We therefore offer you an interview with one of the most influential Iranian religious scholars and politicians, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Taskhiri, who is also Secretary General of the Forum for the Rapprochement of Islamic Schools.
Honorable Ayatollah, is there a universal key or a code word, which, merely by saying it, can create mutual understanding between people, like the phrase used by Mowgli, the hero of Rudyard Kipling’s stories: “We be of one blood, thou and I”?
Talking about this would require a very long conversation so let me recommend that you read the following essays, “The Way of Eloquence”, “Letter to a Disciple,” and “Advice to Kings,” written by the great thinker, Imam Ali ibn Abutalib. These works have much to say about the relationships which interest you. All men are brothers. If Muslims are brothers to each other in their faith then all others are still brothers as humans. Since Adam was the father of every human, we are all brothers and this should be the basis of our communication.
Today much is being said about the Muslim world. But, unfortunately, this world is often presented as a threat to Western civilization and also a source of conflict between civilizations. Is Islam truly such a severe and uncompromising religion as it is often depicted to be in the mass media?
Islam is a religion with a humanist orientation. It belongs to the family of Abrahamic religions, like Christianity, which became the widely held religion in Europe and in the “Western World”. Yet in Imam Ali ibn Abutalib’s letter “Letter to his Disciple”, written 1400 years ago, you can already see that Islam has been very humanistic in its treatment of human beings since ancient times. In fact, Islam is not only compassionate towards humans but also to animals and to the natural world. In our legends, if a wicked man gives water to an animal he will get to heaven whereas the righteous individual who mistreats animals is destined for hell. A person must not damage nature.
In modern “Western” society, there is constant talk about a crisis of family values, a crisis which includes relationships between men and woman as well as between parents and children. How does Islam regard this phenomenon?
In Islam, the opinions of the father and mother take precedence over those of their children. Even if the young man is irritated with his parents, he has no right to express his frustration with them or to disregard their instructions. Still, children do have rights over their parents, later in life, when they must take care of them. So the relation involves mutual responsibilities. Parents have the obligation to choose a name for their child which they think is beautiful, to provide a proper upbringing, a good education, and to protect their children’s health and help them develop their personalities. Likewise, the rights and duties which exist in the relationship between men and women form the foundation of the family. But society greatly influences the family and, so, family relationships are always an indicator of social attitudes. Where you have a healthy family, you probably have a healthy society. All these rules of good family relationships have been described in these books written already many centuries ago. These principles can be trusted.
Modern man cannot imagine life without the Internet. How do you feel about this medium and its effects?
The Internet is a good thing and a technology which should be actively used. It offers great opportunities for education. But it is essential to be mindful about morality and values.
What are your views on the goals of today’s youth? How should they orient themselves?
I am convinced that young people are the basis of our hopes for a prosperous future. So it is crucial that we increase the average educational level of young people throughout the world. And today’s youth must develop high moral character, become broad-minded, free thinking, and participate in humanistic endeavors. The nature of youth presupposes that mistakes must be made and sometimes these are very serious mistakes. The main thing is that young people should not identify themselves exclusively with their problems. Instead, they must find the strength to come back from errors and ask for forgiveness. In that way, bad deeds will not overly impact their lives.
Photo: From the Archive of Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Taskhiri