Iranian Personalities

Dr. Abdolkarim Soroush


Dr. Abdolkarim Soroush
Abdolkarim Soroush was born in southern Tehran in 1945. His parents were of lower middle class background and both originated from Tehran itself.

Soroush underwent his primary schooling in the Qa`imiyyeh School, in south of Tehran. After spending six years there, he began his secondary education at Mortazavi High School, and a year later moved to the newly inaugurated Alavi High School. Then Alavi had just been established by a group of credible merchants - two men being foremost among them, namely Asghar Karbaschiyan (otherwise known as `Allameh') and Reza Rouzbeh. They were both well-known and respected personalities and, in setting up Alavi, their objective was to educate individuals who were both well-equipped with the modern sciences and also possessed of religious conviction, piety and commitment to society. During his time at Alavi, Soroush was able to acquire a sound grounding in the modern sciences as well as in matters of religion. In particular, the late Reza Rouzbeh who had been educated both at university and in the seminaries in Qum, held regular classes on Islamic law (shar`a) and exegesis (tafsir).

In the latter part of the secondary education period, Soroush specialized in mathematics and graduated in this subject from high school. It was when he was in the final year of the high school that certain members of the Hujjatiyyeh Society invited a large number of students in his class to their society meetings and arranged training classes for them in order to campaign against Baha`ism. He promptly abandoned these classes shortly after his visit to the first one, as he did not find their overall atmosphere agreeable to his taste and natural disposition, nor in line with his desired activities, occupying himself instead with the reading of the Qur'an and the Nahjulbalaghah.

Upon finishing high school, Soroush took part in the universities nation-wide entrance examinations in both physics and pharmacy. He was successful at both exams and so opted for pharmacy on the recommendation of the late Mr Ruzbeh. After completing his degree, he spent two years in the army rendering the national compulsory service, and after that he set off for Bushehr to render part of his medical service, the ``Out-of-Centre Service'', where he was director of the Laboratory for Food Products, Toiletries, and Sanitary Materials. Fifteen months were thus spent in Bushehr. He then returned to Tehran and began work in the Laboratory for Medicine Control, but soon he was to leave for London in order to carry out new studies and to become familiar with the modern world.

In London he used the first possible opportunity to enrol for an MSc course in Analytical Chemistry, which was the subject in which he had been specializing. It was after graduating in this subject from University of London that he went to the Chelsea College, London, for studying History and Philosophy of Science, spending the next five and a half years of his life there. During these years, confrontation between the people and the Shah's regime was gradually taking a more serious, more acute and opener form, and the political gatherings of Iranians in America and Europe, and Britain in particular, were on the increase. Soroush, too, was drawn into the field.

In Britain, a group of young Muslims were active in the Muslim Youth Association (MYA) which Soroush and his friends also used. After some time, however, major differences emerged and a few African friends suggested to him an alternative venue, a certain imam-barah in west London, and thus the centre of activities was shifted to this new site. The imam-barah proved a suitable place - a base for the gatherings of Iranian Muslim students in the UK. Especially during the months preceding the victory of the revolution, it was an extremely crowded place. Major personalities and activists from various parts of Europe, and even from Iran, frequented and delivered speeches in this place, including the late AyatuLlahs Beheshti and Motahhari. When the late Ali Shariati fled to Britain in 1977 and shortly afterwards passed away, his funeral service was held in this Imam-barah. Thus the imam-barah became possessed of a history, and Soroush was honoured to have had a large share in making it so. After the Revolution the imam-barah was purchased and placed under the authority of the Iranian Government. At present it is known as "Kanoon-e Tauhid" and is run by Iranian students.

In England, Soroush's speeches were gradually transcribed and produced in pamphlet or book form. At the beginning, he delivered a series of lectures on the subject of Dialectical Antagonism (Tazad-e Dialektiki), in an attempt to curb the ever-increasing leftist influence, especially from the Mujahidin Khalq who had succeeded in winning the minds and hearts of many young activists with their Marxist ideology. The first book by Soroush, which was published in Iran while he himself was in London, was the Dialectical Antagonism, which was the product of several lectures delivered in the imam-barah. At the same time he authored "The Restless nature of the World" (nahad-e na-aram-e jahan) which is a book about the harkat-e johari ("quintessential motion"). In this book, he tries to bring out the foundations of Islamic philosophy, namely tauhid (Monotheism) and ma`ad (Resurrection) from the heart of harkat-e johari and to present Molla Sadra's thought as a firm philosophical base for these objects of belief. This particular book was viewed by both the late Mutahhari and also Imam Khomeini, and received their approval and admiration.

When the Revolution began, Soroush returned to Iran and there he published his book "Knowledge and Value" (Danesh va Arzesh) the writing of which he had completed in England. After returning to Iran, he went to Tehran's Teacher Training College where he was appointed the Director of the newly established Islamic Culture Group. Not a year had elapsed that the movement for closure of universities by some students began and culminated in total closure of all universities. Shortly afterwards, a new body was formed by the name of the Cultural Revolution Institute comprising seven members, including AbdulKarim Soroush, all of whom were appointed directly by Imam Khomeini. The purpose of this institute was to bring about the re-opening of the universities and reviewing of the syllabuses. Some students and certain individuals who had been involved in the Cultural Revolution expected the universities to remain closed for a period of at least twenty years in order that they may undergo fundamental reforms. Soroush and his colleagues brought their case to Imam Khomeini and requested him to issue instructions for accelerating the re-opening of the universities, which he did in one of his public speeches. After a year and a half, the universities began to be re-opened and, with new syllabuses, gradually resumed their work.

In 1983 (1362 A.H.), owing to certain differences which emerged between him and the management of the Teacher Training College, he secured a transfer to the Institute for Cultural Research and Studies where he has been serving as a research member of staff until today. In the same year, the Cultural Revolution Institute was changed to the Cultural Revolution Council and its membership was increased to seventeen. Soroush participated in no more than one of this Council's sessions; he submitted his resignation from membership to Imam Khomeini and has since held no official position within the ruling system of Iran, except occasionally as an advisor to certain government bodies. His principal position has been that of a researcher in the Institute for Cultural Research and Studies.

Earlier on, Soroush had begun teaching certain university subjects, principally the philosophy of science, for which he had great care and liking and which he taught the students of philosophy in Tehran University. Also by virtue of his interest in Maulawi (Jalaluddin Rumi) he began a series of lectures on Masnawi which were broadcast on Iranian Television. Later he delivered lectures on Masnavi over eight terms in the universities. These lectures, which proved extremely popular, have all been recorded on audio cassettes and are still widely circulated both inside and outside Iran.

In addition to teaching Philosophy of Science he gave lectures on Philosophy of History, Philosophy of Religion - also known as kalam-e jadid (Modern Theology), the Mysticism of Maulawi, Comparative Philosophy (Falsafeh Tatbighi), and the Philosophy of Empirical Sciences for the MA students of Sociology. The last course he was able to teach was in the last term of the academic year, 1374-75 (1995-96), which, owing to the raids carried out by a group calling itself Ansar-e Hizbullah ("the Supporters of God's Party") has had to be abandoned.

In 1988 Soroush started a series of weekly lectures in Imam Sadeq Mosque in northern Tehran. These lectures have in the main revolved around the analysis of the subjects in the Nahjulbalaghah. Two books have so far been produced from these lectures: "Attributes of the Pious" (Awsaf-e Parsayan) and "Wisdom and Subsistence" (Hekmat va Ma'eeshat). The former is an explanation of a famous sermon in Nahjul-Balaghah, known as Sermon of the Pious (khutbeh muttaqin), and the latter book is an explanation of Imam Ali's letter to his son, Imam Hasan. This is to be published in four volumes, the first volume having come out of press just now.

Soroush's lectures in this mosque continued smoothly for six years. Then owing to certain sensitivities, the weekly programme was suspended and attempts to resume them have so far proved unsuccessful.


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