Inventing Modernity, Borrowing Modernity

The post-WWI Iranian intelligentsia developed a critical approach to European civilization by articulating a vernacular modernity, a modernity that was grounded in the spiritual rejuvenation of Iran and Islam. In 1924, for instance, Murtiza Mushfiq Kazimi proposed that Iran needed a 'clerical modernity' (tajadud-i akhund). A year later Habib Allah Pur-i Riza suggested that what was needed was a 'sacred revolution' (inqilab-i muqaddas) with 'thinkers like Luther and Calvin'. Criticizing westernization as 'borrowed civilization'3 in 1926, Tuti Maraghah'i instead called for the development of a distinctly Iranian civilization that that could harmonize the antagonistic relations of the European-mannered intelligentsia and the Muslim clerisy. Husayn Kazimzadah likewise called for an 'intellectual and religious revolution', a revolution for 'the purging of superstitions and superfluities' from Shi'ism. Kazimzadah argued that the material progress of the West should be synthesized with the spirituality of the East. He thus prescribed a synthetic modernity that sought the concordance of 'science with religion, materiality with spirituality, life with action, and action with nobility'. Reconfiguring the role of Islam in comprehension of modernity, in this scenario '[a] modern person must be religious and religious person must be modern.'5 These ideas informed Ahmad Kasravi (1890-1946) who viewed the notion of 'European superiority' as a deceptive device for the promotion of colonialism and capitalism. In his Ethos (Ayin), which was published in 1932, Kasravi offered a comprehensive critique of European civilization and the mimetic project of 'Europism' (urupayigarayi), a futurist project that viewed the present of the West as the future of the Rest. Believing that 'Europe faced a dreadful future', Kasravi called for the purging of the 'malady of Europism' and for returning to the noble values that were trampled upon by the Iranian enthusiasts of European ways. In this counter-European project, religion was to play a pivotal role as the foundation for a compassionate, rational and ethical life, which was viewed as an alternative path of progress and development that could detour the social and economic problems of Europe.6 With varying degrees of sophistication, similar ideas were articulated by the Indian Muhammad Iqbal (1875-1938) and Abu al-'Ala Mawdudi (1903-1979) and the Egyptian Rashid Riza (1865-1935) and Hasan al-Banna (1906-1949).

Mohammad Tavakoli Targhi
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