In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Grande Strategy

Islamic Practical Theology of Social Solidarity Through The Rememberance of Self-Sacrifice

Contribution by guest member Habibollah Babaei from Qom, Iran. The paper is about how past and present liberative suffering can be a basis for present and future unity and solidarity. There is relevance today in the Muslim world given the suffering of Muslims worldwide at the hands of direct Western intervention as in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and secretly, in virtually every Muslim state. This suffering also extends to the pro-western secular elites that run Muslim countries at the behest of their foreign masters seeking to not only exploit us, but but now, openly and directly, to destroy the very core and spirit of our beliefs as Muslims.

-Meinhaj Hussain

In the name of God


Habibollah Babaei
Director of Department of Islam andWest Studies
In the "Academy of IslamicScience and Culture" (AISC)
Qom, Iran


I intend to show how it is feasible to deal with divisive difference (contrary to decisive difference) in Islamic practical theology. I think one of practical potentials in Islamic theology to deal with conflict-ridden diversity and to create social solidarity is the remembrance of self-sacrifice for the sake of inclusive human dignity. Remembrance of self-sacrifice such as this, constitutes the theological basis of solidarity, resistance and righteousness. Such memory of suffering, has a powerful potential not only to create solidarity within religious communities, but also to forge connections among different religions.


There are several communities in Islamic areas that take memory of liberative self-sacrifice for the sake of human dignity as a significant theological factor for solidarity, resistance and righteousness. Such memory of self-sacrifice, which may exist in other traditions as well, has a powerful potential not only to create solidarity within religious communities, but also to forge connections among different religions. By memory, I refer to remembrance that is simultaneously cognitive and emotional. As I use the term,memory is not only a cognitive issue stemming from “imagination,”“recollection,” and “repetition,” but is also an “affection” that comes up from pains and passions. Also, memory of self-sacrifice does not imply“resurrection” of past suffering in the present. Rather, it means recognizing,reconsidering, and sensing tangible aspects of past self-sacrifice, on the one hand, and experiencing its constructive and instructive dimensions, on the other. By liberativity of self-sacrifice I refer to redemption from suffering, not from sin (as in the Christian context).By self-sacrifice, I do refer to the quintessential and all-inclusive suffering that specific characters like Jesus in Christianity and Mohammad or Hussein in Islam endured for the sake of human integrity. Finally, by solidarity, I refer to a type of integration and societal ties, through which different peoples come together to prevent new suffering. I think the memory of liberative self-sacrifice can be an effective means to overcome internal and external disputes within and among various traditions.

While I draw primarily upon instances of self-sacrifice in the Islamic tradition, I do so only to illustrate how solidarity can be founded upon the memory of self-sacrifice. I do not intend to suggest the exclusivity of Islamic or Shiite suffering and self-sacrifice in the history, but rather to put forth a model that can serve as a common logic between Shiite and Sunni on the one hand, and Muslims and non-Muslims on the other. In order to make it clear, it is essential to consider different type of sufferings in the Qur'an.


Three types of meaningful suffering can be identified in the Qur’an: Non-liberative suffering, time-specific liberative suffering, and eschatological liberative suffering. Non-liberative suffering falls only upon individuals and does not impact others and society. In other words, this type of suffering which can fall upon both prophets (such as Job, Jonah, or Zachariah) and non-prophets, is redemptive neither for “self” nor for “others”(Q. 21: 83-84).

Liberative suffering in the Qur’an, by contrast, is freely chosen in order to redeem others from suffering. The first type of liberative suffering releases others from suffering, but only with regard to a specific time and place. Time-specific suffering can liberate others from either physical (disease and death) or spiritual suffering(injustice and unrighteousness). The Qur’an presents this form of suffering in terms of a self-sacrificing morality (Ithar) and charity undertaken to relieve others from pain.(Q. 59: 9). The suffering of Imam Ali and his family, when they fasted three days and donated their food to the needy, the orphaned, and the captive ones (Q.76: 8-13),exemplifies the liberation of others from the physical pain (starvation). The sufferings of some prophets serve as examples of time-specific liberative suffering that delivers others not only from physical but also from spiritual suffering, i.e. pain that is caused by unrighteous and sinful living. According to the Qur’an, most prophets suffered willingly and voluntarily, in order to deliver their community from the spiritual affliction stemming from its unrighteous behavior. For instance, in the Qur’anic account, Noah suffers in order to win a few to the path of righteousness. (Q. 71: 21, 11: 36, 10: 73; 11: 50-95).

Liberative Eschatological Suffering

The remembrance of both non-liberative suffering and time-specific liberative suffering can, to some extent, be a salve for present-day human tragedy by providing different lessons for the human community. However,because they apply only to individuals or to a specific time and place, they represent a more simple form of suffering.

I think in order to overcome complexities of late-modern suffering sand violence, we should consider a comprehensive form of past suffering to be as a historic model to be remembered. By comprehencivity I mean the suffering that is more emotional, more rational,more communal, and more existential—not merely suffering from but suffering for. The remembrance of this type of suffering would be more able to harness violence, on the one hand, and to create solidarity, on the other. These four factors are characteristic of a type of suffering in Shiite tradition that I designate liberative eschatological suffering. By eschatological suffering, I refer to the quintessential and all-inclusive suffering that specific characters like Jesus in Christianity and Mohammad or Hussein in Islam endured for the sake of human dignity.

I think the pain and suffering of the final prophet marks a fulfillment and signifies the ultimate and comprehensive instance of human suffering which should be considered with similar sufferings in other traditions. This suffering is considered eschatological suffering by virtue of the end time (end phase of creation) in which it occurs and the end purpose for which it is taken on.

This ultimate suffering is the beginning of the ultimate deliverance of the earth, as described in the following verse: "He who answers the constrained, when he calls unto Him, and removes the evil and appoints you to be successors in the earth. Is there a god with God[?] Little indeed do you remember." (Q.27:62) Based on this verse, Shiite tradition asserts a parallel between eschatological suffering and eschatological hope and deliverance. (Tabatabaei, 1973, Vol. 15; Tabarsei,1995, Vol. 7; Bahranei,1393 A.H. Vol. 4; Aroosei Hovaizei,1966, Vol. 4). The degree ofsuffering corresponds to the degree of hope and the degree of liberation, and vice-versa. Thus, without full and comprehensive suffering, it is impossible,theologically, to expect full and comprehensive deliverance in the world.

Another key verse that shows the correlation between eschatological suffering, final hope and the last deliverance is the following verse about Moses and his people: "Yet We desired to be gracious to those that were abased in the land, and to make them leaders, and to make them the inheritors,and to establish them in the land, and to show Pharaoh and Haman, and their hosts, what they were dreading from them." (Q. 28:5-6)

The two previous citations promise that people who have suffered will be saved and will even become rulers of the earth. However, there is no historical evidence indicating that people who have suffered, have “inherited”the earth and become "leaders” or “successors in the earth."(Brojerdi, 2004, Vol. 5) Therefore, this promise in the Qur’an should be viewed as an anticipation that points not to a specific time and place in the past but to the period in the future when salvation and pure goodness will overcome the highest levels of suffering and evil. (Bahranei, 1393 A.H. Vol.4)

Aspect of Liberative Eschatological Suffering

There are three crucial characteristics of final and comprehensive prophecy in Islam: Communality (Q,3:200; Tabatabaei, 1973, Vol.4),intelligibility,(Q,4:82; Tabatabaei, 1973, Vol.3; Kashanei, 1402 A.H. Vol. 1)and emotionality (Qur'an42:24). Communality of prophecy means a prophetic teaching that insists on community and commonality in its ritualand spirituality. Intelligibility refers to the rational (not necessarily in the sense of Modern Rationality) aspect of religion that should be intelligible to common human sense. Emotionality implies the affective aspect of religion.It would be difficult to create effective faith merely through merely rationality and communality. Emotionality serves as a powerful agent for internalizing knowledge in the mind.

Accordingly, I think these traits should be embodied in eschatological suffering and self-sacrifice as well: the complete and comprehensive suffering in the eschaton should be more communal, more intelligible, and more emotionally effective than previous sufferings. These three factors distinguish eschatological suffering from other types, such as time-specific liberative sacrifice and non-liberative suffering. While eschatological suffering encompasses all the advantages of liberative and non-liberative sufferings that make us patient and full of hope with respect to our personal and social suffering, it simultaneously includes eschatological features that make it possible to control complex catastrophes and to create human solidarity.

In addition to the above-mentioned traits, eschatological suffering that arises from self-sacrifice is existential (4th feature)suffering as well. In order to explain the existentiality of suffering, we should distinguish between suffering for and suffering from.Suffering for (suffering to attain something) is an existential phenomenon that involves positive achievement. For instance, the suffering of a mother giving birth is a suffering for her beloved child, a fact that makes her suffering meritorious, meaningful, and even wondrous. (Balthasar, 1998) This type of suffering clearly differs from suffering from illness or destitution. (Moltmann, 2004).

By virtue of the distinction between suffering for and suffering from, we can likewise distinguish between meaningful and meaningless suffering. As Dorothee Solles puts it: “There is meaningless suffering on which people can no longer work, since it has destroyed all their essential powers.[Conversely, meaningful suffering] impels one to act and thereby produces change.” (Soelle, 1975, p. 107) Accordingly, suffering for is “a form of change that a person experiences; it is a mode of becoming.” (Soelle, 1975, p.98).

In asserting that suffering can potentially be instructive and constructive, I nevertheless refuse to accord evil a positive status. Evil isevil and not good, but perfect people (like Job, Jesus, Mohammad, and other perfect people) can transform the evil that they suffer into an opportunity for the betterment of themselves and others. They thereby model, for those who come later, a successful approach for dealing with human evil and suffering.


How can the remembrance of self-sacrifice and suffering create solidarity when so many historical instances of suffering resulted not in solidarity but in dispute and violence? This is the key question that I attempt to address throughout this section. I will first describe how the remembrance of liberative suffering provides an effective way to bridge gaps among people who suffer, even while the same memory also has the potential to stoke the flames of violence and vengeance. I will then argue that violence and vengeance result specifically from the memory of suffering from, not suffering for. In contrast, the remembrance of suffering for makes it possible to harness the violent passions of suffering from.

Suffering and Solidarity

Suffering differs from happiness in regard to the self and to solidarity. When overwhelmed with joyful passion, people often disregard others. Happiness without memory of previous adversities and without consideration of potential future hardship can easily lead to selfishness and over-confidence, which tend to create conflicts between "self" and "others." Thus, for instance, Pharaoh’s self-exaltation directly resulted in the oppression and humiliation of others.

In contrast, suffering, as a consciousness of deprivation, is associated with need and limitation. (Levinas, 1998). For example, suffering from disease deprives a person of health, and suffering from poverty entails the deprivation of property. The more that people suffer—or remember suffering—the more they experience deprivation or need. The more they experience need and deprivation, the more they lose their sense of self-sufficiency and realize their need for others. (Edelglass, 2006).

Although suffering has more potential to create solidarity than does happiness, suffering also has a greater capacity for fostering violence and revenge. (Nietzsche,1918). In other words, resentment is a triple achievement that produces “an affect (rage, righteousness) that overwhelms the hurt”; a “culprit responsible for the hurt;” and “a site of revenge to displace the hurt (a place to inflict hurt as the sufferer has been hurt).” (Brown. 1995, p. 68).

While I agree with the Hegelian notion that “men, following their passions, actually serve some higher world-historical purpose of which they are totally unaware,” (Brown, 1995, p19). I emphasize that this account of passion applies not only to joyful cases but also instances of suffering. In other words, acting upon suffering-passions plays a significant role in the formation of history and civilization. Thus, violence that occurs between different groups stems not only from lust for money, possession, and power, but often from suffering or the memory of suffering (clash of sufferings).

Because the power of pain is stronger than the power of joy, the passion of suffering has greater capacity to create conflict than passion of joy. The presence of pain creates more difficulties than the mere absence of joy, and the desire to be delivered from pain is more compelling than the desire to attain joy. Therefore, the type of friction that arises between two suffers differs from frictions stemming from joy. The latter friction is due to the increase in passion for life, while the former derives from the desire to escape from death.

Furthermore the positive and negative power of self-sacrifice and suffering passion, with its destructive and instructive capacities, is not limited to suffering itself, but can also be a component of the memory of suffering. Remembrance of suffering is a re-experiencing of the suffering that is remembered and can result in new emotion and passion. For example, the remembrance of the suffering caused by African-American slavery constitutes an essential element of the historic identity and current unity of those who suffered. Remembrance of these sufferings by immediate victims or their descendants can teach and empower them to stand against those who might create new suffering in the present.

In the face of the negative consequences that can result from remembrance of suffering I maintain that the remembrance of self-sacrifice for human dignity that is kind of suffering for and its constructive aspects can be used to transform painful passions into a rational passion (interest) of suffering.

Rational Memory and Countervailing "Suffering for"

Suffering for (self-sacrifice for the sake of human dignity and glory), instances of which can be found in the history of religions, constitutes a form of instructive suffering, and the memory of this suffering can be constructive for the human community. In contrast, purposeless suffering from without suffering for, and suffering for one’s own individual advantage and not for others, are destructive of human relationships and do not build solidarity. (Soelle, 1975).

Also, memory of suffering for creates powers to resist those who want to give preference to their suffering over that of others and who use their own suffering as an excuse for vengefulness. In this way, memory of suffering can provoke a community to resist injustice. (Farley, 1990). In accord with Spinoza’s idea that “an affect cannot be restrained nor removed unless by an opposed and stronger affect,” (Hirschman, 1997, p. 23) the memory of suffering for results in strong emotion that can restrain the destructive passions of others, whether caused by joy and delight or by suffering from. (Brown, 1995).

In addition to this emotional role, the memory of suffering for has greater potential to make reason “open to learn.” J.B. Metz, although he does not specifically address suffering for, has called attention to the relationship between suffering and reason. (Metz, 2007) Drawing upon Metz’ insight, we can say that an openness to learn, derived from suffering for, can control the violent passions that result from suffering from and can transform them into rational passion (interests).

Importantly, I do not agree with Kitamori’s assertion that “We can conquer [pain] only when we seek it within ourselves and long for it. We can strengthen ourselves when we earnestly seek and desire pain to be part of our nature.” (Kitamori, 1966, p. 80-81). Likewise, in contrast to Simone Weil, one should never love suffering itself, neither because “it is useful” nor “because it is.” (Weil, 1987, p. 72).

I emphasize on remembrance of suffering. By emphasizing remembrance, one can appropriate the positive feature while avoiding its negative features. Without creating or justifying suffering, memory of suffering revives past suffering in order to offer instruction and power for the present. (Maier, 1993).

Eschatological liberative suffering, specifically in the Shiite tradition, could stand as an example of this type of suffering for. As was mentioned above, this suffering manifests intelligibility, emotionality, communality, and existentiality. The emotional feature of this suffering empowers those who remember to resist new evil. Its intelligibility and rationality enable people to control themselves in the highly emotional context of suffering. The communality of this suffering causes people to maintain attention to community and others even in the face of their own individual pain. Finally, the purposeful existentiality of this suffering helps rememberers to avoid negative or nihilistic aspects of suffering and to reflect upon its meaningful aspects.


Beyond solidarity for the purpose of avoiding new suffering, the memory of suffering can also create solidarity by means a shared love for those suffered for others. There is a relationship between suffering and love on the one hand, and between love and truth on the other. By remembering the suffering of perfect people who suffered for the sake of others, one can love their characteristics as a form of external truth. Through this love, one can intimately experience those characteristics and their spirit and thereby reduce the gap between who knows and what is known.

Put differently, we can imagine three different type of knowledge: mental knowledge or the knowledge via the mind (ilm ol'yaqin), visual knowledge or the knowledge via the eye (ein ol'yaqin), and existential (experiential) knowledge or the knowledge via existence (Haqq ol'yaqin). For instance, I know what fire is. This knowledge is via my mind. Sometimes, I see the fire. This knowledge is via my eye. But if I am being burned by fire, this is existential knowledge, with no gap between known and knower.

Love is the experience of a beloved one. By loving exemplary persons, one is able to experience and participate in their exemplary characteristics. The experience of such characteristics by different people—even if the particular bearer of the characteristics varies from one tradition to another—serves as a foundation for positive solidarity and for a common purpose among those who love.

Love and Remembrance of Suffering

Love is the fruit of remembrance of a beloved one, and a deep remembrance is possible only through remembrance of the beloved one's suffering. However, contra Schelling, this does not mean that “Every being can be revealed only in its opposite, love only in hatred, unity only in conflict.” (Moltmann, 1993, p.37). That is, the positivity of love is not always dependent on the negativity of suffering. Rather, spiritual love can also result from remembrance of joy and happiness. Nevertheless, the most powerful form of love is that which results from remembrance of suffering. According to several verses in the Qur'an, general remembrance (zikr), which takes place in one’s mind, is distinguished from deep remembrance (ashaddo zikra) that occurs in one’s heart via remembrance of beloved one’s suffering. (Q, 2: 200). This depth of remembrance intensifies one’s love for the beloved and creates a stronger experience of the beloved characteristics. It thereby generates a powerful basis for commonality of purpose among those who engage in this common way of remembrance, even in an era there is no divine prophet or Imam.


Self-sacrifice for the sake of human dignity can serve as excellent “common word” models for building commonalities between different traditions. Constructive memory of instructive sacrifice and suffering can make it possible to bridge gaps not only among those different religious traditions containing similar sufferings for, but also between religious and secular communities who see the sufferings of those perfect people as a part of history of human suffering.

Fulfilled suffering that is suffering with the four factors described above (existentiality, communality, rationality, and emotionality) can pave the way for both negative and positive solidarity in a complex, fragmented world such as ours. In fact, this kind of solidarity in a common ground of suffering fors in the past and in the necessity of avoiding suffering from in the present. Fulfilled self-sacrifice and suffering as a common language can pave a common way toward better understandings of one another and toward relations of calm and peace.

Memory of purposeful suffering for (in contrast to the nihilistic suffering from) enables us to base solidarity not only on suffering (negative solidarity) but also on hopes, desires and love (positive solidarity). (Rorty, 2005). Furthermore, emphasizing suffering for implies neither a justification of suffering nor neglect of happiness in human society. However, while happiness and joyful passion do play important roles in enhancing human community, their power cannot compare with the power of suffering or of the memory of suffering—both in terms of creating violence and in terms of establishing solidarity.


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Vision Without Glasses


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