In the discussions leading up to the convention on Taṣawwuf,2 I had mentioned that conventions like these are, in a sense, a return to the historical experience the Ṣafavids went through to strengthen religious discourse in society, in favour of tendencies the religious academic authorities at the time considered correct.
It is important to recognize that Iranian society, whose culture is a composite of religion and the Persian intellect,3 fell on a new set of rails during the Ṣafavid era. This rail altered the direction of the country from a combination of Greek rationalism and religion, towards religiosity with Shī’ī orientations. Over time, a type of extremism and fanaticism began to develop in this aspect.
In the last few decades of the Ṣafavids, we find a society which possessed a very specific understanding of religion and whose sensitivities were based on the specific attitude of religious scholars – who were recognized as the most important academic authorities. These scholars were considered the fundamental sources of academic reference and for them, a type of religiosity was important where everything was centric to the religious texts.
On numerous occasions, I have highlighted that during this period, efforts were made to give medicine, astronomy and other sciences a religious outlook – meaning, basing them on religious traditions. Majlisī’s Biḥār al-Anwār is a conclusion of this specific attitude. This was the belief of the religious authorities. Naturally, anything that opposed this outlook was considered to be an opposition to religion and needed to be confronted. Anything that took on this connotation was considered a deviation and adhering to it was tantamount to taking a path other than the Ṣirāt al-Mustaqīm.4 During that period, theoretically speaking, adherence to science did not hold any value and this was the case practically speaking as well. What had importance was the ideology that the scholars had recognized as religion. This was the case in practice too. The most important and sensitive issues were these religious matters. Religious slogans played an important role, the Ziyārāt and shrines and the Ḥajj had great importance. The mourning ceremonies and anything that helped these ceremonies held great significance and all of one’s physical efforts would be focused on it. Look at the endowments from that time and see what things were being endowed. Even if a book was being endowed, it would usually be a religious book. On the other hand, independent curricula in the maths, astronomy, pharmacology etc. were significantly weakened.
This outlook existed and was very dominant. As a result, the Ṣafavid era did not pay attention to the West at all, which had begun to change since at least 200 years by then. No one knew their language, no one travelled to the West and this is while a lot of products were entering into Iran from the West. Due to this attitude, we remained in this state until the middle of the Qajār dynasty. This is what is meant when it is said, we are a repeat of the Ṣafavids.
This way of thinking and decision making, as well as other related matters, are made to align with religion in such a way that they have officialization. I am not in any position to judge whether this specific religious approach to such an extent with respects to thought is right or not, but I can say that our lack of attention towards the sciences is rooted in an outlook whose roots can perhaps be traced back to the aforementioned discussion. More than anything, it is this attitude that has importance. Our current interpretation of present-day phenomena, the different realms and Ādam, cosmology, change and transformation, indicators of a good life, the role of the various sciences towards a better and richer life, and many other similar topics are a result of our outlook, which does not appear to be based on this world. Man who is not connected to this world cannot do anything for himself in this world. Without a doubt, one can reconcile between this world and the hereafter, but it is very important that our outlook enables worldly change. We should always be cautious of not swooning off towards one side.
Sayyid Ali studied in the seminary of Qom from 2012 to 2021, while also concurrently obtaining a M.A in Islamic Studies from the Islamic College of London in 2018. In the seminary he engaged in the study of legal theory, jurisprudence and philosophy, eventually attending the advanced kharij of Usul and Fiqh in 2018. He is currently completing his Masters of Education at the University of Toronto and is the head of a private faith-based school in Toronto, as well as an instructor at the Mizan Institute and Mufid Seminary.
- He is one of Iran’s most senior and respected historians and researchers.
- This is a convention that took place on the 11th of October, 2018 in Qom. Pictures can be viewed here. The convention, titled National Convention on Taṣawwuf (Islamic Mysticism): Characteristics and Criticisms, was organized by the Daftar-e Tablīghāt of the seminary of Qom and sparked a lot of discussions. Given the conference was being held by an important institution of the seminary, certain influential figures such as Rasūl Ja’fariyān were pessimistic about it being held through this platform. As one of Iran’s leading and influential historians, Ja’fariyān himself has his reservations regarding Islamic mysticism, expressing his opinion on its practical limitations even as recently as three days ago. However, his main concern with the conference appears to be in context of society’s current resemblance with the Ṣafavid era. In an earlier post made on September 28th 2018, he points out similarities between these two eras in terms of their dire economic conditions and growing dissatisfaction of their citizens, and that these type of conventions held through these platforms are essentially seen as an attack on a large segment of Iranian society and scholarship which lead to further dissent and segmentation of society.
- The Persian intellect is a term used to refer to the philosophical tendencies and discourses developed by the Persians themselves. In this context, the term is being used in contrast to the Greek intellect.
- In an article published just over 6 years ago, Rasūl Ja’fariyān displayed his disappointment at the weakness of some of the arguments presented by Āqā Qarā’ati, a popular speaker and Qurān specialist, on a certain issue. In that article he goes on to write:
Foremost I must say that one of the difficulties we face in the Islamic civilization currently, which is also one of the most fundamental reasons for our backwardness, is this very incorrect definition of science. Due to this, the Muslims became negligent of knowledge and research, except if it was found in religious texts. We degraded the natural sciences and mathematics with the excuse of being busy with the recitation of the Qurān and citing certain arguments which apparently seem religious, but in reality were anti-knowledge.
It is amazing that even after 500 years since the West has begun controlling the world with its strength in the sciences, a religious teacher, with his position and popularity gained due to his talent in giving examples and citing stories, has once again begun saying things that if we were to act on them we would return to a phase of degeneration. Of course, it is clear that reciting the Qurān as a book of guidance is both a Qurānic and religious duty. However, have all Muslim intellectuals and scholars resorted to just the Qurān alone, albeit for religious guidance? Where do the aḥādīth fit? Where do thought and contemplation fit? Where do all the discussions in jurisprudence and rights fit? Where do all the discussions on Islamic history fit? [Source]