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Kadivar, Mohsen

Ahmad Sadri
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Kadivar, Mohsen

Mohsen Kadivar (b. 1959), born in Fasa, Iran, is one of the most original and prolific intellectuals of the Iranian reform movement. At the outset of the Iranian Revolution he abandoned the laboratories of the engineering school of the University of Shīrāz for the rarified atmosphere of the seminary in Qom and rapidly (1981–1996) reached the highest stage of ijtihād (permission to issue legal judgments) under the supervision of the Grand Ayatollah Husayn ʿAlī Muntaẓirī. Two years later he obtained a doctorate from the Tarbīyat Mudarris University and started a decade of teaching at the faculty of philosophy there. In 2007 political pressures forced Kadivar to leave his teaching appointment for a position at the Research Center of the Iranian Institute of Philosophy.

This versatile theologian, philosopher, and intellectual historian has written groundbreaking books in his three main fields of interest. He has published an informative volume on rationality (Daftar-i ʿaql) and revived interest in a philosophical giant named Agha ʿAlī Mudarris Tihrānī by editing a three-volume compendium of his works (Majmūʿah). He has also published a bibliography of modern Iranian philosophy, theology, logic, and mysticism (Makhaz shinasi).

Kadivar has attempted to revive interest in Ākhūnd Mullā Muḥammad Kāẓim Khorāsānī by publishing the political writings (Sīyāsat-nāmah) of this vociferously pro-constitutionalist fin-de-siècle grand ayatollah. Kadivar is caustic about the selective memory of the Islamic Republic: “The highway leading to the ‘Freedom Square’ of Tehran is named for [the anti-constitutionalist] Shaykh Faz‥lullāh Nūrī but the name of Khorāsānī is bestowed not even on a blind alley” (Sīyāsat-nāmah, p. xiii).

In his capacity as an Islamic jurist Kadivar has written two volumes critically examining the political theories of Shīʿī scholars (Nazarīyahhā-yi dawlat and Hukūmat-i valāyī). He appraises Ayatollah Khomeini's jurisprudential views on “Absolute Appointed Mandate of the Jurisconsult” (vilāyat-i intisābī-yi mutlaqī-yi faqīhan) as one of the weakest among the nine extant Shīʿī political philosophies, because of its feeble rational, Qurʿānic, and legal foundations. He concludes that Khomeini's theory   “… is not intuitively obvious, rationally necessary, or required by the principles or auxiliary axioms of Shīʿī Islam” (ḥukūmat-i valāyī, p. 234). Kadivar was not prosecuted for undermining the foundational theory of the Islamic Republic because he couched his critique in the language of religious disputation of Shīʿī seminarians, in which radical dissent is protected. But Iran's “clerical court” found him guilty of “weakening the regime” in such articles as “Illegality of Islamic Terrorism” and “The Progress Report of the Islamic Government,” and sentenced him to imprisonment. There are doubts about the legality of that court but its decision was not surprising given Kadivar's tone: “Revolution destroyed only the form, not the essence, of Iranian empire. It reproduced the royal system by bestowing absolute, extra-legal and permanent power on a divinely ordained and sacred leader (Daghdaghahhā-yi hukūmat-i dīnī, pp. 610–622). Kadivar treats his eighteen-month imprisonment (1998–1999) with a Thoreau-like mixture of equanimity, disdain, and defiance.

Mohsen Kadivar's recent works follow two tracks. He extends the reach of “new theology” (pioneered by Abdol karim Soroush and Mujtahid Shabistarī) from the general area of Islam to Shīʿī Islam. This path (trodden by the works of Nīʿmatullāh Ṣalāḥī Najafābādī and Sayyid ḥusayn Mudarrisī ṭabāṭabāʿī) leads to the reexamination of the first two centuries of Shīʿī Islam, when a less supernatural concept of “Imam” prevailed among the Shīʿah (“Qarāʿat-i farāmush shudah”).

The second trajectory of Kadivar's thought takes him to the vexing problem of the sharīʿah's seeming incompatibility with the modern axioms of human rights (“Huqūq-i bashar va rūshanfikrī-yi dīnī”, pp. 54–115). To deal with this problem, Kadivar distinguishes “historical” from “spiritual” Islam—the parallel to Soroush's binary of “essential and accidental” aspects of religion is noticeable. Kadivar remains a firm believer in the basic compatibility of Islam with democracy, human rights, and rationality and does not miss a chance to express his view that the 1979 national and religious uprising of Iranians has been perverted into a fundamentalist state ruled by clerics.



  • Kadivar, Mohsen. Daftar-i ʿaql: Majmūʿah-i maqālāt-i falsaf ī kalāmī (The Book of Reason: Philosophical and Theological Articles). Tehran: Ettela’at Publications, 1998.
  • Kadivar, Mohsen. Daghdaghhā-yi ḥukūmat-i dīnī (Anxieties of Religious Government, A Collection of Political Papers and Lectures). Tehran: Nashr-e Nay, 2000.
  • Kadivar, Mohsen. “Qarāʿat-i farāmush shudah: Baz-khani-yi naẒarīyah ʿulamaʿ-yi abrār, talāqī-yi avvaliyah Islām-i Shīʿī az asl-i imāmat (Forgotten Interpretation: Theory of Virtuous Scholars as the First Approach of Shīʿī Islam on the Position of Imāms).” Madrese1, no. 3 (May 2006): 92–102.
  • Kadivar, Mohsen. “Huqūq-i bashar va rūshanf ikrī-yi dīnī (Human Rights and Religious Intellectualism).”Aftab Journal27 (July–August 2002).
  • Kadivar, Mohsen. Hukūmat-i valāyī (Government by Divine Appointment). Political Thoughts in Islam Series, No. 2. Tehran: Nashr-e Nay Publications, 1999.
  • Kadivar, Mohsen. Majmūʿah-i muṢannafāt-i ḥakīm Muʿassis Āqā ʿAlī Mudarris ṭihrānī (The Compilation of the Works of the Sage and Originator, Aqa ʿAlī Modarres Tehrani). Tehran: Ettela’at Publications, 1999. Three volumes compiled, edited, and including prolegomenon and research notes.
  • Kadivar, Mohsen. NaẒarīyahhā-yi dawlat dar fiqh-i Shīʿah (The Theories of State in the Shīʿī Fiqh). In Political Thoughts in Islam Series. No. 1. Tehran: Nashr-e Nay Publications, 1998.
  • Kadivar, Mohsen. Sīyāsat-nāmah-ʿi Khurāsānī (Khorāsānī's Political Book). Political Statements in the Works of Akhound Mulla Mohammad Kazim Kharasanithe, author of Kefayat-ol Usul, First Thinkers of Political Islam in Contemporary Iran Series, vol. 1. Tehran: Intisharat-i Kavir, 2006.
  • Kadivar, Mohsen, and Mohammad Nuri. Ma khaz shinasi-yi ʿUlūm-i ʿAqlī (A Bibliography of Rational Sciences from the Advent of Print Industry till 1996 in Iran). 3 vols. Tehran: Ettela ’at Publications, 2000.
  • Sadri, Mahmoud. “Attack From Within: Dissident Political Theology in Contemporary Iran.”The Iranian, February 13, 2002. <www.iranian.com/Opinion/2002/February/Theology/index.html#16>
  • Vahdat, Farzin. “Post-Revolutionary Discourses of Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari and Mohsen Kadivar: Reconciling the Terms of Mediated Subjectivity. Part II: Mohsen Kadivar.”Critique17 (Fall 2000): 135–157.
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