The well known writer and analyst of historical developments, the late Martyr of Islam, Ayatullah S. M. H. Beheshti, better known as Shaheed Beheshti to his innumerable admirers, both in Iran and abroad, narrates in an interesting free style the historical conditions attending upon the birth of Islam.
In his book of the same title, "Background of the Birth of Islam" he sets forth the sociological, political and religious conditions in the wide area surrounding Arabia. Probing deeply into the ancient history of the neighbouring peoples and states and the two great imperial powers of the day, namely Persia and Eastern Roman Empire, as well as the Yemen, Egypt, Abyssinia, Jordan and Syria,
Shaheed Bcheshti carries the reader on a wide ranging journey around those ancient lands. Narrating skill fully the captivating tales of the fire-worshipping Zoarastrians and Mani and Mazdak religions of ancient Persia,
the influence of Christian church in Egypt and Abyssinia and the pagan tribes of the interior of the Arabian peninsula, the writer brings out the essentials of the socio-political factors which lead the more pronounced effects of the early days of what was to become the universal faith of Islam.
The book comprises a series of lectures delivered by Shaheed Beheshti during the years 1966-7 in the Hamburg Islamic Centre. Addressing predominantly a group of Iranian students in Germany every Saturday he attracted a general audience of international students and others interested in Islam. The last of those lectures was delivered on 28 October 1967.
In the opening chapters of his book, Shaheed Beheshti has delved at some length on the characteristics of an appropriate research methodology to deal with religious subjects which he then follows in setting out his geographically distributed chapters concluding each chapter with brief question answer discussion and conclusion.
Undoubtedly this brief work will be a valuable addition to his other numerous writings and prove an inspiration for all while reflecting his devotion to research study and deep insight. May his soul ever rest in peace.
S. T. H. Khwarazmi
Method Suitable for Theological Research
The topic under discussion is understanding Islam and the world Muslims. But what I wish to discuss first is what research methodology is suitable for theological discussion; or, in other words the approach is research in religious matters.
Discussion of any subject itself dictates when that the method should be appropriate to that subject. For example, today, when a researcher wishes to discuss and carry out research of a particular disease, he selects a particular methodology, makes a survey of the symptoms and effects of the disease and its treatment, and recommends that a number of patients suffering from that particular disease should be placed under observation and subjected to various clinical tests of their tissues, blood, urine etc.
and analysed to prepare a scientific table in order to diagnose the peculiarities of that disease and the manner of its treatment, and identify the bacterial factors and establish the cause of infection.
Today if someone wishing to establish the symptomology of the disease and arrive at a diagnosis, instead of employing the necessary means such as well-equipped laboratories and hospitals, statistical data, and experiments on animals and human beings, declared that for the diagnosis he has decided to proceed by conducting a nightly study of the stars for forty nights past midnight to discover the symptoms and cause of illness and the procedure for treatment of that disease, he will be made fun of in the scientific circles.
He would be told that in choosing this course, even if he went to a well-equipped observatory to study the movement of the stars, their form, and how they rise and set, such activities and thoughts would not bear even the slightest effect on the patient, or the cause of his disease, on an its effects nor its treatment.
Or if he were to declare that for the purpose of studying this matter he had decided to place an astrolabe in front of him and in accordance with special signs and calculations provided by the astrolabe and even computing by the art of arithmetical numbers, he will discover the cause and effects of that disease and its cure,
again science would laugh at him, and say to him: To identify a disease as far as human intellect has been able to establish requires that a study of the patients be made and laboratory tests and experiments be conducted and their results compared in order to diagnose that disease.
If someone declares in a session how nice it would be to secure some information about the way the people lived in Indonesia three thousand years ago, and if the interest of those present in the session was aroused in studying the precise details about the life and beliefs of those people scientifically and thus undertake a scientific project, naturally we would ask them about their approach to this research.
If they answer that they have decided to confine a number of Indonesians in a hospital and give them blood tests in order to analyse these people's life three thousand. years ago, this, too, would provoke laughter.
For such proceedings as the blood and tissue tests, no matter how useful those might be for the diagnosis of a disease or its treatment, yet it would not be of the slightest value for learning about the life of Indonesians who lived three thousand years ago.
Let us take a step further. Among the various political systems which is the best system for organising and administering a society, the communist or socialist or the capitalist one; which is more valuable and beneficial from an economic point of view. Either democratic or dictatorial forms among the existing political systems are more suitable? How should a researcher set about this task?
Someone might suggest that observation would be the best way to clarify this problem. If we were to ask how could observation be applied, they would answer by carrying out calculations about the 'physics' of the society and see what form the society and its organism should take.
But the research methodology used by an atomic scientist for atomic research would hardly be practicable for a study of various social systems, and its conclusions would be irrelevant. Thus it is quite evident that the method chosen for the study and research in any subject must be appropriate for that subject.
A Methodology for Research in Theological Topics
The foremost issue in our discussion is what method without any prejudice, is suitable for gaining an understanding of a religion? In my opinion the proper method for an understanding of a religion is to get hold of the original source material of that religion,
and work on it in the way of research in narratives and traditions - neither experimental nor intellectual approach - but rather as in the study of history which in modern methodology is called 'Historical Research Methodology'. Working on the reliable sources of that faith we can gain an understanding of it whether we believe in that religion or not.
Let us take the example of a religion which we do not believe is. For instance, wish to study Buddhism and know what Buddhism is. Neither intellectual, mathematical or scientific discussions, nor physical or chemical arguments would produce any result. Astrological or celestial discussions would equally be of no value.
The correct way to understand Buddha's laws would be to refer to reliable historical sources, and evaluate them from the viewpoint of authenticity and validity, and then compare them, and gather all that has been for and against the Buddhist faith, and through a comparative study draw scholarly conclusions about what Buddhism really is, whether we believe in it or not. This is the first consideration about understanding any religion.
Suppose we wish to know what Judaism is, and what is the religion of the Jews. Here exist two aspects: either the object is to know what the present day Jews believe in and what are their actions and beliefs, or the purpose may be to know what the original Jewish faith was at the time of its appearance, and what had (Moses) Musa (a.s.) delivered to the Israelites as a religion.
There are two different methods for these two aspects. The research into the religion Moses brought for the Israelites, has no relation with physics, chemistry, mathematics, celestial aspects and the rest. Research in this aspect requires close study of the Old Testament, the interpretation of the Old Testament, and the books written about this faith by the contemporary Greek and Egyptian historians because unfortunately no other sources are available.
To proceed with our study we collect these sources make a comparative study taking into account all pros and cons about this faith to be able to conclude, in a scholarly manner, what had Musa (a.s.) really delivered.
But if the object were to understand the Jewish faith in the contemporary world, we should send a number of investigators to various parts of the world to see how the Jews practise their religion in their every day lives. We should study their publications in various languages, interview their religious leaders, and collate all the information gathered to reach conclusions about the Jewish ideology and their practice in the present day world.
Similarly with regards to Islam, if we wish to study it, irrespective of being Muslims, there are two approaches: firstly, when we wish to know what the Muslims believe in and how they practise it, and, secondly when our purpose is to study the Islamic faith, namely the nature of Islam which was delivered by Muhammad (a.s.) bin-Abdullah. If we wish to study the Muslims of to-day, or those of one, two or five centuries ago the approach is the same.
To study their state to-day, we should travel to various countries. In this respect the Europeans adopt the proper method, and thus most of their writings are accurate, since they travel to various places, and observe things closely, make personal contact, ask questions, take pictures and make films, and so they declare that the Muslims of certain regions live in such and such a manner.
Of course sometimes they make hasty judgment after visiting only a few towns and villages and announce their views, whereas such a conclusion does not conform to a scientific methodology.
what they can conclude after such insufficient visits and observation is that in such and such villages and towns Muslims live in such a manner and not generalise it to include the entire Muslim population of the world, since such a generalisation would be incorrect and contrary to the scientific method.
If we wish to say what kind of Islam was brought by Muhammad (a.s.) for mankind from Allah, we should first gather all the reliable sources including the Qur'an, traditions, contemporary history and writings of the Prophet's time, even those opposed to the Prophet, and after a thorough study, comparative research and evaluation conclude that this is what Muhammad (a.s.) introduced as Islam.
There is no other way, since none of the other scientific or investigative research methods bear any relation this topic which deals with the original form of a religion and its present day practice.