The hopeful news about a possible diplomatic thaw in relations between the U.S. and Iran raises many questions, including ones about religion.
But first let's be grateful that Iran finally got rid of its Holocaust-denying, moonstruck, feral president, Mahmoud Amadinejad, and has elected Hassan Rouhani (pictured here), who seems much more in tune with the Iranian people. Will this change lead to better diplomatic relations with the U.S.? It already has. Will it mean a non-nuclear Iran? We must wait for that answer, but this is where we adopt Ronald Reagan's idea (one of his few good ones), trust but verify. And, I would add, verify again. Then again.
As for religion, Iran is predominantly Muslim, and the official Iranian count is that about 90 percent of the Muslims are in the Shi'a branch, leaving the remaining 10 percent as Sunni, with a few Sufis thrown in. Sufism, as you may know, is Islam's mystical path. (For another report on religion in Iran, click here.)
As in many Middle Eastern, mostly Muslim countries, there really is no church-state separation in Iran. Muslim clerics, in the end, call the shots. It's not a system we can change, certainly not in the short term and maybe never. So we simply have to recognize the reality of it.
What I think we also have to recognize is that Iran has been in an unsafe neighborhood for many years and perhaps finally is tired of all the bloodshed and chaos. Although there still are radical Islamists there whose anger at the United States knows no bounds, much of the population could be classified as pro-Western in many ways and in search of something like peace, which traditional Islam promotes.
So at the moment the possibility for peace seems on the rise in Iran, in Syria and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And by "on the rise" I mean in tiny upticks but still up, not down.
So let's pray that wise heads prevail and that the impulse for peace that throbs from all the great religions begins to issue in reality in Iran and elsewhere in that region.
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RELIGION'S LIBERAL FUTURE?
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, who used to lead the Union of Reform Judaism, writes here that he's really optimistic about the future of what he calls "liberal" religions in the U.S. I'm reluctant to use that word to describe any religion because labels always hide more than they reveal and because this term has political overtones that are hard to avoid. That said, I think Yoffie is on to something important. See what you think.