Iran, How A Clerical Regime Has Undermined Religion Itself
One of the chief victims of radical clerical rule in Iran has been religion, historically a bulwark of Iranian society now seen as a tool of tyranny.
The installation of a theocratic regime in Iran in 1979 upended the lives of Iranians, as the self-styled Islamic Republic sought, in the name of religion, to interfere with social customs and personal habits.
This republic has a particular reading of religion tied to its theory of unquestioned rule by a Shia jurisprudent (Velayat-e mutlaqe-ye faqih). The regime insists the Islamic religion has planned and regulated all aspects of daily and social life, which requires a government to enforce those rules.
Even religion must be governed, in contrast with the secular order preceding the revolution, where it was kept separate from public affairs.
Throughout Iran's long history, religion had been a force for stability to society.
After 1979, the state's socio-cultural interventionism and control over all religious bodies have effectively eliminated innovative, independent or dissenting religious thinking (inside Iran), promoted superstitions and put cynics and manipulators in charge of faith!
Instead of people turning to religion in droves, they will leave God's religion in droves.
These have weakened religion, divided the religious establishment, and widened existing social rifts. The public have blamed religion for the inability of its politicized version to solve mundane problems relating to socio-economics, culture and politics, but also for the state's violence over 40 years.
And not surprisingly, there has been growing hostility toward religion, among critics and believing Muslims, in keeping with the earlier warnings of a good many social observers. The Iranian theologian and Muhammad Mojtahed-Shabestari wrote in his Critique of the Formal Reading of Religion (Naqdi bar qara'at-e rasmi-e deen), published in Tehran in 2000, that the danger is "that with this method (political Islam), religious thinking will be paralyzed. Religion becomes an obstacle to spiritual growth and progress and the resolution of life problems.
Instead of people turning to religion in droves, they will leave God's religion in droves. In the critical process affecting religious interpretation, the element of crisis has placed a burden on the science of (Shia) jurisprudence that it could never bear, given its methods, goals and principal concern."
The Hosseinieh Ershad is a non-traditionalist religious institute established by Nasser Minachi in Tehran, Iran.
A national demand
The national uprising of late 2022 has once more turned the separation of state and religion into a national demand. This was broadly the norm in Iranian history, in spite of episodes of political control over religion, for example under the 17th century Safavids or earlier Sasanian empire.
It may be no exaggeration to say, this is what most Iranians want.
The separation of state and religion does not mean hostility to religion or "anti-clericalism", as religion has historically been a pillar and source of strength to Iranian society.
But many Iranians, including pious Iranians, believe in this separation.
They can see how meddling by religion has harmed governance, the economy and society, not to mention morals and religion. It is time then for clerical leaders and society to restore that separation, to strengthen society and religion, and repair the socio-cultural divides of recent decades. It may be no exaggeration to say, this is what most Iranians want.
*Saidi is an Iranian surgeon based in Syracuse, New York. His views are not those of Kayhan-London.