Paradox as Decolonization: Ali Shariati’s Islamic Lawgiver

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This article reevaluates the Iranian polymath Ali Shariati’s most controversial lectures. Scholarly consensus reads 1969’s Ummat va Imāmat as derivative, comprising an imitation of Sukarno’s guided democracy and hence an apology for postcolonial authoritarian rule. Shariati’s rhetorical performance suggests otherwise. The lectures address a postcolonial iteration of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s paradox of founding—a call for self-determination alongside the external intervention needed to prepare for it in the wake of moral dispositions accrued during colonization. Shariati proposes to resolve the problem of enduring colonial domination by citing a fabricated French professor, a foreigner, as an authoritative source. He practices a noble lie, believable because it draws from colonized sensibilities but laden with hints encouraging audiences to see past it. If audiences develop the requisite ability to decipher the lie, Shariati wagers, they at once develop the autonomy implied by self-determination. On these grounds, Shariati theorizes the paradox of politics as decolonization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)743-773
Number of pages31
JournalPolitical Theory
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thanks to Lawrie Balfour, Yazan Doughan, Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi, Mojtaba Mahdavi, Naveed Mansoori, Kirstie McClure, Jeanne Morefield, Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi, Siavash Saffari, Sina Rahmani, and two anonymous reviewers for help with and feedback on earlier versions of this article. The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Ali Shariati
  • decolonization
  • Islamic political thought
  • lawgiver
  • paradox of politics
  • self-determination


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