A pre-Islamic Iranian doctrine for the nation's return to freedom and tolerance for all beliefs
Thursdays, June 28, 2010
By Sheda Vasseghi
Where's the way to tavern and mosque
Both forbidden to a dervish like me
Between mosque and tavern is a way
Search, my beloved, to find which alley
— Iranian poet Attar Neishaburi, 1145-1221
Iranian philosophers, writers, and poets were free thinkers who rebuked religious meddling and theocracies. In order for Iranians to embark on a true path to freedom, democracy, and a secular regime, they must first embrace some truths. These goals and their prerequisite conditions must be clearly defined.
First, what is freedom? To individuals freedom can have different meanings and applications. One expects from the recent demonstrations and grievances that "freedom" to Iranians entails the natural right to think, speak, and make decisions without coercion, fear, or punishment. Without this basic principle, Iranians cannot move beyond centuries of manipulation, bias, inequality, misinformation, and superstitions that have blocked their desire for a better society and a way of life. Without freedom fair and just laws cannot be established, respected, and implemented. Without jurisprudence, chaos, corruption, and anarchy cannot be defeated. Iranian prophet Zoroaster taught: "Think good, speak good, do good!" Is this not a model for freedom?
Second, what is democracy? Democracy is still a work-in-progress even in the most advanced societies. Given Iran's history and struggle for modernization, one expects Iranians view "democracy" as the ability to participate in political debate, competition, organization, and education so that the direction of their nation coincides with what the majority desires. In this regard, the government and head of the State, may it be a king or a president, would play a major role in upholding the nation's constitution, representing the nation while serving its best interests, and educating the people about Iran's volatile past and difficult journey forward.
Third, what is secularism? Greater Iran has been home to different religions and peoples since its creation by the Achaemenids in 550 BC. Iranians are the first known world power to promote "tolerance." Ancient Iranians believed people should use their conscious and logic to judge what is right from wrong. Moral compass is universal and all humans have it. How and to what degree each person decides to use his/her moral compass is an individual choice for which the person will be held accountable. This belief naturally made people of Iranian stock tolerant and open to new ideas. Therefore, tolerance brings secularism since no single religion or philosophy is to be imposed on others. In this regard, Iranian public schools must once and for all be stripped of any religious affiliations and teachings. Iranian leaders and the country's new Constitution must not advocate any religion.
Within a few centuries after Moslem Arab invasion of 7th century, majority of Iranians adopted Islam either by force or to escape persecution. Islam means submission without question. That is, people are blocked from using their conscious and logic to think and make decisions on their own. Non-Moslems are treated as a separate group and considered to be "infidels." Analysis of Islamic tenets especially if regarded as offensive, and conversion from Islam, justify violent reactions.
According to Islam, Mohammad is the last prophet. But prophets or philosophers use their natural right to think about human conditions, and find ways to explain stress and the meaning of life specific to the era. That is, spiritualism cuts through the physical world and time to find a higher understanding and acceptance of the unknown, because a healthy mind equals a healthy life. The universe, nature, and human civilization are all forever evolving. Yet, new challenges and world orders will not require more philosophers or prophets to help people through difficult times?
According to the Islamic Republic, the person directing how people are to think and choose is a male representative of God appointed to guide people. This is in opposite to pre-Islamic Iranian philosophy that each person is in charge of his/her own destiny, and men and women are equal. Further, Islam is a philosophy based on the union of state and church which serves as the justification of Iran's current theocracy. This is in opposite to the pre-Islamic Iranian government in which the two entities were "sisters" rather than one and the same.
In the beginning of 16th century, Iranians jumped on the bandwagon of internal Moslem Arab conflict for power, and sided with the Shiites in order to get rid of the unwanted Arab dominance. Iranian nationalism was the driving force for Iranians rallying behind this religious and political faction. Hence, Shiism took a whole new meaning, direction, and life. Well, this behavior was not new to Iran. During its rivalry with the Byzantine Empire in early 5th century, Iranian Christians broke away and formed their own faction, the Nestorian church. This insured religious tolerance as well as security of Iranian national identity and heritage without foreign influence.
As in the past, Iranians should once again pioneer a movement. Their national awakening on June 2009 has positioned them accordingly. That is, they should embark on philosophical reformation. Iranians can no longer rely on that single hero, a Rostam, to save the day. One person cannot rescue, secure, and fix an entire nation for generations to come. A new Iran must work hard to re-incorporate tolerance at all levels of society, teach good citizenship, and the art of rhetoric needed for a society in which the people are engaged in political and social movements. The mullahs should be sent back to the mosques where they either preach humanity as expected from spiritualists, or risk losing their profession. Only when Iranian priesthood in whatever denomination understands its duties, and the people of Iran stop making excuses for intolerance and spiritual degeneracy, will this ancient land be able to realistically pursue the best path to freedom, democracy, and a secular regime.
Sheda Vasseghi obtained a Master's degree in Ancient History with an emphasis on Persia from American Military University.
This Article published in the World Tribune this is a courtesy copy to the