Ali Shariati (Persian: علی شريعتی‎) (November 23, 1933 in Kahak – 1977 in Southampton, England) was an Iranian revolutionary[1] and sociologist, who focused on the sociology of religion. He is held as one of the most influential Iranian intellectuals of the 20th century[2] and has been called the ‘ideologue of the Iranian Revolution’.[3]


Ali Shariati was born in 1933 in Kahak (a village in Mazinan), a suburb of Sabzevar, found in northeastern Iran.[4] His father, Mohammad-Taqi, was a teacher and Islamic scholar, who opened in 1947 the ‘Centre for the Propagation of Islamic Truths’ in Mashhad, in the province of Khorasan,[5] a social Islamic forum which became embroiled in the oil nationalisation movement of the 1950s.[6]

In his years at the Teacher’s Training College in Mashhad, Shariati came into contact with young people who were from the less privileged economic classes of the society, and for the first time saw the poverty and hardship that existed in Iran during that period. At the same time he was exposed to many aspects of Western philosophical and political thought. He attempted to explain and provide solutions for the problems faced by Muslim societies through traditional Islamic principles interwoven with and understood from the point of view of modern sociology and philosophy. His articles from this period for the Mashhad daily newspaper, Khorasan, display his developing eclecticism and acquaintance with the ideas of modern Islamic and secular thinkers such as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad Iqbal, Sigmund Freud and Alexis Carrel.[7]

In 1952 he became a high-school teacher and founded the Islamic Students’ Association, which led to his arrest after a demonstration. In 1953, the year of Mossadeq’s overthrow, he became a member of the National Front. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Mashhad in 1955. In 1957 he was arrested again by the police, along with 16 other members of the National Resistance Movement.

Ali Shariati then managed to obtain a scholarship for France, where he continued his graduate studies at the Sorbonne University. There he was considered a brilliant student and elected best student in letters in 1958. He worked towards earning his doctorate in sociology, leaving Paris after get PHD certificate at sociology in 1964. During this period in Paris, Shariati started collaborating with the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) in 1959. The next year, he began to read Frantz Fanon and translated an anthology of his work into Persian.[8] Shariati would introduce Fanon’s thought into Iranian revolutionary émigrée circles. He was arrested in Paris during a demonstration in honour of Patrice Lumumba, on January 17, 1961.

The same year he joined Ebrahim Yazdi, Mostafa Chamran and Sadegh Qotbzadeh in founding the Freedom Movement of Iran abroad. In 1962 he continued studying sociology and history of religions, and followed the courses of Islamic scholar Louis Massignon, Jacques Berque and the sociologist Georges Gurvitch. He also came to know the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre that same year, and published in Iran Jalal Al-e Ahmad’s book Gharbzadegi (or Occidentosis).

He then returned to Iran in 1964 where he was arrested and imprisoned for engaging in subversive political activities while in France. He was released after a few weeks, at which point he began teaching at the University of Mashhad.

Shariati then went to Tehran where he began lecturing at the Hosseiniye Ershad Institute. These lectures proved to be hugely popular among his students and were spread by word of mouth throughout all economic sectors of the society, including the middle and upper classes where interest in Shariati’s teachings began to grow immensely.

Shariati’s continued success again aroused the interest of the government, which arrested him, as well as many of his students. Widespread pressure from the populace and an international outcry eventually led to his release after eighteen months in solitary confinement, and he was released on March 20, 1975.

Shariati was allowed to leave the country for England. He died three weeks later in a Southampton hospital under ‘mysterious circumstances’ although in Ali Rahnema’s biography of Shariati, he is said to have died of a fatal heart attack. Shariati is buried next to his beloved Zaynab in Damascus, Syria where Iranian pilgrims frequently visit.



Ali Shariati

Shariati’s works were highly influenced by the Third Worldism that he encountered as a student in Paris — ideas that class war and revolution would bring about a just and classless society — from one side, and the Islamic puritanism (or the Islamic Reformation) movements of his time from the other side. He is said to have adopted the idea of Gharbzadegi from Jalal Al-e Ahmad and given it “its most vibrant and influential second life.” [9]

He sought to translate these ideas into cultural symbols of Shiism that Iranians could relate to. He believed Shia should not merely await the return of the 12th Imam but should actively work to hasten his return by fighting for social justice, “even to the point of embracing martyrdom”, saying “everyday is Ashoura, every place is Karbala.”[10] Shariati had a dynamic view about Islam. His ideology about Islam is closely related to Allama Iqbal’s ideology; for example, according to both intellectuals, change is the greatest law of nature and Islam.

Shariati referred to his brand of Shiism as “red Shiism” which he contrasted with clerical-dominated, unrevolutionary “black Shiism” or Safavid Shiism. His ideas have been compared to the Catholic Liberation Theology movement founded in South America by Peruvian Gustavo Gutierrez and Brazilian Leonardo Boff.[11]


Shariati’s most important books and speeches

  1. Hajj (The Pilgrimage)
  2. Marxism      and Other Western Fallacies : An Islamic Critique
  3. Where      Shall We Begin?[1]
  4. Mission      of a Free Thinker[2]
  5. The      Free Man and Freedom of the Man[3]
  6. Extraction      and Refinement of Cultural Resources[4]
  7. Martyrdom (book)[5]
  8. Ali
  9. An      approach to Understanding Islam PART1-[6] PART2-[7]
  10. A      Visage of Prophet Muhammad[8]
  11. A      Glance of Tomorrow’s History[9]
  12. Reflections of Humanity
  13. A      Manifestation of Self-Reconstruction and Reformation
  14. Selection      and/or Election
  15. Norouz,      Declaration of Iranian’s Livelihood, Eternity
  16. Expectations from the Muslim      Woman
  17. Horr (Battle      of Karbala)
  18. Abu-Dahr
  19. Islamology
  20. Red Shi’ism vs. Black Shi’ism
  21. Jihad      and Shahadat
  22. Reflections      of a Concerned Muslim on the Plight of Oppressed People
  23. A      Message to the Enlightened Thinkers
  24. Art      Awaiting the Saviour
  25. Fatemeh is Fatemeh
  26. The Philosophy of Supplication
  27. Religion      versus Religion
  28. Man and      Islam – see chapter “Modern Man and His Prisons”
  29. Arise      and Bear Witness


  1. ^ 30th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Islamic Republic (but he didn’t accept the dominion of clergy), A Revolution Misunderstood. Charlotte Wiedemann
  2. ^ Gheissari, Ali. 1998. Iranian Intellectuals in the Twentieth Century. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  3. ^ Abrahamian, Ervand. 1993. ‘Ali Shariati: ideologue of the Iranian revolution’. In Edmund Burke and Ira Lapidus (eds.), Islam, politics, and social movements. Los Angeles: University of California Press. First published in MERIP Reports (January 1982): 25-28.
  4. ^ Rahnema, Ali. 1998, 2000. An Islamic Utopian. A Political Biography of Ali Shari‘ati. London: I.B. Tauris, p. 35.
  5. ^ An Islamic Utopian, p. 13.
  6. ^ An Islamic Utopian, pp. 13-18.
  7. ^ An Islamic Utopian, pp. 61-68.
  8. ^ «La jeune génération est un enjeu», interview with Gilles Kepel in L’Express, 26 January 2006 (French)
  9. ^ Mottahedeh, Roy, The Mantle of the Prophet : Religion and Politics in Iran, p.330
  10. ^ Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, Norton, (2006), p.128-9
  11. ^ Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, Norton, (2006), p.129

Further reading

  • Rahnema,      Ali. 1998. An Islamic Utopian. A political biography of Ali Shariati.      London: I.B. Tauris.
  • Gheissari,      Ali. 1998. Iranian Intellectuals in the Twentieth Century. Austin:      University of Texas Press.
  • Hosseini,      S A. 2000 “[Ali Shariati’s Islamic-Critical School of Thought (1)] مکتب انتقادی دکتر علی شریعتی (1)”, Farhang-e-Tose’eh, 9, 44,[10]
  • Hosseini,      S A. 2000 “[Ali Shariati’s Islamic-Critical School of Thought (2)] مکتب انتقادی دکتر علی شریعتی (2)”, Farhang-e-Tose’eh, 9, 47. [11]