The Secret of Divine Civilization and the Development of Iran

The victory of the Usuli Shi’i clerics (the principalists) over the Shi’i Akhbari clerics (traditionalists) was one of the most important pillars of the increasing power of the clerics during 19 th and 20 th centuries. Contrary to the West, in which the emerging philosophy of rationalism was an affirmation of the equality of all humans as rational beings, leading to a culture of equal rights and democracy, the rationalism of the Usulis denied the rational character of the masses of the Shi’is, and confined rational ability to the clerics. For this reason, the victory of the rationalism of the Usulis was the triumph of the culture of blind imitation among the masses and the negation of independent thinking for the people who were defined as cattle and minors who must imitate and obey the clerics in all matters of religious law. With an aggressive and comprehensive interference of the Shi’i clerical jurisprudence in the details of individuals’ lives, the Usuli school succeeded in making the masses of the Iranians completely dependent on the clerics. Consequently, people became habituated to the culture of Akhundism where refusing to think independently became the supreme virtue. In such culture there was no possibility for development of equality, democracy, freedom of religion, and human rights. The Secret of Divine Civilization and Iran’s Development: Four Layers of Discourse The Secret of Divine Civilization which addresses the causes of underdevelopment and development in Iran, addresses at least four layers of discourse. First Layer: The Reformist Policies of Mirza Husayn Khan The first layer of discourse addresses the reform policies of the prime minister Mirza Husayn khan during 1870s. In early 1870s, the Qajar king Nasir Al-Din Shah intended to engage in some forms of reform in Iran. For this reason, he brought the reformist Iranian ambassador to Istanbul, who was familiar with the Ottoman Tanzimat reforms, to the capital and made him the prime minister to proceed with various reforms. His reforms caused a vehement opposition by the clerics who saw the reforms as contrary to Islam, and a major threat to their own power. Although the king was forced to remove Mirza Husayn Khan from premiership, he kept him in other political capacities to continue the reforms. 1875, the year of the writing of the Secret of Divine Civilization, is the year when although Mirza Husayn Khan was still engaged in policies of reform, the reactionary opposition of the clerics had succeeded in blocking the reform movement. The Secret of Divine Civilization supports reform in general, and many of Husayn Khan’s reforms in particular, and offers various arguments for the necessity of reform. At the beginning pages of the Secret, ‘Abdu’l-Baha supports the policy of reform and speaks of four groups who oppose modernity and development, each with a different pretext. In fact, the entire Secret is the refutation of the four objections of these four groups against reform and development of Iran. Among these four objections, the argument of the clerics (the second group) which finds modernity and reform as opposed to Islam, is the most important. The next important objection (the first group) argues that the concept of development has no objective and universal meaning, and that, therefore, the path to Iran’s development is through a return to traditionalism: Some say that these are newfangled methods and foreign isms, quite unrelated to the present needs and the time-honored customs of Persia. Others have rallied the helpless masses, who know nothing of religion or its laws and basic principles and therefore have no power of discrimination—and tell them that these modern methods are the practices of heathen peoples, and are contrary to the venerated canons of true faith, and they add the saying, “He who imitates a people is one of them.” One group insists that such reforms should go forward with great deliberation, step by step, haste being inadmissible. Another maintains that only such

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