The Secret of Divine Civilization and the Development of Iran

namely the culture of renouncing one’s own reason, religious despotism, and the supremacy of akhunds in society. For example, the Book of Certitude argues that the only method of attaining truth is “detachment” of individuals. However, he defines this detachment primarily as the rejection of the culture of clerical dependence/emulation and dependent thinking. Thus through detachment we can see things through our own eyes, and not through the eyes of others, thus transcending social and cultural prejudices, and defining ourselves as capable of rationality and autonomous thinking. 12 It is only after these discussions, and in the context of his critique of religious despotism, that Baha’u’llah discusses the imperative of political democracy in 1860s and after. 13 In regard to the relation between modernity and religion in general, and Islam and modernity in particular, we can distinguish between two extreme positions, a sort of Weberian ideal types. 14 The culture of clerical supremacy is an extreme example of an anti-modernity perspective, which sees the cause of the backwardness of Iran to lie in deviation from Islam, opposes the Western modernity, defines the road to development as the return to the past, and equates this return as the supremacy of Islamic law in all social and political institutions of Iran and unconditional obedience to the clerics. The anti-religion perspective, on the contrary, identifies Islam as the main cause of the backwardness of Iran, opposes all religions, and defines following of the West and its materialistic/atheistic tendencies as the only path to the liberation and development of Iran. The Secret, however, distinguishes between clerical culture and the truth of all religions, including Islam. Contrary to the clerical perspective, The Secret argues that the key to liberation of Iran lies in the institutionalization of the separation of church and state and rejection of the culture of clerical supremacy, prejudice and dependent thinking. According to The Secret, the truth of religions is a living, dynamic and creative reality which manifests itself at different times in accordance with the requirements of social, cultural and spiritual development of humanity. Consequently, true religion promotes development and progress of society, whereas the clerical definition of religion destroys the living and creative nature of religion, reduces religion to a bundle of superstitions and obsessive laws that contradict the present needs of society, and transform religion into an instrument of subjugation of the masses by preventing their independent thinking, thus reducing humans to the level of the beasts. ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s distinction between religious superstition and traditionalism, on the one hand, and the creative spirit of religion, on the other, means that, contrary to clerical perspective, the return to true Islam is not a return to clerical supremacy, rather it is a categorical rejection of that system precisely because it contradicts the living and creative spirit of religion and turns religion into a soulless corpse. It is the creative spirit of religion that explains why, in the pre-Islamic rea, Zoroastrianism led a glorious Iranian civilization, and why between 9 th and 12 th centuries, Islam which accorded with the requirements of its time, created a magnificent civilization which was the center of science, industry, and interaction of various cultures and civilizations. Consequently, affirmation of reason and acceptance of the positive aspects of Western modernity are in fact a return to the true and creative spirit of all religions, including Islam, while such return is a total refutation of the reactionary culture of clerical traditionalism.

12 Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude . Wilmette: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1950, pp. 3-93. 13 For example, Baha’u’llah affirms political democracy in many of his writings including his Tablet to Queen Victoria , The Most Holy Book , and Tablet of the World . 14 Weber, Max. The Methodology of Social Sciences . New York: The Free Press, 1949, pp. 89-112.

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