Shariati, Ali (1933–1977)

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Ali Shariati did not live to see the Islamic Revolution in Iran of 1979, but he was definitely one of its intellectual authors. Like many Iranians in the twentieth century he combined an education in the traditional religious sciences in Iran with more modern ideas from a European contextin his case Paris. His connections with the anticolonialist movement in Paris led him to argue that Islam is a basically revolutionary and liberating doctrine; Shariati did not abandon religion as many of his fellow radical Iranians did, nor did he accept the reverence for the imam or spiritual leader so prevalent in Shiʿi Islam. This set him firmly aside from Khomeini and the ideology of the Islamic Revolution itself.

He was a great borrower of ideas that he then applied in his own way. Thus while he rejected the dialectical materialism of Marxism, he did use the notion of history having a direction and a patternalbeit one based on divine will and class struggle by individuals progressively perfecting their consciousness. Islam is a religion based on liberation, and Shariati reads the Qurʾan as a book representing a community struggling permanently to achieve social justice, a fraternal society, and freedom. Shariati was not impressed with the power of imported ideologies to generate political solidarity among the people against oppressive regimes. Like his distinguished Iranian predecessor, Jalal Al-e Ahmad, he recognized the importance of politicizing Islam as an ideology of emancipation and liberation of the Iranian people. Unlike another influence on him, Frantz Fanon, Shariati approved of religion, provided it is reinterpreted appropriately.

His version of Shiʿism placed emphasis on Imam ʿAli as a revolutionary leader as well as a religious thinker. This view of Shiʿism is different from that of the religious orthodoxy, especially as it places authority in the opinion of the individual, a vindication of ijtihad or independent judgment rather distant from normal understandings of the notion in Islam. Here he was undoubtedly influenced by Jean-Paul Sartre and the existentialist emphasis on the importance of authentic decisions being made by free agents. Shariati argued that Islam could be vindicated as a faith if it is seen as involving autonomous choices by individuals and a genuine progressive direction in both social and personal policies.


works by shariati

On the Sociology of Islam: Lectures. Translated by Hamid Algar. Berkeley, CA: Mizan Press, 1979.

From Where Shall We Begin? Houston: Book Distribution Press, 1980.

Marxism and Other Western Fallacies: An Islamic Critique. Translated by R. Campbell. Berkeley, CA: Mizan Press, 1980.

Oliver Leaman (2005)