Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

An Islamic Utopian: A Political Biography of 'Ali Shari'ati

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

An Islamic Utopian: A Political Biography of 'Ali Shari'ati

Article excerpt

An Islamic Utopian: A Political Biography of 'Ali Shari'ati, by Ali Rahnema. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 1998. 370 pages. Notes to p. 402. Bibl. to p. 406. Index to p. 418. $59.

Reviewed by KL. Afrasiabi

It is now academic de rigueur to pronounce 'Ali Shari'ati a major thinker who triggered the intellectual energy for the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Although it is fashionable to render Shari'ati, through neat juxtapositions, as the antithesis of Khomeini-ism, this obfuscates the complexity of the Iranian revolution. For nearly three decades, Shari'ati has fascinated and perplexed us, perhaps in part because of the hitherto fragmented information about him.

Ali Rahnema has filled this lacuna in Iranian studies by providing, in a lucidly written narrative, the first systematic study of Shari'ati's life and politics. Based on extensive primary research in Iran and France (Shari'ati's home for five years), the book presents, through 23 well-connected chapters, a detailed and comprehensive account of the personal, political, and intellectual facets of its subject matter. Rahnema, a professor in Paris, has a good grasp of Iranian (emigre) politics. This enables him to give an informative account, particularly of the sources of European intellectual influence on Shari'ati and of the latter's involvement in the Iranian opposition movement abroad, which, it turns out, was deeper than hitherto believed, Readers will, no doubt, find Rahnema's pruning of the Shari'ati's gnosticism quite illuminating as well.

Equally impressive is Rahnema's unravelling of Shari'ati's involvement with the Center for Islamic Guidance (Husseiniyeh Ershad), his imprisonment and struggles with the notorious Iranian secret service (SAVAK), and his controversial, late revisionism. To wit, Rahnema shows that the Shah's regime closed Ershad in order to appease the anti-Shari'ati clergy, and that Shari'ati's late anti-Marxism and embrace of non-violence predated his final imprisonment, thus putting to rest the lingering doubt about the authenticity of his revisionism.

Yet, Rahnema's interpretation of Shari'ati's revisionism (in the chapter on imprisonment), which the author refers to as "expedient aberrations" is, ultimately, an ironic label, for the author draws conclusions (e. …

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