In recent years important political events have been sweeping across the Islamic world with fundamental implications for the most basic principles of political Islam. Some analysts speak of a new wave of Islamic modernism in the Arab world. Yet in another Islamic context, namely Iran, one could even observe signs of nothing less than a shattering ideological Renaissance in Islam itself with fundamental implications not only for God’s cosmic and legislative sovereignty, but also for the very pertinence of the religious dogma in all aspects of human life.
Islamic Political Models
Unquestionably all principles of the divine sovereignty should in one way or another be interpreted by some kind of human agency. To this end within the Islamic world one could identify three distinct patterns for this delegation of authority. The first model based on a certain level of political aloofness by the religious theologians, is the one epitomised by Saudi Arabia in which sovereignty is divided between a class of religious scholars and a family of secular rulers. Alternatively the so-called modernist systems within the Islamic world like Turkey and more recently Tunisia, seem to have endorsed a significant level of separation of the moral and secular authorities. This has resulted in a considerable level of institutionalization of the contractual basis of the temporal rule. One significant by-product of such ideological orientations would be the establishment of a strong layer of protection which shields the privatized religious doctrines from being openly studied and challenged throughout society.
An alternative political model is represented by the Islamic Republic of Iran in which these distinct strata of authority seem to have collapsed into one single body politic with claims over temporal and metaphysical sources of sovereignty.
Crisis in the Islamic Governance
On closer inspection the Iranian model reveals its explosive reformative potential that none of the previous systems remotely provided. The political indifferentism or the vertical inculcation of secularism have both been shown to have their limits with regards to engendering an efficient and productive evaluation of various social capacities of Islam. This absence of a challenging ideological engagement with Islam has also guaranteed the astonishing resilience of a considerable corpus of the Islamic dogma strongly rooted in the psyche of the population in these settings. Conversely in the Islamic Republic model by making the faith public and removing the epistemological buffer between the temporal and the divine no personal or reserved space could be considered for the so-called processes of the privatization of faith. Therefore it could be shown that three decades of forceful promotion of the Islamic norms in all societal, constitutional and political spaces of the nation has indeed brought the entire ideological edifice of Sharia under a magnifying glass of evaluation and critical analysis. Remarkably within the same Iranian context a century earlier, Ayatollah Khorasani, a prominent religious figure, had unambiguously warned against the dangers of establishing an Islamic state. In his view this would result in an ideological criticism of Islam itself for any potential socio-political failures of a system reposing on the proclaimed principles of the Islamic faith.
Interesting parallels could be drawn with historical developments of the Italian civic humanist engagement with Christianity. Paradoxically in the Iranian context the vigorous inculcation of the religious doctrine seems to have unleashed comparable processes based on this systematic examination of Sharia. Similarly, one can identify a strong contemporary intellectual line of argumentation that seems to be directly endorsing an overwhelming sensation of a state of decline as compared to a glorified past, a clear reminiscent of the Florentine studia humanitatis reflections on the antiquity.
The existence of an overarching political structure in the form of the Vatican, in this case the Shi’a’s visible hierarchical organization of power, has indeed facilitated this critical evaluation of the entire structure of the sacred doctrine of state. Again in a similar vein, serious accusations of financial corruption and economic mismanagement, – analogous to those brought against Pope Alexander VI for instance, have been levelled at the entire religious repository of the public power in Iran.
In line with the Renaissance’s intellectual processes, here again the social means of such ideological challenges inevitably feed upon a great reservoir of cultural and anthropological diversity of Iran and a prolific domains of literature, cinema, music and various other forms of thriving contemporary profane arts. At a more civil society level, recent studies have portrayed the Iranians as being the most pro-western and pro-Jewish nation of the Middle East as well as other blatant societal anti-Islamic trends – shown in numerous social fads from personal relations to the consumption of alcohol. These could all be explained in the light of this powerful social estrangement from the principles of the Islamic faith, most importantly in the private spheres. Interestingly other Islamic political models demonstrate even a reverse trend towards a more highlighted role of the Sharia in their societies.
It is not difficult to imagine the true reformative potential of such processes in the Islamic Republic as a result of the absence of any real boundaries between ethics and politics. All signs point to the inevitable conclusion that the whole edifice of the Islamic faith is starting to be perceived as the source of all social malaise as a result of the inevitable vicissitudes and risks of the political governance. The Islamic Republic of Iran as the only comprehensive actualization of the Islamic ethical state, increasingly proves to be a veritable cradle of a groundbreaking Renaissance in the entire doctrinal make-up of Islam. Such a politico-cultural setting could veritably unleash formidable forces of ideological destruction with potential to undermine the very centrality of not only the public manifestation of faith but also the very claims to truth and legitimacy of the entire eschatological loyalties in all social spaces.
Dr. Vahid Nick Pay: Chief Political Editor