Social thinking in Shiite Hawza of Middle East; Two plans

Social thinking in Shiite Hawza of Middle East; Two plans

(Morteza Motahari and Musa Sadr)

The text of the lecture which was presented in the 3rd International Conference on Social Thought and Society in Middle East and North Africa in Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies (Tehran-Iran: December 2013).

  • Author: Mahdi Soleimanieh
  • Type of Text: Academic research – Presented lecture in International Conference
  • Academic field: Sociology
  • University: University of Tehran
  • Faculty: Social Sciences
  • Date: December 2013
  • Email of author: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Hawze Elmie has turned out to be one of the major sources for thinking production in the Middle East. To work and study on social thinking, it is inevitable to ignore the fundamental role of Shiite Hawze Elmie as one of the sources for producing school of thoughts. The hypothesis of the research is to consider production of the respective school of thoughts as social phenomenon which has been affected significantly by other social variables and social facts.

Playing the role of absolute majority, relative majority or absolute minority can be considered as one of these effective social facts in shaping contents of Shiite Hawza's intellectual productions.

The research applies the comparative analysis to study the schools of thoughts produced by major Hawze Elmie in three main countries of Iran (with Shiite in majority) led by Morteza Motahari, Iraq (Shiite in relative majority) led by Mohammad Baqer Sadr and Lebanon (Shiite in minority) led by Imam Musa Sadr and analyze the similarities and differences of social school of thoughts in recent fifty years.

As methodological approach, qualitative method has been applied in this research. Qualitative content analysis has been used as data gathering technique. Gathered data has been analyzed with Grounded theory method.

A persistent theme present throughout Sadr’s works is an Unitarianistic interpretation of all religions. This effort on his part is not merely aimed at bringing about unity with the Sunni Muslims. He conjures up a converging image of all religions based on the similarities between them. In order to conjure the image of convergence, he employed various methods: First, he positively referred to texts and individuals that are trans-religious. In order to create this convergent image, he doesn’t hesitate to refer to the Pope or the Sunni authorities in an empathetic non-critical way. In his interaction with the Christians he points majorly to the Pope’s remarks and those of the Saints and with Sunni Muslims he refers to the holy Quran and the Sunnah.

He also participates in the environments previously known as the Champ of the followers of other religions. Sacred ceremonies of other religions are not a taboo to him, but an opportunity to interact horizontally.

He even attempts to use the potentials of the Shia, such as Ijtihad, in order to facilitate this interaction. His statement regarding the Cleanness (as opposed to the state of being untouchable) of Christians is an example of his interactive efforts, a revolutionary remark which was, later on, confirmed through an edict issued by Seyyed Mohsen Hakim, one of the most important Shia authorities in Najaf.

These techniques are so typical of him. Through the use of such maneuvers he ingratiates himself with a non-Shiite audience.

Another technique in constructing this convergent image is putting a great deal of emphasis on the most cosmopolitan human concepts. He privatively attempts to use concepts such as Shia, Shiite Muslim and other concepts of the same overtones the least possible. There is clearly palpable emphasis on the concept of ‘Human’ in his works.

Moreover, the fundamental moral values and counter-values mentioned in his works have a popular, trans-religion and humane air: praising universal values such as freedom, faith, justice, and progress and reproaching counter-values such as arrogance, aggression, lying and discord. He also emphasized the notion of ‘Inclusive Islam’ as an integral part of his statements.

Additionally the notion of ‘Other’ in his works deserves attention. The ‘Other’ is a being worthy of respect, attention and dignity entitled to specific rights. The importance of this notion is so that religions have all descended upon man to recognize and preserve the rights of the ‘Other’. From this point of view, Sadr exhibited strong existentialistic streaks. Human beings are per se entitled to rights.

He has tried to incorporate the Shia into a bigger convergent picture. A piece of a greater puzzle called Lebanon. The recurrence of the notion ‘Lebanese Human’ in his works shows this tendency. Through meriting notions such as ‘freedom’, as a substantive value in his analyses, he attempted to mold the diversity of Lebanese society in a direction that the Shiites be able enjoy the rights of a perfect citizen and to survive.

On the other hand, Motahhari’s intellectual legacy was shaped in a totally different context, in which there was no direct interaction with other religions. Shia is the sole faith and the prevailing culture. Only the Shia symbols enjoy visibility. In context of social monopoly, Motahhari was molded into a thinker with Shia flavor. Motahhari was preoccupied with unity between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. However his preoccupation is shaped mainly by a belief in Shia supremacy over the Sunnis, and Islam over Christianity.

Through series of arguments in the course of his works, Motahhari stresses the theological, political or societal superiority of Shia over Sunni. It is safe to say that portraying this superiority on the part of Motahhari, as a theologian, is one of the main problematic of his arguments.

There is a multitude of such comparisons in the works of Motahhari to show the superiority of Shia over Sunni. As mentioned earlier, Motahhari was seen as an intra-discourse critique of the clergy during the first chapter of his intellectual life, and even in some cases he tipped the scales in favor of Sunni clerics against their Shia counterparts, and pointed to freedom duality in the Sunni clergy in contrast with the popularization of the Shia clergy. However it should be noted that, even in these cases he reduces his arguments to the structure and function of the Sunni clergy, and in final analysis he favor the total legitimacy of Shia as opposed to Sunni and Islam over Christianity.

Regardless of this judgmental view, a sociological question remains; why is this comparison bolded in Motahhari’s works as one of the main problematics, whereas there is no such main problematic based on comparison in Sadr’s works?

In my opinion, with regard to numerous similarities between Motahhari and Sadr, the answer lies in the social factors effective in the formation of their thoughts. After immigration to Lebanon, Sadr finds himself in a minority position, which implies the only way for Shiites to survive is through effective interaction with the “Other”. Socialization mechanism such as face to face encounters, numerous trips, mastering foreign languages, processes of social and intellectual exchange changed Sadr’s problematic in Lebanon. There was a shift in his problematic from “Comparing Shia and Sunni and Shia Superiority” or “Islam over Christianity” to “Pluralism and Diversity”. Through understanding and touching upon these requirements, he transcended the defined boundaries of a Shia scholar and was conceived as an Islamic thinker or even a trans-religion reformer. In fact, it was the societal interactive nature of life in Shia community in Lebanon which determined Sadr’s interactive and humanist literature.

It is possible to conclude such a strict influence from Musa Sadr's short statement in his speech in law school in university of Yasooi Fathers in 1986. The statement lays emphasis on the strict influence of circumstances (or space) on being biased:

"The space that belongs to present and future, demands the lecturer to stay unbiased."

Motahhari, on the other hand, was reared in an ambiance of Shia monopoly. The effective factors for Sadr were non-existent for Motahhari, as he did not experience face to face encounters with the religious “Other”. Other factors including visiting foreign countries and mastering foreign languages as means for bridging the societal gaps were also absent in Motahhari’s life. All these factors turned him into a Shiite thinker in a Shia country who voiced a religious minority on regional and global scales and an absolute majority on national levels. For this reason, Motahhari’s works, in addition to arguing for unity on common grounds, adopts a challenging assertive Shia approach.

As Emil Durkheim said in “The Rules of Sociological Method”, "The social facts are capable of exercising the certain coercive influence on the consciousness of individuals".


Key words: School of thoughts, Sociological research, Shiite Hawze Elmie, Social position, Morteza Motahari, Mohammad Baqer Sadr, Musa Sadr

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