Posts Tagged With: Ali Shari’ati

Definitions of Religion Based on Metaphysical Foundation

Aston         Shariati         Geisler

Some of the philosophers of religion regard as religion any school of thought which has the following three principal elements of belief:

  1. There is a world beyond the world of tangibles;
  2. The world of nature has a purpose; and
  3. The world of being has a moral system.

The third element can be analyzed in two ways. One way is that the world of being is such that it perceives what is morally good or evil. The other way is that the world of being is such that it rewards moral goodness or wickedness.[1]


Some supplementary and critical points to this definition are worth mentioning:

First, concerning the first belief, this point must be added that man is also a reality that is situated between the natural and supernatural worlds.

دو سر هر دو حلقة هستي   به حقيقت به هم تو پيوستي

Both two heads are of the axis of existence.

Indeed you are also attached to them.

Man’s religious, intellectual and political search in this domain is meant for the improvement of his supernatural asset. Acquisition of more knowledge about the dimensions and realities of the world of nature as well as its laws helps in his advancement in the supernatural realm.

Second, the world of nature’s purposefulness is connected to another principal belief, and that is the world of creation’s dependence on the All-wise and Absolute God who is devoid of any futile and vain act at all.

Third, in this definition the question of God is raised ambiguously. That there is a world beyond the world of nature and tangibles is an extremely general statement, for it is possible to refer to a world in which there is no mention of God, such as the world of myths and fables.

Fourth, in saying that the world of being is such that it gives reward or retribution to what is morally good or evil, does ‘the world of being’ refer to this world or include the otherworldly as well?

If it refers only to this world, then all good deeds of a person are not compensated well in this world. In the same manner, because of this world’s limited capacity [to compensate], the criminals cannot be duly punished for all their crimes in this world. Of course, we have the law of causation, or action and reaction in this world but the capacity of this world is not enough to duly compensate all human actions. Unless the eternal world is accepted, reward and punishment for what is morally good and bad cannot be considered.

Fifth, in some creeds, particularly the ascetic schools, the abovementioned three points can be seen, without them claiming to be forms of religion.

Sixth, not every moral system is religious. The moral system whose foundation is God in the sense that the criterion for good and evil in it is the Divine commands has religious dimension. The basic foundation of what is morally good and evil in religion is revelation which is immune from error and deviation.

If to say that the world of being perceives what is morally good and evil means that the world of being has the ability to perceive the good and evil, then it is acceptable from a religious perspective in view of the fact that all parts of the world of being are in a state of glorying, prostration and remembering God. And if it means that like human beings, the world of being also acquires knowledge of what is morally good and evil and the perception of the world of being is like the human knowledge about the abovementioned matters, then this meaning is not a religious necessity. That the world of being gives recompense to what is morally good or bad can be interpreted in two ways:

One is that the world of being’s giving of reward is like one of the laws which God has prescribed in the world of being. It is the same law of causation whose enactment and implementation are like those of other laws of God.

The other way is that as a warning to His creatures, God, the Glorious, has directly enacted and implemented the said law.

We must know that this causation is only for the awareness of human beings:

 كُلُّ نَفْسٍ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ رَهِينَةٌ

“Every soul is hostage to what it has earned.”[2]

Otherwise, because of the lack of capacity of the world of matter and materiality to implement absolutely the law of divine justice for good and evil deeds, it can be implemented in the eternal world. It can be said that in this definition, three subjects which are acceptable and of immense importance for religion are mentioned. Yet, paying attention to the religious duties and rights and distinguishing them from moral cases are not yet done. On the other hand, there has been no categorical and decisive statement regarding the Sacred Being of God, His control over the creation, Attributes of Perfection, and the Resurrection.

Aston’s Definition

W.G. Aston, a contemporary philosopher of religion, presents the following as the common features of religions:

  1. Belief in metaphysical beings;
  2. Differentiation between the sacred and the worldly affair;
  3. Rites which are concentrated on certain things;
  4. A set of moral rules whose implementation is guaranteed by God or gods;
  5. Specific religious feelings (such as fear, reverence, sense of guilt, and gratitude) which are expressed before sacred things or in the performance of rites;
  6. Worship and other forms of connection with God or gods;
  7. A general viewpoint about the world as a unit and the station of man in it (worldview);
  8. Relatively comprehensive organization of human life based upon such viewpoint (ideology); and
  9. A united social group with the support of the abovementioned elements (community or church).


  1. It is as if these thinkers have sensitivity to God as they talk about ‘metaphysical beings’. It must not be forgotten that the same sensitivity caused some Western countries to use the term ‘supreme being’ instead of the word ‘God’ in their constitutions!

Essential to religion is the belief in the existence of God, and not merely metaphysical creatures. Of course, belief in metaphysical creatures such as the angels and souls that have reached the lofty station of immateriality, eternity, and the truths pertaining to them is considered part of the religious beliefs.

  1. Differentiation of the sacred matter from the worldly matter is not true to all religions.
  2. Rites which are concentrated on certain things are related to primitive religions. Rites exist in religions with divine origins but not rites which are centered on certain things, but rites which are held as a form of worship, linking the most insignificant to the most significant. Be that as it may, rites of the primitive periods whether they are in the form of totem, taboo, or any other form have nothing to do with the world Abrahamic faith.
  3. In religions with divine origins, the criterion for the moral rules is God, and not that God merely guarantees the implementation of laws.
  4. To have certain religious sentiments is one of the effects of belief in God. The rites which exist in religion make a person experience particular spiritual states. It must also be noted that in some creeds which are known as religions rites with superstitious underpinning exist and they cannot be compared with real rites of religions with divine origins, as discussed above.
  5. Religion fosters unity among individuals. And this point is also one of the essentials and effects of religion and not the religion itself. Of course, the ‘single community’ (ummatan wāḥidah) which is attained through the religious conviction cannot be compared with organizations formed by groups, for the goal of religion is to let the human beings move as a single caravan to be sublime Origin. Unity of a religious community is not similar to a racial, geographical, or political organization formed for a particular purpose such as defense against an enemy. Rather, as stated in Islamic sources, faithful individuals are like a single body; if one part experiences pain, all parts will experience the same. The souls of faithful individuals are like a single soul, and the link of the soul of faithful person to God is stronger than the link between the sun and its rays.[3]
  6. There is no doubt that the affairs of the world of being have connection with sacred truths, and that sacred matters are sometimes distinct from worldly matters. In the religion of Islam, however, it can be said that as they are related to the world of creation—on account that all parts of the world of creation, whether they are inward or outward, are divine signs: “Soon We shall show them Our signs in the horizons and in their own souls until it becomes clear to them that He is the Real”[4] and “So whichever way you turn, there is the face of Allah!”[5]—it follows then that in a sense the entire universe has a sacred dimension.
  7. Regarding the phrase “Rites which are concentrated on certain things” it must be explained whether or not it means the presence of a set of rites in every religion. It is correct but the taboo rites must be distinguished from rites which are performed in the form of worship and other rational inclinations to the metaphysical.
  8. The meaning of this statement, “The guarantor of the implementation of moral rules is God or gods” must be clarified. In this regard, there are some possibilities:

First possibility: It means that God helps the human beings so that their actions are consistent with the moral rules. Of course, one can infer from the sources of Abrahamic Faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) this meaning with utmost clarity, for the justice and grace of God necessitate that He guides His servants to the path of material and spiritual prosperity.

Second possibility: “The guarantor of the implementation of moral rules” means control and stimulation of the pure conscience and not attributing the actions to deterministic factors.

Third possibility: “Moral rules” refer to religious laws, duties and rights because of their association with God. That is, it is because God enacted them and He is cognizant of the interaction of people with one another. If it means this third possibility, then it is closer to the reality compared to the other two possibilities.

  1. Specific religious feelings (such as fear, reverence, sense of guilt, and gratitude) which are expressed before sacred things or in the performance of rites:

On one hand, such concepts are not exclusive to religion, for when a rational person sees himself in front of a Real Being higher than him and he experiences a sense of cautiousness coupled with hope, there is the sense of awe in such a person. When a rational and wary person with a sound mind learns of the majesty of the world of being and its vastness and orderliness, he will definitely experience a sense of astonishment (and not primitive bewilderment, doubt and skepticism). Definitely, anyone who does something against the law—provided he has a sound mind and personality—will feel ashamed and this feeling is the result of committing a sin, although he may not use the same terms. Similarly, gratitude or thanksgiving in times of joy caused by material and spiritual favors in life which are attributed to mere luck is a common phenomenon. All such phenomena can have religious underpinning when they connect man to God.

  1. With regards to “Worship and other forms of connection with God or gods,” it must be said that in Abrahamic monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), gods are not objects of worship and other religious connections. In the said religions, there are no such things as ‘gods’ at all.[6]
  2. A general viewpoint about the world as a unit and the station of man in it (worldview):

This viewpoint consists of the following:

  1. The world of being is a creation of God;
  2. The world of being is created based upon the governance and will God for a lofty purpose;

The station of man in this world is such that he is a very important being with various talents through which he can have interactive relationship with all levels and dimensions of the world in which he lives, and the magnitude and quality of his perfection depend on such relationship.

Man can have two types of honor:

The first type is intrinsic honor:

 وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ وَحَمَلْنَاهُمْ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَاهُمْ مِنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَى كَثِيرٍ مِمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلا

“Certainly We have honored the Children of Adam, and carried them over land and sea, and provided them with all the good things, and given them an advantage over many of those We have created with a complete preference.”[7]

All human beings possess this honor, provided that they would not deprive themselves of it by committing treachery (khiyānah).

The second type is acquired honor:

 يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ

“O mankind! Indeed We created you from a male and a female, and made you nations and tribes that you may identify with one another. Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most God-wary among you.”[8]

  1. Relatively comprehensive organization of human life based upon such viewpoint (ideology):

This is the same relationship of man with the world which is the third of the four relationships upon which all religions with divine origins are organized: (1) man’s relationship with himself; (2) man’s relationship with God; (3) man’s relationship with the world of being; and (4) man’s relationship with his fellow human beings.

Therefore, there will be no objection if we say, “Relatively comprehensive organization of human life based upon the abovementioned four relationships”.

  1. A united social group with the support of the abovementioned elements (community or church):

In this part of the definition of religion, two ambiguous issues must be examined:

  1. The social organization in itself is not a pillar of the essence of religion, for even if only one person or a few people believe in religion in this world, he or they will still constitute a community (ummah). As such, the Noble Qur’an introduces Prophet Ibrāhīm (Abraham) (‘a) alone as a community:

 إِنَّ إِبْرَاهِيمَ كَانَ أُمَّةً

“Indeed Abraham was a nation.”[9]

Of course, as the number of individuals and communities that follow the religion increases, the social organization of those who believe in the said religion (ummah) also becomes larger.

  1. Ummah refers to the group of people who believe in a particular religion, or if we really broaden its meaning, it refers to the group of people that cling to a given ideology, whether it is religious or not.

Like the mosque and other houses of worship which are built on earth as places of worship, the church means a center for collective worship and devotion, unless the original meaning of it is changed into another one.

Sharī‘atī’s Definition

Dr. ‘Alī Sharī‘atī[10] enumerates the common features of religions as follows:

  1. Religion declares existence as meaningful.
  2. It is correct provided that the meaning of the meaningfulness of the world is its association with God and the sublime wisdom and will of the Sacred Essence. Its purposefulness is also a requisite of its being associated with the wisdom and will of God. The requisite of the observance of this condition is the belief in the world as having an ultimate goal. Similarly, the said condition also necessitates the meaningfulness of man and history. Definitely, if the goal is not limited to the creation of the world, at least this can be regarded as one of its highest goals. Therefore, Sharī‘atī might have possibly stated the first two points as one.
  3. The duality of the human being in all religions:

If this ‘duality’ refers to the physical and spiritual, the dispositional and the behavioral, the outward and the inward, the intrinsic and the extrinsic, then this is correct.

  1. Sanctity in the world:

Sanctity or sacredness in the world can be considered from two perspectives. The first perspective is that the world relies upon the wisdom and will of God, and the notion of the world as a divine sign (āyah) (both within man and in the outside world) refers to this perspective:

 سَنُرِيهِمْ آيَاتِنَا فِي الآفَاقِ وَفِي أَنْفُسِهِمْ حَتَّى يَتَبَيَّنَ لَهُمْ أَنَّهُ الْحَقُّ

“Soon We shall show them Our signs in the horizons and in their own souls until it becomes clear to them that He is the Real”[11]

According to the second perspective, the facility and potential of this world are meant to prepare man and push him to the sublime goal of perfection. The ardent desire for it exists in the hearts of all people who are immune from selfishness. In the speech of the Commander of the Faithful ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (‘a) in reply to someone who rebuked the world, this perspective is expressed in this manner:

O’ you who abuse the world, O’ you who have been deceived by its deceit and cheated by its wrongs. Do you accuse it or it should accuse you? When did it bewilder you or deceive you? … Certainly, this world is a house of truth for him who appreciates it; a place of safety for him who understands it; a house of riches for him who collects provision from it (for the next world); and a house of instructions for him who draws instruction from it. It is a place of worship for the lovers of Allah; the place of praying for the angels of Allah; the place where the revelation of Allah descends; and the marketing place for those devoted to Allah.”[12]

  1. The division of all things, affairs and realities into tangible and intangible:

This division is not a distinctive feature of religions although this is acceptable in religions on the basis of undeniable fact (the division of all things into tangible and intangible).

  1. Religion as the social spirit:

This point is also not a distinctive feature of religions, for collective life—whether motivated by the need for division of labor among people, kinship through sexual reproduction or racial unity, or the natural demand for their civility—is a salient feature of human life in the sphere of coexistence.

  1. The global nature of the distinctive features of religion:

This issue must also be examined more accurately, for all religions with divine origins can be generally grouped into two:

First group: It consists of national religions which are exclusive to limited groups in the history of religion. The prophets of these religions were not the preeminent ones in determination (ūlū ’l-‘azm) and were limited to their respective time or group.

Second group: It consists of the world religions like the ones associated with Prophet Ibrāhīm (‘a) and whose messengers were the ūlū ’l-‘azm, viz. Nūḥ (Noah), Ibrāhīm, Mūsā (Moses), ‘Īsā (Jesus), and Muḥammad ibn ‘Abd Allāh (‘a). If it is not so, then the phrase refers to the common features of all religions such as belief in God, eternity, religious duties and rights, and the like.

8 and 9. “The unity of man and nature” and “the unity of man, nature and the spirit of being”:

These two phrases have a very broad meaning and are not a salient feature of the phenomenon called ‘religion’. There are philosophers who philosophically acknowledge this unity. Sufis and mystics also believe in this unity and something even higher. That is, man, nature, the spirit of the entire universe, and even God are a single being (theory of the unity of being). The stoics and a group of Indian philosophers and mystics believe in this theory. Therefore, items 8 and nine are not exclusive to religion.

  1. Apprehension, struggle and desire for union (ittiṣāl):

This point is also not free from ambiguity. The possible meanings which can be conceived of in this regard are as follows:

  1. Ardent desire, struggle and aspiration of man to be in union with God are like the union of the drops of water to the sea. This possibility is not correct in monotheistic religions, for the Sacred Essence of the Lord is higher than that a creature that He created or originated be part of His Sacred Essence.
  2. Endeavor and desire for the change in humanity that has the potential to be God-like through the possession of divine attributes that exist within the said potential of man. If it means possession of those attributes within the limits of man, this is possible in monotheistic religions.
  3. Union means entry to the attraction to the Lordly Perfection. In this station, the person becomes an embodiment of the Divine Lights, but he will never reach the Sublime Lordly Station. This is the best possible meaning for the above item.

Note: The word ‘apprehension’ which implies agitation along the way to perfection is not correct. Instead, ardent desire, serious endeavor and persistence are which called kadaḥ (كدح) in Arabic are more accurate than the terms ‘apprehension’ and mere ‘desire’.

  1. Belief in dominance, progress, exaltation, and movement:

In this phrase, the word ‘dominance’ requires explanation. If ‘dominance’ means attainment of power for the organization of the four types of relationship (man’s relationship with himself, God, the universe, and fellow human beings), then it is perfectly correct, and it can be said that the attainment of the lofty goal of religion is to acquire such power. Acquisition of power for the organization of relationship with the self means control and mastership over the self. Through this power a person could set himself along the path of God-wariness (taqwā) which means maintenance of self-perfection. And through this taqwā he can proceed to the height of attraction to the Sublime Perfection. It also means acquisition of power for the organization of relationship with God. Through this power one could control himself from sin, selfishness and self-centeredness and undertake his ideal movement. By acquiring power for the organization of intellectual, perceptive and interactive relationship with the world of being, he will succeed in self-building.

  1. Emancipation from what exists means emancipation from captivity:

If it means disconnection from whatever exists and severance of relationship with whatever is, then this point is forbidden in religion, for detachment from the world connection to which is one of the fundamental relationships a person has in his subsistence is actually detachment or disconnection from the self. Obviously, negation of the self is not the same with the pursuance of one’s perfection which emanates from God’s boundless wisdom and favor. The world of being is the passageway for its progress and the Beatific Vision (liqā’ Allāh) in eternity is its ultimate goal and objective. It must be borne in mind that to be in the world which in the words of the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) is the great place of worship for the wary people is not the same with negation and disconnection from it which can be considerably seen in Buddhism.

  1. The concept of protection and preservation of man, life and society:

No meaning for this item (13) can be conceived of except protection of man, life and society from pollution, degradation, fall, and backwardness. This point is perfectly correct in religion but the word ‘concept’ must be omitted from the above phrase, for that which is part of the salient features of religion is the protection and preservation and not its concept.

  1. and 15. Acquaintance, curiosity and engagement in curiosity:

Acquaintance, inquiry and research to increase knowledge about the self, God, the world, and fellow human beings, and the use of knowledge and learning along the path of searching for perfection are part of the essentials of religion.

  1. Beauty and art:

The meaning of the desire for tangible and intelligible beauties which, in addition to the resultant purification of the soul and preparation of the self to soar from this very high platform to the Absolute Beauty which is something incomparable, must be shown in the world and shorten for the people the distance of realizing God. Moreover, the meaning of ‘art’ is supposedly to undertake artistic intellectual or psychological activities and setting purely constructive artistic works at the service of spiritual growth and enhancement of the human talents, and not the beauty and art which always exist for all people in various cultures of human society.

  1. Love and worship:

Definitely, ‘ishq refers to the highest degree of love, passion and craving for Sublime Perfection which is the totality of beauty and glory, and it is correct to regard this love as one of the salient features of religion. However, what is called ‘metaphorical love’ or mere love without its attachment to the Sublime Perfection (which is definitely what Sharī‘atī intended to mean) is not only not part of the salient features of religion, but religion is even inimical to it. A person’s expression of ‘virtual love’ will cost and leads to the wastage of all his life’s assets and capitals, for

عشقهايي كز پي رنگي بود                                    عشق نبود عاقبت ننگي بود

Those loves which are for the sake of a color (outward beauty) are not love: in the end they are a disgrace.[13]

هرچه جز عشق خداي احسن است          گر شكر خوارﻱﺳﺖ آن جان كندن است

Except love of the most beauteous God, everything, though (outwardly) it is (pleasant like) eating sugar, is (in truth) agony of spirit.[14]

عاشقان از درد زان ناليدﻩﺍند                      كه نظر تا جايگاه ماليدﻩاند

The cause why lovers have moaned in grief is that they have rubbed their eyes malapropos.[15]

Meanwhile, worship of God, the Glorious, after knowing him, is the purest essential feature, nay pillar, of religion.

  1. The ideal, ideal man and utopian city:

This point can be analyzed under two headings: (1) The ideal means that religion is ideal goal of the human beings, or the ideal goal of the human beings is in religion. (2) It is religion which molds the ideal man. Both propositions are correct. Meanwhile, the ‘utopian city’ (madīneh-ye fāḍileh) which means the use of the individuals and groups of society of all their positive potentials in social life is obviously the purest features of religion in the dimension of people’s social life. This point can also be inferred from item 13.

  1. Awaiting as protest against the status quo and moving toward the ideal:

Taking into account the fundamentals of Sharī‘atī’s school of thought, awaiting (intiẓār) means wishing for the emergence of the best society and struggle for its realization whose most perfect form will be possible with the advent of the Master of the Age (‘atfs).[16] Of course, it must be borne in mind that intiẓār is not identical with protest (i‘tirāḍ) against the status quo. It rather stems from the feeling of disgust and anguish for the undesirable condition which stands in the way of perfection of collective human life.

Meanwhile, protest against the status quo can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. Protest against the status quo stems from the lack of the divine pleasure in every condition which is contrary to the ideal human felicity. In view of the high and reformative potentials of the human beings, it is a common phenomenon that exists in all communities and nations with rational cultures. It is even said that the lack of divine satisfaction for the status quo is one of the strongest elements of forward movement in history.
  2. Protest means the lack of divine pleasure for anything that causes degradation and engrossment of mankind in ignorance, poverty and human rights violations. Through the efforts for changing the direction of life’s movement toward its lofty goals and means.
  1. Nature’s self-consciousness:

This item can be inferred from item 9 (“the unity of man, nature and the spirit of being”). Given this, it is possible that this point can be separately inferred from the Qur’anic verses that indicate glorification (tasbīḥ) and prostration (sajdah) of the creatures in the world. Of course, in proving the self-consciousness of nature, some thinkers have cited the law of causation.

 اين جهان كوه است و فعل ما ندا         سوي ما آين نداها را صدا

This world is the mountain, and our action the shout:

The echo of the shouts comes (back) to us.[17]

Sharī‘atī has not mentioned three very important salient features of religion:

  1. The religious laws, rights, duties, and manners as well as worship of the Sublime Origin (God) and belief in the Resurrection (ma‘ād) must be stated more clearly and elaborately to some extent. Most probably, he contented himself with items 1, 4, 10, 13, 16, and 23. However, as demanded by the law on definitions, it would be better to state more clearly and elaborately the above points.
  2. The ultimate reply to the six fundamental questions on life (1. Who am I? 2. From where I have come? 3. With which I have come? 4. With whom am I? 5. To where shall I go? 6. For which I have come?) which only religion can give.
  3. The real felicity, virtue and sacrifices in the way of lofty human values such as faithfulness to promise and covenant, defense of the truth, responsible freedom, justice, and the like, for without religion, the world is a place for play, jumping, beating, and eating in which if a person would use all his facilities and potentials in the way of selfishness and self-interests, he will miserably lose.

روزگار و چرخ و انجم سر بسر بازيستي           گرنه اين روز دراز دهر را فرداستي

The world, fate and stars are all your playthings

Otherwise this long day of fortune is your tomorrow.[18]

Geisler’s Definition

Geisler[19] defines religion in its most general sense, thereby encompassing every supposed religion. He regards religion as having two basic characteristics: (1) awareness of something sublime, and (2) total devotion and utmost attachment. So, in his general definition of religion, any consciousness of something sublime coupled with total devotion and utmost attachment is called ‘religion’. The elements of this definition are mentioned as follows:

  1. Awareness: a person considers himself professing religion when he is aware or acquainted with something other than himself.
  2. Something sublime: a thing is sublime when it transcends and goes beyond direct awareness of a person. Given this, even in unconsciousness, ‘I’ and others apart from ‘me’ are deemed sublime. Moreover, that which is sublime is beyond the experienced ones (mujarrabāt).
  3. It pertains to total devotion. Religion comprises something which is beyond mere manifestation; something not stipulated and ultimate; something to which people want to be devoted with utmost sincerity. In other words, it includes not only awareness to anything sublime. In fact, it includes whatever is treated final and whatever requires utmost devotion. Of course, in the words of Ian Ramsey,[20] this devotion most also be total as well as widespread. So, this devotion must be final and universal


Some important points in the definition of Geisler must be examined:

  1. It is true that from the totality of terms used by Geisler, it can be deduced that “that which is sublime” which is the object of awareness, total devotion and ultimate affection and yearning is no other than God, the Perfect and Absolute, that all religions have mentioned whether explicitly or as something essential to the ideological text. However, in view of the crucial importance of the thing being defined (mu‘arraf), its name must be specified. If it is argued that not all religions call it ‘God’, the reply is that an ambiguous reality, even if it is described as ‘something sublime’, cannot be considered the basic foundation of religion because “awareness of the existence of God” and “total devotion and attachment to Him” require that He must be the Creator of all beings and created them according to His sublime wisdom and will.

From this analysis, it is clear that the line “a person considers himself professing religion when he is aware or acquainted with something other than himself” is somewhat inaccurately stated because the concept of God, Exalted is His Station, who is Perfect and Absolute in all aspects, is not clear in the above expression (“something other than himself”). Similarly, the expression “a thing is sublime when it transcends” is not free from ambiguity because it is a common concept, and it must be said instead, “a thing is sublime when it transcends all things”.

  1. “…and goes beyond direct awareness of a person”:

This is an excellent point which is discussed in various expressions in the religion of Islam; for example, Prophet Mūsā (‘a) is reported to have said God, “How can I reach You?” In reply, God said:

قَصْدَكَ لِي وَصْلَكَ إِلَيّ.

“As you have aimed Me, you have reached Me.”

Of course, this understanding is not direct or without mediation. Even in intuitive knowledge (self-consciousness), the “I” perceives his self directly, for the perception of the “I” in intuitive knowledge is not possible without negation of “other than I” even quickly, generally or briefly. This is while the perception of God only needs intention. This is the meaning of what Geisler said, “That which is sublime is beyond the experienced ones (mujarrabāt).” And in the jargon of Western philosophers, it is a priori upon which the philosophy of Kant, in particular, relies.

  1. He said, “Religion comprises something which is beyond mere manifestation; something not stipulated and ultimate; something to which people want to be devoted with utmost sincerity.” This point is also very fine because in religion familiarity, information and acquaintance with God is not sufficient. Instead, as the very knowledge about that Sacred Being is attained, ardent desire for ‘searching’ in order to obtain His Lordly attraction begins.
  2. In the expression of Ian Ramsey, there is a line which must definitely be modified and that is, this devotion most also be total as well as widespread. It is because delight and pleasure from knowing the world is different from devotion to it. That which exists in religion is the former and not the latter. That is, it is delight caused by the fact that the universe has been created according to the lofty wisdom and will of God and witnessing the celestial splendor of the universe impels a person to pay ultimate devotion to God, and not that a person just submits to the universe and surrenders himself to it. A majestic element of the universe or one of the lofty aspects of this universe gives rise to devotion to the Creator. Man is not supposed to surrender to the universe. Instead, with utmost cheer and confidence, he must consider it a springboard for his own spiritual flight.

به جهان خرم از آنم که جهان خرم ازوست

عاشقم بر همه عالم که همه عالم ازوست

I belong to the pleasant world as the pleasant world is from Him.

I am in love with the entire world as the entire world is from Him.[21]



[1] Ḥawzeh wa Dāneshgāh Magazine, issue 3, p. 68.

[2] Sūrat al-Muddaththir 74:38. [Trans.]

[3] Al-Uṣūl min al-Kāfī, vol. 2, p. 166.

[4] Sūrat Fuṣṣilat 41:53. [Trans.]

[5] Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:115. [Trans.]

[6] For further information, see Tafsīr wa Naqd wa Taḥlīl az Mathnawī, vol. 10, pp. 63-73.

[7] Sūrat al-Isrā’ (or Banī Isrā’īl) 17:70.

[8] Sūrat al-Ḥujurāt 49:13.

[9] Sūrat al-Naḥl 16:120.

[10] ‘Alī Sharī‘atī (1933-77): an Iranian revolutionary and sociologist who focused on the sociology of religion and considered one of the most influential Iranian intellectuals of the 20th century. [Trans.]

[11] Sūrat Fuṣṣilat 41:53. [Trans.]

[12] Nahj al-Balāghah, Maxim 131.

[13] The Mathnawī of Jalālu ’ddīn Rūmī, Book 1, line 205, p. 27. [Trans.]

[14] The Mathnawī of Jalālu ’ddīn Rūmī, Book 1, line 3686, p. 397. [Trans.]

[15] That is, they have not purged their inward eye of sensual impressions and therefore have taken a false view. The Mathnawī of Jalālu ’ddīn Rūmī, Book 4, line 229, p. 31. [Trans.]

[16] Walī al-‘Aṣr, literally, “Master of the Age” is one the titles of the 12th Imām Muḥammad al-Mahdī (‘a), the others being Walī al-Amr (Master of the Affair), Imām al-Zamān (Imām of the Time), etc. The abbreviation, “‘atfs” stands for the Arabic invocative phrase, ‘ajjalallāhu ta‘ālā farajahu ’sh-sharīf (may Allah, the Exalted, expedite his glorious advent), which is invoked after mentioning the name of Imām al-Mahdī (‘atfs). [Trans.]

[17] The Mathnawī of Jalālu ’ddīn Rūmī, Book 1, line 215, p. 27. [Trans.]

[18] Nāṣir Khusrū, Dīwān-e Ash‘ār, Elegy 241.

[19] Norman L. Geisler (born 1932): a Christian apologist and philosopher noted for his philosophical approach to theology. [Trans.]

[20] Ian Ramsey (): [Trans.]

[21] Sa‘dī, Mawā‘iẓ, ghazal 13.

(Images courtesy of and

FalsafehDin(Excerpt from Muhammad Taqi Ja’fari, PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION, trans. Mansoor Limba (Tehran: ABWA, 2014), p. 26-42.)

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Retelling Tale of a Long Tunnel


This month of March brings a particular mirth and joy as we read in FB posts some friends finishing their graduate and post-graduate studies – not to mention the many graduation photos of FB friends’ elementary and high school kids.

With such feeling, I can’t help but retell my own tale of a long tunnel with the intention of sharing personal reflections and identifying moral lessons that may guide others before experiencing the same; hence, this marginalia…

Exactly within two years, I finished my master’s degree in International Relations at Shahid Beheshti University (formerly known as National University of Iran) located in northern Tehran.

During the oral defense for my thesis, one of my professors and members of the defense panel asked me to compare and contrast the impacts of a Middle Eastern political event, if there are any, upon a specific sociopolitical trend in Malaysia (a Muslim country whose official religion is Islam), Indonesia (a Muslim country without any recognized official religion), Thailand (a non-Muslim Buddhist-dominated country with considerable Muslim population in the capital and in the south), and the Philippines (a non-Muslim Christian-dominated country with considerable Muslim population in the south).

This question of Prof. Haji-Yousefi gave me an idea on what to write in my doctoral dissertation, and I really decided to deal on that topic. In fact, I had practically started gathering pertinent reading materials. After passing my two semesters of doctorate (2001) at Tehran University, however, I doubted if I could get any travel allowance to go to Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand to collect first-hand materials and conduct field interviews. Travel allowance for such purpose is not part of my scholarship grant, the concerned personnel of the Higher Education Ministry reminded me.

As such, I settled on pursuing a purely or largely library work for my dissertation. My keen interest at that time with post-positivist theories in International Relations seemingly augured well for this decision. The topics of my research papers in different courses illustriously expressed this personal interest in IR theories in general and post-positivist theories in particular: “Alexander Wendt vs. Kenneth Waltz: A Critique of Constructivist Theory’s Critique of Structural Realism;” “Human Rights in International Relations: A Methodological Survey;” “Iran vis-à-vis Other Regional and Non-Regional Players in the Post-Soviet Central Asia and the Transcaucasus: A Study of  Converging and Diverging Interests;” “The Globalizing Impact of Transnational Corporations (TNCs): The Case of Microsoft Corporation;” “Neorealist and Constructivist Accounts of Security Cooperation: A Comparative Analysis;” “Alexander Wendt and Kenneth Waltz on Power: A Comparative Study;” “Robert Gilpin’s Thought on International Political Economy: A Critique;” “Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism on Human Rights Norms: A Comparative Study;” and “The Principle of Self-Determination: Its Conceptual Shift in International Law.”

For the second time, I decided on what topic to deal with for my dissertation. This time I was determined to delve on the ongoing debate between Waltz’s 1979 magnum opus Theory of International Politics and Wendt’s 1999 major work Social Theory of International Politics that respectively represent structural realism and the positivist camp, on one hand, and social constructivism and the post-positivist camp, on the other. After taking up my two required courses in research methodology with an ultra-positivist and empiricist professor, however, I began to anticipate the difficulty for any post-positivist study such as mine to get approval from the septuagenarian professor who approves the methodological aspect of any thesis proposal submitted to the IR department. For this reason, even after taking and passing the required comprehensive examinations, I was hesitant to submit my dissertation proposal to the department.

As in previous years, I was able to buy approximately 100 book titles on various subjects at the 17th Tehran International Book Fair (May 4-14, 2004)—the biggest annual cultural event in Iran. A whole year of savings would make it possible to take this rare opportunity. Among this new collection of books, I first read An Islamic Utopian: A Political Biography of Ali Shari‘ati by a certain Ali Rahnema. Typographical errors of the book simply irritated my eyes which have been used then to proofreading voluminous books as part of my translation works at an international cultural institute. I then picked up Tim Jordan’s Cyberpower: The Culture and Politics of Cyberspace and the Internet (1999). Jordan approaches the discussion by highlighting what he calls “three levels or circuits” of power in the cyberspace, i.e. the power of the individual, the power of the social, and the power of the collective imagination or imaginary. He does so by adopting three concepts of power as his theoretical framework, viz. power as a possession by Max Weber, power as social order by Barry Barnes, and power as domination by Michel Foucault.

I finished reading this introductory book on the politics of the Internet in two days, without knowing then that it would catapult me to a final settlement of my dissertation topic but plunge me into a long dark tunnel of exploring a theory in sociology—and not IR—to account for a macro-phenomenon in the virtual world.

“Barry Barnes’ Theory of Power as Social Order: The Case of International Quds Day in the Cyberspace” is the tunnel.

Congratulations to all the graduates!

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