Reformist Religious Intellectuals and Civil Society

The movement for religious reform was a product of a serious reappraisal of fundamental Islamic precepts by Iranian religious intellectuals and their deepening understanding of modern concepts and values originating in the west. This reappraisal is by no means uniform among various leaders of the movement many of whom have yet to elaborate on their definitions of concepts such as freedom, equality and pluralism. Furthermore, almost all well-known proponents of religious reform have either abstained from expressing their views on the issue of women’s rights or have limited themselves to generalities. It is quite evident, however, that their spirited and explicit defense of a number of modern, liberal and democratic values and their active presence on Iranian cultural and political arenas, have had palpable impact on the discourse of Iran’s religious establishment.

The national political discourse has also been influenced by the positions and pronouncements of the religious intellectuals. Thus, while in the pre-revolutionary period the national discourse was characterized by terms such as revolution, martyrdom, classless society and socialism, in the last decade it has been marked by concepts such as democracy, peaceful change, toleration, rule of law and civil society. It is in their discussion of the civil society and its relationship with religious dogmas that the reformist religious intellectuals have presented their views on the compatibility of Islamic tenets and modern social and political concepts. By attempting to liberate religion from politics, revolution, and ideology, they have tried to debunk the lingering legacy of modern day religious fundamentalists, such as Ali Shariati, who thought of Islam primarily as an effective ideology for gaining and maintaining political power in Iranian society.

Mohsen Mottaghi
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