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Head to head: Religion and politics in Iran
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei leading prayers in Tehran, Iran with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Religion and politics are deeply interwoven in Iran
Iranian scholars have been preoccupied for years with the stormy relationship between religion and politics.

BBCPersian.com spoke to two Iranian teachers, Dr Mehdi Khazali, director of the Hayyan Cultural Institute in Tehran and Islamic scholar Dr Mohsen Kadivar for a view from both sides.

While Dr Khazali feels religion occupies an essential place in political life, Dr Khazali says that too much intervention of religion in political matters is potentially dangerous for modern societies.

You can send us your comments in response to their views using the link at the end of the story.


There are three different views about the relationship between religion and politics.

The first theory is one of the difference between religion and politics. It says that religion and politics are essentially different and there should be no relationship between them.

Dr Mohsen Kadivar
Dr Kadivar sees dangers in the domination of politics by clerics
This theory sees religion as part of ethics and private life. Based on this view, religion is about man's relationship with God; while politics is about man's life in general.

On the other hand, there is a second theory of objectivity, which believes in the homogeneity of religion and politics.

It says there is no difference between the two. This theory argues for the unity of the two realms of politics and religion and those who work in these areas.

It believes that political affairs should be administered by men of religion or politics.

This view has no strong basis as there is an evident difference between the world of religion and that of politics.

This difference sometimes reaches the point of contradiction.

Sometimes, something is essentially based on political expediency, but religious criteria cannot accept it. Sometimes it is the other way round.

Furthermore, experts in the two areas are not the same. Scholars of divinity are competent in religion but politicians may or may not be as competent.

The third point of view reflects my own thoughts on the subject.

This theory recognises a balance between the two points of view. It maintains that religion and politics are different but there is a relationship between them.

In the Islamic way of thinking religion is related to politics - but this does not mean man does not need the rationality of modern science
Religion includes areas which do not exist in politics. There are some political affairs that fall outside the domain of religion.

However, there are common points and problems arise from these common points.

In the Islamic way of thinking, religion is related to politics. But this does not mean man does not need the rationality of modern science.

Instead, it means that a devoted religious man should try to co-ordinate his political reactions with his religious values.

Religion is a set of general rules and principles which are free from the boundaries of time and location.

On the other hand, politics is precisely defined as making decisions on details in a certain time and location.

One must note that a major part of human activity takes place outside the domain of religion. It takes shape through various human sciences.

An aware Muslim needs to abide by the general values of religion and should be aware of rational knowledge such as politics, law and so on, which have their own criteria.

Application of the general principles of religion to life should take place based on human rationality and under certain circumstances.

Therefore, there is no need for politicians and economists to be expert in religious matters.

Those who believe in the unlimited intervention of religion in political matters practically demand the domination of religion over politics.

The despotic understanding of religious rules would eventually lead to a form of theocracy or rule of clerics.

We have seen dark examples of this, both in the Middle Ages and in some societies in modern times.


In the Islamic system of values and from the point of view of Muslim fundamentalists, religion cannot be separated from any aspect of life.

Religion is omnipresent in every aspect of a Muslim individual's private and social life from the economy to social relations.

What does harm to the society is not religion - it is the way in which some of the rulers take advantage of religion
The teachings and principles of Islam are not limited to personal matters as they are not solely for running man's personal life.

Instead, they are intended for the regulating and administration of the society as a whole.

There are verses in the Koran which are about administration and practical politics. It is from this point of view that one would say that religion and politics are interwoven and it is essential that religion intervenes in politics.

What does harm to the society is not religion. It is, rather, the way in which some of the rulers take advantage of religion in order to secure their own objectives and desires.

It is in order to confront this way of using religion that some people have put forward the idea of separating religion from politics.

In the new government of Iran's Islamic Republic, which has come to power on a platform of the revival of religion, we are still witnessing how some people take advantage of religion and use it as a sheer slogan.

Resorting to the appearance of religion for populist purposes would not be in the interest of religion.

In recent years, some people have taken advantage of religion in politics as well as in scholarly discussions.

Some people have distorted the boundary between religion and knowledge. Religion neither negates and nor replaces knowledge.

Religion is superior to various disciplines of knowledge but accepts the pillars of science. Generally speaking, religion guides human beings.

Before the Renaissance, the Catholic Church intervened in the scientific arena and exerted pressure on clerics because of its thirst for power.

This intervention led to the decadence of religion and the religious authorities' bad performance led to the isolation of the Church, which now had merely religious matters to deal with.

In Islam, too, if the likes of [former Afghan regime] the Taleban decide to rule, the people would inevitably distance themselves from religion.

In this case, religion and the religious teachings of great scholars would be abandoned and the society will be deprived of the benefit of religion.

Iran clerics blasted by academic
15 Mar 05 |  Middle East


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