Posts Tagged With: Persian books

The Old Educational System and Intellectual Training


Mostly, our old educational system was such. You can see that individuals—whether because of lack of talent or because of defects in training and teaching—are exactly like tape recorders in relation to the facts they have learned. One studied a textbook diligently and meticulously, memorizing it from lesson to lesson, taking notes and learning from it. Later, he became a teacher, for example, and wanted to teach the same lessons. He studied and learned from the teacher whatever was [written] in the said book—its glosses and commentaries. He can perfectly answer whatever you ask about this textbook and its glosses and commentaries. Just make a little twist in your question and he would be dumb-founded. What he knows are only these “heard” (masmū‘) facts, and if another subject is presented in a different context and he wants to make certain conclusions on the basis of what he knows, he cannot do so. In fact, I have seen people who, in a certain context, made conclusions which were contrary to what they had learned in a different setting. As such, you can see that each of them is a learned person (ālim), yet his mind is ignorant (jāhil). He is learned but his mind is that of an ignorant. He is a scholar; that is, he has learned many things; he knows many pieces of information, but once you pose a question which is beyond the ambit of what he [explicitly] knows, you can see that you are facing a totally ignorant fellow. As it appears, an absolute ignoramus is at center stage.

The diviner and the king

There is a parable—of course, it is fictitious—of a diviner and geomancer who taught divination and geomancy to his son. He himself was receiving good pay from the royal court. He taught his son this knowledge so that he could occupy the post after him. One day, he introduced his son to the king. The king wanted to test him. He held an egg in his hands and asked the diviner’s son to guess what he was holding. The diviner’s son tried many times but failed to make the right guess. So, the king gave him a clue, saying: “Its center is yellow and its sides are white.” Something came to the mind of the aspiring diviner, and he said, “It is a millstone whose center is filled with carrots!” The king got furious, and summoned his father and said, “After all this, what is this knowledge you have taught him?” The father said, “I taught [him] my knowledge very well but he lacks intellect.” The first part of his answer was about his knowledge [he imparted to his son] while the second part [which he compared to his knowledge] was about his son’s lack of intelligence as manifested by his failure to realize that a millstone is too big to be concealed by hands. Human reason has to have [the ability to make] this judgment.

This is a popular story and so far I have heard it from many people. It is narrated that a foreigner came to Karaj[1] one day and met a villager. This villager used to give very substantial and excellent answers. He would give very good answer to every question the foreigner had. Then, the foreigner asked him, “How did you come to know all these facts?” The villager said, “Since I am illiterate, I am thinking.” This answer is very meaningful. That is, “What the literate says is what he knows but what I say is the product of my thinking and reflection. And thinking is far better than literacy.”

This is the issue—that there must be growth of intellectual or rational personality in individuals and in society. It means that the power to analyze and scrutinize issues must be developed.[2] This is a basic concern. That is, exactly in this training and education in schools, the teacher’s duty is beyond teaching the child. Teachers must do something to develop the students’ analytical power and not only to fill their minds with facts and pieces of information. In fact, if there is too much pressure to fill the mind with facts, the mind becomes dull.



[1] Karaj: a city situated 20 km west of Tehran, at the foothills of the Alborz Mountains. [Trans.]

[2] Presently, it is not my concern whether Islam says so or not. Our inference is that this is the very point which Islam says about the intellect.

Training and Education in Islam(An excerpt from Murtada Mutahhari, TRAINING AND EDUCATION IN ISLAM, trans. Mansoor Limba (Tehran: IHCS and ABU, 2011), pp. 15-16.)

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Eclectic Understanding of the Story of Habil and Qabil


Around 30 years ago, one of those Marxist-leaning and eclectic individuals presented in his lecture a symbolic interpretation of the story of Habil and Qabil mentioned in the Qur’an. The story as narrated in the Qur’an is as follows:

وَاتْلُ عَلَيْهِمْ نَبَأَ ابْنَيْ آدَمَ بِالْحَقِّ إِذْ قَرَّبَا قُرْبَانًا فَتُقُبِّلَ مِن أَحَدِهِمَا وَلَمْ يُتَقَبَّلْ مِنَ الآخَرِ قَالَ لَأَقْتُلَنَّكَ قَالَ إِنَّمَا يَتَقَبَّلُ اللّهُ مِنَ الْمُتَّقِينَ

“Relate to them truly the account of Adam’s two sons. When the two of them offered an offering, it was accepted from one of them and not accepted from the other. [One of them] said, ‘Surely I will kill you.’ [The other one] said, ‘Allah accepts only from the God-wary’.”2

As can be deduced from traditions, the sons of Hadhrat Adam (‘a), Qabil (Cain) and Habil (Abel), were supposed to make an offering to God. Habil offered a sheep for sacrifice while Qabil offered some grain. The offering of the former was accepted by God but that of the latter was not accepted. As such, Qabil became jealous and envious of his brother Habil to the extent that he murdered him. But he regretted what he had done. As he did not know what to do with the corpse of his brother, God sent a crow to teach him how to bury the dead body:

فَبَعَثَ اللّهُ غُرَابًا يَبْحَثُ فِي الأَرْضِ لِيُرِيَهُ كَيْفَ يُوَارِي سَوْءةَ أَخِيهِ قَالَ يَا وَيْلَتَا أَعَجَزْتُ أَنْ أَكُونَ مِثْلَ هَـذَا الْغُرَابِ فَأُوَارِيَ سَوْءةَ أَخِي فَأَصْبَحَ مِنَ النَّادِمِينَ

“Then Allah sent a crow, exploring in the ground, to show him how to bury the corpse of his brother. He said, ‘Woe to me! Am I unable to be [even] like this crow and bury my brother’s corpse?’ Thus he became regretful.”3

When a crow, sent by God, started digging the ground in search of food in front of Qabil, the eldest son of Hadhrat Adam (‘a) who did not realize till then how he could dig the soil and bury a corpse, learned it from a crow and buried his brother’s corpse.

In his symbolic interpretation of this story, the said writer and speaker said that Habil is the symbol of the hardworking class of workers and peasants, the product of whose unrelenting sweat and toil is insignificant. Since God supports and inclines toward this class, He accepted his humble pasture product offering. Meanwhile, Qabil is the symbol of capitalists and when he offered his produce, God rejected his offering because God is against capitalists.

The speaker concluded that Habil and Qabil and their respective offerings did not exist in reality as they only represent and symbolize the classes of proletariats and capitalists and the struggle between the two classes. (During the time of Hadhrat Adam (‘a) when there was no other person other than him, his wife and two sons, how could the classes of the proletariats and the capitalists have existed and what was the meaning of class-based interpretation at that time? In any case, due to the prevalence of Marxist thought 30 years ago and the multitude of supporters of atheistic schools of thought, these symbolic interpretations earned wide acceptance.)

The said speaker presented a symbolic interpretation of Habil and Qabil but he did not tell what the raven symbolized. One of his students discovered this secret and in his article, he introduced the black raven as the symbol of akhunds who are preoccupied with rawdhahkhani4 and lamentation, propagators of wickedness and misfortune from pulpits, busy supporting feudal lords and capitalists. By discovering this secret, he allegedly completed the so-called third side of the triad of gold [zar], force [zur] and deceit [tazwir]. Interestingly, in narrating this story, God says: “Relate to them truly the account of Adam’s two sons.” That is, “Relate to the people the truth of this real event.” It is as if God predicts that one day there will be an unrealistic and erroneous interpretation of this event in history, and emphasizes that no distortion be made and the truth related to the people.

Yes, during recent decades, especially nowadays, symbolic, allegorical and fictitious interpretations of the Qur’an have increased and been propagated to such an extent that some of those who have studied Islam and are even wearing clerical garbs are hymning such melodies and claim that the language of the Qur’an is not realistic and it is not true that the Qur’anic verses show us objective and immutable realities.

Accordingly, in interpreting Qur’anic verses, we do not have decisive and convincing bases, fixed frameworks, and scientifically accurate criteria with which we can claim that so-and-so verse can have only one interpretation and explanation and all other interpretations are wrong. Rather, everyone can have a symbolic and allegorical interpretation of Qur’anic verses according to his ideas, presumptions and thoughts even if his interpretation is totally incompatible with other interpretations!

The presentation of an ambiguous image of religion

In order to be familiar with the theory of symbolism of religious narratives including the Qur’anic narratives and to enhance our minds, let me tell you that displayed in modern arts museums are tabloids with ambiguous geometrical forms that do not clearly show images of certain things, and everyone has his own interpretation and perception of them according to his literary talent, and introduces them as symbols of certain things.

Perhaps, the drawers of those tabloids might be unaware of others’ interpretations and perceptions of those drawings. Similarly, in some psychological tests some ink are spread on a sheet of paper and every patient is asked what object he can see on the paper. After a bit of thinking and conceiving the specific shapes on the paper which he thinks is the form of a certain object, each of the patients offers his own interpretation, saying, for example, that a certain portion of the formed shape shows the hair of a woman and another portion shows her hands, and finally, he introduces the ambiguous form and image as a woman’s portrait.

This is in spite of the fact that the one who scattered the small pieces of paper in different shapes on a sheet of paper has not intended to make a specific form or image at all and he did not want to do so consciously and logically. He just spread some ink on a sheet of paper, and as a result, an ambiguous image which is subject to various interpretations is formed.

They claim that the language of the Qur’an is not realistic and its narratives are related so that anyone can understand and comprehend something from it according to his own discernment. One should not treat as absolute his understanding and perception of the Qur’an and say that his interpretation of the Qur’an is definitely correct and that of others is wrong.

Likewise, if a person happens to deal with modern arts and has an interpretation of them, he can not say that his interpretation is definitely correct and that of another is wrong because he has a specific interpretation and understanding of them according to his ideas and specific conditions. Others also have their distinct interpretation and understanding according to their respective ideas and specific social conditions. Some interpretations cannot be regarded as correct and others as wrong. In essence, correctness or incorrectness in such cases is not something real and fixed and it cannot be said that one person’s understanding is correct and another’s wrong!

Is the Qur’an—God forbid—like modern arts which anyone can interpret according to his understanding? Most of those who have such understanding of the heavenly scriptures do not believe in God and divine revelation, and if ever they talk about religion, it is only meant to deceive others. Then, the advocates of the theory of various interpretations and readings of heavenly scriptures say: Assuming that there is God who has sent divine revelation and His Apostle has heard it correctly—which is of course, debatable—yet, the Apostle is human and his understanding is not error free. So, he might not have understood the words of God correctly.

Besides, if we accept that the Apostle has not erred in receiving and understanding the verses of the Qur’an, one cannot present a definite way of interpreting Qur’anic verses on the basis of which an interpretation can be treated as correct and definite and other interpretations as wrong. Instead, anyone can have an interpretation and understanding of the Qur’an and this interpretation and understanding is credible and authentic for him and no one can reject it. In dealing with the Holy Scripture, we are exactly like those who have undergone psychological tests, shown an ambiguous image and asked to state their interpretation of it. Then, everyone can have his own interpretation according to his mental setup!



2. Surah al-Ma’idah 5:27. [Trans.]

3. Surah al-Ma’idah 5:31.

4. Rawdhahkhani refers to the systematic commemoration of the martyrs of Karbala’ through the professional narrators of the event in ‘Ashura’ so as to excite weeping and lamentation. [Trans.]

Image courtesy of

IslamicPoliticalTheoryV1An excerpt from Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi, ISLAMIC POLITICAL THEORY (STATECRAFT), Volume 2, trans. Mansoor Limba (Tehran: ABWA, 2011), 233 pages.

Categories: History, Philosophy, Qur'anic Sciences, Translated Books | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Current Translation Project: “Philosophy of Ethics”


Murtada Mutahhari, “Philosophy of Ethics,” trans. Mansoor Limba (London: MIU Press, translation in progress), approx. 240 pp.

Categories: Ethics and Mysticism, Philosophy, Translated Books, Translation | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Forthcoming Publication: “Fitrah: Man’s Natural Disposition”


Murtada Mutahhari, FITRAH: MAN’S NATURAL DISPOSITION, trans. Mansoor Limba (London: MIU Press, forthcoming), 192 pp.

Its English translation is finished just today, al-hamdulillah.

It is expected to be published within this year or early next year, insha’ Allah.

About the Book:

“Fitrah: Man’s Natural Disposition” is a translation of the Persian book “Fitrat” (Tehran: Sadra Publications, 2006) by the great Muslim thinker and reformer, Ayatollah Murtada Muttahari. “Fitrah” is the theme of a 10-session lecture series given the martyred thinker in 1976-77 in the presence of teachers in Nikan School in Tehran, and apparently due to his involvement in the Islamic movement and his increasing social activities, it was not continued. With ample citations from the Qur’an and other traditional Islamic sources, Mutahhari discusses the concept of ‘fitrah’ or man’s natural disposition. The author does not confine himself to Islamic references as he continuously engages with the views of a wide range of philosophers including Plato, William James, Russell, Nietzsche, Marx, Feuerbach, Auguste Comte, Spencer, Will Durant, and Durkheim, among others. Mutahhari’s ontological discussion covers a range of issues, including the literal and technical meaning of ‘fitrah’, sacred inclinations, love and worship, and the evolution of human originality. He also examines materialism and provides a theistic approach to some issues pertaining to the theories on the origin of religion, evolution of human society, intrinsic and acquired guidance, and intuitive and sensory dispositions.

Murtada Mutahhari was a leading theoretician of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. As an accomplished scholar of Islamic sciences, he played a pivotal role in forming the modern Islamic discourse which served as the foundation of the revolution. With close to ninety works to his credit, he is considered one of the leading thinkers of the global Islamic movement in the twentieth century.

Categories: Ethics and Mysticism, Philosophy, Translated Books, Translation | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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