Kasravi’s Rationalist Approach to Religion

Ahmad Kasravi’s writings, both his polemical and non-polemical work, reveal a mind that attempts to approach life, as well as the world at large, in a straightforward and rationalist vein. This is certainly true of his approach to religion in general and to various Islamic sects and practices, in particular. Kasravi considers religion as a code of behavior incorporating a set of rules, regulations, and instructions. Such a code provides the individual with the wisdom not only to live his or her live rationally and truthfully but also behave as a productive member of the community and strive for the collective prosperity. Thus, for Kasravi, religion should guide and encourage individuals to understand the world and the laws that govern it, to become aware of the essence of being a human being, and to care for the welfare and happiness of others. Furthermore, he contended that concepts such as God, revelation and prophet have natural and not metaphysical connotations. He further believed that religion and science each employs a different path toward the same goal, i.e., to reveal the truth that would guide individuals to attain prosperity and self-fulfillment. According to Kasravi, rationality [kherad] must play a significant part in man’s belief in religion.

One should, therefor, consider and believe in any religion on the basis of one’s rational faculties rather than on the basis of blind faith. To Kasravi, the existence of the Creator is natural and rational. On the whole, however, it appears that even this concept is not central to his system of belief. To him, it is rational to believe in the existence of the Creator, but it would be a waste of time to try to answer questions such as what or who God is or whence he comes. Hence, Kasravi’s use of the Persian term farahash for revelation; a term that does not have the metaphysical connotation of the Arabic word wahy.

While differentiating between true and false prophets, Kasravi does not see any difference in the ultimate mission of various prophets. Yet, he argues that all the existing religions, including various sects of Islam, have for centuries been tainted with superstitions and extraneous beliefs inimical to human spirit. It was on the strength of such a claim that Kasravi strove in many of his controversial books including Dar Piramun-e Eslam [On Islam] and Shi’igari [Shi’ism], to warn his followers of the impurities that have polluted and corrupted their religion. The culprit for the corruption of Islam, according to Kasrivi, is the clergy in general and the Shi’ite clergy in particular. The replacement that he offered his followers, Pakdini [Pure Religion], is devoid of the essential properties of traditional religions, including belief in the supernatural, and thus may be termed as a civil religion.

M. R. Ghanoonparvar
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