The Inadequacy of the Social and Political Concepts:
The third cause of the growth of materialist tendencies was the inadequacy of
certain social and political concepts. In the history of political philosophy we find
that when certain social and political ideas were propounded in the West and the
issue of natural rights, especially the people's right to sovereignty, was raised, a
group advocated despotism. It did not recognize any right for the masses vis-a-vis
the rulers, and the only thing it recognized for the people was their duty and
obligation to the latter. In order to lend justification to their arguments in favour of
despotic rule, they took recourse in theology, claiming that the rulers were not
answerable to the people but only to God, while the people were answerable to the
rulers and owed a duty to them. The people had no right to question the ruler's
actions or to assign him a duty. Only God was entitled to question him and call him
to account. Thus the people had no right over the ruler, although he had rights over
them which it was their duty to fulfill.
As a natural consequence, there arose in the minds a kind of artificial connection
and implication between faith in God on the one hand and belief in the necessity of
submitting to the ruler and forfeiting all rights to question someone whom God has
elected to protect the people and whom He has made answerable only to Himself.
Similarly, there arose a necessary 'mplication between the right of popular
sovereignty on the one hand and atheism on the other.
Dr. Mahmud Sina'i, in the book Azadi-ye fard wa qudrat-e dawlat, ("Individual
Liberty and the Power of the State") writes: "In Europe political absolutism and the
idea that freedom was basically the State's prerogative and not of the individual,
was linked with belief in God."
It came to be thought that if one accepted God, one also had to accept the tyranny
of the State's absolute power, to accept that the individual had no right vis-a-vis the
ruler and the ruler was not responsible to the people, but only to God.
Therefore, people imagined that if they accepted God they would, of necessity, have
to accept social repression as well, and if they wanted social freedom they would
have to negate God. Hence they preferred social freedom.
However, from the viewpoint of the social philosophy of Islam, the ruler is
responsible to the people, and there is not only no necessary implication between
faith in God and recognition of despotic rule of persons, but, on the contrary, it is
only faith in God which makes the ruler responsible to society, bestows rights upon
the individuals, and prescribes restoration of rights as an essential religious
Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali ('a), who was a political and social leader as well as an infallible
Imam chosen by God, in a speech delivered during the turmoil of Siffin, states:
By giving me authority over you, God, the Exalted, has created a right for me over
you, and you too have a right over me, similar to my right over you ... A right is
always reciprocal: it does not accrue to anyone without accruing against him as
well, and it does not accrue against a person unless it accrues in his favour. If there
is anyone who has a right without there being a corresponding right over him, that
is only God, the Exalted, to the exclusion of His creatures, because of His power
over His creatures and His justice which permeates all His decrees.
This implies that rights are reciprocal, and everyone who enjoys a right will have a
responsibility in return.
From the Islamic point of view, religious conceptions have always been tantamount
to freedom, precisely in opposition to Dr. Sana'i observation concerning what took
place in the West, where religious teachings were equated with repression.
Quite clearly, such an approach would have no other consequence except
distancing people from religion and driving them towards materialism and
opposition to religion, God, or anything having a divine hue.
There are three other causes of the tendency towards materialism which it is
necessary to mention. These three causes are common both among us as well as
the Christians. All these three causes relate to the method of preaching or practice
which the adherents of religions have been following in the past or do so at present.
There are certain issues regarding which people give themselves the right to express
their opinion. This was so in the past concerning health issues. If someone spoke
about some complaint he suffered from, every listener would express his opinion
about its cause, symptoms, and remedy. Everyone believed in his prerogative to
express his opinion, and, at times, if he had the influence or power, or at least the
patient was shy of resisting his suggestions, they would force him to apply the
prescription whose efficacy was a total certainty. It was unheard of for anyone to
think that dealing with health problems required specialized training, that one had
to be a physician, a pharmacologist, with the necessary years of study under a
teacher as well as sufficient experience. But it was as if everybody considered
himself a doctor. Even today the same notion prevails among one group of people.
Precisely the same was true of religious topics, and it continues to remain so, with
everybody giving himself the right to advance his opinion. Religious topics,
especially those relating to theology and Divine Unity, are among the most
complicated of scientific issues, on which everyone does not have the ability to
express an opinion. Although the fundamentals of theology-to the extent that
people in general are required to know and believe in-are both simple and innate
(fitra), but when one takes a step further the issues involving God's Attributes,
Names, Acts, and those relating to qada and qadar come to the fore and the
problems become extraordinarily complicated. In the words of Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali
('a): 'It is a deep ocean,' whose depths can be fathomed only by whales. The
identification and study of Divine Attributes and Names is not something which lies
within the power of everyone; yet we see that everyone considers himself a
specialist in this field and does not hesitate to argue, express his viewpoint, and
advance a proof, at times making ridiculous statements.
It is said that once a priest wished to illustrate the principle of teleology, to explain
that the order of the universe was purposive and that the universe is moving along
a purposive course. Thereby he wished to prove that the Creator possesses
wisdom, knowledge, and will. Although, as we know, that is not a difficult task and
the creation of any existent can be cited as evidence, the priest chose the lines on
the muskmelon to illustrate his point. The reason behind its orderly lines, he said,
was that when we want to divide the muskmelon among the members of one's
family, the lines were for the knife to cut equal slices so that children did not fight
amongst themselves and create a confusion!
Now an example from our society. They say that someone posed the question as to
why God had given wings to the pigeon and not to the camel. The reply he
suggested was: Were the camel to have wings, life would have been a nightmare, as
the camel would fly and wreck our homes of mud and clay.
Another one was asked about the evidence for God's existence. He replied: "Unless
there were an atom of truth in a matter, people wouldn't make a mountain out of
One of the major causes of irreligion and the inclination towards materialism are
the weak reasons often advanced by unqualified people concerning issues
pertaining to Divine wisdom, will, and omnipotence, Divine justice, Divine
dispositions (qada' wa qadar), freewill and determinism, the world's preeternity or
its having come into existence (huduth wa qidam), life after death, the Purgatory
(barzakh), Resurrection '(ma'ad), heaven and hell, the Sirat and the Balance, and so
on, which often makes the listeners mistakenly imagine that what some of these
ignorant persons say are the teachings of religion and that they speak from an in-
depth knowledge of these teachings.
It is a great calamity for scholars, especially in Shi'i circles, when persons who
neither have an understanding of the theist thought nor that of the materialists,
taking advantage the confusion and disorganization prevailing in the system of
religious preaching, write books weaving together a mass of absurdities to refute
the materialist viewpoint, becoming a laughing stock. It is obvious that such
preaching is to the benefit of materialism, and the numerous books of this kind
written in our own time can serve as an example. God or Life?
Initially, it is necessary to take note of a certain point in order to make clear what
we intend to discuss.
Man is compelled to obey his instinctive urges. He is endowed with certain instincts
which urge him towards a goal envisaged in his creation. This does not mean that he
should follow his instincts blindly; rather, what is meant is that the existence of
these instincts is not purposeless, and that they may not be ignored. Neither they
may be neglected, nor they are to be totally opposed. The instincts are be refined,
moderated, and guided, and this is a separate issue.
For example, man has an urge to have children. This urge is not a petty thing, and is
a masterpiece of Divine creation. Were it not for this urge, creation would not have
continued However, in the scheme of creation this urge has been placed in every
animal as something attractive and sweet, so that each generation is employed in
the service of the succeeding generation, while also enjoying this service. This
attachment has not been placed just in the preceding generation. In human beings
every succeeding generation has been made to feel attachment towards the
preceding generation, though not with the intensity of the preceding generation's
attachment to it. These attachments are the secret of relationships.
Another instinctive urge in man is his curiosity, his desire to seek the truth and
acquire knowledge. It is possible to hinder people temporarily from research, quest,
and the pursuit of knowledge, but it is not possible to permanently impede the
truth-seeking human spirit and its quest for knowledge.
Among human instincts is the love of wealth. Of course, the love of wealth is not a
primary instinct in man; that is, it is not that man loves wealth for its own sake.
Rather, since it is in his nature and instinct to seek satisfaction of corporal needs of
life, and since the means of satisfying these wants are money and wealth in certain
societies, such as ours, he loves wealth as the key to all his material needs. One who
possesses money seems to have all the keys, while the one without it finds all doors
closed upon him.
As we have already said, it is not possible to oppose a natural and instinctive urge
by permanently neglecting it, though it is possible for a short period to draw society
in that direction, or to draw a limited number of people permanently towards it. But
man and human society cannot be stopped forever from responding to the
demands of any one of these instincts.
For example, it is not possible to convince everyone to forego everything and to
forswear the mysterious magic of the key called 'money' and 'wealth' as something
filthy and detestable.
Now if these instincts are repressed in the name of God or religion, and celibacy and
monasticism are considered holy in the name of faith, and marriage a defilement; if
ignorance be considered as being conducive to salvation in the name faith and
knowledge as the means of perdition; if in the name of religion wealth, power, and
prosperity be considered sources of eternal wretchedness, and poverty, weakness,
and deprivation the causes of bliss and happiness; what will be the consequences?
Consider a person who on the one hand gravitates towards religion and religious
teachings and, on the other, is strongly drawn towards these things. Eventually, he
will either opt for one of these two, or he will, like most people, remain entangled in
the conflict between these two forces, like some of whom it has been said:
The scripture in one hand, and the wine goblet in the other,
Oft within the lawful, and often out of bounds.
This results in a wavering disposition:
Neither with these, nor with those. (4:143)
In fact such a person becomes a full-fledged psychic case with all its peculiarities
and symptoms. The function of religion and its message is not to wipe out the
natural urges, but to moderate, refine, and guide them and to bring them under
one's control. Since instincts cannot and should not be annihilated, the inevitable
outcome, in societies where they are repressed in the name of God, religion, and
faith, and where the worship of God is considered as incompatible with life, is the
defeat of these sublime ideas and concepts and the prevalence of materialism and
other atheistic and anti-religious trends of thought.
Therefore, it must be categorically said that ignorant ascetics in every society-and
unfortunately there are many of them in our own midst-are a major cause of the
people's inclination towards materialism.
The teachings of the Church put man in the position of having to choose between
two misfortunes: wretchedness in the world and deprivation from its pleasures, or
wretchedness in the hereafter and deprivation from its joys …From the viewpoint of
the Church one must bear either of these two misfortunes. One must either submit
to the world's misery and languish in isolation and wretchedness in return for the
pleasures of paradise, or accept deprivation in the next if one wishes to enjoys this
The first and foremost objection and criticism against this kind of approach arises
from the side of the genuine logic of monotheism and theology. Why should God
require that man must compulsorily endure one of the two misfortunes? Why
should it not be possible to combine both the kinds of happiness? Is God a miser?!
Will it diminish the stores of His mercy?! Why shouldn't God desire our happiness in
this world as well as in the Hereafter? If there is a God, an infinite omnipotent
being, then He must desire our complete happiness and well-being. And if He does
desire our complete happiness, it implies that He desires our happiness in this world
as well as in the Hereafter.
Bertrand Russell is one of those who are deeply offended by this teaching of the
Church, and perhaps this teaching had a major role in the development of his anti-
God and anti-religious sentiments.
Those who have preached, and continue to preach, such a notion have imagined
that the reason why certain things such as wine, gambling, fornication, injustice and
so on have been proscribed in religion is that these things lead to happiness and
pleasure, while religion is against happiness and pleasure, and God wants man to go
without happiness, bliss, and enjoyment in this world so that he may be happy in
the Hereafter! The reality is precisely the opposite.
These prohibitions and restraints are because of the fact that these things result in
making life miserable and gloomy. If God has made the drinking of wine unlawful,
that does not imply that you will be happy in the world if you drink and that the
happiness of this world is incompatible with the happiness of the Hereafter. Rather
it means that it has been prohibited as it is the cause of wretchedness in this world
as well as the next. All the prohibited things are of this kind, that is, had they not
been the cause of wretchedness they would not have been prohibited.
Similar is the case with religious obligations; that is, since religious obligations result
in felicity and are a source of salutary effects in the present life, they have been
made obligatory. It is not that they have been made obligatory for partially
curtailing the happiness of this world.
The Qur'an expressly proclaims the benefits and advantages of the obligatory duties
and the harms and evils of prohibited things. For example, it explains in these verses
the vital quality of prayer and fasting and the strength they lend to human
Seek assistance in patience and prayer, and they are indeed difficult save for the
It observes concerning fasting:
O believers, prescribed for you is the fast, as it was prescribed for those that were
before you, that you may be Godwary. (2:183)
This implies that one should pray and fast so that one's spirit is strengthened and so
that one is purged of bad qualities. Prayer and fasting are a kind of exercise and
training which restrain one from perpetrating evil and abominable acts.
These teachings not only do not consider worldly and spiritual matters as
contradictory, but, on the contrary, spiritual matters are presented as a means of
attaining harmony with an environment conducive to a happy life.
The false teachings of some preachers caused people to flee from religion and led
them to imagine that belief in God necessarily involves the acceptance of poverty
and enduring hardship and disgrace in this world. An Unfavourable Moral and
Another cause of the growth of the materialist tendency is the disharmony between
a person's inner spiritual and moral ethos and the thoughts relating to faith in God
and His worship. Faith in God and devotion to Him naturally require a special kind of
sublimity in the spirit. It is a seed which grows in a wholesome soil and is ruined in
polluted and saltish soils. If man falls victim to the pursuit of corporal appetites,
becoming materialistic and a prisoner of his base desires, gradually his thoughts
begin to conform with his spiritual and moral ethos, in accordance with the principle
of conformity with environment. The sublime thoughts relating to faith, worship,
and the love of God give way to degenerate materialistic ideas and to nihilism and a
sense of the futility of life, and the feeling that there is no moral principle governing
the world and that all that matters is transitory pleasures of the moment, and the
Every thought requires a conducive spiritual climate for its survival and growth, and
how well this has been alluded to in religious traditions where it is observed that:
Angels do not enter a house where there is a dog or a canine form.
This was in relation to one's inner spiritual environs. Here a question may be asked:
What about one's social environment? The answer is that we have mentioned the
proximate cause, and there is no doubt that the social environment also needs to be
favourable. But the impact of the social environment is not direct on one's beliefs. A
corrupt social environment initially spoils one's spiritual ethos, and a corrupt
spiritual state weakens the basis for the growth of sublime thoughts and
strengthens the basis for the growth of base ideas. This is why great attention has
been paid in Islam to the reform of social environment, and it is again for the same
reason that the forces pursuing the policy of eradicating higher thoughts from the
people's minds prepare the ground for moral and behavioural corruption, and for
doing so corrupt the social environment with the means at their disposal.
In order to elucidate the effects of an unfavourable spiritual environment upon
materialist leanings, there is no alternative to explaining what we have alluded to
Earlier we said that materialism is, at times, doctrinal, and at others, moral. Moral
materialism means that although a person may doctrinally believe in the
supranatural, he is a materialist morally and behaviourally. Moral materialism, as
mentioned earlier, is one of the causes of doctrinal materialism. In other words, an
unrestrained pursuit of sensual appetites and lusts and wallowing in the quagmire
of hedonism are one of the causes of the growth of an intellectual leaning towards
Moral materialism implies a state in which one's life is devoid of any kind of moral
and spiritual ideal.
Is it possible that one should be a theist in respect of belief while his acts do not
reflect his faith, being, in practice, a materialist? Further, is it possible that a person
be doctrinally a materialist, without being a materialist in practice, i.e. with a life free
from and uncorrupted by excesses, transgression, and tyrannical behaviour?
Finally, is it possible for moral materialism to exist in isolation from doctrinal
materialism? The answer is: Yes, it is possible, and occurs often, though it is not
something which may last for long, or which can be counted upon. That is because
it is an unnatural condition and that which is against nature and the natural order of
cause and effect cannot survive for long. Further, wherever this separation exists,
either behaviour influences belief and alters it, or belief and ideals make their
impact and alter the mode of behaviour. As a result either faith gives in to behaviour
or behaviour subdues faith.
It is hard to believe that someone can remain a theist all his life doctrinally and
intellectually, while being a materialist in practice. Eventually one of the two sides
will subdue the other and he will perforce incline towards one of them.
Similarly, a person who is a materialist in mind and belief, will either become a
theist, sooner or later, or his moral rectitude will give way to moral materialism.
These two types of materialism, doctrinal and moral, are cause and effect of each
other and belong to the category of reciprocal causes and effects, that is, each one
of them happens to be the cause of the other as well as its effect.
When one's mind arrives at the conclusion that the world is purposeless, that there
is no sense, intelligence, and consciousness in it, that mankind are a creature of
chance, without purpose, and that one's file is closed forever after death, such a
person will naturally start thinking that he should enjoy every moment at his
disposal instead of worrying about good and evil and wasting one's life. A nihilistic
mode of thought in which existence, life and creation are considered useless, will
naturally result in moral materialism, especially because this mode of thought is
extraordinarily painful and exhausting. Generally, those who have such ideas
become escapists, flying from themselves, trying to run away from their own
tormenting thoughts. They are always after something which can keep these
noxious thoughts, which torment them like scorpions, at bay. They seek diversions,
or take refuge in narcotics and intoxicants. At the least, they turn to such parties
and gatherings which provide amusements, that they may forget themselves and
their thoughts, gradually sinking in moral materialism.
Thus the reason that materialism in belief leads to moral materialism is not solely
that the logical basis of a morality based upon chastity and piety is shaken and there
remain no grounds for foregoing corporal pleasures. It is not just that sensual
appetites do their work in the absence of a spiritual restraint provided by divine
thoughts. Rather, there is another reason. Materialist ideas concerning the world,
life, and creation cause a person great anguish and pain and create in him a state in
which he develops an inclination to escape these thoughts and seek refuge in
diversions, which include among other things the quest of pleasures and use of
intoxicants and drugs. The repellent impact of these frightful thoughts is not less
than the attraction of material pleasures.
The converse of this condition is also possible. In the same manner in which
doctrinal materialism leads to moral materialism, moral materialism also eventually
leads to doctrinal materialism. That is, in the same way that thought influences
moral behaviour, moral behaviour, too, influences thought and belief. The main
purpose of raising this issue in our discussion of the causes of materialist
tendencies, which has led up to the issue of unfavourable spiritual and moral social
environs, lies here.
A question may possibly be raised here: what is the relationship between conduct
and thought? Isn't thought separate from action? Isn't it possible that a person
might think in a particular manner and his pattern of thinking might persist without
his actions and moral conduct conforming to it and that they might take a different
The answer is that faith and belief are not just abstract ideas which occupy a part of
the brain, having nothing to do with the other parts of man's being. There are many
such ideas which have no connection with human behaviour, such as mathematical
knowledge and concepts and information and most of the information relating to
nature and geography.
But there are thoughts which, due to their links with one's destiny, dominate one's
entire being and establish their sway over everything. When such thoughts appear,
they give rise to a chain of other thoughts and alter man's course in life. It is like the
story of the little pupil who remained reticent despite being repeatedly told by the
teacher to say "A." When he remained tongue-tied after much insistence, the
teacher asked him, "What harm would it do you were you to say 'A'?" He replied,
"If I say 'A,' the matter won't end there. Then I will have to say 'B,' and then a long
chain will follow. If I don't say 'A,' it will be good riddance to the end".
The heart said, occult knowledge do I seek,
Teach me some, should it be in your reach.'Alpha,' said I.
'Then what?' it said. 'Nothing!'
Said I, 'A letter is enough, if anyone be there!'
The matter of God is just like the 'alpha' of the child's first lesson, which once said
will immediately be followed by a 'beta' and then the rest of the alphabet of the
knowledge of the Divine. Man, when he accepts God, will have to accept that God is
the knower of all secrets and hidden things, is omnipotent and all-wise, and that
there is nothing purposeless in anything that He does. This would imply that man's
creation too has a purpose and aim. Inevitably the question will arise: Is man's life
limited to this present life, or he has some duties as well? Has the One who created
man assigned him any duty to perform, or is it that He has not done so? And if there
is some duty, what is it and how is it to be performed?
This is an alpha which does not let one alone unless one surrenders all his life to it.
This is the path which the Divine alpha traces out for man.
On this basis, the knowledge of God requires a favourable spiritual and social clime.
And in the event the spiritual and social clime is not favourable, the roots of
spirituality dry up, destroyed like a seed which is sown in the soil but does not get
the proper environment to grow.
Faith in God demands a ready spiritual ground for its growth. It seeks spiritual
edification and the sublimity of the spirit. It seeks to bring the spirit into harmony
with the purpose of life and creation. This is the reason why the Noble Qur'an
throughout speaks of receptivity, purity, and receptive capability. It says: a
guidance for the Godwary; and in order that one who is alive may be warned;
On the other hand, moral sins and vices degrade the spirit from its state of sanctity.
Consequently, this kind of thought and that kind of conduct are two contradictory
This is not so only with respect to the sacred ideas of religion; rather, all sublime
thoughts, whether they belong to religion or not, are of this type. Nobility, courage,
and boldness of the spirit do not grow in everyone. The notions of honour,
freedom, justice and concern for the welfare of the people do not flourish in all
kinds of people. They decline and undergo erosion in a person given to sensual
appetites and amusements, while they grow in a selfless person and one who has
freed himself from corporal attachments. Therefore, whenever people incline
towards sensual lusts, appetites, comforts, and amusements, all these human
excellences die and men wallow in the quagmire of moral vices, and that is how
societies and individuals degenerate.
A historical example of this is the downfall of Islamic Spain. Despite every effort to
wrest it from the Muslims, the Church was unable to do so until it devised a cunning
plan and deprived them of their spiritual eminence, making them addicted to wine
and sensual pleasures and robbing them of their sense of honour and dignity.
Thereby it was able at first to destroy their supremacy and sovereignty and then
their religion and beliefs.
The awliya' and saints used to abstain even from many permissible pleasures and
were cautious of being captivated by them, because once one gets addicted to
pleasures, his soul is deprived of its sublimity, to say nothing of those who get
accustomed to sin.
In Islamic texts this idea has been presented in the form of the notion that sin
blackens the heart and a blackened heart breeds faithlessness. In other words,
black deeds make a black heart and a black heart gives rise to mental darkness.
Then the end of those who committed vices was that they repudiated the signs of
God .... (30:10)
Bastion of Heroism and Dissent:
The causes and factors dealt with earlier, under such titles as, 'inadequacies in the
religious ideas of the Church,' 'the inadequacy of the philosophical concepts,' 'the
inadequacy of the social-and political ideas,' defective methods of religious
preaching, and 'unfavourable moral and social environment,' are either related to
past history and do not play any role in the materialist tendencies of our times, or
are causes which are common to all ages and are not exclusive to our own.
Now we would like to study the peculiar materialist tendencies of our own times. In
our age materialism has more or less an attraction, though this attraction is not of
the kind it possessed two centuries ago from the point of view of Enlightenment
and its links with the growth of science. In the 18th and 19th centuries, due to
inadequacies in the religious ideas of the Church and the philosophical concepts,
there arose a wave based on the idea that one had to choose between science and
knowledge on the one hand and God and religion on the other. But it did not take
long for this false wave to subside, and it became clear how baseless it was.
The attraction of materialism in our age is from another angle, from the angle of its
revolutionary character and its quality of political dissent and confrontation, for
which it has become well-known.
Today, to a certain extent, this idea has gone into the minds of the youth that one
must either be a believer in God, and therefore a pacifist and an indifferent quietist,
or a materialist, and, consequently, an activist, a nonconformist and an enemy of
imperialism, exploitation, and despotism.
Why is it that such an idea has found its way into the minds of the youth? Why is
materialism identified with these characteristics, and the Divine school of thought
with those? What is it that leads to infer these qualities from materialism and those
from theist thought?
The reply to these questions is clear. It is not at all necessary that this be logically
deducible from materialism and its opposite from the school of Divine thought,
because the youth are not bothered about formal logical inference. A youth sees
something and that is sufficient for him to arrive at a conclusion. The young people
see that uprisings, revolutions, struggle and confrontations are staged by
materialists, while believers are generally found in the camp of the inactive and the
indifferent. For a youth this is sufficient for pronouncing a negative judgement on
the school of Divine thought, and a favourable judgement about materialism.
To be continued ...
Inadequacy,Social,Political,Concepts,Political Concepts,the Socia,Social and Political Concepts,the Social and Political Concepts,Inadequacy of the Social and Political
Concepts,The Inadequacy of the Social and Political Concepts