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Islam as Main Power and the Uniting Factor of Umma [KH Jalaluddin Rakhmat]

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In 1 February 1979, a great sea of humanity flowed down the main streets from Teheran to Mehrabad. Multiply the number of those people who thronged Obama’s inauguration three times and you will have in your mind the largest crowd in human history. And they were the people of Iran who were cheering on Imam Khomeini as he returned from Paris. He was flown to Behesti Zahra. It was in that cemetery on that day he overthrew the tyrannical rule of Shahanshah and ignited the Islamic Revolution of Iran.

Wright called it “the third great revolution in history” following the French and Bolshevic Revolutions. This has been the revolution that –according to Vali Nashr- "made Islamic fundamentalism a political force ... from Morocco to Malaysia". To me, it was the revolution that brought Islam into power and the idea of Islamic unity into practice.

What can we learn from this great revolution? As clearly understood by academicians, there have been no “real” theories of revolutions. Talking about a revolution, all what social scientists can say is to describe it post facto, after the event. We cannot predict it. We cannot control it. We cannot verify it, let alone apply it to our situation. Yet, despite everything, they have tried to explain the Islamic Revolution in different theories. Some blame the western powers who acted behind the scene. They were interested in overthrowing the Shah for the increasing price of oil in the first half of the 1970s. Some look into the process of alienation due to ill-planned modern reforms. Some refer to the economic crisis occurring before the Islamic revolution. Some emphasizes the Shah’s despotism and absolute power.

Of course, we can criticize all the theories. Many countries in their disposition meet the criteria of each theory to develop a revolution; and yet, no revolution takes place. Then, they study the role of religion in the Islamic revolution. Imam Khomeini is a towering religious figure hardly invisible to any observer. How could this grand ayatullah despite his age lead a great revolution unparalleled in human history? What kind of religion did he preach and practice? In what way did he move the people while holding firmly to the universal values of Islam?

I want to answer these questions in two ways: simple and difficult. The simple one is the fact that Imam –as mentioned earlier- brought Islam into power and united his people under the banner of Islam. The complicated one is the purpose of this paper. “Only when religion does something other than mediate between man and God does it retain a high place in people’s attentions and in their politics,” observes Steven Bruce, summarizing –if I may say- the theory of religious power.

We generally look upon religion as a sanctuary of our spiritual longing. We want to get close to God. We want to be blessed by the divine. We can list our wishes and pile them before the Merciful. In that way, religion comes to us in the forms of rituals or worships. Imam Khomeini inspired his people by going beyond all these traditional features of religion. “Islam, “ he says, “ is not confined to your beds and toilets”. Islam should not be limited to the events in the mosques. The Islam that Imam Khomeini propagates is the Islam of Imam Husseyn, who perpetuates the prophetic mission- establishing justice and fighting against oppressions and tyranny.

For that purpose, Imam Khomeini “deconstructs” the Islamic worldview prevalent during his time. He reconstructs a new ideology. He redefines the meaning of Islam in the Umma. Let me describe in brief his Islamic ideology:

Islam as comprising both the sacred and the profane

At the time when Islamic thinkers all over the world “borrowed” nationalism, socialism, liberalism and other known isms, Imam Khomeini calls attention to the treasure of Islam, especially the heritage of Ahlulbayt as.

When Sayyed Baqr Sadr traces back the Ahlulbayt school of thought to the time of the Prophet. There were two ideologies of islam with respect to the Prophetic Sunna. A great faction of sahabat considers Sunna as comprising only the beliefs and worships. When the Prophet instructs them in terms of aqida and Islamic rituals like wudus and salats, they bow their heads in obedience. When he teaches them in social matters like appointment of leaders, they attribute them to his ijtihad. They may obey or disobey. In sociological terms, this group of shahaba divides the Prophetic conduct into two domains: the sacred and the profane. It is a must to obey the sacred; it is an option to follow the profane.

Another faction of sahaba accepts both. They look into the Sunnah as including not only doing worship in the mosque but also obeying what the Prophet commands them in battlefield. According to Sayyed Baqr, this faction has been preserved in the mazhab of Ahlulbayt. Unfortunately, in the course of history, even the Shia has concentrates only on the sacred, ignoring the second and more important part of Sunna. They have not learned from Imam Husayn, who had left behind and failed his hajj to fight against the tyrant.

Now, Imam Khomeini stands up awakening his people in particular to this neglected area of Islam. He comes to the Muslim world with message of Imam Huseyn, the message of all prophets in human history.

(KH Jalaluddin Rakhmat delivers this speech in the International Conference on the Role OF Islam in the Modern World, UIN Jakarta, February 2009).

Thu, 5 Feb 2015 @21:44

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