Muslim theological scholar gives talk on religion, politics to Texas A&M Bush School students

• Oct 22nd, 2014 • Category: News

Muslim theological scholar Abdolkarim Soroush explained to Texas A&M Bush School of Government and Public Service students Tuesday that the world must find a balance between religious duty and democratic rights to solve world conflicts and issues.

Considered one of the leading minds in the Muslim community and named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2005, the Iranian scholar lectured the audience at the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs and Bodman Foundation-sponsored event at the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center on the dangers of fascist government or religiously-operated government.

Soroush drew upon his experience of speaking out against the Islamic theocracy that was established in Iran in the late ’70s under “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that made him an outcast in his home country. He said audiences in theocratic Muslim societies are well aware of their religious obligations, but need to be reminded of their rights as people. In the West, it is a different approach.

“All the time you ask, ‘What are my rights?'” he said, “But when you think of your obligations, you make yourself more humble and you think there is something you have to do.”

He believes people must refocus on what their responsibilities are to one another.

“We live in an age when rights outweigh responsibilities,” he said. “It is on the verge of being forgotten.”

In religious societies, Soroush outlined the danger of groups that operate on a misinterpreted sense of duty. In the case of ISIS, the organization took jihad out of context in order to conduct violence and brutality. He informed the audience on the tribal roots of the Prophet Muhammad, and that the word grew out of defense of the religion of Islam.

“I know you have heard the word ‘jihad,'” he said. “Jihad means a defensive war against enemies, no doubt about it. This has been an excuse and a pretext for violating human rights, for invading other people’s lands and taking slaves as it has been done by ISIS.”

Soroush’s message on the delicate balance the roles religion and democratic rights play in government and the dangers of one outweighing the other echoes his sentiments written in an open letter to Khomeini during his rule.

“We will cherish religion, that same religion that you made a tool of your power and in whose name you gave lessons in slavery and melancholy. You did not understand that joy and freedom walk alongside true faith […] and that religious power corrupts both religion and power. Governing a joyous, free, informed, and nimble people is an achievement, not lording over a bound and dejected nation.”

Soroush said religion in government can lead down two different paths.

“Religion is a rope,” he said. “You can take it to the bottom of the well, or you can pull yourself out of it.”


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