Nationalism or Islam? Which one ends to a better Iran?

February 13, 2021 - 18:36
A question of 'Islamic Lifestyle'

TEHRAN- The subject in question here is the 'lifestyle' and Islamic features surrounding the notion. To understand the subject thoroughly, one should first go through the meaning of the title word by word. What does it mean when we say 'Islamic lifestyle'? in sum, lifestyle means a form of life in a social context where all or most of the people confirm a set of regulations or norms and reflect these regulations and norms in their behavior.

There are various factors that differentiate one lifestyle from the other, including natural and geographical, ethnic, racial, tribal, and so on. There also some factors derived from certain values. In the Islamic lifestyle, we discuss the issues which are considered by Islam; meaning the issues either Islam accepts or criticizes or rejects. In other words, these issues have the status of being commented on by Islam. By using lifestyle as an expression, we actually mean the same issues Islam considers as being important. From this perspective, the notion of lifestyle can be divided into two categories: Islamic and non-Islamic.

How to discuss the issue?

Generally, we can discuss the aforementioned notion with two distinct approaches; first, we can provide a list of social problems and deficiencies regarding the notion of lifestyle and then ask people of different backgrounds and specialties to suggest a solution based on their own knowledge, social position, and experience. Of course, since it's impossible to analyze and rectify the challenges altogether, we must first put to practice the prioritization. We must first see which items have more influence in daily material and spiritual life.
So, the first approach is to analyze certain issues and find solutions to those issues. The other approach is to find the roots and origins of problems. This means we have to recognize that all human behaviors are rooted deep inside cognitions and values. If we find the set of cognitions that create misbehaviors or identify the lack of cognitions that forces a person not to act properly, we can solve the problems by removing the source of such misbehaviors and prove to misbehavers where their problems come from. We can provide society with the proper cognition to build a solid indestructible foundation for the establishment of an appropriate lifestyle. 

Therefore, based on cognitions, we must identify and introduce the insights and values that arise from those cognitions and categorize the major problems and minor issues in the society in a binary fashion. Some problems have their own branch but eventually, end in the same body of major problems. This body of problems is connected to a wide set of roots. The first thing we have to do is to modify and rectify the roots. Then, gradually, the body and the branches will be rectified and eventually, a proper fruit will be acquired. In fact, this is an analytical and hybrid method which means we have to analyze the causes of flaws, find the roots of flaws and solve them thoroughly.

It must be noted that neither of these methods can replace the other completely, meaning if we would choose merely the analytical method and rectify the roots, we need a very long time to achieve a rational proper understanding of the subject. After that, the identification of solutions to tighten the new correct roots will also need much time.

The necessity of solving the corruptions fundamentally

It's not an easy task to tighten new roots, especially at a social level during a couple of days or months, or even years. Being a time-consuming process is a fact we cannot ignore when we speak about modifying the lifestyle in society. For example, some of the problems we see in our lifestyle today, have their roots in greed for wealth or cupidity. This attitude leads to various subsidiary behaviors, including economic rent, bribery, fraud, slacking, indiscipline, and things like this. The reason for all these misbehaviors is the tendency to earn more money while spending less time.

The origins of some other problems cannot be directly traced back to wealth or property. For example, even a rich person might spend his/her wealth to achieve something else like headship, eminence, social popularity, fame, and similar things. These are parts of another branch. If we don’t rectify the roots, even once you cut off the corrupted branch, the problem will not be solved and the challenges remain unchanged. Because another branch will just pop up and seemingly corrected flaws will reappear.

For instance, if you prevent a person from committing robbery or using economic rent if the roots of this misbehavior are not corrected, he/she will tend to commit bribery or fraud, or hoarding. It's mainly because this person has a libertine desire for wealth and one way or another, they will find a path to gain this wealth. In this case, the main problem is the insatiable desire, not the act of robbery. As long as this desire exists, fighting the mere crime is useless. You may barricade the ways of committing robbery, but they will find other ways to commit other crimes. The only way is to rectify the roots.

Therefore, we also must design a plan for an analytical method of solving the problem. Fortunately, this plan has already been designed by prophets and divine religions. They have expressed for us our strengths and weaknesses, providing us with moral and religious scripts to cure those weaknesses. But if we would confine to those scripts without taking certain current urgent problems into consideration, we may lose the time and chance to save society. So, besides the divine codes of the religion, we must also prioritize the challenges and find them a solution.

Using soft and rational methods to make a change

For example, the issue of sanctioning merchandise produced by an enemy is something all countries use against their adversaries. Even social reformers have resorted to this technique from time to time. Maybe the most important instance in our era, is what Mahatma Gandhi did in India. Gandhi's fight was from this type. With his persuasion, along with other factors giving hand together, Gandhi managed to defeat Britain in India and prepare the grounds for his country's independence. Gandhi fought his enemy with this soft war and by sanctioning English merchandise. This is an appealing and attractive story every young man and woman must read.

This is a successful strategy that pays back. We cannot call this an Islamic lifestyle though. It was a strategy taken to practice by Hindu Gandhi. Of course, Gandhi was an unprejudiced man who was interested in Islam, especially Shia and Imam Hossein (AS). But he was a Hindu. He never said anything about learning this strategy from Islam's teachings. This means the aforementioned tactic is a rational way of confronting the enemy that can be employed by anyone and any country. Some people have used this tactic and achieved relatively favorable results in previous centuries.

But this method is rather rational than Islamic, meaning every wise mind appreciates it and accepts it as a smart tactic. For this method to achieve its purposes, national and nationalistic motifs are needed. For example, Gandhi wanted India to be independent, not just Hindus. He didn't want to prevail Hinduism all over the country but rather intended to liberate India from colonialism imposed on the entire nation by Britain. This movement had national motivations. You cannot find anything in Gandhi's words implying his intention to promote a certain set of values. He used to say: "We are a nation which wants to be free; something accepted in the whole world as a value".

Once freedom presented as a political motto, everyone agrees that living freely away from the domination of another country is an acceptable value that must be respected. So, this is a rational public value the whole world agrees upon and all countries can use this sense of nationalism in the fight against their enemies; especially against colonialism and arrogance.

When we want to promote the Islamic lifestyle, one method can be using the motifs we spoke of previously. This means we should send a message to the world, saying we are an independent nation and don’t want to live under the domination of any other one. Why should we submit to the cruelty of others? We are Iranian and have an ancient history that goes back thousands of years ago. So, we have to be independent. This is a successful method, employed by many countries in the world. We don't want to deny its effectiveness.

 Islam or Nationalism?

The question here is that can we regard this technique (provoking nationalistic emotions to fight back colonial dominance of other countries) as capable of carrying Islamic values for developing an Islamic lifestyle? Is it basically an Islam-friendly technique or it takes much more for these tactics before they can be regarded as Islamic? Then comes another question: if we'd have two methods to choose between, one would be using nationalistic motivations and national pride as stimulation and the other would be taking to practice the methods put forth by Islam and religion, which one should we prefer?

Each option has its own fans and opponents. Some might argue it’s better to use Islamic values, acknowledgments, and beliefs as the motif for social reform. Others may believe things would be much easier if we deploy the notions ordinary people understand more because it's a tried and trusted method many countries have used.

This is a very serious challenge that is also related to our current social and political issues as well. Many questions arise when the subject of nationalism comes up. What relation exists between the promotion of nationalistic trends as the source of many profits (as it never allows the dominance of any other entity which deprives a nation of its independence) from one side, and Islamic knowledge as a tool for ameliorating the status quo in the society? Are they equal? Is one of them of more efficiency? Is their value and importance equal to each other or they differ? Which one is more precious and worthy? The answers to all these questions depend on our worldview in accordance with Islam and its teachings. How do we see the world? How do we see the universe and position of human beings in this infinite vast sphere? What do we think about the ending of humans and the universe?

Some maintain a sort of the materialistic point of view that implies everyone must only consider the material life and interests on the face of the earth. They don’t necessarily deny the existence of God and hereafter but give the priority to material advancement overall. For example, there have been many scientific and technological advancements in fields of infrastructures in Iran after the Islamic Revolution; factories, roads, dams, etc. These are the results of the Revolution from a materialistic perspective. Supporters of this view maintain that religion is good, but comes after material advancement.

Under this point of view, despite we don’t maintain a materialistic worldview, we still cannot see that much of spiritual manifestation in our daily lives. In other words, material advancement is much more important than spiritual advancement. This approach implies that our country must be advanced in all material senses, and having a religion is also accepted. Advancement is the core, and spiritual life is marginal.

The other point of view puts Islam in the front, gives more importance to the spiritual life while also recognizing material advancement as a high-profile necessity. This is the second approach. Are these two approaches (one gives material advancement a higher priority and the other considers spiritual advancement as the main goal) the same? Are they parallel in essence or do they stand against each other? We consider these viewpoints as being along with each other. For us, the original phenomenon is Islam and material motivations can be instruments for Islam's advancement. For example, Imam Hossein (AS) tells to his enemies in the Ashura: "If you are not Muslims, if you don't believe in the hereafter, at least be free. In his words, Imam Hossein (AS) refers to freedom as a human value. Using this value does not mean one should either choose God or freedom, but rather means that freedom can be used to develop Islam and push the person towards Islamic purposes. Freedom here is an instrument.

Sometimes, some might abuse this instrument. For example, Saddam Hossein used this instrument against Iran. He used to tell his army: be Iraqis, work for your country and fight Iran to make your country great, the city of Ahwaz belongs to us, occupy it and conquer the oil resources there. He was promoting the same sense of nationalism, but for the wrong purpose. So, regarding cases like this, we conclude that nationalism is not the original goal, but rather an instrument to achieve the greater original goal. As long as this instrument is useful for achieving the greater original goal, it’s favorable. If it'd exceed its limits, it will leave negative effects.

That said, we conclude that if one would replace Islam with Iranianism, they've gone the wrong way and we don’t accept it. But we can use Iranianism as an instrument to develop and advance Islam because we Iranians have accepted Islam as our path to salvation in this world and the other. Embracing Islam before any other nation has been a source of honor and pride for Iranians. We should keep up with this style and strengthen ourselves. Under this view, nationalism is acceptable as an instrument for achieving a greater goal which is advancing Islam.

*This is the text of Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi's lecture in 'National Conference on Islamic Lifestyle' in February 2013.

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