in London, Stockholm , Göteborg, Paris, ...

گزارش سلسله سخنراني های
 حسن یوسفی اشکوری
 در اروپا (1)

رواداری در تاريخ
 ايران و اسلام

Islam And Democracy in Iran:

Eshkevari And the Quest for Reform
de Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Richard Tapper

§         رو در رو: گفتگوی يوسفی اشکوری و پسرش

Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari is a researcher, journalist, cleric, director of the Ali Shariati Research Center, and contributing editor of the now-banned newspaper Iran-e Farda (The Iran of Tomorrow ).

Eshkevari was released from prison on February 6, 2005. He was freed after serving two-thirds of his seven-year jail term. A condition of his release is that Eshkevari will no longer be permitted to wear the cleric's robes.

H.Y. Eshkevari is also an Honorary Member of the Canadian, Danish, English, and Ghanaian PEN Centers.

Islam And Democracy in Iran: Eshkevari And the Quest for Reform (juin 2006)
Ziba Mir-Hosseini,
Richard Tapper,

§         زندگينامه  حسن یوسفی اشکوری

* لندن:

- در جلسه افتتاحيه معرفی کتاب ميرحسينی- تاپر درباره ح .ی. اشکوری (رک. متن ضميمه)

+  سخنراني درباره مشروطه (رک. لينک فايل صوتی + گزارش آن در بی بی سی)؛





* استکهلم:

(رک. لينک فايل صوتی راديو پژواک سوئد)؛



* يوتی بوری:

(روادری و همزيستی در تاريخ ايران؛ گوتنبرگ - سوئد- 21 مه 2006 ؛ رک. لينک گزارش شبکه فرهنگي ايرانيان اتحاديه اروپا)؛



* پاريس:

(نيمه ژوئن، درباره رواداری در ايران و اسلام، در دانشگاه پاريس و انجمن گفتگو و دمکراسی)؛





Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari : translation of remarks for presentation at SOAS, 12 May 2006.


In the name of the God of Knowledge, Freedom and Equality


First I would like to thank Dr Ziba MIR-HOSSEINI and Professor Richard TAPPER for writing a book about me in English, as well as the publisher. I am also grateful to the esteemed thinker, Dr Abdou FILALI-ANSARI for participating in this meeting. I am also grateful to the Universities of London and Oslo for making this dialogue possible.


On 29 November 2005, Jürgen HABERMAS, the famous German philosopher, on the occasion of receiving the Holberg prize in the University of Bergen gave a lecture entitled “Religion in Public Sphere”, during which he made significant points, from a philosophical perspective, about interaction and understanding between believers and unbelievers. This talk has been recently translated and published in Iran, and has been widely welcomed. Given the importance of its subject, and the special place of HABERMAS as a critical and secular intellectual, as well as the growth of violence in the world and the need for peace and tolerance, I saw fit to take this opportunity and in this gathering that includes intellectuals from both religious and non-religious tendencies (jaryan), to follow up the ideas and recommendations of this thinker, in order to take a step in the direction of supporting the cause of tolerance, understanding and justice.


HABERMAS’ high idea and ideal in his lecture amounts to the realization of a society (universal or local) on the basis of interaction and understanding between the two strong and effective tendencies: secular and religious. His recommendations for attaining this objective can be summarized as follows:


  1. Rectifying the epistemological foundations of secularism and their rise to a ‘post-secular’ phase; as well as evolution in the religious philosophical and epistemological foundations through a hermeneutical and pluralistic approach and their rise to a ‘post-metaphysical’ phase. 
  2. Acknowledging the existence of both tendencies in the modern world.
  3. Acceptance of the advantages and products of modernity by all religious people; and the general acceptance of the importance of religiosity and the authentic spiritual teachings of religion for ethical and civic health in the modern age.
  4. Equal freedom for all citizens (whether religious or non-religious) to take advantage of the facilities offered by society, government and the state.
  5. Dialogue, with the aim of ‘learning’ from each other and reaching an understanding and peaceful human coexistence in a democratic and just space.


I endorse these five principles, and so I will not discuss them here at length. But allow me, as a Muslim cleric who belongs to the New Religious Thinking in Iran, to say a few words about this subject. To start with, let me point out that in the world of Islam (even among the European Muslims), there are four active Islamic-social tendencies:


  1. Traditional Muslims: Followers of traditional, non-political Islam, who pay little attention to the modern world and are largely content to lead a life on the basis of belief and Sharia.
  2. Cultural Traditionalists: Adherents of traditionalist and non-political Islam, who accept the old culture and civilization of Islam as a valuable historical heritage, and do this through a philosophical-mystical and at times juristic-theological approach; they are intent on keeping this heritage and at most introducing it to the modern world. The thinkers of this tendency do not tolerate any serious criticism of Islam or of current Muslim culture and knowledge. They revivalist (mojadded) not reformist (motajadded).
  3. Dogmatic fundamentalists: Followers of political, fundamentalist Islam who are essentially intent on the revival of Islamic political authority in the mould of the ‘Islamic Caliphate’, and are not much concerned with its culture and civilization. The theorists of this tendency not only see colonialism, and the West’s political domination, to be the enemy of religion and an obstacle to the realization of Islamic Caliphate and Empire, but they often as a whole consider the modern culture and civilization of the West to be in contradiction with (their understanding of) Islam and the interests of the Muslims. Their aims are political, and in their struggle to defeat the Western world they use all available means.
  4. Islamic intellectuals and adherents of the New Religious Thinking who seek to realise a modern Islamic civilization. The theorists of this tendency believe that this can be achieved by the revival of authentic religious belief, by trimming the accretions from the religious domain, the rationalization of the totality of the religious system, criticism of historical Islam and traditional Islamic knowledge in the light of the latest human philosophical and scientific theories; and eventually the ‘reconstruction’ of Islamic thought.


If we consider the differences among these tendencies, it is evident that the main audience addressed by HABERMAS and others who are keen on peace, tolerance and dialogue among religions, civilizations and cultures, is in fact the New Religious Thinkers, not the Traditional Muslims nor the Cultural Traditionalists nor the Dogmatic Fundamentalists. This is so because, first, the New Thinkers are the only Islamic tendency that accepts the fundamental principles of modernity and its products (such as science, critical reason, democracy, freedom, justice, human rights and so on). They see them as being basically Islamic, or at least compatible with Islam. Secondly, impelled by their intellectualism and by relying on modern critical reason, they simultaneously engage in a critique of Islamic tradition and heritage (i.e. historical Islam) and a critique of some of the foundations and products of modernity. But it must be added that their critique of tradition and modernity is positive and constructive, not negative and destructive. Thirdly, the main project of the New Muslim Thinkers is the modernization of Islam not the Islamization of modernity, and they see the way to the realization of this project to be in making links with free thinkers, by criticism, dialogue, tolerance and understanding, not by force, imposition, war and violence. In fact, the acceptable Islam of the New Thinkers is critical Islam and a synthesis of tradition and modernity.


Critical Islam rests on the following basis:


  1. Rational criticism (criticism of everything, including religion, the pathology of religious history and rituals, Islamic law (fiqh) and reasoning (ijtihad).
  2. Human emancipation from the four prisons (the prisons of nature, society, history and the self).
  3. Exposing the different faces of power (including the power of the clergy over people’s lives and their hold on politics and government, and the power of men over women).
  4. Dialogue and mutual understanding and learning.


This type of critical Islam, which became known in Iran with Ali SHARIATI, is close to the critical theory that is known as the Frankfurt School. In view of the place of the ‘public sphere’ in critical theory, we can propose that the most suitable place for debating the truth, authority and legitimacy of religion, is the public sphere. While welcoming HABERMAS’ recommendations, I say that one thing that the modern and secular world can learn from religion is the spiritual interpretation of the world and humanity that modernity is lacking. Muhammad IQBAL  of Pakistan, in the early decades of the twentieth century, in his critique of the modern and non-religious world and what it lacks, said that the biggest deficiency of the modern world is that it has been emptied of its spiritual element. For this reason, new religious thinkers such as IQBAL , and SHARIATI in Iran, tried to compensate for this lack by designing a modern worldview and anthropology that is also towhidi, spiritual and ethical (i.e. an Islamic humanism).


In the light of these considerations, I suggest that religious thinkers and intellectuals of all religions, secular intellectuals and even anti-religious but democratic intellectuals, should strengthen their intellectual and cultural relations with the New Religious Thinkers all over the world (including Iran). Experience has shown that in the world of Islam, any lasting change is impossible or at least difficult without taking account of religion. HABERMAS’s correct recommendation is that religious people, in order to secure their survival in the modern world, must be able to ‘translate’ their thoughts in such a way that they are meaningful for the secularists. In this case, new Muslim thinkers are the ones that have the logical and ethical capacity for dialogue and mutual understanding with the world. They are also able to pave the way for social and political change by changing the thoughts and minds of Muslims. At the same time, this does not mean that one should not have a dialogue with the Traditionalists and even the Fundamentalists; it is important to leave the door open for dialogue with any tendency.


But it must be pointed out that, attempting to solve the problem of violence in the world and to fight terrorism, whether its Islamic version or otherwise, by sheer violence and oppression is not only impossible, but ends up playing to the interests of the fundamentalists and strengthening the seekers of violence. The intellectuals and politicians in the West must pay attention to the deep roots of violence in the world, especially among the Muslims.


It appears that several factors have been at work in the rise and growth of violent fundamentalism in the world of Islam.


  1. The dominance of Western colonialism in the Muslim world in the course of several centuries.
  2. Euro-centrism and the constant actual and ideological humiliation of Muslims and Muslim societies.
  3. The failure of modern or semi-modern social movements in Muslim societies and their suppression by secular governments and politicians.
  4. Poverty, increasing deprivation and the growth of class differences and the North-South gap.
  5. The continuation of old despotisms in the Muslim Middle East.
  6. The weakness of Islamic intellectualism and New Religious Thinking in the Muslim countries.


Without due attention to these root causes, and without offering practical and logical ways, any solution or action will be unsuccessful or at least insufficient. It is not right, on the pretence of fighting against violence, terrorism and fundamentalism, to fight against the basis of religiosity and religious values and principles. It is not possible to eliminate modernity and its products from the lives of religious people, nor is eliminating religion either possible or useful; even if it were possible, it could not be achieved except by violence and suppression, which would also mean the destruction of all the philosophical, anthropological foundations and privileges of the modern and secular world. One cannot expect much from statesmen and the holders of power, but peace-seeking and democratic intellectuals must by no means abandon the path of understanding and dialogue; in the same way, Muslims must not give in to extremists. According to HABERMAS, in liberal secular Western systems, religious people (mostly Muslims, particularly after Sept 2001) are subject to various psychological and social pressures (even physical abuse). Believers are often expected to draw an absolute line between the private and public realms, and to render the public realm entirely to the government. But is this really possible? A secular government is right to expect religious people to accept the principle of democracy and the neutrality of the government and political system with respect to the beliefs and thoughts of all people, and to have equal respect for the rights of every citizen. But why shouldn’t religious people have the right to express their religious and ethical teachings in the public sphere, even in political matters and in seeking to secure the basis of freedom and justice, and in criticizing the status quo? In particular, it must be pointed out that secular or liberal governments should not patronize religious people, or even worse, insult their religious sanctities (as happened recently with the unacceptable cartoons in Denmark).


In conclusion, I believe that the revival and reinforcement of authentic religious-centred values and ethical rules, including those of Islam in the modern time, will certainly help in the spread of peace, justice, tolerance, love, serving human beings, respect for law and democratic rules. Of course it will also help the growth of freedom and the spirit of justice.




The history of the Abrahamic religions and their sacred texts (including the Bible and the Quran) shows that the monotheist religions are harbingers of peace, human dignity and ethics, and on the other hand they have struggled against oppression, against the invasion of people’s rights by the owners of wealth, power and hypocrisy (economic, political and religious powers), and invited people to freedom and justice. Peace, justice and the right to protest against injustice are also among the products of modernity and the fundamental principles of the Declaration of Human Rights. The Quran explicitly declares that the prophets came with the tools of reasoning, arguments, awareness and criteria for justice, so that people would rise for justice (Hadid Sura, Verse 25). RUMI too speaks of the spirit and essence of the Prophet’s mission in these terms:


This song is different from other sounds

To give life is the work of God’s song

We died and joined nothingness

The call of Justice (haq) came and we all rose