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Shi'a Pundit

Devoted to the viewpoint of Islam of Muhammad SAW and Amir ul-Mumineen, Ali ibn Abi Talib SA, in the Shi'a Fatimi Ismaili Dawoodi Bohra tradition.

November 20, 2007

Eteraz and Shariati.

Ali Eteraz wrote a massively offensive piece some time ago on Ali Shariati, the revolutionary Iranian thinker who died in 1977. Now, on the basis of some highly critical and informed feedback to the piece, he has publicly admitted to have misjudging Shariati. He has also published the critical feedback he received for all to see. That is commendable and evidence of a genuinely open and truth seeking mind rather than a closed polemicist. His retraction is fully in character with the man I know more personally than those who might have unfairly judged him on the basis of a single essay.

One major error Ali continues to make, however, is his assertion that "Ismailis are not Shi'a." I hope he clarifies this because that cannot be what he meant to say. It is not only factually incorrect but profoundly damaging and harmful to leave uncorrected.

Speaking as his friend, and not as a theological expert of any kind, the only advice I can give him as he seeks to understand the Shi'a mind is to emphasize that Western philosophical labels and schools are simply insufficient. Eteraz admits this himself,

the correspondence does give rise to the question of how far one can use Western philosophical tropes to evaluate Islamic phenomenon. This is something I am, frankly, inconsistent about, largely because it is an area I am still developing in. For example, recently at the Guardian I rejected using a Christian trope — reformation — to evaluate Islam (but then a few weeks later I used the idea of a Western “left/right” distinction to distinguish Evangelical Islamists from non-evangelical ones).

As he says, though, he is hardly alone in this. But the phrases "live like Ali, die like Husain" and "every day is Ashara, every land is Karbala" have profound meaning that cannot and never will be constrained by such meager concepts as Monism or Romanticism. The challenge is to approach them on their own terms, free of labels, or predefined categories.

It certainly is helpful reading the writing of modern intellectuals such as Shariati in understanding the breadth of Shi'a thought, but I humbly submit that the only path towards grasping the fundamentals (the substrate upon which Shariati himself also constructs his own analyses) is to start with the source. In other words, the writing of Ali Ibn Talib AS himself. There is no better resource than the Nahj ul Balagha (Peak of Eloquence), the sermons of Ali, available free online and in print. I also recommend the seminal work of the great jurist Syed Qazi Nauman, simply entitled Daim al-Islam, which may not be readily available in English translations.

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Nahj-ul Balagha

About Shi'a Pundit

Shi'a Pundit was launched in 2002 during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. The blog focuses on issues pertaining to Shi'a Islam in the west and in the Islamic world. The author is a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Bohras adhere to the Shi'a Fatimi tradition of Islam, headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS).

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