Interview with Ayatullah Seyyed Muhammed Khamenei


A Short biography

 Ayatullah Seyyed Muhammed Khamenei was born in 1935 AS in Mashad. He followed his preliminary and complementary studies of jurisprudence and Islamic philosophy in Mashad’s Seminary between 1950 and 1955. He continued his studies at higher levels of jurisprudence (ijtihad) and Islamic philosophy and gnosis between 1955 and 1964 in Qum’s Seminary. Later he moved to Tehran and received his BA in law from the law faculty of Tehran University (1965-1969).

Among his academic activities, we can refer to teaching constitutional law at al-Zahra University, the Sociology of the Family at al-Zahra and ‘Allamah Tabataba’i Universities, Criminal Law at Islamic Azad University, and International Law at the Faculty of International Affairs of the Foreign Ministry. He also worked as an attorney for some years and was the charter holder and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Iran’s Problems in the 1980's. He is a member of the Iranian Society of Wisdom, the President of the World Congress of Mulla Sadra, the President of Sadra Islamic Philosophy Institute (SIPRIn), the President of International Mulla Sadra Society, and the owner and editor-in-chief of the specialized philosophical Journal of Kheradnameh Sadra Quarterly.

He has presented more than forty papers in various national and international conferences on ontology, epistemology, gnosis, interpretation, and other fields. These papers have been published in appropriate journals and books. He has also written 29 books on philosophy, gnosis, history of philosophy, jurisprudence, and law.

The following is an interview which Ayatullah Seyyed Muhammed Khamenei gave some time ago. However, given the topics discussed, we found it useful to present it to readers in this special edition. Most of the questions here are related to training and educating children in Islam, Philosophy for children, and the necessity of familiarizing all children in the country with this field.


*Since Sadra Islamic Philosophy Institute spoke of philosophy for children in interviews and conferences, this topic has been introduced to people to some extent. However, the public do not seem to have a clear concept of it yet. Would you kindly explain?

Philosophy for children, which appears to be a new topic, has entered the domain of culture and philosophy during the last few decades. It can be studied in relation to two fields: education (including all sciences) in general, and teaching philosophy, in particular.

In the first field, the philosophical method of teaching different lessons and sciences is adopted and planned in primary and middle schools. This is because the common method, i.e. the suggestive and one-sided teaching of materials, which is done orally or from books, makes students consign them to memory. When employed in teaching many of the sciences, this method turns students into imitative weak learners and prevents them from thinking about, understanding, criticizing, and examining many issues. As a result, their minds do not get used to being active, creative, and innovative and always remains passive and superficial.

Accordingly, it is suggested that this method of teaching sciences at schools is replaced by another method entailing creativity and criticism and requiring interaction between students and teachers. Here, students have the right to ask questions about the subject of the lessons and analyze them. The teachers' task is to help them in this regard and teach in a way that enables them to formulate correct definitions of the main points of discussion. As a result, they will develop a questioning attitude and, if necessary, try to discuss the issue from their own points of view. In this way, they will participate in teachers’ attempts at clarifying the issue.

This method helps students perceive the lesson better and more profoundly, internalize what has been taught, and keep it in their minds for longer. In other words, they will learn the lesson in an ijtihadi rather than imitative fashion. In the future, they will employ the same method for learning other sciences or in their dealings with various ideas and thoughts. They will get used to sending them to the workshop of the mind and confirming or rejecting them after analyzing and examining them.

The second field consists of two parts. The first deals with teaching thinking, reasoning, discussion, criticizing, and observing ethical principles in debate and dialog. The second deals with developing a critical and ijtihadi (jurisprudential) familiarity with ethical principles, social rules, and various worldviews and learning about the general and non-specialized, but important, philosophical issues. The lesson plans for teaching such issues will be devised considering the students’ age and knowledge and employed from the third or fourth grade of primary school until the last year of high school.

In the first part, the useful tools for correct teaching and learning of philosophy are introduced. One advantage of this activity is that the children and youngsters become used to some behavioral principles, including the following:

Principles of discussion and negotiation: Here, they are taught that all addressees should be respected. When they start talking, we should not interrupt or insult them. Rather, we should learn that in any gathering of friends or colleagues all people enjoy an equal share of respect. Each person should, for example, speak in his own turn and as much as required. He should try to understand what others say and does not reject or confirm their ideas blindly.

Habit of thinking: People should think about all subjects, questions, and problems. In other words, they should compare each piece of data in a class session with previous data and evaluate it in the light of their own knowledge. Obviously, they should be familiar with the principles of evaluation.

Habit of reasoning: Children should get used to reasoning and presenting the arguments necessary to their ideas. In doing so, they should naturally follow certain principles which are sometimes conventional and sometimes rational and in line with the principles of the science of logic. All these principles pertain to the form of the act and function as a mould. The contents of discussions follow certain rules that are related to the second part. Here, i.e. the natural and spontaneous familiarization of students with philosophical, ethical, and social issues, the teacher enters the domain of simple ethical and philosophical topics which are of public usefulness and poses a topic or problem that is usually implied in a story. Here, students read the lines of the story in turns and then discuss its themes and issues.

In the first step, the debate is very simple and is followed by questions posed by different sides. However, with more thinking, a more thorough examination of the issue and free discussion on the part of students, as well as the teacher’s unnoticed guidance, the discussion topic gradually develops more depth and is completely internalized by students.

Of course, the above method should be exercised with extreme subtlety which is taught to teachers. Moreover, in those countries in which “philosophy with children” is common practice, several methods are used. The method that Sadra Islamic Philosophy Institute has devised on the basis of Iranian culture and traditional religious experiences is much closer than other methods to the above points.

When a child is trained from school age to get used to thinking and reasoning, in addition to perceiving his own lessons deeply and in an ijtihadi manner, he will also become familiar with the method of conversing, discussing, and negotiating with people. Moreover, he will develop a correct perception of the necessary and main philosophical and ethical concepts, which plays a constructive role in forming his character. As a result, when he grows up, and when he turns into an active member of society assuming social responsibilities, he will be an intelligent and insightful person. Therefore, before starting any new task, he will examine it rationally and, through thinking, asking questions about it from himself, and analyzing it, he will carefully learn about its advantages and disadvantages, and positive and negative features. In addition, he will never accept to do it automatically and without thinking first.

A short glance at teaching thinking to children reveals its advantages for children as follows:

1. Developing self-confidence

2. Becoming interested in lessons and teachers, believing in the usefulness of lessons, being more motivated to study

3. Using their talents and cultivating them, the emergence of children’s hidden abilities

4. Having a better perception of the lessons and received knowledge and internalizing them at a deeper level

5. Gaining the power to deal with difficulties, criticize, and use knowledge creatively

6. Having their spiritual defects revealed

7. Asking questions that have always existed in their minds

8. Developing the habit of group thinking and working

9. Developing a stronger spirit of cooperation

10. Taking part in healthy and friendly competition and benefiting from other’s thoughts

11. Becoming a more responsible and flexible person in future (in order to stand against false propaganda and brain-washing)

12. Being able to make better judgments on the basis of existing criteria

13. Developing the habit of self-monitoring

14. Paying more attention to the historical, linguistic, and social backgrounds of people’s ideas in society

The above achievements increase children’s abilities not only to have a better education but also to have a more fruitful social life in future. They grant them the powers of distinction among various points, asking good and useful questions, criticism, reasoning, creativity, and innovation. They also awaken their hidden talents and enable them to learn ethical, philosophical, religious, and social points and issues.


*Was Philosophy taught to Children in Muslim countries or in our country, Iran, or is it a completely new phenomenon?

No exact report is available on “philosophy for children” as we know it today in the pre-Islamic period. Before the rise of Islam in Iran, which was the cradle of philosophy and science, philosophy was only taught to a specific social group called the magi, who were theologians. However, it was a custom to familiarize children’s minds with the preliminary issues in philosophy and methods of learning natural sciences, mathematics, and philosophy from a very young age. In this regard, they employed specific methods which had been common in Iran for some centuries.

Islam created a great change in social relationships, and human beings’ general rights. By introducing and establishing people's essential rights, such as their equality in every respect (irrespective of their race, social class, and language), Islam decreed that the acquisition of knowledge is a necessary task for everyone. As a result, all true religious governments had to provide the opportunities for all people to attain a minimum or average level of the necessary types of knowledge.

Here, the acquisition of “religious principles” or theology – i.e. learning about creation and God, believing in His Oneness, revelation, the Prophet, life after death, and otherworldly reward – was obligatory for anyone reaching puberty. However, based on an age-related division, the training of children consisted of three stages. During the first six years of their lives, they were trained at home by their parents indirectly and in a loving atmosphere. Then, between the ages of 6 and 12, their training became more serious. During the third 6-year period, when children turned into adolescents, their training became heavier and more difficult.

Therefore, although philosophy in the common sense of the word was not taught at that time, the method of training the mind was employed to teach children thinking, reasoning, and creativity, which are the main pillars of philosophy. However, this method did not have a name and was used in the preliminary stages of education and training (similar to today’s pre-school and primary levels of education).

One of the common traditions in both ancient and Islamic Iran was telling stories to children. These stories were usually told by mothers or close relatives. They normally lacked a conclusion, and children themselves drew some conclusions from these stories by listening to them and thinking about them. These conclusions sometimes became a part of the culture of their society when they became adults.

Previously, even only 60 to 70 years ago, schools were not like they are today, and children studied in centers called “maktab” or were educated at home by mothers, fathers, or tutors. Therefore, it was not possible to follow a systematic and methodical approach to teaching philosophy and creative thinking to children.

“Philosophy for children” in its present sense, which has gradually found its way into some countries, is the product of the second half of the 20th century. The founder of the new method is said to be the Jewish master of philosophy, Matthew Lipman, who put it into practice in 1969 in the United States of America. He has some noteworthy and useful writings in this regard.


*Please talk about the background of this issue in Sadra Islamic Philosophy Institute.

In 1345 AS, when I voluntarily taught philosophical and theological issues to students of the first and second grades at high school, I found out that children are essentially interested in philosophical problems. Moreover, I learned that they have a great talent for making inferences, expressing their own ideas, and sometimes reasoning. I also discovered that they are capable of understanding even the most complicated philosophical problems – provided that they are explained in a simple language – and can pose some arguments for them at the level of their own knowledge.

I had previously had this experience with my own four- and five-year-old children. One of them, when he was 4 years old, asked me some questions about the world, God, and evil which were completely philosophical.

In 1350 AS, I started teaching philosophical issues (in the field of theology) more seriously in another school, which was extremely useful. I prepared a pamphlet for teaching purposes in this regard which was published several times. My method was similar to that of geometry teachers. In other words, I tried to solve philosophy problems with the help of students exactly in the same way that a teacher solves geometry problems in the class. The class was not teacher-centered; rather, we thought together and examined the argument in order to make a judgment (final proposition) on the basis of the assumption of a geometric theorem (philosophical proposition).

In later years, I did not have the opportunity to work more on this method. Finally, when the headquarters for holding the First World Congress on Mulla Sadra started its work in 1373 AS (1995), I became familiar with experts in various philosophical fields, including some European experts in philosophy for children, as well as with the works of Professor Matthew Lipman and others in this regard. Apart from some technical objections that I have concerning their works, I admire and appreciate their activities in this field.

At that time, a center was established in Sadra Islamic Philosophy Institute, and a group of people who were working there started studying all the works that had been written in this regard in other countries and compared them with the related Islamic sources. Some of them started practicing philosophy for children and holding philosophy workshops in schools. By working with students, they gained more experience in this field and devised more fruitful methods for teaching philosophy to children. It is hoped that the Ministry of Education uses these experiences in the future and includes them in school curriculums.

Nowadays, they have discovered in the western world that didactic teaching is not useful. However, they had discovered it long ago in Islamic seminaries, where today only the Muslim clergy study. In fact, a common tradition for all students studying there was to discuss all topics with their masters and pose arguments and reasons concerning all problems. They criticized their master’s words. In return, he tried to convince them by means of reasoning or, if they were justified, agreed with them. That is why graduates of such seminaries usually turned into distinguished scholars who wrote great books and presented novel ideas and theories. All of these achievements were rooted in the same method of teaching based on free discussion. Here, the student did not feel that he had to accept his master’s words. Rather, he was well-aware that if he criticized him logically and posed new theories, he would have a higher status in his master’s eyes. Sometimes such masters chose their knowledgeable, creative, and innovative students as their successors.

Unfortunately, this method was not employed in Iranian universities, which followed French models, and the new European discipline replaced it. As a result, teachers turned into the sole speakers in classes. They presented the information in the form of notes or text books and tried to suggest the content of the lesson to students. They were supposed to learn all the material in their textbooks or notes and answer the exam questions accordingly. In fact, any student who answered innovatively or advanced any criticism was given a bad mark and failed the course.


*Please explain more about the necessity of using this method of teaching with children.

As we know, even the most intelligent of all animals are incapable of thinking, learning consciously, and reasoning. These abilities are human-specific; however, some people do not try to make the best use of them.

One might not believe or accept that most of the people in the world, despite their human appearance, are just some machines that behave, live, and organize their works instinctively in the way they have been programmed by creation. Unlike what the majority assume, most people do not rely much on thinking and logical analysis when taking care of their affairs, and they cannot provide wise and rational answers to the questions that they-are asked.

Most technocrat scientists, medical experts, managers, official administrators, and other people working in different fields (except for philosophers) usually use their knowledge in a mechanical way. Rarely do they ever ask themselves any questions about the job they must do, the program they should follow, or the activity in which they should take part. This is a mechanical approach to life which, like animals’ following their instincts, imprisons people in a fixed framework and does not allow them to grow and flourish.

Asking questions about the nature, philosophy, advantages and disadvantages of any activity that man is to carry out not only refreshes one's soul but also makes one think about it. This thinking leads people towards freedom, justice, and objectivity. It makes them depart with their prejudices and grants them independence of ideas and knowledge so that they perceive the realities of their lives and surroundings through deliberation and reasoning rather than based on habits, imitation, prejudice, or primitive animal instincts, and, in sum, in a mechanical way!

However, the bricks for logical thinking should be laid during childhood and the early years of primary education rather than during adulthood, when people's characters have been developed and structured and their habits rule their actions.

If children learn at an early age that each phenomenon and each act can be examined and analyzed logically by asking some questions, they can perceive its vices or virtues and correctness or falsity. This habit not only helps the child to have a better perception of school lessons and learn in an ijtihadi, rather than imitative, manner but also persuades him to think about what he wants to do beforehand and learn about its advantages and disadvantages or good and bad aspects.

Such a human being will never follow him whims and, unlike many young people, will not be easily deceived by detrimental thoughts, goals, and ideologies. Neither does he surrender easily to corrupt persuasions. Rather, by following the light of thinking and reasoning, he traverses his own path independently and, ultimately, turns into a good citizen in practice, a jurist or, perhaps, an innovative scholar and a good parent to his children.

The first step in this delicate and complicated, but important, endeavor is to have the child or the adolescent get used to having philosophical thoughts and questions, scrutinizing the phenomena that surround him, and not taking anything for granted. In this way, he will learn to seek for the reasons of any phenomenon and, naturally, make thinking and deliberation a part of his personal behavior.

The second step here is to get used to looking for answers to one’s main questions, which usually consist of “where have I come from?”, “why have I come to this world?”, “where do I go to?”, and “how should I live?”. Such questions might occur to anyone. They are the main skeleton of philosophy and provide the basis for the formation of the pillars of religious faith, believing in God, His Oneness, Resurrection, the prophets' mission, and other religious principles.

Children are born philosophers. During childhood, when they become familiar with the natural phenomena around them, they formulate some philosophical questions in their minds. They need some answers for them, and if they are not answered, this intrinsic feeling or predisposition will be suppressed, which will sometimes lead to undesirable consequences.


*Considering the fact that philosophy has been limited to a specific group, is it possible or justified to teach it to children?

The great philosophers of the world, from Ibn Sina to Mulla Sadra, always insisted on keeping philosophy out of the reach of ordinary people. Therefore, one might rightfully ask, why is it now suddenly made accessible to them and even to children? Could this lead to some dangerous consequences?

The answer to this question begins with an introduction showing that the philosophy taught to children at school is different from the philosophy that philosophers kept out of the reach of laymen. The philosophers of ancient Iran believed that philosophy is a secret. This was because it was closely related to a series of complicated concepts that they believed could not be attained except through ascetic practice, inspiration, and illumination. They feared that its spread in the society and turning into a purely theoretical field might gradually make it decline it to the level of playing with words and prosiness.

A similar experience in about the 4th century BC in Greece, which lacked the necessary capacity for perceiving the conceptual preliminaries of philosophy, led to sophistry. As a result, many generations were caught in the dangerous whirlpool of sophistry, and we can still witness its deposits in Western Philosophy.

Another reason for this event was the existence of a rigid social classification (which is called cast today) in which philosophers comprised the religious sect of the society, i.e. the magi. Philosophy was passed from father to son as a heritage in their families, and they did not like the people of other social classes, whom they thought lacked the talent for perceiving philosophy, to deal with it.

However, Aristotle was not a man of ascetic practice and illumination. He put what he had perceived from philosophy on paper and presented it to the public. However, the majority of philosophers, including Muslim philosophers, sometimes in practice and sometimes in words, were against presenting theoretical philosophy to the society and publicizing it.

To some extent they were justified in this regard because later experience revealed that a superficial familiarity with philosophy could create some social and even historical problems. For example, Abu Hamid Ghazzali, who was a talented youth, due to his pride and trust in his scientific knowledge, without having a master and merely by reading a few philosophy books, considered himself a philosopher and harshly attacked this field of knowledge. Even after about one thousand years, the effects of his enmity with philosophy can still be witnessed in non-Shi’i philosophical societies.

Recently, there have also been some people who, by reading a few philosophy books, have considered themselves philosophers and sometimes followed the wrong path. In this way, they have turned this fantasy into a sword and used it fiercely against national or scientific societies and philosophy itself.

Apparently, the worries of true Muslim philosophers and pre-Islamic sages were not unfounded, and, thus, except in particular conditions, philosophy should not be publicized. Ibn Sina and Mulla Sadra have directly emphasized this issue in their books. The latter has even named one of his books based on his belief in hiding his theories and ideas from unqualified people.

On the other hand, there is a part of philosophy the knowledge of which is necessary for society and people. It must be accessible to ordinary people, since they also have the right to learn philosophical views and theories that are useful to them and satisfy their thirst for perceiving philosophical problems and fundamental questions.

The apprehension of some important philosophical issues does not require ascetic practice and illumination. Obviously, they are not useful to ordinary people. As Islam and the Holy Qur’an have taught us, any wise and mature person must attain a correct knowledge of the world, what was before it, and what will be after it. He must also be familiar with a series of philosophical issues that are called religious principles in Shari’a. With regard to such principles, imitation is forbidden and ijtihad (independent reasoning) is obligatory. Through asking questions, each human being should become familiar with some basic philosophical issues such as “where have I come from?”, “who is my Creator?”, “where do I go to?”, etc. The responses that are given in a simple language to such questions can consolidate the foundations of his religious and philosophical thoughts more than before. Therefore, the problem of publicizing philosophy should be solved by following a moderate, rather than extremist and radical, approach. In fact, the ideas of both those who believe in hiding philosophy from the public and those who believe in spreading it in society should be taken into consideration in finding a solution.


*Normally, when we talk about philosophy, we ask if children or even adolescents are capable of perceiving it. What is your response to this question?

As I said before, philosophy has various levels. Some of its issues are general and comprehensible to all people. For example, the principles of religion, i.e. believing in the One God, prophethood, revelation, the Hereafter, and Heaven and hell, are among the philosophical subjects that people must learn through ijtihad and reasoning, and without imitation and devotion. As mentioned before, imitation is forbidden concerning such principles. Therefore, we should not downgrade ordinary and non-expert people and deprive them of all types of philosophy.

Nevertheless, there are certain complicated problems in philosophy that even those who claim to know this field might fail to understand perfectly. For example, we see that philosophy is taught step by step. A part of philosophical issues is taught to students at BA level and some of them at higher levels of education. Further, still they learn some of them themselves after gaining enough knowledge and scientific experience.

The important point here is that, unlike some sciences and techniques, philosophy is intertwined with the nature of all mentally healthy people. We can even say that all children are born philosophers. This is an important statement. It means that any human being, before mastering any knowledge, technique, job, and skill, develops the instinct for philosophizing. He must satisfy this instinct and learn philosophy beside his main job and responsibilities. The reason is quite clear: thinking about the world, God, and even the most trivial phenomena of the world is one of the necessities of human life. As every one should know about the house in which he lives, he should also know about the beginning and end of the world, his situation in the world, and its dangers and advantages.

The knowledge of philosophical problems that are useful to ordinary people and children in life is necessary for them. I believe that, irrespective of one’s job, every one should be familiar with philosophy to some extent. In other words, philosophy is not an occupation; rather, it is a necessary pillar of the character of a knowledgeable and thoughtful person.

Here, children have their own share of philosophy because, as mentioned before, they have the instinct for philosophizing, thinking, reasoning, criticizing, creativity, and logical inquiry and choice.

Even before going to primary school, children are little philosophers; however, not only they themselves, but also their parents and other relatives are unaware of it. There are certain reasons for this claim which has been confirmed based on experience. Every one might have encountered some profound questions among the numerous ones that children always ask. When children are not busy playing, they ask their parents a lot of questions. Inquiry is the first step in philosophizing and the first sign of a child’s being a philosopher. With each question, a “problem” is posed, and the collection of problems and their solutions illuminate the path before human beings in life.

Children even ask questions about the Creator, the beginning of creation, man’s birth and death, and the reasons for many of the phenomena around them, which are among the most basic philosophical problems, and demand convincing answers. Some might assume that children lack the capacity for philosophical problems, which is wrong. If the purpose behind philosophy is to ask some general questions about the world, human beings, existence, non-existence, and the like and providing answers to them, children are continually doing the same thing.

The experience of teaching philosophy to children indicates that their understanding of the related issues depends on the method of teaching. If they are allowed to think, and if teachers teach them the correct method of thinking and utilizing its consequences and follow a correct and scientific approach in their methodology, children will be able to perceive the realities and philosophical issues. We can even teach children the method of living a good life through employing philosophy and logic.

Human beings can have creative minds that should be trained from childhood. However, in practice, we see that most people do not show any creativity in their acts. The reason seems to be that they have been brought up imitative beings who exhibit parrot-like behavior. It is always said that the truth is what teachers teach or the elders say. Rarely does it ever happen to ask a child’s idea about the problems of life at home or in the class.

Nevertheless, when children are asked such questions, they will gradually develop the ability to think automatically and infer certain issues and reason about them independently. When their elders respond to their questions and do not leave their inquiries unanswered, their minds become active and formulate other questions and try to perceive newer issues. As a result, their knowledge increases. One can view the training of a child’s mind and spirit from another angle, namely, his essential right to ask questions and be curious in order to perceive the various subjects and topics he encounters. In fact, it is his natural right to have those who train him help and cooperate in developing his philosophical sense and having a deeper understanding of his surroundings. In other words, the child’s parents and teachers have the duty and are obliged to fulfill this natural and God-Given right of being provided with appropriate responses.

In fact, the above is a Shar’i duty according to which parents and then teachers and trainers at school must look at the child as a student of philosophy. In the light of the questions and answers that are exchanged between them, they should try to help him to think, reason, and be creative. They should also help him to develop the habit of looking for the “why” of everything in his lessons and the affairs of life and try to find the answers by himself or even by seeking help from others.

One of the bad habits common to some school or university teachers is their unwillingness to listen to their students’ inquiries and reasoning. They also believe that their level of knowledge is so high that their students cannot challenge them. They view them as tape recorders which must merely record their teachers’ voice. However, both teachers and students have the right to ask questions, and we even believe that students should enjoy this right more than anyone else.

Another important point in this regard is children’s specific psychology. People usually assume a child is a human being like themselves but on a smaller scale. However, research and experience have proved otherwise.

An accurate psychological study of children reveals that they are completely different from adults regarding their psychology, and their world is also separate from that of their elders. They perceive realities and even objects differently from adults. We can compare the world of children to animation movies. In their view, the world is flexible and can change according to their will. Moreover, through their powerful faculty of imagination, children can even dominate their own senses and change the world in any way they wish.

The child’s faculty of imagination is later subdued by external senses and sensibles, creeps into a corner of man’s interior, and can sometimes emerge only in artists and their artistic works. Utilizing the child’s power of imagination is an educational tool, since, in the guise of fictitious or imaginative stories, we can teach philosophical and ethical realities to him and activate his power of creativity. Those who have a strong power of imagination can use their thoughts to maneuver better around the topic of discussion, analyze it more deeply, and discover newer issues or propound innovative solutions and arguments.

Among philosophers, scientists, inventors, and artists, those with a more powerful imagination present more novel works, ideas, and theories. This faculty is a God-given gift. As one of the Muslim gnostics said, as the world of being is the domain of Almighty God’s Creativity and Creation, the world of imagination is the domain of man’s creativity and creation.

By strengthening the child’s faculty of imagination and accompanying him at every step, we can help him understand even the most difficult materials. Moreover, by giving him a good training, we can raise the child into an innovative and creative adult. Such people enjoy the distinction of not giving in to a theory but examining it altogether, studying all of its dimensions and assumptions, and trying to locate its weak points. They are also able to reformulate the subject and problem and develop and expand their knowledge.

In several verses, the Qur’an has ordered Muslims to contrive, think, and rationalize when dealing with various issues. Here, “to contrive” means to analyze a subject from every aspect; “to think” means to use the scientific and empirical data in order to derive new conclusions; and “to rationalize” means to resort to one’s ability to distinguish between vice and virtue, ugly and beautiful, and must-not and must. In no other religion have thinking and intellection, i.e. philosophizing, been so much emphasized. As we read in hadith, “May God have mercy on those who think about where they have come from; where they are; and where they are going to and try to find the answers”. These three questions are, in fact, three of the most important philosophical problems of people, and one who does not care and think about them cannot claim to be a human being. Similarly, one who ignores these primordial (fitri) questions and their scientific and philosophical answers cannot be called a human being, either.

Mulla Sadra, the prominent Iranian philosopher interprets verse 5 in chapter al-Tariq (Now let man but think from what he is created!) as a reference to "where have I come from?"; verse 8 (Surely (Allah) is able to bring him back (to life)!) as a reference to “where am I now?”; and verse 11 (By the Firmament which returns (in its round),)  as a reference to “where am I going to?”.

Basically, the Qur’an has a specific method according to which it teaches people most of the realities in the world through asking them questions. As far as I know, this amazing method has not been employed in the other so-called heavenly books. For example, the Qur’an asks idolaters, “Are you worshipping what you yourself have created out of wood”, sinners, “Should we equate those who obey the law with lawbreakers?”, or “Why do you deny the divine signs when you witness them with your own eyes?”, or those who believe that God has offspring, “How can God, Who has never had a wife, have any children?”.

In order to answer a Qur’anic question, the addressee has to resort to his own conscience, primordial nature, and intellect or external experiences and data and find an answer that is unbiased and objective. This answer is the very message that the Holy Qur’an intends to give people and could have done so by declaring it directly. By itself, it indicates that the method of question and answer and making the addressee face his conscience or inner sense; in other words, extracting knowledge from the addressee himself – and, according to Socrates, making the addressee’s mind give birth to healthy thoughts – works through provoking his mind and awakening his inner sense.

The Commander of the Faithful says in the first sermon of Nahjulbalaqah, “God sent His prophets one by one to the human kind so that they comply with the pledge that they have made (naturally and instinctively) with God (i.e. to act based on their conscience and inner sense of judgment) and remember the gifts that they have forgotten … and discover their predispositions and talents that are latent in their minds like treasures themselves”.

This questions refer to the fact that the answers to necessary rational and philosophical (and, in other words, Islamic) questions exist in the nature and mind of every human being. However, people are usually unaware or heedless of them.

According to God’s Command, the prophets made people study, discover, and think about the realities of the world by asking them some questions. As we can see in the history of philosophy and religions, the prophets always presented the main and important philosophical issues in the form of religious belief and are, in fact, the first founders of philosophy. Early philosophers usually consisted of religious men and emissaries of religion. A careful study of the Qur’an also reveals that it includes all basic philosophical principles.

The second point here concerns the difference between reporting and interrogation. In fact, teaching through asking questions is a kind of respect for the addressee and granting him a high status. Unlike some pseudo-philosophical schools, the Qur’an does not always dictate its content to people. Like dictators, the thinkers and founders and followers of philosophical schools of both the past and present are used to imposing their thoughts on people by force. They present them in the form of declarative propositions and objective and external realities (like physical rules) to their addressees. Nevertheless, the Qur’an, in most cases, enters a dialog with its addressees; it sometimes is surprised by what some people say or do and, at times, makes them think and activate their mind and inner sense by asking them questions about their words and acts. The Qur’an views man as an existent who enjoys a powerful mind and character and is capable of distinguishing good from evil, the truth from the false, and the beautiful from the ugly. This is a very important point in teaching, training, and expressing the realities.

One of the important Islamic principles is “the principle of man’s supreme grace and station”. Assuming a high character for the addressee, which was previously mentioned, is based on this principle. In the Qur’an, man enjoys an important station, i.e. he is God's successor on Earth. Therefore, he must have significant abilities and talents that other existents do not. One of these talents must be the perception of the truth by means of his inner sense. Such an existent must be respected and granted a high status and freedom of thinking. This is what the Qur’an teaches us to do.

The important philosophical, legal, and ethical principle observed in this method is the principle of man’s freedom in thinking and finding realities. In other religions, teachings are usually transmitted to people unidirectionally, and they are given no free choice. This is also the case in Islamic law and jurisprudence because law cannot be chosen by people. They either believe in the legislator or do not. If they officially recognize the system of legislation and the legislator based on their free choice, they cannot disobey the law; therefore, it is dictated to all people in the same way.

However, philosophical thought and worldview cannot be imposed on people, and each person must discover it himself. Islam, too, does not force them to accept any kind of philosophical belief and, rather, reproaches them for easy acceptance of others’ ideas in this regard and imitating them. In fact, any imitation concerning religious principles (or the very philosophical worldview) is forbidden so that people do not simply accept the theories, beliefs, and ideas of other people and even their scholars through imitating others and do not deviate from the right path. It is now a good place to refer to children’s rights.

Islam has paid great attention to children’s rights and specified certain responsibilities in this regard for parents and society. We read in hadith (the Prophet’s Sunna), “Endear your children and provide them with desirable training and education.” We also read in the hadith of law from Imam Sajjad (as), “It is narrated form the Prophet (pbuh) that a child has certain rights that his father has to observe; for example, he should choose a good name for his child try to train him appropriately, and provide him with good opportunities in life.” (Bahar, vol. 74, p. 85)

The emphasis upon training the children appropriately is not only rooted in their natural and human rights (which, firstly parents and secondly governments have the responsibility for observing) but also intended to show that the correct training of a child today guarantees the health of society tomorrow. This is because, tomorrow this child might become the ruler of the country or hold an important social responsibility. However, even if he has a simple job, he will still affect the whole society.

One of the important parts of a child’s education is training his mind and soul and raising him into a logical and thoughtful human being who has a great power to discern the good from evil. The best of all people are those who think and live wisely, think carefully before doing or saying anything, are farsighted, and do not feel ashamed when examining their own conscience.

One of the duties of the family and government is to provide the context for children’s spiritual growth (3rd and 30th principles in the Constitutional Law). Some talents are shared by almost all students, and some of them can be seen in only a few of them. As we read in Imam Ali’s first sermon, the duty of a true religion and true prophets is to awaken and activate man’s hidden talents and abilities.

After prophets, this duty is on the shoulders of families and governments. Since not all parents are capable of providing children with a perfect training, God has assigned this important duty to the leader of society, i.e. the government.

Thinking philosophically is one of children’s God-given abilities. This is because philosophy mainly asks about the “why” of existence or non-existence of objects and events. Any one who asks any questions in this regard has entered the domain of philosophy, and if he is helped to some extent, he can attain an acceptable knowledge of the world.

A child’s questions reveal that his early primordial nature (which can be assimilated to computer hardware) is healthy. If the answers given are not enough or convincing, he will not accept them and will continue asking questions. This shows the child’s tendency to “reason” in order to arrive at an “inference”. This is a good sign of an ability that must be trained following specific training programs.

The Qur’an tells us that Islam is the same as being in harmony with nature, and that is why it attaches great importance to listening to the voice of nature and following its rules. Islam tells us that theology or attaining the knowledge of God is an instinct and a hidden part of every human’s nature. Inspired by his instinct, the child looks for God and the realities of the world and formulates some questions unconsciously. Therefore, it is a religious command to pave the way for him to do so.

On the basis of what was said above, we can infer the Islamic and Qur’anic theories concerning the training of the child and leading him towards philosophy and wisdom.


*Are there any difficulties and obstacles involved in teaching philosophy to children? If so, would you please explain?

This job, like many other social endeavors, involves some difficulties: first, spreading philosophy (wisdom), i.e. what should ornament the souls and minds of all people and can change the form of society, requires extreme subtlety. Nevertheless, expert analyses and meticulous, scientific, and technical programs can facilitate these difficulties and bring philosophy and wisdom among people in the society.

Second, social activities, whether scientific, cultural, charitable, economic, and the like, will not go anywhere without the government’s help. Government, which is a legal entity, is an umbrella term under which any kind of person can be found. They usually have various responsibilities and deal with non-governmental organizations and people.

Now, if these people, who are the tools for facilitating tasks and helping to achieve cultural and social goals, have an incorrect perception of the nature of cultural activities and tasks or have a correct one but, for some reasons, sabotage and obstruct them, social purposes cannot be attained.

Third, we do not yet have the necessary tools to accomplish this task in a general form and as a social act in order to promote the level of training and spread knowledge. In other words, the necessary tools for this job have not yet been completely defined, understood, and prepared. The initial steps for this task should be taken at schools. Moreover, it is necessary that the cinema, television, the internet, and other effective media be at the service of reaching this goal in a guided way. On the whole, this task should be programmed and executed in a comprehensive and all-inclusive manner in societies, families, and schools.

In some countries, philosophy is taught appropriately even in prison under such programs as “Philosophy for Felons” and “Philosophy Goes to Prisons”. Some special environments such as schools are also used for publicizing philosophy.

Fourth, the execution of the project of philosophy for children requires some profound, scientific studies of child psychology and finding a “particular language for children”. However, in spite of the many books that have been written and many studies that have been conducted in this regard in the world, the necessary pre-requisites for this project do not yet exist in Iran. Unfortunately, philosophical and technical training of children has not yet turned into an independent science in our country. Presently, it is simply a teaching technique, and this creates some problems in the technical teaching of philosophy to children and adolescents.

There are also some other problems in this regard which are inherent in all cultural and social activities and can be reduced or removed in the course of the process of execution. The most important knot here, which requires a skillful and able hand to be untied, is the little sensitivity, not to say negligence, concerning new fundamental cultural issues.

At first sight, it seems that the authorities, in addition to having a lot of mental and practical occupations regarding daily and, sometimes, useless affairs, have no correct perception of fruitful and constructive cultural goals and programs. Worst of all, they run away from new cultural projects and activities. The damage of this phenomenon concerning the pathology of the process of the cultural growth of the country is no less than the damage of the obstructions created by the internal and foreign enemies of such projects. Here, we are referring to enemies who are sitting in the corners of various offices and sabotage basic and useful cultural activities in different ways. For example, when it comes to the required budget for new beneficial projects and inevitable activities, they react so coldly and, sometimes, bitterly that those in charge of such endeavors are discouraged and regret their involvement in such activities.

One of the problems with the management of our country is that most of the managers base their policies on the economic dimension and usually deal with cultural issues by means of empty words and complements and a kind of negligence. The significance of cultural issues and their priority over other constitutions still becomes clearer, even if we attach absolutely no value to cultural affairs and consider economic issues and the principle of productivity, which is the ultimate goal of economic activities, as the only criteria for judging a country’s situation,. This is because huge amounts of money are spent on the health, safety, training, education, and artistic and athletic abilities of the youth. However, if they are not culturally oriented, or if no cultural work is done on them, they will simply fall in the trap of betraying their country or murdering and hurting other people. As a result, no benefit will be gained from such an expenditure of money and economic investment; the economic purposes will not be attained; and the entire budget invested in these people will be wasted. Here, the importance of the role of culture and good training in developing the characters of young members of the society is revealed to us. Even if we follow a purely economic worldview, cultural issues in combination with developing a good mind and healthy spirit is still a significant parameter for economic productivity. Thus it should not be ignored in national programs.

As we can see, the new method of exploitation attacks nations by targeting their culture rather than fighting their armies or confronting their diplomacy. Therefore, it is a “must” for authorities to find a solution to this problem.


*How much attention has this cultural-training field received in Iran, and which noteworthy activities have been performed in their regard?

I have not seen any serious activity in this regard in responsible organizations and governmental centers. About ten years ago, at the time of founding the Headquarters for Holding the World Congress on Mulla Sadra, when we faced this theoretical and practical movement in the West, there was no reference to it in any media or center.

The authorities of the above headquarters and Sadra Islamic Philosophy Institute, which was founded later, frequently stipulated or referred to philosophy for children in the mass media and in the advertisements for the headquarters' activities in the hope that perhaps the authorities be motivated to make a move in this regard.

Nevertheless, after about ten years, no research or practical work, and in your words, noteworthy movement, has been done in relation to this important training and educational program in any organization except in Sadra Islamic Philosophy Institute. Of course, sentences about philosophy for children are rarely seen in some press.

However, if by a new movement one refers to the one that started about four or five decades ago in the West and has gradually spread in the world, I must admit that the essence of this program and activity is useful. If we can publicize it in Iran, it can make our children get used to thinking, reasoning, locating fallacies, learning along with creativity and criticism, and independent (ijtihadi) analysis.

Since the beginning of its establishment and even before that, the authorities in the Headquarters for Holding the First World Congress on Mulla Sadra in Tehran, Sadra Islamic Philosophy Institute had concluded that publicizing correct philosophical thinking among children and even training them to get used to reasoning and independent and logical judgment in all affairs are extremely important and useful. In fact, this institute started some research activities and studies in the following three fields: 1) Philosophy for the public; 2) philosophy for adolescents and the youth; and 3) teaching critical thinking (or philosophy for children) in schools.

From among the above fields, the institute has focused its activities mainly on philosophy for children and “teaching thinking during childhood”. In this way, it has attained some considerable experience and results, which are very useful to training and education and give us the hope of a better future.

The activities and studies of the institute in this field are divided into two main types:

The first is the theoretical and practical study of philosophy for children in school, family, and other organizations. Here, most of the works written on this topic in the world have been studied and discussed, and various points, views, approaches, methods, and the theories of related experts have been collected.

Through inspiration from the Qur’an and hadith, Islamic culture has had a profound view of the mental and spiritual training of children centuries before Westerners did. Accordingly, in addition to the study of Western written and practical works, this institute has paid great attention to educational teachings of Islam and Islamic culture and tried to devise a series of theories which are more complete and accurate than those in Western philosophy through the combination of these two trends.

The second is the practical and applied studies of this institute on the basis of scientific principles and experiences. It has started its work at various levels in schools (primary, middle, and high schools) by holding some philosophy classes for students. With the cooperation of Western experts on May 21, when the Second World Congress on Mulla Sadra began, the institute held a workshop and obtained a lot of invaluable experience.

Obviously, ten years is not a short time. During this period, our experts and practitioners in the institute gained a lot of experience and knowledge in various theoretical and practical fields in schools. Today, a group of people are working on this issue and are ready to present their achievements and experiences concerning philosophy for children for use to volunteer schools.

A number of well-known international centers know this institute as an international and well-credited center in the world. We are sure that if we take the first step for philosophical exchanges, they will welcome it warmly. In fact, they are enthusiastically waiting for our traditional and Islamic viewpoints.


*In your view, do people, in general, and parents, in particular, agree with these projects and training methods?

Our society demands them wholeheartedly. Iranian society is a living community which is in the process of making a choice. It has a sublime spirit and enjoys a rich philosophical background. It follows both traditional and Islamic principles in the process of thinking, and, as the Holy Qur’an commands, chooses the best from among all statements and thoughts.

In the Second World Congress on Mulla Sadra in May 2004 in Tehran, and along with the practical programs of the congress, Sadra Islamic Philosophy Institute held a workshop in order to execute the program of children’s cooperative thinking and inquiry. This was a part of the project of critical thinking and philosophy for children which was supervised and conducted by a French expert, Dr. Oscar Brenifier.

No advertisement had been made for this workshop and not more than 10 to 20 people were expected to attend it. However, it was so enthusiastically welcomed by families that all the chairs of the big hall were occupied, and a lot of people were standing. In fact, there was not even any standing room left. The session was as exciting as if there was a play or a sports match going on. This unexpected reception revealed how much both children and their parents appreciate and need the teaching of philosophy to children. In the middle of all this, the government and the authorities in the Ministry of Education have paid the least attention to this issue. Unfortunately, Sadra Islamic Philosophy Institute has not yet been able to employ its experience and programs in the appropriate organizations so that our country, like many of the developed countries with an advanced training culture, can benefit from this philosophical method, which has historical roots in our religion and Islamic culture.


*Please speak about some of the future programs of Sadra Islamic Institute.

Our institute will carry out an extensive project on philosophy for children in the future. It entails both practical research and theoretical studies. Of course, we are already involved in some activities in this regard, and this project will continue the line of work which is already being done. Our purpose here is to make the authorities and the public pay attention to this project and help its widespread execution in the country.

Sadra Islamic Philosophy Institute has several projects in other fields; however, due to having a lot of other work and lacking enough qualified manpower, they have not yet been put to practice. When the project of philosophy for children is completely done and concluded, this institute will be able to do its other projects.

At this point, I would like to invite those who are interested in this project or similar ones to come to Sadra Islamic Philosophy Institute and put their own projects into practice. Moreover, they can cooperate with us in conducting important national projects.