The human approach to history is just the opposite of the materialistic
approach. It gives basic importance to man-and human values, both in relation to
the individuals and the society. From the psychological point of view it
considers itself to be composed of a set of animal instincts which are common to
both man and beasts and the other set of higher instincts, religious, ethical,
inquisitive and aesthetic which are peculiar to man and distinguish him from the
From the philosophical point of view it considers a society to have two aspects.
Firstly, it is composed of individuals, each of them having a mixture of high
and low qualities. Secondly, as a whole, it has its own variety of attributes
which are the eternal characteristics of man in general. A Persian poet
expresses this fact thus:
"This sweet water and this saltish water in every vein of creatures will flow
till the Day of Resurrection."
Here a vein refers to the veins of the society i.e. man in an indefinite and
general application. In some individuals sweet water flows i.e. good qualities
dominate and in others saltish water flows i.e. bad qualities are more numerous
and remarkable. This position will continue so long as man exists on the face of
the earth. The death of individuals makes no difference to it. Anyhow, with the
evolution of man and human society the position will certainly improve a great
According to this approach history, like nature itself, is developing and
progressing towards a state of perfection. The development of history is neither
confined to the technical nor the cultural aspects, nor to the growth and
improvement of the means of production. It is an all-round and all pervading
process and extends to all human affairs. Man, as a result of his comprehensive
evolution, is moving towards liberation from environmental and social bonds and
is gradually throwing off the shackles which bind him to his environment.
At the same time his adherence to an ideology and faith is growing. In the
future he is expected to secure complete emancipation and with that to reach the
stage of complete adherence to faith and ideology. In the past when man was less
able to exploit natural resources he was a slave to nature. In the future, with
more and more exploitation of natural resources, he will not only be free from
the bonds of nature but will also gradually bring it under his domination and
It is erroneous to say that evolution follows the development of the means of
production. Those who say so confuse the cause with the effect. In fact, the
development of the means of production is the result of man's natural craving
for perfection, expansion and diversification. It originates from his power of
invention which has, with the passage of time grown and is still growing.
According to this approach one of the characteristics of man is the internal and
individual contradiction between his terrestrial and celestial aspects, i.e.
between those instincts which are inclined down wards and aim only at the
individual, limited and temporary gains and those which are inclined upwards and
want to encompass the whole of humanity and aim at achieving the moral,
religious, scientific and intellectual objectives. The famous Persian poet,
The soul inclines to wisdom and science,
The body inclines to gardens and fruits,
The soul inclines to progress and honour,
The body inclines to property and chattels,
The body inclines to greenery and flowing water,
because it originates from them,
The soul inclines to life and the living;
because its origin is divine,
Allah also inclines to soul,
So say that He loves them and they love Him.
The internal conflict of man, which the ancients called the fight between reason
and passion, automatically leads to the conflict between different groups of
human beings, the elated and morally liberated beings on the one side and the
nasty and brutish beings on the other.
This approach accepts the existence of a conflict as a part of the development
and evolution of history, but not in the form of class war between those
attached to the old means of production and old social system and those attached
to the more modern means of production.
It claims that a conflict has always existed between men with mature faith who
are free from the captivity of nature and the environment of animal instincts
and have an object in view and the degraded and brutish persons and it has
played a very effective role in the evolution of history.
To interpret all the wars in history as class wars is tantamount to closing the
eyes to the most beautiful and the brightest manifestations of human life all
Throughout history many battles have been fought to secure material needs like
food, clothing or housing, or on questions connected with sex, power and
prestige. But there have definitely been certain battles which can be described
as fights between the right and the wrong and the good and the evil. They
represented a struggle between the human motives and the animal propensities,
between the common good and the individual interests, between the high human
values and the base desires and between the progressive and the elated man and
the low and the perverted man.
In the words of the holy Qur'an they were fights between the troops of Allah and
the troops of the Devil. The supporters of this theory strongly censure the
attempts of the materialists to interpret all religious, ethical and human
movements on the basis of class struggle and regard such attempts as a
distortion of history and an insult to human dignity. Historical events show
that many movements which were initiated for securing the primary material needs
were led and guided or at least supported by individuals who themselves were
well-off and well-placed.
Contrary to the claim of the materialists that all progressive campaigns are
waged by the oppressed and the deprived classes wanting to displace the existing
system and to replace it by another system which may ensure their material needs
in conformity with the developed means of production there exists historical
evidence to prove that progressive movements have not always been confined to
the oppressed classes.
They have occasionally been led by the individuals belonging to the privileged
classes who thrust their dagger into the heart of the ruling system.
The risings of Abraham, Moses, Muhammad and Hussein were all of this nature. It
is also misleading to suggest that the progressive movements have always aimed
at material objectives. The movement of the early Muslims bears witness to the
fact that this is not so. Ali identifying the nature of this movement said:
"They were given permission to defend their faith with the help of their
swords".1 Similarly, progressive movements have not always been
the result of the development of the means of production.
During the past two centuries a number of freedom movements were launched both
in the East and the West. One such movement was the movement for securing a
constitutional government in Iran, known as the Mashruta Movement. In this case
it cannot be claimed that the development of the means of production had created
a crisis in Iran.
It is also not true that unrest in the society has always been caused by the
unsuitability of the legal provisions of the existing system. In certain cases
the provisions as such were quite acceptable, but a campaign had to be waged to
secure their effective enforcement and the Alawi uprisings during the Abbasid
period had this nature. Human conscience is not so depraved that people cannot
be inspired by anything higher and nobler than their basic material needs.
From the above the following conclusions may be drawn:
1. Evolutionary battles: Battles in history have been of divergent forms,
nature and causes. But those which contributed to the development of history and
humanity have been only those which were fought between the men of high
ideology, free from selfishness and greed and the men of selfish and beastly
nature lacking in aspirational and intellectual life.
The nature of the wars which have contributed to the advancement and evolution
was not that of a class war nor that of a confrontation between the new and the
old in the sense mentioned earlier during the course of the discussion on the
materialistic theory. Wars have, by and by acquired an ideological aspect and
from the viewpoint of human values man is gradually coming closer to perfection
i.e. to the stage of an ideal man in an ideal society. He will continue to
advance on this path till a world government, having full regard for all human
values is established and that will be the end of all the evil forces and
According to the Islamic terminology this government is called the Mahdi
2. Absurdity of logical continuity: A logical continuity of the
historical stages as described by the materialists is baseless. Historical
events, especially those of the past one century, prove the absurdity of this
theory. During this period only such countries have gone over to communism as
had never passed through the stage of capitalism. The Soviet Union, China and
the East European countries are a conspicuous example of it.
On the other hand the countries with a highly developed capitalistic system like
the United States, Great Britain and France are still maintaining their old
systems and a century old prediction of the protagonists of materialism
concerning the workers revolution in the heavily industrialized countries like
Britain and France has turned out to be mere illusion.
It is evident from the above that there is no such thing as a historical
compulsion. It is quite possible that in a capitalistic society the proletarian
class attains such a state of prosperity and well being that it may totally
reject all ideas of revolution. Similarly, it is also possible that with
appearance of a clear and convincing ideology and an elevation of religious and
social conscience a nomadic society may reach the highest stage of human culture
in one leap. The renaissance of the early Islamic era bears witness to this
3. Sanctity of an armed struggle: The lawfulness and sanctity of an armed
struggle does not mean an encroachment on any individual's rights or
aspirations. The struggle becomes lawful and sacred whenever anything sacred to
humanity is in danger. Whenever any right, especially that which pertains to the
entire society, is threatened an armed struggle is allowed. Freedom is one such
right. A struggle for the liberation of the oppressed, as specifically mentioned
in the holy Qur'an, is another instance.
If the belief in the Oneness of Allah, which is the greatest asset of humanity,
is in danger then a fight is naturally lawful.
4. Reforms: There is no reason why partial or gradual reforms should be
condemned. History does not compulsorily pass through contradictions and the
transformation of one contradiction into another is not a universal truth.
Hence, it is not correct to say that partial and gradual reforms prevent an
explosion and block the way to evolution.
Even partial and gradual reforms do encourage and help those who fight for a
rightful and just cause and bring the chances of their final success closer. In
contrast corruption, turmoil and perversions help the hostile forces and slow
down the movement of history in favour of the righteous people. According to
this approach, what is required is a sort of development which precedes the
ripening of the fruit on the tree and not an explosion. The better the care,
anti pest protection and watering of a tree, the better, healthier, and
sometimes earlier is the fruit it produces.
5. Disorders: The same reasons which justify partial and gradual reforms
also make unlawful subversion and sabotage with a view to creating deadlock and
crisis, which is recommended by the materialistic theory.
6. Vacillations of history: Although, on the whole, history moves towards
evolution, yet contrary to the materialistic view, such a movement is neither
compulsory nor inevitable. It is also not essential that every society in any
stage of its history should be more perfect than it was in the preceding stage.
The prime mover of history is man who is free and the master of his actions.
Hence, history fluctuates in its movements. Sometimes it goes forward and
It sways now to the right and now to the left. Some times it moves fast and
sometimes slow and occasionally stands still. A society continues to rise and
fall. The history of human civilization is nothing but a series of rises, falls
and extinctions. As the famous historian, Toynbee, has pointed out, decline of
every single civilization is inevitable, though on the whole, human history
continues to advance steadily along a line of evolution.
7. The evolutionary march of humanity towards freedom from the
restrictions imposed by natural environments, economic conditions and individual
and group interests has on the whole, been guided towards a purposeful life, a
better ideology and a deeper faith.
The will of a primitive man is mostly conditioned by his natural and social
environments and his animal impulses, whereas a culturally advanced man with his
broad outlook has gradually attained a great deal of freedom from such
restrictions and has consequently, to a large extent, brought his environments
and his impulses under his control.
8. The jihad and the efforts to persuade others to adopt the righteous
path are quite different from a class war, for they have a humanitarian basis.
9. The power of conviction and reasoning is genuine, natural and
effective. A conviction enables the human conscience to overcome material urges.
10. The Hegelian and Marxian triangle of thesis, antithesis and synthesis
is neither applicable to history nor to nature and consequently it is a false
presumption that history passes through contradictories or that historical
stages are a series of contradictories derived from each other and transformed
into one another.
The triangle of thesis, antithesis and synthesis is based on two transformations
and one combination i.e. the transformation of a phenomenon into its antithesis,
then its transformation into the antithesis of antithesis and the combination of
these two forms at the third and last stage viz. the synthesis.
But, in reality, nature does not work in this manner. What actually exists in
nature is either a combination of two contradictories without transformation, or
transformation of one contradictory into another without any combination. The
third form which is met with is evolution without either transformation or
Many elements which are somewhat contradictory to each other combine together
but are not transformed into each other. For instance, water is a mixture of
hydrogen and oxygen. In such cases there is a combination, not transformation.
There are other cases where nature gradually tilts from one excessive state to
the opposite state and in the process strikes a balance between the two. In such
cases there is a transformation, but no combination. There are still other cases
where a third thing comes into being as a result of the combination of the two
things. Of course, there is no harm if we call the resulting third thing
synthesis and the two original ones thesis and antithesis respectively, but that
means nothing more than the use of common and familiar terms.
The same is the case with the use of the word "dialectic". It is a beautiful and
well-sounding word and no writer would like to be deprived of it. Therefore,
there is no harm if it is used in connection with any idea that combines the
principles of motion and contradiction though it may not have those distinctive
features of dialectic thinking to which we have referred before.
* Book: The Awaited
Saviour. By: Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari- Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir As-Sadr
1. See: Sermon
154, Peak of Eloquence, Nahjul Balaghah, ISP 1979.