A speech from Hojat-Al-Islam Dr. Saeed Mahdavi Kani
The importance of discussing “lifestyle”
The routine life of ordinary people over the last fifty years has been the subject of close enquiry by the thinkers and sociologists who are active in the cultural areas. Previously, it seemed that the habits and the routine behaviors of the ordinary people did not matter very much and usually the focus was on the spontaneous and turning points of the life of the elite people and more emphasis was laid on the prominent events in the culture of ethnicities. However, in the last decades, more specific attention was paid to this particular issue and it was understood that the routine life of the people determines many of the behaviors and happenings in the political and economic environment of the societies.
People’s general life was particularly brought into the spotlight when, politically speaking, the question of “people’s power”, “people’s viewpoint” and the “democratic attitude” and from the economic perspective the concept of “consumption” turned into the axis of the capitalist system decision-making. The markets were so satiated that people no longer purchased the goods. Therefore, something had to be done to change the routine life so that people could consume more.
The other point was that the thinkers realized that on several occasions the thought and the choice of people are determined and influenced by their daily behaviors. Such a belief did not exist before and there was more reliance on meanings, intentions and peculiar political, economic and judicial behaviors. Later, however, they realized that quite conversely, one’s eating, sleeping and walking styles can impact one’s thoughts. Somehow, it can be said that, although these behaviors can be caused by a thought, they can also affect thoughts. Of course, in an Islamic outlook, such and such a concept was known; as the Holy Koran says: one who does not reach the mountains, and nor can dig the earth, then walks humbly on earth as a creature of God. This means that thought affects behavior. Of course, on the other hand, if we read this verse while we interpret it, when we act in a humble manner, gradually the truth of being a servile servant penetrates more in one’s psyche. This means that there are both effects and affectations. In other words, you think in a peculiar manner and a behavior is caused by that thought and later your thoughts are constantly generated and regenerated from your behavior. The western world worked on this concept and realized that, to be effective, this very usual behavior can be employed to control and manipulate the thoughts and opinions and ideologies and ultimately the lifestyle and everyday practice of the people.
Concepts must not be mixed up
Unfortunately, sometimes the concept of lifestyle is used similarly and together with some other close concepts such as culture, ethics, method, life skills. A great deal of the Islamic knowledge are recommendations for optimal life habits and the improved life styles. For example, do not tell lies! Do not talk behind someone’s back! Be kind! Have close family and ethnical relationships! Protect your relations! Many of these recommendations have ethical aspects. Or how can we have more friends? How to sleep more comfortably? How to make the best use of our small space in our apartment or similar cases which are posed in the area of life skills. However, these issues do not make up the life style completely and accurately! Then how are we going to base lifestyle to be able to expand our own concepts?
We must develop our literature by not saying that this word has the same meaning as the one which we dealt with before and we have only upgraded its form and made it more interesting! To do this, my suggestion is that we get help from this concept of “lifestyle”. This word that has its roots in the modern western literature both has a journalistic and modern use and an interpretation and usage in social sciences (the philosophies of life, consumerism, identity and desire for distinction, self-realization, etc.) but, like many other things which we have taken from the west, we can make a copy of it and redefine it in our own way. My understanding of the concept of lifestyle in social sciences is that lifestyle is “the model of preferred actions or preferred actions which form a model”. Then, by this definition, a lifestyle has two main features: one is having a model and the other is that there is a preference in these actions. In other words, people do many things for being forced or for obligations but some part of what they do is based on their own choices and preferences. These choices result from beliefs and tastes and are therefore compatible. Or, at least, a series of behaviors are caused by preferences in their own areas and from this relation we may derive a model or some models. These interrelations or patterned behaviors form lifestyle.
The religious life-style and the Islamic-Iranian lifestyle
Based on the above definition provided for ‘lifestyle’, is the combination “religious life-style” a meaningful and accurate combination? The answer is affirmative. A religious life-style is a style which takes its patterns from religious preferences and is formed based on religious rudiments.
Objectively, we can follow these patterns within any kind of culture based on religion and a school of thought (including, Shia, Sunni, Christian, Buddhist, etc.). This is also an active area of study on lifestyle within scientific associations. In the realm of Islamic and Shia thought and culture, some studies have also been done and there is room for plenty of other studies because Islam has covered all the areas of life and there are corresponding orders for each area. Therefore, Islam has offered the most complete lifestyles.
But what does the combination “Islamic-Iranian lifestyle” means? Is it a descriptive term (objective and inclusive) or a prescriptive term (mental and ideal)? In other words, are we facing a reality in our daily life which can be correctly labeled as the Islamic-Iranian lifestyle? Or have we just prepared this combination of teachings and directions taken from Islam and we tell our people in 2013 to follow such a lifestyle to seek redemption? The answer is that this combination can be both descriptive and prescriptive. In the culture and history of this country and, also, in the daily life of the people today we can point to many behavioral patterns which are derived from the Shia and Islamic preferences. Moreover, we can prescribe some behavioral models among the religious teachings which can bring about redemption for a particular population more than any other source based on their historical and geographical features. So, this Islamic-Iranian pattern is, on the one hand, a kind of prescription which is inclined towards spirituality and redemption and on the other hand is linked to the realities of an Iranian and his atmosphere.
The Islamic lifestyles
I should mention another point here as well: do we have an Islamic lifestyle or do we have Islamic lifestyles? This is a very important point. We should see whether Islam accepts a certain degree of tastes and preferences. In other words, does Islam give us any other choice in terms of choices and options other than the choice we make between happiness and pain in the path for becoming closer to God and reach an evolution? It is absolutely true that human beings differ in their existential bases. No one can deny that different parents, different times, places, and different talents lead to different social upbringing. The reality is that even two babies who are created from a single cell and are raised by the same family are not similar in many ways; when they grow up, one can be for example ill-tempered and the other might be good-tempered.
Therefore, we believe that there are differences with respect to the nature of human beings and also that there are difference with respect to educating and influencing a human being in a community. The same things lead to different lifestyles. This means you cannot ask everyone to be the same and such a recommendation cannot be made. Of course, in all of us, the human essence and nature in terms of principles, directions and limitations and legal issues are the same but the starting point differs among individuals. Even two brothers do not begin from the same point and this is another interpretation for using this proposition which says that “the ways for approaching the God differs as people differ (of course, many make incorrect and liberal interpretations of this proposition).
Therefore, not everyone can be expected to begin from the same point because everyone has been raised in a certain domain but the direction, the way and the limitations and forbidden issues are the same for everyone as they are all human and have such an essence in equal terms. In fact, the course of life for everyone is a return to the God as we are created by the God. There is only one single way. There is only one path but there are different styles and of course, everyone starts from a certain point of departure.
Therefore, Islam has accepted the conditions of individuals and has denied them. We can see the effects in the recommendations and the ethical Islamic rules which are referred to as the requirements of time and place and the public etiquettes and cases where one is free to act on one’s own understanding or similar terms.
The gradual element is also effective
One must also pay attention to the point that people gradually get used to habits. The queen of virtue and justice develop in the same way in the individual’s existence. We must pay attention to this gradual process in guiding humans and fulfilling their affairs especially in politics and cultural planning. For instance, some people avoid some particular people in the group of Aba Abdullah. They believe that one must first turn into a lover of Hussein and some say that this new comer who is in the group must be tolerated no matter how he is dressed. (I do not want to talk about those who think that being religious is just related to being pure of heart and are pacifists). The second group says that this is the first step and in our program we have some further plans for him. Let him enter our crowd and when he is caught by our hook then we do our business. This is what the west is doing. First, you go out to eat and enter a restaurant to have a hamburger but they offer you a new taste and expectation when they feed you the hamburger. They also give your child a Happy Meal Doll and your child says next time we should go to the same place and this takes you further until you join MacDonald’s, the international community and the new world order.
However, our discussion is that we unfortunately forget the gradual process. We want to create a pseudo-believer. (Let us remember the story of Imam Sadegh (peace be upon him) about that man who had just converted into Islam and the worshipping man). This cannot be done. Not everyone is a member of Hezbollah and a Basiji? Many have not gone in the same path and have not experienced the pleasure it gives. Everything must come gradually. When dealing with the subject of lifestyle, we also need to grade and rank everything in a gradual process. We say that people have different inclinations and if these inclinations are taken from the temptations and desires, Islam is not denying the whole thing; rather, some teachings and orders are provided that gradually puts these preferences, tastes and styles in an order of priorities with an ambience of divinity. It accepts differences in choices and tastes. Islam does not say that everyone should like green or blue and red. The reality is that everyone likes a particular color based on how he was born, raised and treated and Islam does not deny it either. This means that tastes and human differences are tolerated in Islam to some extent. It says that one should put these preferences within the divine course and divine limitations. Not everyone can be Salman or Abuzar. That depends on their existential abilities and structure. Even Salman and Abuzar were not where they had reached at the end when they started in the beginning. Even, in the end, Salman was not changed into Abuzar and Abuzar did not turn into Salman.
Don’t put people in uniforms
The second point is that we do not have good experiences for turning things into one form. History confirms this point. (An investigation of the history of communism and countries like the Soviet Union, China, and Albania are very constructive here). The topic raised by the supreme leader of the revolution about lifestyle should not be taken as turning everything into one single form. This is a very crucial point as it is going to create some kind of contempt that everyone must eat and sleep in the same way. Talking about lifestyle is talking about choice and preference. The preferred aspects must be very powerful in prescriptive models. This means that the human mind must be taught in a way that they eat for the sake of god. Their source must be religious. This body requires something. The requirement of this time and this family are certainly some things. We must accept these differences and include them. Moreover, many of the religious issues have been left to the public sense. For instance, Imam was asked what people should do in official mourning? He said, you must mourn as if you are mourning for your loved ones [of course, do not go beyond the teachings of religion]. See how people think you are mourning in the most explicit way and then act accordingly. Of course, he himself had a method but he did not order everyone to act in one single way; he ordered the believer to pay attention to the content and the outcome and observe the religious limits.
Therefore, knowing the audience is a principle or us. If we do this and can create various lifestyles given the religious principles and limitations then we will see that many will accept this pattern. I am putting it in this way that the western capitalists manage to direct the desires and tendencies of the people and so succeed in keeping them company. Many do not accept the goals and direction and the idea of capitalism in the world but accept its cover and later their desires become the same; like many of the critics of capitalism. Of course, we must consider the difference here that Islam thinks that a conscious and reasonable movement is a favorable one and this does not mean forming people in a unified group by taking advantage of humans or by forcing them using their instincts and urgent needs.
An opportunity for spreading the culture of the Imams
We have a very rich culture but the majority of Muslims have stood against it in one particular sense and in a way they do not want for ignorance. What I mean is the culture of the Imams and the Iranian-Islamic culture following it. Unfortunately, because it is associated with Shia, it was opposed in the beginning. It is not really necessary to use the label ‘Shia’ when you are advocating something at some times; rather, if you turn the culture of the Imams into a lifestyle and offer it to them, then they will see that this is the cure to their problems and will surely accept it. This method is confirmed by any clean conscience. The school of thought pertaining to the Imams has multiple meanings and themes and is not restricted at all. We can offer these varied meanings as a series of manifestations in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. Moreover, the school of the Imams finds the space and opens its ways. This happy even has occurred on limited scales so far but is not planned and systematic. Enmity towards this culture is organized but our friends unfortunately work unsystematically.
We must have a model to achieve the new and desirable Islamic civilization. The starting point is producing Islamic lifestyles which are commensurate with the audience. The main issue is the one posed by supreme leader of the revolution in the model for progress but, as he has kindly mentioned, we must clarify its emblems in lifestyles. Each country, each ethnicity, each culture and sub-culture requires specific symbols; The Lebanese are also Shia but the truth is they differ from the Shia in Iran and Pakistan. If we want to create models, we must believe that human communities differ. We must know this distinction. The Japanese and the Chinese are in the habit of doing something; they search in many places including Iran to observe the customs and traditions of the people. For instance, how we cook rice or make tea. Then they make samovar and rice pots based on the tastes of the Iranian people and sell them to us. We must also observe the world. We should see what we can do for the people in Yemen and India. Whether these people are Ismaeli, Zeidi, or whatever, they are the lovers of the Imams and accept our thoughts in general terms but they live in Yemen or Indian. We must also produce appropriate lifestyles for them. This is one of the very effective steps in the course of Islamic Awakening and institutionalizing it.
The western lifestyle is not an absolute threat
Of the problems we have with the West we can point to the distinction in viewing life and lifestyle. They set their basis as pleasure, and we set our basis on being close to God but we do not ban legitimate pleasure. First of all, we should remember that west is not all about capitalism and all the historical experiences that exist there are not blasphemous. We should not neglect the thoughts of the great philosophers. We should not underestimate the Christian morality. We should not underestimate the Jewish morality. We should not forget about the effect of Islamic thoughts and teachings in those countries while we should be also aware of the distortions.
The second issue is that the capitalist system has been shaped within a rational system using the bounties of God and the natural laws. These are the realities that exist in those communities. What we have in the west as western lifestyles are not false altogether; for instance, the very concept of lifestyle which is the outcome of the studies and analyses of capitalism and we are using it and counting its advantages now. There are some elements in it that must be viewed carefully but we must always remember that these elements are parts of a combination. If we extract these elements, we must remember not to extract the ideology as well. We must know well the history, the function and the texture in which an element has existed. It is very hard to separate them but we must not neglect the things that the others have experimented.
The western world has experiences in theory and practice which must be refined, extracted and be used when encountering the west. What is happening in the west is within the discourse and system of a dominant capitalism but not all westerners are irreligious, secular and irrational. This is very important while interacting with the west. We can interact with them and also we can take advantage of their achievements. This should not let us close our eyes and give a general verdict. This issue will block our realism. When the Islamic culture and the Islamic societies were established, not all of the customs and traditions before that era were repealed. Rather, previous customs were refined and directed. For example, when the Holy Prophet came and said: I sign all of your deals except for interests. He said that this was his boundary and accepted all the other kinds of deals. For those who are afraid of the contacts, we must say that we will be dominated when we take easy on them and take their ideologies and intentions for granted and blend them with their instruments, symbols, methods and techniques and get distracted from moderation for too much joy or fright. We can take benefit from the achievements of the others both in theory and in practice and we should not deprive ourselves and reinvent the wheel. We must not try the dead ends that the others have tried before. We can use some of their blocks to make our own building. The lifestyles which are created in this way promote their appreciation of the rich Islamic culture with more speed.