Tolerance and Governance: A Discourse on Religion and Democracy

Soroush Abdolkarim

in Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195174304
Published online November 2007 |
Tolerance and Governance: A Discourse on Religion and Democracy

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Born in Tehran and initially trained as a pharmacologist and philosopher, Abdolkarim Soroush studied history and philosophy of science, particularly the philosophy of Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn, in the United Kingdom. During the months preceding the Islamic revolution of Iran, Soroush had a major role in the gatherings of young Muslims, opponents of the Shah's regime, that took place in the London imam-barah. His book Dialectical Antagonism, a compilation of his lectures delivered in the imam-barah, was published in Iran. When the revolution began in 1979, Soroush returned to Iran. In the spring of 1980, Soroush was appointed a member of the Council for the Cultural Revolution, established by yatullh Khumayni, but resigned in 1982. Soroush became a member of Iran's Academy of Sciences in 1990 and was Dean of the Research Institute for Human Sciences in Teheran. His writings and audiotapes on social, political, re-ligious, and literary subjects delivered all over the world are widely circulated in Iran and elsewhere. He has been a Visiting Professor at Harvard University, Yale University, and Princeton University.

Soroush begins the search to reconcile Islam and democracy not by finding Islamic concepts that are considered democratic (such as shura [consultation], ijma [consensus], or bayah [oath of allegiance]) but by deconstructing the concept of democracy. He maintains that it is the religious understanding that will have to adjust itself to democracy and not the other way around. He continues, Justice, as a value, cannot be religious. It is religion that has to be just. And, Methods of limiting power are not derived from religion, although religion benefits from them. His approach differs not only from that of Sayyid Qutb and Abu al-Al al-Mawdudi but also from that of Rachid Ghannouchi, Fathi Osman, and Murad Hofmann. Soroushs insistence that justice, human rights, and limitations on power are logically rational in origin, not religious, goes too far for these Muslim. The reason is that it conflicts with a bedrock principle upon which they insist: it is the religious sensibility that in the first place generates these values, which Muslims must therefore work hard to promote. In other words, religion derives its position on justice from its acceptance of rationality as the ontological given of the human condition. To be sure, Soroush takes great pride in his religious faith and pointedly notes that a religious democracy is not only possible but essential. He rejects the suggestion that the reconciliation of Islam and democracy requires the secularization of Islam. It is true that a jurisprudential religious government will undermine a religious democratic one, but there is no warrant for maintaining that a reconciliation of democracy and religion will mean a subversion of the former by a monistic jurisprudential authoritarianism that imposes antidemocratic laws.

Chapter.  3523 words. 

Subjects: Society and Culture ; Islam

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