An exploration into life of American-Iranian who fell in love with Islam

TEHRAN, Mar. 13 (MNA) – Laleh Bakhtiar, an Iranian-American Islamic scholar, is the first woman to present a critical translation of the Quran in any language.

Dr. Bakhtiar has a B.A. in History from Chatham College in Pennsylvania, an M.A. in Philosophy, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology and a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology. She is a certified psychotherapist and has been practicing Islam for over 60 years.

She is the author of many books on Islamic unity, architecture, psychology, psychoethics, and moral healing through the Erfan Enneagram and the 99 Most Beautiful Names of God. Dr. Bakhtiar has translated over 30 books on Islam and Islamic beliefs into English. Her vocation as a practicing Muslim, psychologist, book publisher, and editor and scholar gives her an indispensable role in the Muslim community.

Born on July 29, 1938 in Tehran, she was taken to the U.S. by her American mother, Helen Jeffreys. Helen was the first American to marry an Iranian and migrate to Iran (1931) as well as the first American trained nurse in Iran. Helen traveled with Laleh when she was six months old with her two older sisters, who had been born in America, back to America in 1939. Reza Shah (Shah of Iran from 1925 to 1941) at that time was siding with the Germans. The American Embassy wrote to the few Americans who were in Iran that they needed to leave the country because it wasn’t safe for them. 

Once World War II broke out a few months later in 1939, there was no way for them to get back to Iran. Bakhtiar’s father, Abol Ghassem, a well-known Iranian physician as he was the first Iranian physician trained in America to return to Iran (1931), was left with four children in Iran. Her parents and siblings were separated for six years.

After six years of separation, Helen returned to Iran. She and Abol Ghassem found out that they were not on the same page, but they did decide that all seven children should go to America for an education. Abol was supposed to join them, but after World War II, Iran passed a law that said no doctors could leave Iran because they needed the doctors here. Helen and Abol were divorced and Abol remarried. He and his wife, Bibi Turon, were to have ten children.

As Laleh was taken again to America, all her education was there. She went to a woman’s college in Pittsburgh and earned a B.A. in history. Then, many years later when she was a grandmother, she went back to graduate school and got two master’s degree, one in Philosophy and one in Counseling Psychology and a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology.

In the 1960’s she had tried to get a Ph.D. at the University of Tehran in a program of Persian Literature for Foreigners. At the end of the first year the head of the Department of Persian Literature at Tehran University informed her that as her father was Iranian and the course was only for foreigners, she could not finish the course. 

Falling in love with Islam

Laleh practiced Christianity until she was 19.

“I grew up as a Christian in America. When I was 19, one of my brothers was at Harvard University. I was in college in Pittsburgh. I talked to a girlfriend of mine and we decided to go and spend a weekend with my brother at Harvard. We ironed shirts, 25 cents a shirt, for 6 weeks in order to get the money to buy our plane tickets. When we got there, one of my brother’s friends, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, was there,” Laleh Bakhtiar told the Tehran Times in an exclusive interview.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr (born in 1933) is a world-renowned scholar on Islam and is currently a University Professor of Islamic Studies at the George Washington University and President of the Foundation for Traditional Studies. He has published over fifty books and hundreds of articles in numerous languages and translations.

He graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with an undergraduate degree in Physics and Mathematics. He went on to Harvard University where he studied Geology and Geophysics and then completed a Ph.D. in the History of Science and Philosophy.

“Seyyed Hossein Nasr has been my mentor for about 60 years,” she highlighted.

“He was there at Harvard getting his Ph.D. His mother lived in the area. She would have dinner for the few Persians there at that time. On Saturday night of that weekend we went to their house. Seyyed Hossein Nasr asked me: What religion do you practice? I said: I grew up as a Christian. He said: Your father is a Muslim, therefore, people will expect you to be a Muslim. I said: I don’t know anything about Islam.  He said: Well, learn. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 60 years. As a result, I have fallen in love with it.”

“Seyyed Hossein Nasr brought me from Christianity to Islam. Instead of first teaching me to be afraid of God, which often happens if a teacher begins only with the “Sharia” (the Islamic law which is a religious law forming part of the Islamic tradition), he taught me through Erfan. In this way, I developed a deep love of God. In other words, instead of beginning with what God has asked me to do (daily prayers, fasting, etc.), I began by not doing what God has asked me not to do (eat pork, gamble, drink  alcohol) and then learning the practices. By first giving up what God has asked me to give up, I grew closer to God. I actually fall in love with God so that religion became my whole being, my whole personality and my whole reason for living. In addition, coming from Christianity to Islam I realized I did not have to give up my love for Jesus and, in addition, I gained Muhammad (PBUH).”

Becoming a writer and translator

“In the late 1960s, the Shah had given $3 million to the University of Chicago to establish the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. The University of Chicago wanted to give the Shah a gift once the center was built. They contacted Seyyed Hossein Nasr and said that they wanted an architect to write a book on Persian architecture, not from the point of view of history, but from the point of view of a creative person looking at Persian architecture.

“As my former husband [Nader Ardalan], who had grown up in America as I had, was a practicing architect but was not familiar with the creative or spiritual side of Islam, he asked me to write with him and to do the research as I had studied Erfan with Seyyed Hossein Nasr at Tehran University.

She continues: “By then Dr. Nasr had come back to Iran and he was teaching courses on Erfan (Islamic mysticism) at the University of Tehran. I attended these classes and learned about Erfan and Persian culture. The classes also included learning about the great Islamic scholars of the past, scholars such as Al-Ghazali [one of the most prominent and influential Persian philosophers, theologians, jurists, and mystics of Sunni Islam who is buried in Toos] as well as Avicenna [a Persian polymath] among so many others.

“So my husband and I wrote the book The Sense of Unity: The Sufi Tradition in Persian Architecture together which has been translated into Persian.

“This was how I became interested in writing. Another publisher called Thames & Hudson, a London/New York publisher, asked me to write an introductory book on Sufism, so I wrote the book: Sufi: Expressions of the Mystic Quest. I had suddenly become a writer, something I had never thought about before.. As we say: We have our plan and God has His!

“Several years later, when I was divorced, I had to look for a career and I thought to myself: The thing I know how to do is to write books. So I became a writer and a translator. The first book I ever translated was Fatemeh is Fatemeh, a book written by Ali Shariati. I translated several of Shariati’s books, and Morteza Motahhari’s books and worked on English translations with some of the different Islamic Organizations.”

The path to translate the Quran

“I was looking for a job when I finished my Ph.D. I was introduced to the oldest Muslim publisher in North America (founded in 1972), Kazi Publications, an independent Muslim publisher in Chicago that publishes books on Shism and Sufism. They had book distribution, but they did not have book production. They hired me, as writing and book production was my specialty. They asked me to write a book on the life of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) for high school students. I wrote the book. A very famous American professor had written a foreword to the book and it had been reviewed.  It was finished and ready to go to the printers. One day I looked at the book and said to myself: How can I write the life of the prophet without the whole of the Quran in his life story? When you write a one volume work on the life of the prophet, which is important to have, however, and there are many, you just have some of the verses but you don’t give the overall picture of all the Quran that was revealed to him.

“Of course, when you want to include the whole of the Quran in the life of the prophet then you will have many volumes which I was prepared to do.  I studied English translations of the Quran like Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s [Translation and Commentary (1934)], Muhammad [Marmaduke] Pickthall’s [The Meaning of the Glorious Koran (1930)] and Muhammad Asad’s [The Message of the Qur'an (1980)]. I found many problems with them.

“For example in Muhammad Asad’s translation, which many people like in English, you cannot put the Arabic next to his translation because there is so much extra English. So it is a “tafsir”, a commentary, and not a translation. Or, Yusuf Ali’s translation, which is maybe closer to the Arabic, but it includes all these footnotes. So you go down to the footnotes and start reading them forgetting what the Quran had said.

“I found this very disturbing. I felt there needed to be a translation without any parenthesis and without any extra indications or footnotes, etc. but so straight forward so that you could mirror the Arabic with the English and you would be able to learn Quranic Arabic.

“The other thing that was important to me was what is called consistency and reliability. None of the translations had that. As I had translated books before, I knew that when I start from the beginning and I go to the end, in the middle I forget what translation I used for a particular word, so I would continue to add synonyms. This makes it more difficult for a person to learn the meaning of an Arabic word. As I had studied educational psychology where you learn about testing, consistency, and reliability. I wanted to make sure that if the context allows, I use the same English word in translation. “One word in the Quran, if the context allows of course, suddenly has 10 meanings in English, how is one supposed to learn that word in Arabic when it has 10 different English equivalents? It should be the same if the context allows.

“So I thought the way to do it was to start with the words, not from the beginning to the end.

Bakhtiar went on to say that “I was not sure this method would work. I called a Muslim convert friend of mine who lives in Arizona and whose father had been a minister. I explained that I was using this method and said: “I’m not sure if this is going to work.” He said: “That is how they translated the King James version of the Bible in the 17th century.  They began with the words and not the sentences.” I was relieved to realize that this method will work.

“Some people say: In order to prepare the English translation of the King James version of the Bible, 50 to 55 men were working on it, but you are only one person, so how can you think you are equal to that? I say: I have a computer.”

“Using this method, then, also laid the basis for an English “al-Mujim al-mufahris” which I called The Concordance of the Sublime Quran.”

The Concordance of the Sublime Quran serves the need of those who do not know the Arabic language but want to understand the Quran. This work is a translation and transliteration of the Arabic Concordance known as al-Mujim al-mufahris. This all-English work shows the semantic structure of the Arabic vocabulary in order to arrive at the multiple meanings of Arabic three and four-letter roots and their derivatives. Divided into three parts, Part 1: Contents lists the 3673 transliterated Arabic derivatives of all verbs, nouns and some particles in the Quran. Part 2: Text lists the transliterated derivatives, their grammatical structure and English translation followed by the verses in which the word appears in The Sublime Quran. Part 3: Index lists the 6000+ words used in the translation followed by a reference to the derivative found in both Part 1: Contents and Part 2: Text. 

Controversies surrounding Sublime Quran translation

Bakhtiar’s translation of the Sublime Quran is different from other English translations in many ways. For example, she used the word “ungrateful” for “kafirun” where the context allows. Or in Chapter 4, Verse 34, a hotly debated verse, that has been interpreted to say that a rebellious woman should first be admonished, then abandoned in bed, and ultimately “beaten” — the most common translation for the Arabic word “daraba” — unless her behavior improves. However, Bakhtiar chose to translate the word daraba as “go away.”

“I realized that if you wanted an inclusive translation then ‘kafir’ has to be translated as ‘ungrateful’ if the context allows. If the word appears with ‘iman’ meaning ‘faith’ then you have to translate it into ‘disbeliever’ but if it does not appear with that, then you can understand it as meaning ‘ungrateful’ because we know plenty of Muslims who are ‘kafirs’ in the sense that they are ungrateful to God. Not that they don’t believe in God, but they are ungrateful to God and they don’t show their gratitude towards Him.

“Or, for instance, it is not common to use thee, thy or thou in English for the second person singular. Yet, when we use ‘you’ instead of ‘thou’, we are referring to the second person plural, making God plural which is an unforgivable sin in Islam. So, when the original was thee or thou, I put the pronoun in bold so the reader knows that the original was singular.

“In regard to masculine or feminine pronouns which exist in Arabic, sometimes they are not clear in English when the Arabic refers to the third person plural, ‘them’.  I found several verses in the Quran where a distinction has to be made between a third person plural pronoun being masculine or feminine. For example verse al-Nur, 24:33 on forcing women into prostitution. It says: Compel not your spiritual warriors (fatat) against their will to prostitution when they wanted chastity, that you be looking for the advantage of this present life. Whoever compels them to it against their will, yet after their compulsion, God will be of them, Forgiving, Compassionate. (Q24:33) When you read this in English, the plural pronouns need further explanation.

“The third person plural pronoun, ‘them’, in this case is feminine. That is, it is the women who will be forgiven. But this doesn’t come across in even a Persian translation. So for important pronouns like this, I put ‘f’ in parentheses to indicate this is a feminine pronoun.

“And then, of course, I came to 4:34 and the Arabic word ‘daraba’. I realized that the God that I love is not going to allow anyone to beat anyone. So I did research. The Arabic word, ‘daraba’ has 26 meanings. One of them is ‘to go away’ instead of ‘beat them’. There is a disagreement about this as not everyone agrees that it says that. However, having it as an alternative understanding in the entire translation of the Quran indicates a difference of opinion.

“As an example, there was a child custody case in New York. An Indian Muslim physician-husband wanted to get custody of his four children from his Polish-convert-to-Islam wife even though he had beaten his wife. He took the stand before the judge and showed him the Marmaduke Pickthall translation of the Quran where it says: “scourge them”. Scourge is an even stronger punishment than beat! The judge was confused, thinking: American law forbids beating, but this man’s religion says he can beat his wife so which way do I decide. Then, the wife took the stand. She opened the Sublime Quran to chapter Nisa: 4:34 and said that the verse says the husband after admonishing his wife and leaving her bed, he should “go away”. The judge then realized that there is a difference of opinion in regard to 4:34 and was then able to decide for the wife.  He gave her custody of the children.

 “It took me seven years to complete the English translation of the Sublime Quran. It was published in 2007. I can’t speak Arabic. I can pronounce the Quran, but to myself, because I don’t pronounce it correctly. However, it is important to recognize that we receive spiritual reward by listening to the Arabic recitation of the Quran, whether we are able to recite it correctly ourselves or not, and not from reading a translation. Translation does not give you that but it gives you meaning which is also very important.”

Critical Thinking and the Chronological Quran in the Life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)

“After finishing the translation of the Quran, I realized that the Quran had taught me to be a critical thinker. As a result, I was able to do a series of thirty books entitled Critical Thinking and the Chronological Quran in the Life of Prophet Muhammad. Twenty-four of the books are focused on the 23 years and some months of the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet. Four other volumes are the verses about the other prophets. Each lesson begins with a critical thinking element.

“One of the most important elements of critical thinking is to ask questions. One-sixth of the Quran, over 1,000 verses, are questions: Will you not be reasonable? Will you not wake up? Why haven’t you done this? Why aren’t you listening? So when the Quran itself is teaching me to be a critical thinker, so this has a beautiful message in it that I need to understand.

Books entitled Book Year 1 to Book Year 24 consist of one book for each year of the revelation to the death of the Prophet. Books 25-28 are devoted to the Quranic stories of all other Prophets, Messengers, and Ones Who Are Sent in order of their dates. The last two are: Book 29: The Life of Prophet Muhammad from Birth to the Revelation and Book 30: Teachers Manual. The last, Book 30 has been prepared for the teachers Lesson Plans.

She added, “The series are educational books as well. They are being taught in five states in America in Sunday schools to teach Muslim students about the Quran because they are learning both critical thinking and the Quran.

“The book that I began on the life of the Prophet was never published. Maybe I will finish it one day, but I just thought because it didn’t have the whole Quran in it I found that I was denigrating the Prophet. I was not giving the full message of his life and why God had chosen him for the revelation.”

A women-friendly translation of Quran

While Bakhtiar’s translation of Quran is cited to be a women-friendly translation, she says she doesn’t call herself a feminist.

“Before me, Ms. Saffarzadeh, God rest her soul in peace, who was a friend of mine, had been the first woman to do an English translation of the Quran. However, if you read her English translation of the Quran it is just like Yusuf Ali’s translation. She translated the Quran the same way a man would. She did not look at it from a woman’s point of view.”

Tahereh Saffarzadeh (1936-2008) published her bilingual translation of the Qur'an in Persian and English in 2001, which is the first bilingual translation of the Qur'an, and the first translation of the Qur'an into English by a woman. She was an Iranian poet, writer, translator and prominent university professor. 

“My translation is the first translation of the Quran by a woman from a women’s point of view, but I’m definitely not a feminist. You can call me a Muslim-feminist or a Muslim-activist if you want but ‘Muslim’ has to be there because feminism ideology began as a rejection of men. While translating 4:34 and the Arabic word ‘daraba’ I found out that there are as many men who agree with me that you cannot beat anyone. However, some women, particularly in the Arab world, say women are supposed to be beaten. Therefore, it is a human rights issue and not a question of being a feminist.”

‘Hijab has a great psychological effect on you’

Speaking about the mandatory Hijab in Iran, she explained: “Wherever you live, you have to follow the laws of that country. If you don’t like a law, then you vote for a different law. There are many laws in America I do not agree with, but I have to go along with the law. You change it through your vote, but you don’t change it by saying I don’t like it or I don’t want to do it. It’s like stopping at a red light. Mandatory hijab makes sense in the culture of Iran, but it doesn’t mean that all cultures have to do that. I also believe that in another culture, like in America, where it is not a law, it is up to a woman to decide if she likes it or not and everyone should accept her decision.

“I loved wearing the Hijab because it kept down my ego. It has a great psychological effect on you in the sense that in your home you are free to wear whatever you want to wear, but when you go out to society you cover because you don’t want to corrupt the society. This makes perfect sense. But in America women wear the worst looking clothes at home and are the least attractive at home, but when they go out they get all these beautiful clothes. That is the complete reverse of what the idea of Hijab is. Here, women’s egos are trained to want to draw attention of everybody to them, and what for?

“I still practice the hijab, but I do not wear a headscarf in the U.S. When 9/11 happened, I stopped wearing a headscarf. I have three children and eight grandchildren. They live in three different states, so I’m the one who travels. I have to get travel alone. I found when I got on an airplane and I was wearing a scarf as I walked down the aisle, I put everyone I passed in a state of fear. I thought to myself: This is not the Hijab because you are supposed to not call attention to yourself. That is the whole idea of it, but here, in this culture, I am calling attention to myself.

“I live in this culture where it is not normal to wear a head scarf. People are not used to seeing others wearing it. In addition, I eventually became 65 years old and the Quran has a verse that says older women do not need to be as careful.”

‘Islam gives women rights that they don’t even know about’

Commenting on gender equality in Islam, Bakhtiar explained that Islam gives women rights that they don’t even know about because they are not educated in women’s rights.

“There are an amazing number of rights that a woman is given. There are logical reasons for whatever rights a woman has or does not have. For example, the Quran says two women witnesses to one man witness. In the first place, that’s an economic contract and it’s very easy to intimidate women. If she has a friend, she is not going to be as closely intimidated as if she were by herself. It makes perfect sense. Or why men get twice as much inheritance? In the first place, you can write your own will and not follow that. This is for those who do not have a will. A man is supposed to support his mother and sisters, while whatever a woman earns is her own.

“Some say women cannot be judges. I believe this will change with time because women are the best judges when it comes to women’s issues. How are men going to be able to judge women’s issues?

“And then women are supposed to go to a women dentist or a women gynecologist, so this gives opportunities to women that they wouldn’t have if it were not because of Islam.  

“And then the movies and cinema. Iranian movies are unbelievable, they are winning awards all around the world. The writers, directors and actors follow the “Sharia” [the Islamic law]. It is so creative in how they do it. So Islam is not something inhibitive. If you use your creative and critical thinking skills you can come up with unbelievable, wonderful ways of expressing human relationships in a way that Persian movies do.

God spirit is with us all the time; even with the development of the world

Bakhtiar opposes the view that today’s human beings are dissimilarly different from their ancestors due progress in technology and a view shared by certain people that today religion cannot be responsive to the current needs of our societies.

“I disagree that human beings are dissimilarly different from their ancestors. We still exhibit the same virtues and vices. However, there are changes of other kinds. From the steam engine, we went to the car. But the most important message of life to me is to know yourself. Who are you? Where did you come from? Where are you going? Well, you can’t know that if you don’t know God. And how could you know God as Existence if you don’t have some kind of faith or some kind of religious belief? It is also a good distinction to make between the spiritual and the religious. So some people only believe in the religious side of things or a formal religion but others believe in the spiritual. God’s spirit is within all of us, in giving us our very existence. Even with the development of the world with televisions, computers, and smartphones, God is still around us and is still a part of us.

“Maybe in our minds, we might want to separate it from our lives, but we can’t really because if we want to know ourselves we have to know that God has given us all these things. Everything came from God. If you define religion as the belief in God, the presence and existence of God is what caused everything to happen to be. It’s just that our minds have doubts so that some say science is more important, or evolution is more important or power is more important or control or money like in the West where religion is replaced with money. 

“They go hours and hours talking about the stock market and about what’s going up and down while in the past we used to talk about God and religion like that. Now it is all about money. Yes, things have changed, but that’s also God’s will about how things should happen. However, we are free to do what we want to do. There is no compulsion in believing in God, but there is a consequence either way.”

What is right and what is wrong

The 21st century has seen an ideological shift; religion is now interpreted by different groups who manipulated it to meet their needs. Given this, there is confusion as to what is right and what is not.

To elaborate on this, Bakhtiar said, “When somebody from a religious perspective tells us what is right or wrong, it’s up to us to use our mind to determine and say “yes”, this does make sense or “no”, it does not and decide whether we follow that or not. One of the most important guidelines in Islam is “taqlid” [an Islamic terminology denoting the conformity of one person to the teaching of another] and that’s for religious issues like when do I pray? If I miss the noon prayer do I first pray the noon prayer? Taqlid relates to questions about specific religious practices. 

“Then, there is “tahqiq” [meaning verification, seeing things as they are in themselves through immediate perception without intermediaries]. It means using my mind to understand things. So the great civilization of Islam, when it was its most powerful was when people used “tahqiq” for things other than religion. “Taqlid” was there but only for religious issues such as prayer, Hajj, fasting, etc. but it wasn’t in other things that had nothing to do with the “Sharia”. The emphasis was on creativity. How do I learn something and this come from “tahqiq”, recognizing things for myself. What does this mean to me? When we do that, we eventually come to spiritual birth. There is no way you cannot get there, but it takes time. I mean it may take a whole lifetime, and that is what the whole “Jihad-e-Akbar” (The Greater Struggle) is about: to know yourself.

“I believe that having faith in God and the Day of Judgment is the only thing that is giving meaning to our lives."

Presenting the true face of Islam

There are different interpretations of the Quran. For example, the Taliban has its own interpretation, Al-Qaeda has its own. Some argue these are puritanical views of Islam; then another group called ISIS presents a stricter version of Islam. The way they are representing Islam is distorting the true image of it.

But Bakhtiar said there is a difference between the literal interpretation of the Quran and understanding the meaning of the Quran.

“To present the true face of Islam you need education so people learn the difference between the literal interpretation of the Quran and understanding the meaning of the Quran. The Wahhabi perspective or the ISIS perspective or those puritanical and ultraconservative views is that the word you are reading is exactly what you are reading and there is no meaning behind that. It’s just whatever that word says.

“But the point of view of other perspectives which is more of an “Erfan” kind of perspective is that every word has meaning because it came from God so that it has a meaning behind it. The spirit of a word is the meaning behind it. So when we say cat, for instance, what is the meaning of a cat? We look for the meaning of it. When we say the prophet or when we say charity, what is the meaning of that? But the Wahhabi or the ultraconservatives just say charity only means this and you give it at this time and that’s it. It’s a very sterile kind of life. It’s like the Puritans who first founded America. They were literalists. They left England because they were being persecuted for being literalists.

“They said whatever it says in the Bible is exactly what it is. You don’t look for the meaning of the things. That’s why they burnt women at the stake calling them witches because they were not looking at the meaning behind whatever they had done. You can say we have the law and the spirit of the law. For instance, if someone is hungry and they steal a chicken, based on the law, stealing is punishable by cutting off hands, but when you look at the spirit of the law, you say: Wait a minute. The person did that because they are hungry. So whose fault is it that they are hungry? It is the government’s fault that they didn’t give that person food. They then had to go and steal something. So there is a spirit behind the law but not for ISIS or the Wahhabi. For them, it’s just the law.

“I had an experience in Chicago. One day someone rang my doorbell. He was in a hurry looking for somewhere to offer his daily prayer. Once he finished, he said only twice in his lifetime had he been late for his daily prayer. I thought that he must be a very pious person. Then I found out that he beats his wife. She was in the hospital because he had beaten her so badly. Why? Because for him there is no meaning in the law. It is just the form. The form says you offer prayer at 12 noon or exactly at noon. This has nothing to do with how you relate to your wife or children or friends. If that exact time doesn’t work for you because your baby is crying, do you take care of the baby or do you just say: Ok, let the baby cry because I have to pray exactly at noon? You either look for the meaning or you say there is no meaning. So it is education that teaches people the difference. Most of the people who haven’t been brainwashed would come to the determination that to think of the spirit of the law and meaning would be a better way of understanding the world.

“The Western media is just reporting about the extremists. Most Muslims are good people and not interested in beating someone or killing someone. However, their stories are less often reported because who is going to buy a story about them? Everything is about money.

“One of the major differences that has rarely been pointed out is the main difference between Sunni and Shia—or as I say, the Ja’fari, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali schools of law—when you talk about martyrdom, for the Ja’faris it's going to war where, if you are killed, you become a martyr for your country or God as Imam Hossein did. But in the view of the extremists, martyrdom is associated with blowing up innocent people. We don’t have that concept in Iran and that’s a big difference that the West doesn’t point out at all because the Ja’faris are in the minority and don’t get as much press as them which has fueled Islamophobia in America. It’s targeting the Muslims and it’s a very difficult time.”

Islam and democracy

On a belief among certain scholars that Islam, or generally religion, is not in conformity with democracy and that these two are not reconcilable, she said, “There is no compulsion in religion. That’s an aspect of democracy. You don’t want to believe in it, don’t. If you want to believe in it, then do. This is a democratic process where it is up to an individual to decide one way or the other. You have a choice. It’s not that the religion is forcing people so if you don’t have a religion you have democracy. They are not separate things. It does not mean that if you have a religion you cannot be democratic. You have just as much right to be religious and democratic as to not having a religion and having democracy. Democracy doesn’t mean you don’t have religion, it means that you are free to vote for whoever you want no matter what you believe in. This is basically what democracy is. Also, America is not a democracy. It is a republic. It never has been a democracy although we talk about it as if it is. When you vote in a presidential election in America, you do not vote directly for the person of your choice. You vote for a person from the Electoral College who can change the vote. We have much more of a direct vote here in Iran. 

Other books and works of translation

“I think one of my most important works of translation and editing is Ibn Sina’s The Canon of Medicine, a five-volume work of 5,000 pages. It took 1,000 years to translate it into English. I spent 10 years with Kazi Publications completing it.

“The other book is The Sufi Enneagram: The Secrets of the Symbol Unveiled. It’s a nine-point personality theory which we can call “Erfanic psychology” and this is how I came to know Dr. Mahshid Razavi.

A quest

Mahshid Razavi Rezvani, a cultural resource manager and policy analyst, also talked to the Tehran Times during the interview.

Razavi, a Ph.D., is the Managing Director at Mahshid-e-Kherad Institute of Art and Culture. She first met Laleh Bakhtiar in 2016 in her quest for learning about the Enneagram.

Razavi conducts research in the field of culture and personality using the Enneagram approach, specifically, the Sufi Enneagram discovered by Dr. Bakhtiar. Razavi is a Professional Member of IEA (International Enneagram Association), Accredited Professional at IEA (International Enneagram Association), and Representative of ITP (Dr. Bakhtiar’s Institute of Traditional Psychology) from Chicago.

“As a counselor, it was important for me to provide counseling from an Islamic point of view as generally counseling theories and approaches lack an Islamic perspective,” Razavi explained.

“Ten years ago I read about the Enneagram and found out that it originated with “Erfan” (mysticism) and Sufism. Five years ago Dr. Bakhtiar’s book The Sufi Enneagram: The Secrets of the Symbol Unveiled, which my office has translated into Persian, entitled Noh Ganeh Irani, came out and answered my question.

The Enneagram (pronounced any-a-gram; ennea is Greek for nine, and gram means drawing) and has its roots in the Middle East in ancient spiritual traditions and research suggests dates as far back as Plato. As we know it today, the Enneagram is a vital link between Eastern spirituality and Western psychology.

The Enneagram of Personality, or simply the Enneagram is a model of the human psyche which is principally understood and taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types. Although the origins and history of many of the ideas and theories associated with the Enneagram of Personality are a matter of dispute, contemporary Enneagram claims are principally derived from the teachings of Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo. Naranjo's theories were partly influenced by some earlier teachings of George Gurdjieff. As a typology, the Enneagram defines nine personality types (sometimes called "enneatypes"), which are represented by the points of a geometric figure called an enneagram, which indicate connections between the types.

However, Razavi explained, monotheism was missing in the kind of Enneagram presented in the West as it does not correspond with the Islamic viewpoint.

“It was important to me to reintroduce the Sufi Enneagram or the Iranian Enneagram to Iranians as well as the world once again,” she said, adding the kind of Enneagram being practiced in the U.S. was first introduced by Persian polymath Nasir al-Din al-Tusi.

“Dr. Bakhtiar has also researched the Enneagram roots among Iranian polymaths as well in her book,” she added.

“The Enneagram practiced in the West is mostly affected by seven deadly sins [the capital vices or cardinal sins, which is a grouping and classification of vices within Christian teachings], however, the Iranian Enneagram is based on moral issues and monotheism,” she highlighted, ”adding that, the human being’s personality is dynamic and can change by avoiding extreme behaviors; the 9 Points Iranian’s (Noh Ganeh Irani) ultimate purpose it to teach us to be fair and just and promote the practice of “spiritual chivalry” (futuwwah, javanmardi) in society.

“The Iranian Enneagram (Noh Ganeh Irani) can introduce Iran and the true face of Islam to the world,” she concluded.

MNA/TT

News Code 143375

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