The Virtuous City: The Iranian and Islamic Heritage of Utopianism


Although there are myriad sources on utopia and utopian studies, in none of them is there reference to the Iranian utopia The Virtuous City, written by Abu Nasr Farabi (ca. 870–950), Iranian philosopher, logician, and musician and founder of Islamic philosophy. His ideas are homogeneous with those of Greek philosophers, especially Plato and Aristotle, but a comparison of the dominant ideology of the book with Islamic, especially Shiite, teachings shows that Farabi presents a Shiite utopia. The Virtuous City consists of six sections and nineteen chapters on subjects such as cosmology, man and his physical and spiritual nature, and the structure of human society. However, the greater part of the book is dedicated to “an ‘academic’ description of the structure of human society as it ought to be.” Like many utopias that reflect the unsatisfactory conditions of the status quo, The Virtuous City is viewed as a protest against the Abbasid caliphate. Farabi questions the legitimacy of the Abbasid caliphs who in the name of Islam had made an un-Islamic society. Considering the historical background of The Virtuous City, subversion mostly appears when Farabi presents twelve qualifications for an imam that contrast with the caliphs of the Muslim society.