Friday, September 23, 2022

Ali Dashti’s Book: 23 Years

In 1975, Ali Dashti, the Iranian rationalist philosopher, gave the manuscript of his book Bist O Seh Sal (23 Years) to F. R. C. Bagley, professor of Persian and Arabic at Durham University and McGill University. He requested Bagley to translate his book and gave clear instructions that the book should not be published before his death. Bagley kept his promise. He translated Dashti’s book and published it in 1985, three years after Dashti’s death. 

Dashti’s book is an analysis of the history of the first twenty-three years of Islam, from 610 (the year when the Prophet received the first revelation) to 632 (the year of the Prophet’s death). 

Dashti had a distaste for scholars who take a faith-based approach to explain the events in early Islamic history. In his book, he discards the myths and relies on reason and logic to examine the sociological and psychological factors that led to the birth of Islamic ideas. In the book’s final chapters, he reflects on the political and theological controversies which caused deep divisions in Islamic society, immediately after the Prophet’s death. 

According to Dashti, warring factions emerged in early Islam because “ambition for the leadership replaced zeal for the religion as the pivotal move.” The focus of the early leaders of Islam turned towards political power and making new conquests to expand the Islamic empire. These leaders used religion as an “instrument for seizure of the leadership and the rulership.”  

Dashti writes: “there was unanimous agreement that Islam, having been the cause of the new state's rise, was necessary for its survival or, in simpler language, that the religion which had made the leadership possible must be resolutely maintained.” 

There was rise of competing visions of Islam, and multiple Islamic kingdoms came into being. The theological and political disputes within Islam became intractable and the Islamic kingdoms were often at war with one another. “Study of the history of Islam shows it to be a sequence of struggles for power in which the contestants treated the religion as a means, not as an end.” 

After the 1979 Iranian revolution, Dashti was arrested and tortured. It is not clear how he died—due to torture in prison or some other reason. The date of his death is unknown—he is thought to have died between 22 December 1981 and 20 January 1982.

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