Islamic Studies Ali Shari'ati
Junaid Ahmad
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0141


Ali Shari’ati (b. 1933–d. 1977) is considered to be one of the key figures in the Iranian revolution of 1978–1979. Although the revolution was led by Ayatullah Khomeini and although Dr. Shari’ati passed away before its outbreak, his work prepared a large number of the younger educated classes in Iran to accept, and dedicate themselves to, the ideals and goals of the Islamic revolution in Iran. Born in 1933 in Mazinan, Iran, into a family that for many generations had cultivated the religious sciences, he studied in Mashhad under the guidance of his father as well as other religious leaders. In 1959, Shari’ati won a government scholarship to study philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris. He spent five years in France, where he continued his formal studies and established close ties with the leaders of the Algerian FLN (National Liberation Front). Upon his return to Iran in 1964, Shari’ati was promptly arrested by government authorities on the grounds of his charismatic leadership, radical intellectual ideas and activities in the Algerian revolution, and pronouncements against the clergy. Nevertheless, after his release from prison, he was appointed as lecturer at the University of Mashhad, where he devoted himself to directly guiding the younger generation. His unconventional methods of teaching attracted a large number of followers, which led to his forced retirement. Shari’ati then began delivering numerous lectures at various institutions, notably at one particular institution in Tehran, Husayniya-yi Irshad, where he delivered his major lectures. Through his lectures, free classes, and analytical writings, Shari’ati created a new current of thought in society. By means of his teaching, books, and other resistance activities, Shari’ati continued to oppose the extreme traditionalists and the ulama, who, he claimed, had separated Islam from society and who, he charged, had reacted negatively to any kind of intellectual movement arising within society. He also opposed the imitative intellectuals who had made the new scholasticism their stronghold. His writings and activities led not only to imprisonment, but also to solitary confinement. He was later released, but only on the condition that he go into exile. In 1977, Shari’ati was allowed to leave Iran, but he died soon after arriving in England. He was forty-four years of age.

General Overviews

A significant figure in Iranian history, Ali Shari’ati, in his life, ideology, and struggles, proved influential in setting the stage for the Iranian revolution. Several authors have documented and highlighted various aspects of his life. Sabet 2008 points out the contributions he made toward the Iranian revolution, whereas Janin 2005 provides a brief overview of the key events of Shari’ati’s life. Algar 1979 highlights the different events and personalities that helped to shape his ideas and thoughts. Rahnema 1998 and Milani 2008 look at Shari’ati’s life from birth to death, highlighting the influence of the various ideologies he was exposed to at different points during his life and the impact of these ideologies on his thoughts, works, and actions. Abidi and Abidi 1986 shows how exposure to different ideologies affected his relationship with the ulama and the government. Rahnema 1994 provides an overview of the political environment that surrounded Shari’ati and the ideas that reflect his worldview. Wessels 1995 presents Shari’ati’s views with respect to human rights, while Musk 2003 highlights the impact Shari’ati and his worldview had on his fellow Iranians.

  • Abidi, Mehbi, and Mehdi Abidi. “Ali Shari’ati: The Architect of the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran.” Iranian Studies, o.s., 19.3–4 (1986): 229–234.

    This work provides an account of the life, career, and struggles of Ali Shari’ati, paying special attention to his relationship with the ulama, secular intelligentsia, and government.

  • Algar, Hamid, trans. On the Sociology of Islam. Berkeley, CA: Mizan, 1979.

    Before translating the lectures of Ali Shari’ati, Algar explores the different events, people, and ideologies that shaped Shari’ati’s ideas, especially his “sociology of shirk.”

  • Janin, Hunt. The Pursuit of Learning in the Islamic World, 610–2003. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005.

    In chapter 8, Janin provides a brief overview of Ali Shari’ati’s life, mentioning the key events that shaped his life and citing his works in demonstrating the extent to which Shari’ati noted the importance of Islam in the modernization process. He ends the book in citing some of the tributes paid to Shari’ati by Iranian religious leaders.

  • Milani, Abbas. Eminent Persians: The Men and Women Who Made Modern Iran, 1941–1979. Vol. 2. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2008.

    Milani looks into the life of Ali Shari’ati from his birth to his death. He highlights the influence various ideologies had on Shari’ati during his student life, the variety of works that he produced, his career as a teacher as well as a political activist, and the integral role he played in the battle between modernity and tradition in modern Iran. Lastly, Milani details Shari’ati’s relationship with the Savak, the shah’s secret police.

  • Musk, Bill A. Holy War: Why Do Some Muslims Become Fundamentalists? London: Monarch Books, 2003.

    In chapter 15, Musk looks at the impact Ali Shari’ati had on Iranians, analyzing how he reached out to the masses. Musk provides an overview of Shari’ati’s efforts to induce social change by urging the masses to be wary of the manipulative ideologies of the West and to cherish the rich heritage of Muslims.

  • Rahnema, Ali. “Ali Shari’ati: Teacher, Preacher, Rebel.” In Pioneers of Islamic Revival. Edited by Ali Rahnema, 208–250. London: Zed, 1994.

    Rahnema examines the political environment, life, and works of Ali Shari’ati in great depth, providing details on the significant events and phases of his life as well as on his ideology and on his lectures and works that reflect his ideas and worldview.

  • Rahnema, Ali. An Islamic Utopian: A Political Biography of Ali Shari’ati. London: I. B. Tauris, 1998.

    This book provides an in-depth look into Ali Shari’ati’s life and thought in the context of the complex and contradictory cultural, social, and political conditions of Iranian society that shaped him. Rahnema looks at each phase of Shari’ati’s life separately, highlighting the significance of each not only toward Shari’ati’s life, but also toward his ideas.

  • Sabet, G. E. Amr. Islam and the Political: Theory, Governance and International Relations. London: Pluto, 2008.

    Sabet points out Ali Shari’ati’s contributions toward the emergence of a radical manifestation of Islamic revolutionary expression and his efforts to bring about a shift in consciousnesses among Muslims.

  • Wessels, Anton. “Ali Shari’ati and Human Rights.” In Human Rights and Religious Values: An Uneasy Relationship? Edited by Abdullahi A. An-Na’im, Jerald D. Gort, Henry Jansen, and Hendrick M. Vroom, 243–258. Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1995.

    Wessels shows how Shari’ati expressed himself with respect to human rights in the context of his interpretations of the meaning of Islam in modern society. He gives an account of Shari’ati’s life and discusses Shari’ati’s work, Al-Hajj, in which Shari’ati relates his experiences and analyzes the different stages of the social and mystical act of hajj.

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