"For the last 32 years, Iran's national resources have been plundered in the name of religion, and the people that are the real owners of this holy land, have been killed. ... The clergy who were famous in loyalty and sincerity, have been made despicable and their good reputations have been ruined. ... the existence of God as the common point of all divine religions, beliefs, and ideologies has been abused in this part of the world by fake and false claimants to Islam."
The other vocal Iranian religious protester, Dr. Seyed Azmayesh, is a representative of the International Organization to Preserve Human Rights in Iran (IOPHRI), based in Brussels, and a leading spokesperson abroad for the Nimatullahi-Gonabadi Sufis. The Nimatullahi-Gonabadi Sufis are a Shiite Muslim metaphysical order with a distinguished history in Iranian culture.
Dr. Azmayesh and his colleagues strongly supported the "Green Movement" protests against the alleged vote falsification that reelected Ahmadinejad in 2009. Offering his analysis of the Iranian ideological structure, Dr. Azmayesh, as a theologian and expert in religious law, addresses Islamic sharia. In the Islamic legal context, Dr. Azmayesh distinguishes between two components of sharia. One is canonical law, which governs relations between the individual and God, including "prayers and the methods of praying, how an individual can approach more closely the creator."
According to Dr. Azmayesh (and other critical Islamic scholars), "a second element governs relations between individuals of the same religion in a society." This aspect of sharia is jurisprudence, and is dependent on "the evolution of the society ... new laws concern new events and the new phenomena in society, which did not exist in the time of prophet Muhammad. This part of shariah ... is in evolution with the development of the society. It is not stable, it is flexible."
Dr. Azmayesh cites the emergence of applied genetics, including cloning and in vitro fertilization, as an aspect of contemporary history of which any precedent is absent from the Quran and other traditional Islamic guidance. According to Dr. Azmayesh, "We are in a new society in which the religious law, the shariah, is going to be limited only to the relationship between mankind and his creator." This precept refuses totally the claim of the Iranian clerics and other Islamists that shariah must be the foundation of political and social life.
Dr. Azmayesh censures the Iranian rulers for using the great Sufi figures of the past, such as Jalalad'din Rumi in the 13th century C.E. and Hafez a hundred years later, in the same way they use the Quran and Islam: as cover for their political goals. Dr. Azmayesh has cautioned Westerners "not to take fanatics who claim to represent Islam as the representatives of the Muslim community," but to turn to the Sufis for an understanding of the Muslim faith.
The violent encounter between radical Islam and the West that has marked the first decade of the 21st century cannot be resolved by Western improvisation, archaic attitudes, mechanical diplomacy or energy politics. Moderate, spiritual Islam remains unknown and unaccounted for in the West, but, defended by men like Ayatollah Boroujerdi and Dr. Azmayesh, it remains a key factor in understanding the conflicts within Islam and between Islamist extremists and the West. As politicians in the West attempt to engage with Iran while opposing its nuclear and other menacing policies, they should not neglect to hear and reflect on the views of Iran's religious nonconformists.