Post-revelutionary Discourses of Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari and Mohsen Kadivar: Reconciling the Terms of Mediated Subjectivity

Post-revolutionary Discourses of Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari and Mohsen Kadivar
Reconciling the Terms of Mediated Subjectivity
Part II: Mohsen Kadivar

By : ‘Farzin Vahdat’


In Part I of this article, published in the Spring 2000 issue of this journal, I explored the discourse of Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari, an Islamic thinker engaged in the process ofadvancing Islamic revolutionary thought into new dimensions.  Here, I turn to a second such cleric, Mohsen Kadivar, who has been an outspoken advocate of reform in the post-revolutionary era and even served a prison sentence because of his public critique of some aspects of the Islamic state in Iran.  The discourses of both of these intellectuals. emerged from the initial paradigm ofthe encounter of Islamic discourse in Iran with modemity in the 1960s and 1970s, a paradigm I described as “mediated subjectivity.” The primary characteristic of the paradigm ofmediated subjectivity is the perception of a great conflict between Divine subjectivity and human subjectivity.  This conflict in turn leads to other types of conflicts, one of the most acute of which is the constant and schizophrenic shifting of ground between a confirmation and negation of human subjectivity in general, as well as a constant oscillation between individual subjectivity and a collective notion of subjectivity.[1] This paradigm thus can be considered as a forward movement in the direction of democratic and citizenship rights in a civil society, a movement whose ontological foundation is grounded in the positing ofhuman subjectivity, but which very often is negated almost immediately.

During the two decades since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran the more political and sociological aspects of contradictionsofthesecoresetsofconflictshavebeenrevealed.  Atthe more theoretical level, these conflicts have also been noticed and much of the post-revolutionary Islamic discourses, in one way or another, address these issues, in addition to more mundane and immediate concerns of everyday political and social concerns.  One trend among the post-revolutionary Islamic discourses, my focus in this article, is represented by thinkers such as Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari and Mohsen Kadivar, and is best described as an attempt to overcome the Contradictions ofmediated subjectivity it has inherited by reconciling the Disparate terms of that paradigm.  Thus, while remaining within that paradigm, this trend seems to be effecting a significant reduction of the ‘Impact of fluctuations characteristic of the paradigm.

Like Mojtahed Shabestari, Kadivar seems to be interested in the goals ofreconciling the contradictory terms ofthe Islamic discourses of the 1960s and 1970s.  However, he attempts to derive his conceptual Tools more from the tradition and history of Islamic theology and philosophy, such as those ofthe Mu’tazalites and other schools ofthought in Islamic philosophy and mysticism.

It was argued that while Shabestari attempts to remove the contradictions ofreligious modernity in Iran, he has not directly tackled the largest of these contradictions, that is the concept and the institution of guardianship of the jurist.  This is a task that Mohsen Kadivar has undertaken.


Harmonizing Reason and Revelation

From relative obscurity, Mohsen Kadivar (b. 1959) came to sudden fame after he was summoned to the dreaded special court for the clergy on 20 February 1999.  As it later was announced by the court, he was charged with propaganda against the Islamic Republic, dissemination of lies and creating confusion in the public opinion.  Kadivar, and his supporters, have denied these charges and challenged thejurisdiction of the special court over his case.  The court, however, convicted him on all the charges and sentenced him to eighteen months in prison.  Ile served his sentence, although he was given a weekend leave to spend time with his family at least once during his imprisonment.  This relative leniency indicates that even among the conservative faction that controls the judiciary there is dissension over the degree to which members of the clergy ought to be punished for their views.

Kadivar was born in Fasa, a small town in the southern prov ince of Fars, approximately 125 kilometers (75 miles) south of Shiraz.  He completed his primary and secondary education in Shiraz.[2] In 1977 he enrolled at the University of Shiraz to study electrical and electronic engineering.  With the beginning of the revolution that overthrew the monarchy in Iran, he started studying at the seminary of Shiraz and in 1981 he went to Qom to continue his religious studies.  In Qom he has studied fiqh and the related principle sciences (usul) as well as Islamic philosophy under Ayatollah Hosainali Montazeri.  Concurrently, he has Studied in the university system;just before his imprisonment he was in The final stages of a doctorate in Islamic philosophy and theology at Tehran University.  Ironically, Kadivar’s arrest and imprisonment has resulted in the rapid dissemination of his ideas regarding the central -contradictions in the system of Islamic Republic.


Reason and Subjectivity

Like Shabestari, Kadivar’s discourse might be interpreted in terms df an attempt to reconcile the two disparate terms in the paradigm of mediated subjectivity. While Shabestari’s attempt can be conceptualized as a reconciliation between faith and freedom effected by a hermeneutic approach, Kadivar seems to strive for a harmonization between reason (aql) and revelation through more classical and familiar Islamic categories.

Kadivar’s first recourse in this venture is to the founders of Shiafiqh and theology.[3] Historically speaking, in Kadivar’s view, among the Sunni Scholars the Mu’tazalites’ rationalism was defeated by the Asha’rite anti,(ationalism.  However, thanks to the founding fathers of Shiaflqh such as Mufid (948-1022), Murtada (d. 1043), Tusi (1201-1274) and Hilli (1 205-1277), rationalism in its Shia mold and under the aegis ofrevelation continues to exist at the peak of its power to this date.[4] It was Mufid, in Particular Kadivar argues, who “by modifying the [excessive] rationalism of the Mu’tazalites and the tendency of the Asha’rites toward the exoterics, utilized both reason and revelation in a dynamic system [of discourse].”[5] Kadivar draws on Mufid to propose a definition of reason: By reason [aql] Mufid refers to the [faculties ofl knowledge with which the distinction between good and evil, as well consciousness of reality, is achieved.  These faculties are comprised predominantly ofconsciousness of self-evident propositions and immediate perceptions that are innately avail to humans.[6]

Having defined the concept, Kadivar strives to explore the limits of reason and its relation to revelation.  He analogizes reason to an “internal messenger” (rasul bateni) of God.  However, because ignorance, prejudice, and desire often shroud reason, humans need revelation to guide reason out of these blights.  In fact, most of the speculative and moral-practical questions can be discerned by reason.  Yet, because of these blights humans need the intervention of prophets to awaken their dormant consciousness and purify their faculty of reason to restore its original integrity.[7] Based on these premises, Kadivat arrives at the conclusionthat, accordingto Mufid, “reason and revelation nevercome into conflict with one another, since both arethe messengers of the same God.”[8]

In the rather intricate relations that Kadlvar postulates between reasonand revelation by drawing on Mufid, the validity of human reason is recognized but not its self-sufficiency.  Mufid,Kadivar argues,denied that God has a direct role in the act of cognition by humans.[9] He acknowledged the validity of non-Divine elements in actions that ultimately originate in god.  Reason is indeed posited by Mufid,butonly as subsumed under revelation.[10]

Kadivar also invokes the seventeenth century philosopher Sadr ulMutalehin (Mulla Sadra, 1571-1640) to support the notion ofthe hamony between reason and revelation, to which Mulla Sadra had added the element of intuition.  It is Mulla Sadra, Kadivar argues, who postulated the hamony between human reason and intuition on the one hand and revelation on the other, thus establishing the school of thought known as “transcendental philosophy”(hekmat mut’alieh).  In Kadivar’s words: [Mulla Sadra] considers reason before receiving the light of religious guidance to be inadequate and finds salvation in the combination of reason and revelation.  He analogizes reason to the eye and the Quran to the sun.  Without the eye we cannot benefit from the sun and without the sun there is no light for the eye to see.  Therefore, revelation with reason is “light upon light”[reference to Quranic expression].  It is impossible, says he [Sadra], for True Revelation to contradict rational absolutes, and woe to a philosophy whose tenets are against the Book and the Sunna.[11]

Kadivar has criticized the Akhbari tradition in Shiafiqh for its overall hostility to reason and its overwhelming tendency to privilege revelation overrationality.  He has credited Majlesi, a seventeen the entury Akhbari theologian, for recognizing reason’s ability to distinguish between good and evil as well as truth and falsity.  However, he has faulted Majlesi for declaring the suspension of reason beyond these primary functions and denying the validity of reason in favor of revelation.[12]

Among the contemporary religious thinkers, Kadivarhasdiscussed some of the ideas of Allamah Tabatabi with respect to the relation between reason and revelation.  In Tabatabai’s view, Kadivar argues, reason and revelation never would come into conflict because religion is from the same God who has created reason.  Should the exoterics of religion seem to contradict the dictums of reason, the exoterics need to be reinterpreted (tawil).[13] This does not mean, however, that Kadivar favors a complete rational reinterpretation of revelation.  Incontrastwith an Asha’rite and Akhbari position of frown ing on reason and rationality on the one hand and an extreme Mu’tazalite tendency favoring an alleged reinterpreting of all data of revelation on the other hand, Kadivar advances a middle path to achieve a “harmonization” between reason and revelation.[14]


Metaphysical Assumptions

This theological approach adopted by Kadivar is based on some metaphysical and cosmological assumptions that are very close to those of his predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s.  Paraphrasing Allamah Tabatabai, Kadivar has presented a neo-Platonic cosmological hierarchy in which “Reason” is the first result of the emanation from the Necessary Being.  Below Reason is ‘ located the sphere of”non-materialbeings” [mojaradat], and on the bottom is the material sphere.[15] In contrasttothemajorityoflslamictheologianwhobelievedthatGodisthe only non-material being, in the opinion of the Islamic philosophers, Kadivar maintains, God, the angels, and the human soul belong to the category of non-material beings.[16] Just like his revolutionary predecessors who found the realm of matter a vile sphere to be transcended by humans, Kadivar also finds the position ofthe theologians objectionable because it is against the flight toward the non-material realm. He has paraphrased a certain Allamah Abulhasan Sha’rani to the effect:

We do not understand how theologians oppose reason, even though every religion is about disdaining matter and the corporeal realm and attending more to the realm of spirit and reason.  Whatever elevates the status of reason should not confront their religious sensibility.  It is the materialists and atheists who posit the corporeality of existence and consider reason and thought incidental to body.  Why should the theologians follow the atheists by exaggerating in religion and fanaticism?[17]

In fact Kadivar’s ontological position is to a large extent informed by what I have called the “journey toward subjectivity.” In a recent book, entitled Hukumat-e Velayi, where he has examined closely the all important concept of velayat [guardianship] in contemporary Iran, Kadivar has employed lbn Arabi’s philosophy to posit a journey by humans toward the Divine realm.  In this journey, even though the “traveler,[salek] is ultimately “annihilated” in God, as was the case with Khomeini, Shariati and Motahhari, the salek assumes Divine attributes and begins to “see with God’s eye, hear with His ear; his tongue becomes God’s tongue and his hand and act, God’s hand and act.”[18]


Harmonizing Terms of Contradiction

Kadivar’s delving into metaphysical questions seems I imited to these rather general remarks, yet they suffice to observe that this ontological position disposes him toward an approach that is very much grounded in the paradigm of mediated subjectivity.  As such Kadivar is in position where neither the subjectivist nor the religious element can be denied, while the need to harmonize the two disparate terms of the paradigm is felt strongly in the aftermath of the revolutionary zeal.  One of the areas in which Kadivar recommends this harmonization to take place is between religion and philosophy.  Attempting to heal the centuries old hostility between Islamicfiqh and philosophy, he has suggested that philosophy and religion can be ofmutual service to each other since they are in constant intellectual exchange.  Just as philosophy provides new areas of inquiry forreligious sciences, so the latter create new questions for philosophy.[19] The same is true of the relations between religious,,” knowledge on the one hand and other types of human and experimental knowledge on the other hand.  They are in constant trade and ifthere are, changes in one side, inevitably there would be changes in the other sid, too.[20] Moreover, modem social sciences have posed new questions and challenges to the religious way of thinking and sentiments.  Today tlw new “anthropology” has placed the human in the center ofthe universe whereas in former times God occupied that position.  What, Kadivar asks, are we going to do about it?[21] We neither can abandon oLg religious beliefs completely nor ignore the modern episteme; we are caught between two equally seductive “lovers”[delbar], religion and modern worldviews.[22]

Kadivar has suggested different practical as well as intellectua approaches to reconcile and heal the contradictions he has recognized to be the result of the Islamic encounter with modernity in a country like Iran.  One area in which these contradictions are particularly visible is it) social and personal regulations.  This area traditionally has been tht,domain offiqh, a domain which, according to Kadivar, is very much in need of revision and renewal in the contemporary world.  In order for fiqh to be to able to respond to contemporary needs, certain condition must be met.  These conditions include: an understanding of the spirit of Islam through reference to the Quran and the Hadith of the Infailible personalities of Islam and Shiism, as well as to reason; close familiarity the questions involved in fiqh; familiarity with current (natural and experimental) sciences; and knowledge of contemporary human sciences.[23] Above all, it is necessary to distinguish systematically between those precepts and rules in Islam that are universal and eternal I and those that are for a particular place and time.[24]

Similar to Shabestari, Kadivar has come to the conclusion that humans may expect to derive from religion general principles and values that govern the sphere of individual and social regulations.  However, “practical affairs” belong more in the domain of “human experience.” In these types of affairs, “human experience”-seemingly a code for secular norms-and rational tradition are the determining factors.  Disregarding universal human experience entails devastating consequences and would be as undesirable as the neglecting of the transcendental religious values and goals.[25] Accordingly, Kadivar argues, in different historical periods, different types of political and economic systems are needed.  The economic system befitting the undifferentiated social structure of the past is very different ftom the complex industrial society of today.[26]

Institutionally, Kadivar has called for a restructuring ofthe seminary system in Shia madresahs [theological colleges] and a revision of their curricula to become compatible with the exigencies ofthe modern world.  Kadivar has argued that “steering the world toward eternal prosperity, establishment of authentic Divine values such as spirituality, dignity, liberty, justice and equity, and in one word the total sovereignty of the Quran and the Sunna, [all] are contingent on harmony between the teaching of the seminaries and the exigencies of [our] time”.[27] He has recommended that the seminarians study modern subjects.  The latter often are indicated by attaching the term “philosophy” before a discipline to distinguish it from more traditional approaches to these areas of inquiry.  They include, philosophy of religion, philosophy of ethics, philosophy ofhistory, and philosophy ofsciences, as well as non-Islamic philosophy, modern law, sociology, psychology, economics, management political science and foreign languages.[28]

Yet, Kadivar finds the most fandamental contradiction inherent in Islamic revolutionary discourse and politics in the post-revolutionary period most acutely represented in the notion and institution of velayat-efaqih, which he sets out to deconstruct to achieve the desired harminization of his own discourse.


Deconstructing Velayat-e faqih

Since 1997, Kadivar has published two books in which different dimensions of political theory in Shiafiqh in general and the notion of velayat-efaqih in particular, are analyzed and critiqued.  In the first book, Nazariyeha-ye Dulat dar Fiqh,e Shiah [Theories of state in Shia law], consisting mostly of a number of articles published since 1991 in different periodicals, Kadivar demonstrates the historical evolution of Shia political theory and views of the state, as well as the spectrum of different views on political rule in contemporary Shia thought.  In the second book, Hukumat-e Velayi [Government by the guardian], he has elaborated on the concept of velayat in general-in its epistemological, mystical, theological andfiqhi dimensions-and its political implications including the concept of velayat-efaqih and its institutionalization.  In neither of these books, does Kadivar present a frontal attack on the notion of velayat-efaqih.  Rather, he discusses different Shia theorists’ views of the notion of rule by the clergy with a canon law jurist at the helm ofthe state, scrutinizing their Quranic and rationaljustifications.  As such, Kadivar has attempted to demonstrate the lack ofany Quranic and rational necessity for veloyat-e faqih.  He also has demonstrated the lack of evidence to support velayal-e faqih in the traditions of the Infallible Shia Imams.  Kadivar has argued, for example, that there have been no discussions about the type of government during the absence of the Infallible Imams in Shia theology [kalaml, and also the theologians have not addressed the notion of velayat-efaqih, either positively or negatively.[29]

In order to examine the concept of velayat-efaqih more closely, Kadivar has attempted to scrutinize the idea of velayat in general in Shia tradition.  Velayat as a broad category in Shia tradition, according to Kadivar, may be thought of as the ascendancy of a small group of individuals in relation to others by virtue ofthe following reasons: their closerelationtoGod (mystical or irfanitype of velayat); their in failible position due to their line of descent from the prophet (velayat based on imamat); or as a result of the delegation of some or all of the latter to scholars of religious law (velayat-efiqhi). However, the notion ofvelayat as such, Kadivar maintains, is a construction, an “abstraction” (i’tibari) that has no basis in “reality.” Therefore, velayat is a “rationally” constructed abstraction that may (or may not) be accepted by religion, but it is not one of the necessary rules in Islam.[30]

It is very important to recognize, Kadivar emphasizes, what some religious scholars understand by the general notion of velayat in itsfiqhi context, which constitutesthe foundation for the idea of velayat-efaqih in particular.  In itsfiqhi context, Kadivar argues, velayat may be taken to mean:

the management [tasadil] control [tasaruf], and supervision of the affairs of the Other … The closest terms to velayat are: domination [seytareh], supremacy [saltanat], lordship [mulukiyat] and ascendance [estila].  Vel4at and melkiyat are comparable. Melkiyat is domination over objects and velayat is domination over persons.  As all the aspects of the object are under the control of the owner [of objects], all the affairs of the “client” are under the control of the custodian [vali].[31]

As a parallel concept, Kadivar elaborates on the notion of mahjuriyal as a -complement to the idea of velayat in this fiqhi interpretation, which is inreality at the center of Kadivar’s interests herc The Perso-Arabic term mahjuriyat denotes incompetence in running one’s affairs and its noun form mahjur can be translated as “ward,’ connoting a person of unsound mind and insufficient ability.  In a socia sphere wherevelayat and mahjuriyal operate,.Kadivar contends inequality prevails.[32] Under these conditions of inequality, it is presumed that some individuals are incapable of managing some or all of their affairs, lacking competence and therefore being mahjur in looking after their own interests.  As such, the notion of velayal in this fiqh interpretation is premised on the idea that people are mahjur aa in capable of managing their own affairs.  The “clients” [muvala ‘aliheni] of the guardian are by law considered to be mahjur.[33] YeL Kadiva argues, infiqh the absence of mahjuriyat is the principle:

In fiqh, the rule is the absence of mahjuriyat.  This means that [in fiqhjthe principle is that no one has sovereignty over another and everyone is the manager of his own affairs and others have no right to interfere in his affairs and destiny.  Within the frame of religion and reason, every individual is in charge of his own affairs.  The individual has authority to dispose of his property, determine whom to marry or whether to marry, what type of clothes to wear and with what color, where to live, and how to behave.  Of course, he is responsible to God for his deeds and has to answer [for his behavior] on the day of judgement.[34]

Based on the above premises, Kadivar has posited the autonomy of humans: “the principle is the absence of mahjuriyat for humans, that is ‘ all humans are dominant over their destinies and it is mahjuriyat, not. competence [rashid budan], that needs to be proved.”[35] This postulation of universal human autonomy and subjectivity seems to constitute one part of the philosophical core ofkadivar’s political views and what propels him to reject the notion of velayat-efaqih.  The other part that informs Kadivar’s discourse is, of course, the idea that the ultimate source of sovereignty is God.[36] Based on these assumptions, Kadivar proceeds to reconcile human sovereignty and that of God in a political theory that must deconstruct velayat-efaqih since the latter totally negates one side of the terms of the reconciliation-human subjectivity.

Kadivar proceeds to deconstruct velayat-e faqih by trying to demonstrate the lack of support for it in four sources: the Quran, the hadith of the Prophet, Shia hadith and rational inquiry.  With respect to all these sources, Kadivar painstakingly and elaborately mentions the arguments that have been adduced in support ofthe notion and institution of velayat-efaqih and political rule by the clerical order and refutes them one by one.[37] One of the significant themes that emerges in this effort is the contrast between velayat andjumhuriyat or republicanism.  In a republican state, Kadivar argues, the people are equal in the public sphere and considered competent (rashid), whereas under velayat-e faqih people are not on the same par with their leaders and considered mahjur.[38] Similarly, in a republican state the “collective rationality”(aqlejami’i) ofthe constituents is the basis for administration of society and the leadership is required to accommodate the views ofthe constituency.  In a state based on velayat-e faqih, the opinion and judgment of the guardian (vali) is the foundation for administration ofa society, and the people as clients are required to adjust to the guardian because he is assumed ‘ to recognize the common good better than people themselves[39]. Consequently, Kadivar believes that reconciliation between democracy and government based on velayat-efaqih is impossible.  He has written: These two [types of] government, if their principles are to be applied in reality and not only in theory, are incompatible.  They are contradictory.  In other words, either we must believe in a religious guardianship of the faqih appointed by God in the capacity of absolute wardship over the people, or believe in the election of leadership as the representative of the people.  These two [regimes], if are to preserve all of their innate characteristics, cannot be reconciled.[40]


Mediated Divine Sovereignty: A Political Vision

Having thus deconstructed the notion of velayat-efaqih with far reaching implications for the political edifice that has been built on it, Kadivar embarks on a project to envision an alternative to velayal-efaqih in which a reconciliation between Divine sovereignty and people’s rights would be possible.  Accordingly, Kadivar proposes that there are two views on Divine sovereignty in contemporary Shia political thought.  The first view advances a notion of “immediate Divine sovereignty” [velayat-e elahi-ye bila vaseleh] that is presumed to have been delegated to thefaqihs.  This represents the more abstract matrix from which the notion of velayat-efaqih is derived.  In this scheme the Islamic community is not the medium through which Divine sovereignty is realized.  According to this view: delegated to the just faqihsand the Islamic community is not the medium [vaseteh] through which Divine sovereignty is delegated.  Instead, the faqihs are [considered to be] God’s caliphs on earth, vicegerent of the Prophet and of the Imam, and the guardian of the Muslims … Since there are no elements of democracy in the stabilization and legitimization of the state [in this system], we call this type of sovereignty “immediate Divine sovereignty,” that is [legitimization] without people’s mediation in sovereignty.[41] As can be seen in the above passage, this view-which Kadivar points out is the foundation of the political thought of Khomeini and Muhaqiq Naraqi (1771-1829) is unacceptable to Kadivar because it denies any role for the people .[42]

What Kadivar advocates is the second view in contemporary Shia political thought one that advances a notion of “mediated Divine sovereignty.” Kadivar calls this view “Divine-democratic sovereignty”[mashruiyat-e elahi-mardomitand describes its essence thusly:

God has delegated the political management of the Islamic community to [the members] themselves, so that within the framework of Islamic laws they may exercise their sovereignty.  Peple’s sovereignty over themselves has been delegated to them from God and no one has the right to deny them this “divine right.” People elect their leaders and managers from among the qualified candidates so that based on a constitution that is compatible with religion, they would serve the public under a contract, or representation [vekalat] … Since the ultimate grounding of legitimacy [in this system] is God, and the community may claim its God-given rights and exercise its sovereignty only within the confines of religion, this is a Divine sovereignty.  But since the people are considered to mediate between God and government, and the democratic element is involved, we call this, “Divine-democratic sovereignty.”[43]

Yet, for the most part, in the project to envision an alternative to velayat-efaqih, Kadivar proceeds not by directly advancing a political theory but by closely examining the political theories of other Islamic thinkers and highlighting and critiquing their positions in relation to the reconciliation that he contemplates.  In his book Nazariyeha-ye Dulat dar Fiqh-e Shieh [Throries of state in Shiafiqh], Kadivar presents the political theories of a few Shia theorists on the issue in different stages of their development.  Here, Kadivar has presented views of the influential Shia theoristand leader, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqiral-Sadr (1935-1980).  Inhispoliticalviews,al-Sadrproposedatheory of people’s vicegerency under the supervision of the sources of imitation [maraje-e taqlid].  According to this theory, God’s sovereignity is delegated partially to the people with the provision that the high-rankingfaqihs would have the supervisory role in the administration of society.[44] In this theory, Kadivar explains, while the people are largely in charge ofthe executive and legislative, the marja’is the head ofthe Islamic government and the commander in chief of the armed forces.  He is in charge of appointing or approving the candidates for the position of the head of the executive.[45] Although very much inspired and influenced by al-Sadr’s attempt to fashion a reconciliation between God’s sovereignty and human’s rights, Kadivar in the end finds his formulations wanting.  He subtly criticizes al[-Sadr’s ideas for their proximity to Khomeini’s notion of velayat-efaqih in giving too much power to the faqihs and not a large enough role to the people.[46]

Kadivar next discusses the ideas of Ayatollah Hosainali Montazeri, the designated heir to Khomeini until 1989, when Khomeini, only three months before his own death, declared him unsuitable to be his successor and forced his resignation.  Since then, Montazeri has become increasingly critical of the concept of velayat-efaqih and the repressive features of the Islamic state.  Montazeri, Kadivar argues, has criticized the fact that in the Islamic state of Iran, the rulers have not been held accountable to the populace.[47] In Montazeri’s view, velayal-efaqih does not mean that the faqih would be a ruler, but an “ideologue.” Furthermore, he would be elected by the people and his main function would be to oversee the general direction of policies and their proper implementation.[48]

Kadivar maintains that Montazeri’s theory-designated as “the electoral and conditional guardianship of thejurist” [velayat-e entekhabi muqayadehfaqih]-is based on the principle that no one can exercise sovereignty [velayat] over another unless he is appointed by God or people have elected ‘ him based on a framework of rules established by God.[49] Moreover, because sovereignty by Divine appointment is suspended in the absence of the infallible Imams, the contemporary Islamic polity must be based on popular elections.[50] In Kadivar’s reading, Montazeri’s political theory is an attempt at preserving the Islamic character of the state while observing the proper conditions of the Islamic ruler (i.e., electoral and conditional caveats during the absence of infallible Imams) and meticulously upholding Islamic principles and values in society.  Montazeri’s theory makes an attempt to preserve the republican character of the state by acknowledging the rights of the public, especially the universal right ofpolitical participation even at the highest level.  Montazeri also limits the authority ofthe elected faqih to the term of his office, makes him accountable to a body of experts elected by the people, and demands his binding commitment to the constitution.[51] Compared with al-Sadr’s theory, Kadivar contends that there are more freedoms for the people in Montazeri’s political vision because, in addition to confining the role of the faqih to supervision over politics, his office is an elected one.[52]

The last Shia political theory that Kadivar uanalyzes is thatofthe late Ayatollah Mehdi Haeri Yazdi.  One of the most radical Shia political theorists in terms ofpositing human subjectivity and giving credence to the individual as the carrier of subjectivity, Haeri believed in the authenticity of the individual.[53] Kadivar has paraphrased Haeri’s view on politics to the effect that: Government in the sense of the art of statesmanship and the management of the internal and external affairs of the country is a branch of practical philosophy and [therefore a]. rational [undertaking] It is not dictatorship, lordship, or rule over the subalterns; nor is it guardianship or wardship … Every single individual in society posses authenticity [esaiat]. The society as a collective entity is an abstraction that cannot genuinely [determine] the values and … responsibilities of human beings.  I’hc addressees of the Most Noble Quran are the individuals in the community, possessing full Autonomy.[54]

More importantly, Kadivar’s reading of Haeri’s political theory seems to suggest first a strong sense of human subjectivity that Haeri derives from the Islamic principle of “private property,” and then universalizes to resemble a notion of inter-subjectivity.  In this reading, the notion of “private property” [malekiyat-e khususi] is the grounding ofthe notion of individual subjectivity that Haeri posits as the cornerstone of his political discourse.  Once this notion of subjectivity is established in this way, Haeri introduces the concept of mosha’.  The term mosha’ normally refers tojoint ownership (often of land) with a connotation of ‘simultaneous individual ownership without a separation of shares.  It seems to constitute a theoretical fiqhi grounding of a form of universalization of subjectivity or inter-subjectivity as the basis of the body politic by Haeri.  Government for Muslims, in Haeri’s view, cannot be founded on the eighteenth French philosopher Rousseau’s notion of a social contract.  Such a trans-historical adaptation is neither reasonable nor necessitated by our inherited customs.  Kadivar has paraphrased Haeri’s complex views on the issue that seem to combine a theory of natural rights and a notion of inter-sub.iectivity:

[constructs]; rather it is an ownership grounded in nature.  The right to property in general is derived from the exclusive ownership of one object by, another their [subject] that totally dominates that object.  The right to property by humans in dwir environment is one of the natural and original rights that is not subject to legislation or construction.  This exclusive relation is called “private property” [malskiyat-e khususil. Private property is realized in two ways: one is particular and the other mosha’ …. What is meant by mosha’ is the universalization and “inter-penetration” of private properties and not a collective property.  ‘Mi3 type of mosba’ property is the [foundation] of a free and open [social] space in which the multitude of humans have of necessity picked to live inter-subjectively as in a city or a country.  This is the meaning of the Islamic and humane law, “people are dominant over their properties”.[55]

Based on these rather abstract and recondite theoretical premises, which seem to combine a view of natural rights and a notion of intersubjectivity derived from the Islamic endorsement of private property, Kadivar presents Haeri’s political view that the leaders of the Islamic community are the elected representatives of citizens, a view that is diametrically opposed to any notion of guardianship.[56] According to this vision, government is nothing but the representation of, and supervision by, the people concerning relations among the citizens as well as international relations.  Both of these types of relations are entirely with in the sphere of practical reason and collective will; because they are forged by humans as conventions, they are subject to change.  Therefore, govenunent itself and all of its concomitant institutions are subject to change, constituting a category that does not fall within the unalterable Divine commandments.[57] For the more, in Haeri’s view, although politicians and public figures must learn the principles ofethics andjustice as well as the general tenets ofreligion from philosophers and faqihs, the latter should refrain from active involvement in the political sphere.[58]

Kadivar is careful not to endorse explicitly any of the positions that he interpretsinHaeri’spoliticaldiscourse.  Yet,neitherdoeshedismiss orcriticizethem.  As such it is difficult find any detailed political plan for action in Kadivar’s discourse.  However, it seems, at least in Nazariyeha-ye Dulat dar Fiqh-e Shieh, his sympathies lie between the views expressed by Montazeri and those of Haeri.  In his other book,Hukumat-e Velai, Kadivar has declared his positions regarding an Islamic state more explicitly.  An Islamic state, in this view, is one in which the “sublime goals of religion” are pursued within the general contours ofstate policies.  The laws of such a state are not incompatible with those of the shariah.  These laws are based on the will and consent of the majority of the faithful and their vote is the measure of validity in those areas where human legislation is permisible  Moreover, the model for Islamic polity is not despotic or essential ized abso lutism but is based on the “collective rationality” of Muslims and human experience.  The Islamic polity is captured in the conceptof”Islamic republic” where both Islam and republicanism are emphasized.[59]

Thus, similar to Shabestari, Kadivar has stressed that for the most part the Islamic element in this formula must be restricted to general principles and values while practical issues and social programming should be left more to “human experience,” a code for the secular sphere.  As the neglect of the “sublime values” of Islam is reprehensible, so is the disregard for human experience, portending dire consequences.[60] In another similarity with Shabestari, Kadivar is also largely, but not entirely, remiss of the role of the individual as the carrier of human subjectivity, which constitutes one pillar of his discourse.  While the individual remains at the foundation in his own discussion of human autonomy, orthat ofatheorist like Haeri, Kadivar has chosen not to elaborate on the ontological and sociological importance of the individual.[61]


In the second decade after the establishment ofthe Islamic Republic, the contradictions inherent in its ontological core and manifested at the socio-politic al level came to the fore.  These contradictions are imbedded in what I have designated as the paradigm ofmediated subjectivity.  This paradigm can be considered as a movement toward the establishing of democratic and citizenship rights, a movement that is grounded in the positing of human subjectivity, but which very often is negated almost immediately.  Because of these fundamental contradictions, the other characteristic ofthis paradigm is the dynamic of, and demand for, change (as well as conflict often violent) that it creates in society and in discourse.  Of the, post-revolutionary discourses that have emerged in response to these exigencies, those of Shabestari and Kadivar constitute some of the, most significant.  While they are with in an lslamic mold, they attempt to reconcile the contradictions resulting from the encounter between Islamic thought and the forces and discourses of modernity in Iran.  Most significantly, and at the deepest level of discourse, they try to reconcile the opposition thatwas created between Divine subjectivity and human subjectivity constituting one moment ofthe contrariety that characterized the discourses of their revolutionary predecessors.  The attempt at this fundamental level allows Shabestari and Kadivar to advance a series of conceptual undertakings aimed at harmonizing vacillations in simultaneously positing and negating the terms of the paradigm ofmediated subjectivity: monotheism and modrnity, religion and democracy, revelation and reason, Divine values and human laws, faith and freedom, and conviction and philosophy.

The critical question is notwhetherthis attempt at reconciliation and harmonization is viable or these terms of contradiction are indeed reconcilable-they may or may not be.  The essential question is the role these attempts play at th is stage in Iran’s arduous and twisted road to the establishment of meaningful democratic rights for all of its citizens.  There is no doubt that a significant faction (or more accurately a constellation of factions) among the Islamic ruling elite is highly aware of the need for these rights and reforms and the discourses discussed herelendsupporttothem.  Moresignificantly,avastnumberofiraniAns desire such rights and seem to be willing to press for their realization.  Discourses such as those of Shabestari and Kadivar are crucial in that theyarticulate the religiousconvictionsand socio-political aspiration of a large segment of Iran’s population at this juncture.


Notes :

[1] For a discussion of the encounter of Islamic revolutionary discourse n Iran with modernity in the 1960s and 1970s, and the concept of mediated objectivity, see Farzin Vahdat, “Metaphysical Foundations of Islunic ,evolutionary Discourse in Iran: Vacillations on Human Subjectivity,” Critique, ol. 7, no. 14 (1999).

[2] Most of the biographic data for Kadivar is taken from the book by his wife, Zahra Rudi-Kadivar, which was published in the aftermath of his trial and conviction; see Zahra Rudi, Baha-ye Azadi: Defaiyat-e Mohsen Kadivar dar Dadgah-e Vizhe-ye Rohaniyat [Price of freedom: the defense of Mohsen Kadivar in the special court for the clergy] (Tehran: Nashr-e Ney, 1999), pp. 1719.

[3] It seems to be a methodological tendency in Kadivar to invoke classical and contemporary Shia thinkers to make his points rather indirectly.  It night be related to his relativelyjunior position among the contemporary Shia clergy as well as a type of protection for some his bold political remarks.

[4] Mohsen Kadivar, Daftar-e Aql: Mqimueh-ye Maqalat-e Falsafi-alami [The book of reason: collection of philosophical theological articles] Tehran: Entesharat-Ettela’at, 1998), pp. 16-17.  For a discussion of early Shia figh, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Hamid Dabashi, Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, eds., shi’ism: Doc@nes, Thought, and Spirituality (New York: State University of New York press, 1988); and idem., Expectation of the Millennium: Shi’ism in History (New York: State University of New York Press, 1989).

[5] Kadivar, Daftar-e Aql, p. 16.

[6] Ibid., p. 23

[7] Ibid., p. 28.

[8] Ibid., p. 33.

[9] Ibid., p. 4 1.

[10] Ibid., p. 47.

[11]  Ibid., p. 61.

[12] Ibid., p. 96.

[13] Ibid., p. II 7.

[14]Ibid., p. 125.

[15] Ibid., pp. 158-59.

[16] Ibid., p. 159.

[17]  Ibid.

[18] Mohsen Kadivar, Hukumat-e Velayi [Government by guardianship] (Tehran:    Nashr-e Ney, 1998), pp. 26-27.

[19] Kadivar, Daftar-e Aql, p. 442.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., p. 445.

[22] Ibid., p. 124.

[23] Ibid., pp. 407-408.

[24] Ibid., p. 408.

[25] Ibid., p. 413.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid., p. 396.

[28] Ibid., p. 404.

[29] Mohsen Kadivar, Hukumat-e Velayi, p. 42.

[30] Ibid., p. 45.

[31] ibid.

[32] Ibid., p. 47.

[33] Ibid., pp. 47-48.

[34] Ibid., p. 56

[35] Ibid., pp. 56-57.

[36] Mohsen Kadivar, Nazariyeha-ye Dulat dar Fiqh-e Shieh [Theories of state in Shiajfiqh] (Tehran: Nashr-e Ney, 1997), pp. 44-47.

[37] See Kadivar, Hukumat-e Velayi, pp. 204-372.

[38] Ibid., p. 207.

[39] Ibid., p. 208.

[40] Ibid., pp. 208-209.

[41] Kadivar, Nazariyeha-ye Dulat, pp. 47-48

[42] Ibid., p.48.

[43] Ibid., p. 49.

[44] Ibid., pp. 129-30.

[45] Ibid., p. 134.

[46] Ibid.. pp. 139-40.

[47] Ibid., p. 141.

[48] Ibid., p. 144.

[49] Ibid., pp. 148-49.

[50] Ibid., p. 15 1.

[51] Ibid., p. 158.

[52] Ibid., P. 157.

[53] For a representative work of Haeri’s ideas see his, Hekamt va Hukumat [Philosophy and government) (London: Shadi, 1995).

[54] Kadivar, Nazariyeha-ye Dulat, pp. 179-1 80.

[55] Ibid., p. I 80.

[56] Ibid., p. I 8 1

[57] Ibid., P. 1 83

[58] Ibid., pp. 183-84.

[59] Kadivar, Hukumat-e Velayi, pp. 8-9.

[60] Kadivar, Daftr-e Aql, p. 413.

[61] Despite his obvious reformist approach, Kadivar has been less open to the idea of religious pluralism, at least at the doctrinal level, and the notion of ,’multiplicity of truths” advanced by Soroush; see further Marziyeh Zojaji Qomi, ed.  Monazerch-ye Dokotor Abdulkarim Soroush va Hojat al-Islam Mohsen Kadivar dar baryeh pluralism-e dini [the debate between Doctor Abdulkarim Soroush and Hojat al-Islam Mohsen Kadivar regarding religious pluralism] (Tehran: Salam Newspaper, 1999).

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