-hundred years, I saw some scattered blocks of stones. "What are they?" I asked the guide. He said, "Nothing. Only a few blocks of stones." Of the thirty-thousand slaves who brought the heavy blocks of stones from hundreds of miles away, on a daily basis, hundreds of them were crushed under the heavy loads. The place I inquired about is where they were buried. So unimportant were they in the system of slavery, that hundreds of them were buried collectively in one ditch. Those who survived had to carry the heavy loads. I told the guide that I would like to see the slaves who were crushed into dust. The guide exclaimed, "There is nothing to see!" He pointed to the graves of the slaves who were buried near the Pyramids by order of the Pharaohs; this was done so their souls could be employed as slaves just as their bodies were.

I requested that the guide leave me alone. I then went to those graves and sat down, feeling very close to the people buried in those ditches. It was as if we were of the same race. It is true that each of us came from different geographical areas but these differences are inconsequential when viewed as a basis for dividing mankind. For out of this phenomenon arose the concepts of strangers and relatives. I was not involved in this system of classification and racial division; therefore, I had nothing but warm feelings and sympathy toward these oppressed souls. I looked back to the Pyramids and realized that despite their magnificence, they were so strange to and distant from me! In other words, I felt so much hatred towards the great monuments of civilization which throughout history were raised upon the bones of my predecessors! My predecessors also built the great walls of China. Those who could not carry the loads were crushed under the heavy stones and put into the walls with the stones. This was how all the great monuments of civilization were constructed - at the expense of the flesh and blood of my predecessors!"

'On The Sociology of Islam'Edit

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Since my field of study is the sociology of religion and the project is connected with my work, I have tried to codify a kind of sociology of religion based on Islam and drawing on the terminology of the Qur'an and Islamic literature. One of the facts I encountered in my study of Islam and the Qur'an was the existence of scientific theories of history and sociology peculiar to the custom and method of work of the Prophet. What is implied here is something different from and taking the Qur'an, certain verses of the Qur'an, the philosophy and certain methods used by the Prophet, or the political, social, psychological and ethical system of life of the Prophet, and then analyzing them by means of contemporary science.

What I mean is something quite different: namely, that I extracted from the Qur'an a whole series of new topics and themes relating to history, sociology and the human sciences. The Qur'an itself, or Islam itself, was the source of the ideas. The subject I now wish to discuss, with respect to the sociology of Islam, is the greatest dilemma of both sociology and history: the search for the basic factor in the change and development of societies. What is the basic factor that causes a society suddenly to change and develop, or suddenly to decay and decline? The factor that sometimes causes a society to make a positive leap forward; to change totally its character, its spirit, its aim and its form, in the course of one or two centuries; and to change completely the individual and social relationships obtaining in it?

The opinion also exists that the people, the generality of society, do play a role in determining their destiny; but no school of thought, not even democracy in its ancient or modern forms, claims that the masses are the fundamental factor in social development and change. The worshipers of personality can be divided into two groups. The first group consists of those who believe that a great personality like the Buddha, Moses or Jesus appears and changes human society. They are pure hero-worshipers. The other group consists of those who are elite-worshipers.

In Islam and the Qur'an, none of the foregoing theories is to be found. In the Qur'an, the Prophet is not recognized as the active cause of fundamental change and development in human history. He is depicted rather as the bearer of a message whose duty it is to show men the school and path of the truth. The conclusion we deduce from the text of the Qur'an is, then, that Islam does not consider the fundamental factor in social change and development to be personality, or accident, or overwhelming and immutable laws.

In general, those addressed by every school of thought, every religion, every prophet, also constitute the fundamental and effective factor of social change within that school. It is for this reason that we see throughout the Qur'an address being made to al-Nas, i.e., the people. The Prophet is sent to al-Nas; he addresses himself to al-Nas; it is al-Nas who are accountable for their deeds; al-Nas are the basic factor in decline in short, the whole responsibility for society and history is borne by al-Nas. The word al-Nas is an extremely valuable one, for which there exist a number of equivalents and synonyms. But the only word that resembles it, structurally and phonetically, is the word "mass".

In sociology, the masses comprise the whole people taken together as an entity without concern for class distinctions that exist among them or distinguishing properties that set one group apart from another. "Mass" means, therefore, the people as such, without any particular class or social form. Al-Nas has exactly the same meaning, i.e., the masses of the people; it has no additional meaning. The words insan and bashar also refer to man, but they refer to ethical and animal properties respectively.

From this we deduce the following conclusion: Islam is the first school of social thought that recognizes the masses as the basis, the fundamental and conscious factor in determining history and society not the elect as Nietzsche thought, not the aristocracy and nobility as Plato claimed, nor great personalities as Carlyle and Emerson believed, not those of pure blood as Alexis Carrel imagined, not the priests or the intellectuals, but the masses."

'An approach to the Understanding of Islam'Edit

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The fourth stage is to study the quality of the appearance of the Prophet of Islam. How, for example, does he appear without any introduction? Is anyone waiting for him? Did he know what his Prophetic mission was? A powerful force suddenly comes to him and changes his way of speaking or his personality in a way which was difficult for him to bear at the beginning. What movement was present when he made his appearance? What class did he tend towards more? What class did he rise to combat? The answers to these will help us in knowing Islam's prophet and also in knowing the quality of his manifestation. If we compare the quality of the Prophet of Islam's manifestation to the appearance of other prophets, positive or negative, such as Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Confucius, Buddha, and so forth, we will arrive at an incredible conclusion.

All of the prophets, with the exception of those part of the Abrahamic tradition, recognize the power existing at the time and achieve their mission with the help of that power, whereas the Abrahamic prophets, from Abraham through to the Prophet of Islam, appeared in a form which rebelled against the existing power. As soon as Abraham appeared, he began breaking the idols one by one. He struck the largest idol and announced his opposition to polytheism. The first act of Moses, wearing the clothes of a shepherd and staff in hand, was to enter the Pharoah's court and announce his opposition to the Pharoah in favor of uniting his people.

Jesus began his struggle with the existing power of the Jewish clergy because the clergy were connected with and accepted the colonization policies of Rome. As soon as the chain of the prophetic mission reached the Prophet Mohammad, he began his struggle with the aristocracy, slaveowners, landowners of Taif and the Qoraish merchants. The comparisons will help us to come to know truth, spirit and direction of these religions.

'A Discussion of Shahid'Edit

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The term "martyr," derived from the (Latin) root "mort, "implies"death and dying," "Martyr" is a noun meaning "the one who dies for God and faith." Thus a martyr is, in any case, the one who dies. The only difference between his death and that of others is to be seen in the "cause." He dies for the cause of God, whereas the cause of the death of another may be cancer. Otherwise, the essence of the phenomenon in both cases, that is to say, death, is one and the same. As far as death is concerned it makes no difference whether the person is killed for God, for passion, or in an accident. In this sense, Christ and those killed for Christianity are "martyrs." In other words, they were "mortals," because, in Christendom's the term "martyr" refers to the person who has died [as such].

But a shahid is always alive and present. He is not absent. Thus the two terms, "shahid "and "martyr."are antonyms of each other. As it was said, the meaning of shahid (pl. shuhada), whether national or religious, in Eastern religions or otherwise, embodies the connotation of sacredness. This is right. There is no doubt that in every religion, school of thought,and national or religious attitude, a shahid is sacred. This is true, even though the school of thought in question may not be religious,but materialistic. The attitude and feeling toward the shahid embodies a metaphysical sacredness. In my opinion, the question from whence the sacredness of a shahid comes needs hair-splitting scientific analysis. Even in religions and schools of thought in which there is no belief in sacredness and the sacred, there is however belief concerning the sanctity of a shahid. This status originates in the particular relation of a shahid to his school.

In other words he develops a spring of value & sanctity. It is because, at any rate, the relationship of an individual with his belief is a sacred relationship. The same relation develops between a shahid & his faith. In the same way, yet indirectly, the same relationship develops between an adherent to a belief & its shuhada. Thus the origin of the sanctity of a shahid is the feeling of sacredness that all people have toward their school of thought, nationality, & religion. In existentialism, there are discussions which are very similar, in some parts, to our discussions concerning wilayat & its effects.

Man has a primary "essential" character & a secondary "shaping character." In respect to the former, every person is the same. Anyone who wears clothes exists! But in the true sense of the term, what makes one's character, that is to say, makes him distinct from other beings, are the spiritual attributes & dimensions, feelings, instincts, & particular qualities the things that, once a person considers them, he senses (himself) as a particular "I"." He realizes himself, saying, "Sum" (I am).

'‎Norouz; Declaration of Iranians' Livelihood, Eternity'Edit

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The national ceremonies of the other cultures often encourage men and women to leave their workshops, farms, deserts, alleys and streets, gardens and pastures, and then gather up in rooms under the ceilings, behind closed doors.

They gather in such surroundings as bars, dancings, cellars saloons and house in places that are heated with gas, lit with light bulbs, filled with smoke, made pretty with artificial colors, decorated with paper or plastic flowers and ornaments, scented with perfumes or burning herbs Norouz, on the contrary, grabs the people's hands kindly and pulls them joyfully along with it out of their small surroundings in rooms, behind closed doors, under ceilings, from among tall buildings and cement pavement s in and around towns into the glorious vast pastures, green areas and the broad, kind embrace of nature, where everyone feels free and jubilant.

The kind spring sun warms them and brightens their day, the glory of witnessing renewing of creation and themselves excites them, the wind and the spring rain beautifully designs new scenes which are already background with bloomed buds of various colors and scented with:

"Smell of rain, smell of spearmint, smell of soil. And smell of boughs that are wet of gentle spring rain and shining clean"

Norouz is a great chance for recollection of lots of great memories. Memories of relationship between man and nature, which is renewed each year. This forgetful child of nature who has got himself so much engaged in artificial affairs and pre scheduled engagements, that he/she has even totally forgotten his own lovely mother.

He/she is now called back to the kind embrace of his loving mother with the magical spell of Norouz. There, they will together joyfully celebrate this happy reunion.

Norouz is not merely a good chance for relaxing and being happy, but a bare need of the society and the vitally needed spiritual food for a nation.

What else is capable of brightening up cold hearts, in a dark world, based upon ever-ongoing changes, revolutions, separation and loss, disintegration and dissolving, where the only thing that is stable and never subject to change is ever-renewing itself and instability?

What else can make a nation invulnerable in the cruel path of the carriage of time, which destroys anything in its path, breaks and crashes any pillar and demolishes any base?

No nation is formed within a night, one generation's era of even two. A nation can be described as the continuous string of many generations that time, this pitiless, thoughtless sword of nature, separates their physical connections along the course of their history.

Unfortunately, we cannot have a two-way correspondence with our ancestors those who have formed the soil of our nation.

The horrendous, deep valley of history is dug. The long, hollow centuries have formed a great impassable gap between us and them. It is only our traditions that speaking away from the sharp eyes of the cruel time executioner, can kindly take our hands and convey us spiritually to the other side of this terrifying valley, thus reconciling between us and our glorious past, our ancestors.

It is in the holy face of these traditions that we can feel their presence by our side today, and Norouz celebrations are among the steadiest, most gracious of these traditions. Whenever we celebrate Norouz, it is as if we are taking part in every Norouz celebration observed on this land ever since the beginning of this ceremony.

Believing in the fact that our nation has always celebrated Norouz in our homeland awakens these exciting ideas in our minds that "Why sure, every year, even in the sad year when Alexander pained the facade of this country red with the noble blood of our nation, by the long blazing flames which were burning the beautiful Persepolise Palace, right there in the same year, our oppressed ancestors must have celebrated Norouz more seriously and more piously, amid their sorrows.

So dearly has been Norouz celebrated in those sad years, and all the years similar to them. A cause to be cheered despite all the miseries."

It has never been an excuse to be "careless, cheap and forgetful", but a pretext to announce the lively determination of our nation to be and to continue to be and maintain strong ties with a glorious past, which the time factor and the invaders of different races have always tried in vain, to wipe off the scene of existence.

'One, in front of it, Zeros til Eternity!'Edit

Translated by Dr.Ghassemy, online at

You, my dear child. The child of nine or ten years of age, That you were nothing, you were dust, you turned into food, Next eighty or ninety years, you will change into an old child, You will turn into nothing, you will turn into dust, You will circulate, Like a circle, Without aim, without meaning, hollow: Once again, from the bottom, you will arrive to the initial point, Like zero, When you live for yourself, When you wish to be only for your "own self", To be alone, When you wish to be only with zeros, Your life, like a curve line, will cycle on yourself, Like zero, Again, from the bottom you will arrive, to the initial point, You will remain, you will stink, Like a pool, You will be confined, like a circle, Like "zero". But if you sit before "1",..............? If you wish to be only for "1", and release yourself from futility and loneliness, and be a companion of "1",..........?

You must live for others, Your life, is like a horizontal line, and will move ahead, Like a road, Like a stream, When you depart from "Yourself", ...from the bottom, you will arrive to a habitable place, like a road, from the bottom, you will spill into the sea, like a stream, But if you sit before "1", And if you wish to exist only for "1", And come out of futility and loneliness, And be a companion of "1", You must die for "others", Your life, will ascend, like a vertical line, Like a wave, Like a storm, Like a high and proud peak, Among the hills, Like a cypress, Among the moscoids- which grow in the face of sun,

Which stretch towards the sky- Like a"Great Man", like a "Martyr", An "Imam", Among the wolves, among the foxes, among the mice, which "rise up", which "stand", ...rise, stand, among the zeros, Like "1".

Yes, Only "1" is a figure, It is the only unit figure, The number of stars, the universes, The earths and the heavens, The number of all the things in universe, "1", In front of it- till eternity- Zeros. There is "1". There is no "1", Except God, There is nothing, There is nobody, One, In front of It, Till Eternity, Zeros.

'Shariati on Shariati & the Muslim Woman' Laleh BakhtiarEdit

  • We see that all of Islam, all of its practices & beliefs were not presented by the Prophet in the first year, but rather presented over a period of 23 years. He presented them in a gradual way. First he presented the idea of monotheism. For 3 years he added nothing to the admonition, "Say: 'God is One,' & be saved." What is the prescribed fast? pilgrimage? poor-due? These had not as yet been presented. Thus the people who accepted Islam in the first 3 years and came to believe in the oneness of God and died were possibly people who drank wine, did not perform the prescribed fast, had not performed the prescribed pilgrimage & had not participated in the struggle in God's way [jihad]. His method was to gradually present Islam. He first presented an intellectual world view.
  • In 7 or 8 AH the modest dress was presented as well as the issue of wine. While still in Mecca, the Prophet did not say, "O people! O nation of Islam! O Arabs! Now that you have accepted monotheism, you must now do everything!" No. In the 7th or 8th year after his actualization, the issue of wine was presented in 3 phases. Look at this method of educating!
  • He was first directed to say, "Do not perform the prescribed prayer when you are drunk" [4:47]. What does this mean? It means you can drink wine but when you enter the mosque for prescribed prayer, do not stagger or appear to be drunk or have your breath smell of wine. Everyone accepted this. Even those who drank were prepared to accept this one limitation.
  • Little by little came the second stage. "There is a great sin as well as profit for some people drinking alcohol and gambling" [2:219]. You see how delicately he discussed alcohol and did not entire negate its profits. Its harm was greater because it had great social and individual harm (even though it did have profit), he negated it. People will listen to this kind of reasoning.
  • Then when the movement reached its peak of struggles in God's way (martyrdoms, victories, etc) suddenly it was revealed, "Certainly wine, gambling are impure & the actions of satan so avoid them" [5:90]. He had worked on them for 20 years and prepared the ground. When he went to the street, he saw everyone had broken his jug. Historians have confirmed that the streets were filled with broken jugs and wine holders.
  • When we present values which are higher then the values represented by Miss Universe, a woman may become attached to those better values. When she has formed an attachment to these elevated values, she will endure and incorporate all of those values herself. She will choose herself and will not sense any belittlement or abasement.
  • This is not traditional dress. It is not the dress of my class. It is the dress of my thoughts. These clothes show how I think & to what I am affiliated, how a mujahid thinks. What do your clothes represent? Your clothes are a reflection of how much money you or your father or husband earn. Thus they reflect money rather than a way of thought. One form of dress reflects a belief system, while the other is monetary.
  • Why did Mrs.Ghandi not feel inferior when she met leaders from all over the world in a dress which was 3000 years old? When she entered to speak, 500 representatives stood and applauded her. By wearing the sari she said: I have studied Western women's journals through which the West propagates its mode of dress in an attempt to dominate and impose its culture, civilization, & style on us & I have rejected it.

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Last modified on 9 April 2014, at 00:47