Where Shall We Begin
Dr. Ali Shariati
Let us summarize the points raised here. Given our culture and specific
definition of "enlightened" as a person with a prophetic mission, the
objectives and responsibilities of such a person are to transform the
existing social conflicts from the context of the society into the
feelings and self-consciousness of its members. An enlightened person
should obtain the raw materials from his contemporary society and social
life. There exists no universal type of enlightened person, with common
values and characteristics everywhere. Our own history and experience
have demonstrated that whenever an enlightened person turns his back on
religion, which is the dominant spirit of the society, the society turns
its back on him. Opposition to religion by the enlightened person
deprives society of the possibility of becoming aware of the benefits
and the fruit of its young and enlightened generation. Due to their
unique worldviews and awareness, enlightened individuals can play the
most effective and long-lasting role in educating and mobilizing the
masses of their society. With great intensity, the society expects its
enlightened persons to educate it concerning various elements of danger,
reactionism, corruption, anachronism and confusion. The dominant spirit
of the Islamic culture is that of Justice and Leadership. Islam is a
religion unlike other religions it challenges other religions, expresses
lack of belief in them and declares them void. Our society is based upon
a religion and outlook, which is the ideal of all contemporary men,
because our religion has the "tradition of martyrdom." None of the holy
leaders of Islam have died of natural causes in isolated caves or
monasteries: rather, they have all been martyred in prisons or on the
To emancipate and guide the people, to give birth to a new love, faith, and dynamism, and to shed light on people's hearts and minds and make them aware of various elements of ignorance, superstition, cruelty and degeneration in contemporary Islamic societies, an enlightened person should start with "religion." By that I mean our peculiar religious culture and not the one predominant today. He should begin by an Islamic Protestantism similar to that of Christianity in the Middle Ages, destroying all the degenerating factors which, in the name of Islam, have stymied and stupefied the process of thinking and the fate of the society, and giving birth to new thoughts and new movements. Unlike Christian Protestantism, which was empty-handed and had to justify its liberationist presentation of Jesus, Islamic Protestantism has various sources and elements to draw from. Such a movement will unleash great energies and enable the enlightened Muslim to:
1-Extract and refine the enormous resources of our society and convert the degenerating and jamming agents into energy and movement.
2-Transform the existing social and class conflicts into conscious awareness of social responsibility, by using artistic, literary and speaking abilities and power as well as other possibilities at hand.
3-Bridge the ever-widening gap between the "island of the enlightened person" and the "shore of the masses" by establishing kinship links and understanding between them, thus putting the religion, which came about to revive and generate movement, at the service of the people.
4-Make the weapon of religion inaccessible to those who have undeservedly armed themselves with it and whose purpose is to use religion for personal reasons, thereby acquiring the necessary energy to motivate people.
5-Launch a religious renaissance through which, by returning to the religion of life and motion, power and justice, will on the one hand incapacitate the reactionary agents of the society and, on the other hand, save the people from those elements which are used to narcotize them. By launching such a renaissance, these hitherto narcotizing elements will be used to revitalize, give awareness and fight superstition. Furthermore, returning to and relying on the authentic culture of the society will allow the revival and rebirth of cultural independence in the face of Western cultural onslaught.
6-And finally, eliminates the spirit of imitation and obedience, which is the hallmark of the popular religion, and replaces it with a critical revolutionary, aggressive spirit of independent reasoning (Ijtihad). All of these may be accomplished through a religious reformist movement, which will extract and refine the enormous accumulation of energy in the society, and will enlighten the era and will awaken the present generation. It is for the above reasons that I, as a conscientious teacher who has risen from the depth of pains and experience of his people and history, hope that the enlightened person will reach a progressive self-awareness. For whereas our masses need self-awareness, our enlightened intellectuals are in need of "faith.".