A scary article appeared in the NY Times earlier this week. The Iranian government’s reaction to the protests against the alleged election fraud are carrying over into the realm of academia, with its “Supreme Leader” making statements which seem to indicate a purge of the education system. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last weekend:
“Many of the humanities and liberal arts are based on philosophies whose foundations are materialism and disbelief in godly and Islamic teachings.”
He’s right about those studies being secular. If done properly they do not automatically presume the existence of the Abrahamic deity, and they don’t presuppose Koranic infallibility. What he’s wrong about is that that is a horrible thing which “ardent defenders of Islam” must stop or co-opt.
And when he says that teaching these subjects “leads to the loss of belief in godly and Islamic knowledge,” he’s right in the sense that learning more makes one less inclined to accept religious doctrine – especially ones invented by some power-hungry sociopath 1400 years ago. But it’s not exactly clear that there is such a thing as “Islamic knowledge” in the first place. When someone who claims to be inspired by their religion makes a discovery, it’s not acknowledged and respected simply because they make that claim. It has to be tested using the same evil secular methods Khamenei is decrying here. If a purge like the one described is implemented in Iran, respectable Muslim scholars will be left with no way to demonstrate their findings to a larger audience because they will have to go out of their way to make sure certain mullahs are convinced that such findings are based on “Islamic knowledge” – whatever that means – and not the secular methodology which we know actually works.