The following op-ed tries to shed light on what Ayatollah Khamenei, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, means by a “New Islamic Civilization.”
Throughout history, human beings have always built civilizations in the hope of attaining peace and tranquility in the context of a just, humane community. However, this pleasant state has still remained an unattainable utopia to a large extent. The following op-ed tries to shed light on what Ayatollah Khamenei, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, means by a “New Islamic Civilization.”
Under what conditions are we human beings living today? Have we ever paused to think about this? Has life with all the progress that has been made in material matters really lived up to its promise to make us happier? Every moment, the news is telling us about a new discovery or invention in a corner of the world. Technology is advancing by the day, and new cell phones emerge with newer options by the minute. Automobiles are becoming faster and more attractive. TVs with wider screens and strange curvatures have appeared. Universities are introducing new fields, and musicians are introducing new styles of music. Some seek to discover ancient recipes while others seek to create an edible material so that human beings can taste a new flavor.
New sports are being introduced and computer game companies pay huge sums to make the movements of their characters’ look more real-life and natural. The companies that produce ammunitions and military equipment are participating in this competition. Over time they have created new weapons and they wish for wars in the corners of the world to create new markets for their weapons while the politicians are acting as brokers.
Social movements have also developed during this time. It does not matter in which direction the changes take place. The fact that things are different and keep us busy is enough. Marriage, as a religious union, intends to make couples committed to each other and to lead to the formation of families and societies, but it is scoffed at by those who follow their lustful desires. Some promote marriage for homosexuals and others attempt to introduce marriage with technology as the most enjoyable type of marriage by creating human dolls.
At the same time, statistics show that the poor are becoming increasingly poorer and the percentage of the population that doesn’t have enough to eat is on the rise. New diseases have appeared and new narcotics have entangled the youth. The statistics related to suicide, murder and moral, political and financial corruption abound in the daily news. Racism is ruling with a new strength and… As a result of all these, human beings are becoming more desperate, depressed and weaker day by day and are increasingly losing beautiful human values. These are a small portion of the thoughts we may find ourselves going over during our solitude, during an ordinary day at work, or at the peak of our problems.
“The goal is to create a new Islamic civilization. This is our ultimate goal,” the Leader of the Islamic Revolution said just a few weeks ago. It can be deemed to be the most revered ideal and hope of the Islamic Revolution and its Leader, and it is also the basis for the development of essential strategies in the Islamic Revolution. If someone asks why the Islamic Revolution took place and what ambitions have made its proponents restless to such an extent that they cannot accept the left, right, classic, modern or postmodern ideas and thoughts, the answer lies in understanding these three words, the “New Islamic Civilization.”
This is not a new thought in Iran that has only recently appeared in the thoughts of its leaders. For example, Ayatollah Khamenei referred to such an ideal in a meeting with African Muslim clerics more than thirty years ago in 1989. In that meeting, he stated, “In the early years of Islam, the respected Prophet of Islam (pbuh) and his companions were able to establish a great historical civilization by relying on God. They were apparently a small group in comparison to the great enemies of their time, but faith in God gave them strength enabling them to create such a great history for several centuries. Why can’t we?” This “Why can’t we?” means why can’t we create a new civilization? A new civilization is needed that relieves human beings from modern ignorance in the same way that the Prophet of Islam, like other prophets, fought ignorance and prepared the ground for the development and growth of human beings who were afflicted with corruption.
But what does a New Islamic Civilization pursue? This question was raised because many say that all communities seek development and progress. Therefore, the statement and aim of Ayatollah Khamenei and the Islamic Revolution are similar to the motivations and developmental plans of other communities. This is exactly the point. If what he meant by “development” was the same as what is referred to as development in other places today, he would definitely have used that term. But he talks about a New Civilization that is different from and beyond development. In development, everything is aimed at achieving an optimal organization and is reinforced by the optimization of managerial and planning procedures. However, in a new civilization, which is inseparable from culture, the culture is transformed and thereby human lives take on a new color and find new life.
The New Islamic Civilization intended by Ayatollah Khamenei and the Islamic Revolution of Iran also pursues this transformation. Culture develops and creates new human beings. The reason behind this view lies in the fact veiled and covered by today’s hasty, deceptive, busy life, the kind of life some dimensions of which were referred to in the introductory paragraphs. Basically, can we conceive of a different kind of life for human beings and human society? This is the question raised by those who are preoccupied with today’s glamorous life and have no time left to read, think about and ponder upon human history.
History shows that human competition for material benefits and possessions can be redirected toward spreading love between human beings. That is to say that human beings can try to add something to others instead of just trying to add something to themselves. Jesus Christ (pbuh), some of his companions and the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) in the government he established demonstrated this in their lives in the past.
Suppose you and your neighbors have nothing to eat. When you are about to go to sleep while being hungry at night, a sound in the alley catches your attention. You open the curtains and see that many people from a neighborhood that is forty houses away from yours are coming toward you carrying dishes full of different types of food. Can this happen only in one’s imagination? Or imagine you are a young man without money or a handsome face, but beautiful, rich, honorable girls are willing to marry you. Is this also an imaginary story in folk tales and romance novels? Or imagine war-stricken people migrate to another land and the people in the new country compete to host them. Each person tries to host a larger number of immigrants and ensure their welfare. They even divide their possessions in half with them. Consider similar imaginary cases.
Interestingly, all of these cases have been reported to have happened in history. The last case is related to the Muhajerin (the Immigrants) and the Ansar (the Companions of the Prophet) in the early years of Islam. The Muhajerin were escaping from the oppression of the polytheists in Mecca and were forced to migrate to Medina. The people residing in Medina rushed to help them, allowed them into their own homes and shared their homes with them. The story of marriage is also related to an event that originated from the Prophet’s cultural revolution, if we may call it that. The story of the neighbors refers to a tradition from the Prophet (pbuh) where he said, “Up to 40 houses in all directions (front, back, left and right) are your neighbors.” With regard to the neighbor’s rights that are to be respected, the Prophet stated, “Among the rights that one needs to respect with regard to his neighbor are: if he becomes sick, you should go to visit him; if he passes away, you should participate in his funeral; if he asks for money, you should lend it to him; you should congratulate him when a happy event occurs for him; you should offer condolences when he is grieving or mourning; you should not build a building that is higher than that of your neighbor that will obstruct the flow of wind to his house; when you buy fruits, you should gift him some; if you do not want to offer him some, take them into your house without him seeing them; you should not let your child take fruit to eat outside and show the neighbor’s child, which may make him upset; and you should not annoy your neighbor with the smell of your food unless you share it with him.”
These cases and many others, which are beyond the scope of this writing, indicate that we can live in a different, better way, we can bring people together more and we can encourage people to work toward this aim. We can redirect civilization preparing the foundation for peace and happiness for all human beings. The New Islamic Civilization emphasized by Ayatollah Khamenei seeks to create such an atmosphere. As implied by the tradition that was mentioned, even houses and their architecture are built based upon cultural principles in such a civilization. Animals too have special rights. Those who feed or help animals deserve a special reward, such that the Prophet referred to a bad woman as being forgiven by God because she had given water to a dog.
In the New Islamic Civilization, a woman is a woman and a man is a man. Their talents and differences are not going to be ignored and no attempt will be made to make them identical to each other. The New Islamic Civilization, as emphasized by the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, is different from today’s Western civilization and it does not want to challenge the world and others. In the New Civilization, a person and his thoughts are never the slave of another.
At other times too, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution has spoken about the New Islamic Civilization and the work that should be done to bring it about. He has said, “We should be endeavoring to bring about the new Islamic civilization for the sake of humanity. This is dramatically different from what the Arrogant Powers think about humanity and how they act. This does not mean conquering lands. It does not mean violating the rights of nations. It does not mean imposing one’s beliefs and culture on other nations. Rather, it means offering a divine gift to nations so that they can choose the right path of their own volition and based on their own choices and decisions. The path that global powers have dragged nations toward is a wrong, deviant path. Today, this is our responsibility… The civilization that they presented to the world provided beautiful reflections of technology, speed, comfort and different amenities for people, but it did not provide them with happiness and it did not administer justice. On the contrary, it struck justice over the head, it held some nations captive, it made some nations poor and it humiliated other nations. Furthermore, certain contradictions were seen in it. The people became corrupt in terms of morality, and they became hollow and empty-handed in terms of spirituality.”
The New Islamic Civilization, as pointed out by the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, uses human achievements, “but with an Islamic spirit and divine spirituality.” The Leader of the Islamic Revolution also referred to an essential condition that has to be met before the New Islamic Civilization can be achieved. He emphasized, “Imitating the West must be avoided from the beginning.”