Mohammad Fazlhashemi’s version of Islam

Mohammad Fazlhashemi, professor of History of Ideas, Umeå university
Mohammad Fazlhashemi, professor of History of Ideas, Umeå university


Mohammad Fazlhashemi, whom I suggested to the project leaders, was undoubtedly knowledgeable at the April 1-2nd Politics and Religion 2011 conference in Uppsala, arranged by Utrikespolitiska förbundet Sverige (The Swedish Association of International Affairs). He’s a fresh air compared to fundamentalist cry babies such as Helena Benaouda, who has got too much air time in Swedish media, for her own good, and most likely ordinary Muslims too. Nevertheless, I’m disappointed with Fazlhashemi, although I had my suspicions. Those unfamiliar with the subject will of course find him interesting, because of his rarity among politically correct, often leftist scholars that specialise in Islam, whose target is western civilisation. He’s rational and doesn’t act like a victim. However, an outspoken young man, told me something interesting after the speech. He said Fazlhashemi is too interested in changing the opinion of the Swedish public, to be considered simply an objective scholar wanting to spread his insight.

Fazlhashemi represents a special kind of Islam. It’s an Iranian Islam, born out of the Islamic revolution of 1978-79. Not only that, he’s speaking for even a smaller marginalised group which was seeking to reform the country. The problem is that Shia are only 10 % of the Muslim world. Iran is the only country in the world with a Shia majority, although non-Iranian Shia populations exist in the Arab world. There’s a current conflict in Bahrain between the poor Shia majority and the Sunni elite. There’s also a Sunni Arab minority living in the oil rich eastern Saudi Arabia. I asked a question regarding the matter. Fazlhashemi agreed it has more to do with geo-strategy. I would go further, it has nothing to do with religion, and all to do with an Arab vs Iranian divide on whom should have control over the gulf region.

We got to learn about two models of Shia Islam, which the author will present in his upcoming book Tro eller förnuft, i politisk islam (Faith or reason, in political Islam).

Model 1 is the authoritarian Khomeini doctrine which interfers extensively on all levels of politics. Fazlhashemi claims that model 2, associated with Montazeri, is the more commom among Islamic scholars.

I’m writing this article with the reservation of being positively surprised, that in his book, he has hopefully also criticised the interference with politics in model 2.

I would not go so far to say that he has some hidden agenda. He’s interested in informing a western audience with little knowledge about any form of Islam. No one has denied there is diversity in Islam. It’s only an Internet search away to find out.

There’s the issue with a few speaking for a majority. Western media may portray Muslims as only terrorists and not much else. Absurd infotainment channels such as Fox News are not exactly helping. Fair enough.

However, I do like to inform my readers that Montazeri was one of the leaders of the 1978-79 revolution in Iran. I know that the audience could have surely looked this up after the lecture. But how many will do that? Fazlhashemi gave a picture of some moderate Islamic force which is for a separation between Islam and the state. That’s not entirely true. Montazeri wanted a religious authority with a supervisory instead of a legislative role. He conveniently left out that Montazeri advocated the export of the revolution.

I would have had sympathy if Fazlhashemi only wanted to show also another side few know about, yet also claimed political Islam is entirely incompatible with democracy. Some kind of democracy is not democracy. That’s playing with words. I’m sorry about being brutally direct here but I doubt Fazlhashemi could travel to Iran and get access to all kinds of archives, if he had a more critical stance. So we might never know what he really thinks.


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