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Payvand's Iran News ...

10/25/00
Ecclesiastics and Power (Part 3)

Mohsen Kadivar
Source: Jameh Madani

Imam Khomeini offers the best guideline as to how the clergy should act on the political scene of the country. We can say that there were two major different political approaches at that time in the society too, but Imam always acted in such subtle way that both active political wings considered Imam on their side. That is because Imam always expressed multidimensional opinions and when and if he thought that the political social balance is disturbed, he would try to re-establish this balance. In general, like a kind compassionate father, Imam guided his children when in danger. This is the role that the clergy should play in the sociey, i.e. the role of a father and a fair judge. If they want to maintain their influence as a fair judge, they should not assume the role of an actor in the affaires and do not get involved with routine problems of every day life. If they do not act in such a way, then when national interests of the country demand 'one final word' to put an end to the existing crisis, that 'word' would no longer be taken seriously. The difficulty facing some of our Imam Jomehs (clergymen conducting the Friday prayer) is that they involve themselves with such petty every day political problems that even for a simple local election, people will not vote for him. Still worse is that when they like to participate in some major elections such as Majles Khobregan (Assembly of Elite), and people do not vote for them, it implies that they are not publicly well-received, which is the result of their involvement in very petty political routines.

The conclusion is that the involvement of religion in political affairs is an extremely sensitive matter. There was a time when a part of clergy was totally kept away from the political scene and they did not participate in politics, but now after Revolution, the clergy has become so political that they no longer carry out their principal duties.

If I will to offer a general pattern for the nature of political involvement of the clergy, I should first divide the problems into general and particular. Regarding the general problems such as the major orientations of the society and general policies ruling the society, the clergy should be quite active. Confrontation with outsiders is one of those general issues that the clergy should play an active role in it. For example, there is now a kind of passionate feeling toward outsiders that should really be seriously studied. I remember that during the end of Shah's regime some of our youth felt a real passion for America, and they envied the life there. This passion is a warning sign and its treatment can not only be political in nature, but it requires cultural management as well. Or when it is felt that religious values are fading in the society, here too, the clergy should assume the main role in approaching and solving the problem.

The subject of people's rights is the most important issue. If the clergy feels that this is not observed and it is the rights of people that are threatened, they should immediately act accordingly, show the appropriate reaction and do not allow this to happen. This sort of issues is called non-moral problems among the clergy. Here they should act zealously with no kinds of dereliction or negligence. Surely, in all such cases, they should apply scientific practical procedures in a socio-psychological and sociological way. Here the clergy should always be present and keep the pulse of the society in its hand.

But there is also a second part that is our main concern here and that is the nature of their involvement in the particulars and political issues. The question is whether the ecclesiastic, merely because of its nature, has this right to count its own taste equivalent to religion and considers the tastes of other Moslems as atheism and something outside the religion and Shiism? This is the danger that really threatens the clergy that is involved in politics and the society is potentially threatened by the same danger.

If we take a religious society with different political approaches, no one can claim that if even the prophet himself and an innocent Imam were present, they would definitely reject different variable tastes. This does not mean that all the existing tastes are either right or wrong, but they are a mixture of right and wrong inclinations and none of these tastes and inclinations can not be regarded as absolute. This is a debate that the clergy should avoid. Our society is an Islamic society with a Moslem majority and if they act in the framework of the Constitution based on religious precepts, their tastes and inclinations should be respected.

Ecclesiastics in an Islamic society should not act as a political party and behave in such a way as any other political party does. For in this case its worth and value will be that of any political party and will loose its fatherly and judging role and will no longer be the people's haven and hope in difficult social times. In every day political problems, as humans are prone to making mistakes, the possibility that the clergy errs and blunders would be quite serious. Then if they do make mistakes, this would not remain hidden from people's eyes. Thereby, people would treat the clergy in religious matters in the same way as they do in political matters and would longer easily accept their views.

In our contemporary religious literature we are now witnessing an increase use of the word "enemy". Paying attention to enemy and its central role is prevalent in our political contemporary notions and if we follow some of the form of violence observed inside the country, we will notice that it is rooted in the same notions.

To make it short, the involvement of the clergy in political details, i.e. where they have different views among themselves, is questionable and to call a particular taste and inclination as religion and the rest as anti-religion, is both against the religion and the political morality and it would have a totally negative outcome.

Q: From what you have said we can draw two conclusions. First the clergy should not get involved in particular problems where they have different opinions among themselves as this would make them to take a position in favor of one of the existing inclinations and as they can make mistakes they would lose their general sovereignty. The second is their participation here is only permissible when they do not consider different tastes and inclinations as enemy and do not excommunicate them.

In the first case, we keep the clergy out of the scene of political practice and consider a spiritual and guiding role for it, as a group that should only conduct moral preachments and prevent the society's deviation from the true path. In this way, individuals with high religious values, familiar with religious criteria and standards that simultaneously possesses a good political power of discernment and conception we would be prevented to participate in the current affairs of the country and for example occupy important positions such as presidency. So we would deprive the society from such outstanding political figures.

But if we accept the second alternative and consider the involvement of the clergy in political routine matters permissible, on that one condition that they would not regard themselves righteous with all the rest at fault, then what should be done about the important problem of their sovereignty among people as it might be damaged by some of their political mistakes.

A: Here two different states are conceivable. There is no doubt that regarding the basic religious problems and basic religious goals and the non-moral religious problems, the clergy should definitely play an active role and I believe that they should participate in all social problems actively, as they did during Revolution. But regarding internal problems of a religious society with different religious tastes and inclinations, the problem can be tackled in two ways. One is that when the clergy acts as a religious entity and religious institutes take part according to their religious nature in the political matters. The second is that when the clergy act as a civilian and as an individual regarding the political issues.

I believe that the involvement of the clergy in the political details is not permissible as a religious entity. For example, if a clergyman turns the mosque into the political office of a particular party while there are other parties working within the framework of law, but with different tastes and inclinations in the same religious society, then he has committed a non-permissible act. Imam Jomeh of a mosque can be a member of a political legal party as a civilian, but when he enters his mosque, he is no longer a member or the leader of a particular political party or organization, but he is an Imam Jomeh and the figure of imitation for all faithful people with different tastes. An Imam Jomeh can very well be a man of politics with particular political inclination, but when he talks as the orator of the collective prayer of Jomeh, he should consider the general public problems and he should not speak in favor of his party's position.

We say the clergy as a civilian can participate in any political activity and be a member of any political party and even be its leader, but he is not allowed to use religious facilities, religious budget, religious position and religious institutes to promote a particular political taste. Here is where the general taste and public interests of the whole nation is concerned. Therefore, the clergy can not only establish a political party alongside other political parties and groups, but they can also found groups with different political tastes and inclinations within the clergy. If they observe this distinction and do not mistaken their personal disposition with that of the general religious orientations, there would be no problem.

Now this is not only the problem of the clergy itself, but there are times when other groups and non-religious organizations use the clergy for their own purposes and for exclusion of the rival parties. In other words, we are witnessing a kind of instrumental use of religion and the clergy in the equations of political power.

Here the fact that one is a clergyman or not makes any difference, as any form of instrumental use of religion is wrong. If the clergy participate in the political details and political affairs of every day life, and consider different tastes and inclinations as opposite to religion, this would be a form of instrumental use of religion, whether the clergy itself does that or it is inspired by non-clergy. In this case the clergy is no longer regarded as a father, but as a particular political rival that can thus be criticized and ruled out. Now if at the same time he takes over the power, it should be said that 'inclination A' took over the power, and when he leaves the power, then again we should say that inclination A has left the power. In other words, the clergyman in question should be treated as a civilian and an individual in the same situation. In this case, when they leave power, they can no longer claim that for example, the same events that took place in the days of Constitutional Revolution are repeating again and they want to exclude the clergy .or inspire other similar scandals such as those seen during the previous presidential election. I believe that there is no problem in the participation of some of our ecclesiastic figures with political talents in the political activities, but as a civilian and not as a man of religion. For example, Ayatolah Kashani, in his own time offered many political services, but when he left the political scene, it did not meant that the clergy had left the scene.

In general the basis function of clergy to me, is spiritual and moral leadership of the society. It is quite possible for the clergy to have the pulse of all political institutes in their hand, but not the moral pulse of the society. If religion controls the morality, then many of our difficulties and problems would be solved. Religion should protect the people's conscience. Law, i.e. the police is the face, but the conscience is in the cellar with us. If we educate people religiously, their conscience will always be active, and then there would be no crime, no sin, neither religious nor legal. What the clergy should seek is reconstruction of religious conscience of people. This is an extremely difficult duty. To me conducting the public conscience of the society through legal channels, is the way that Christian ecclesiastic adopted, and finally led to inquisition and scholasticism. We should not try the same way.

The clergy should keep the balance and only involve itself with the general social political problems and should not join any petty every day political issue. In this way, the moral conscience of people will be revived and restored. On the other hand, through the legal supervision of legislation, Islamic values would be maintained. The final fruitful effect of such an attitude is that the grounds for political maturation of people and their public participation are prepared.

(To be continued)

-- Translated for payvand.com by Roya Monajem, royamonajem@yahoo.com



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