There is no Church in Islam But Ulema Have Established their Monopoly

Dr. Mohammad Ghitreef*

In the past and more specifically before Renaissance the Church had been ruling the roost in Christendom. Bishops and holy fathers of different denominations as representatives of the Pope, had been engaged in money-making by selling indulgences to sinners and criminals who confessed their crimes before them. very lucrative and profitable business indeed.

In countries like Spain after Reconquista some prominent bishops were terrorizing the poor defeated Muslims, Jews, and even Christians belonging to other sects giving them only two options; either be baptized or be burned alive. Those who wrongly felt safe by accepting Christianity due to coercive proselytizing were being suspected to be Muslims clandestinely and were spied on, and if anyone were found guilty in Inquisition courts then the whole family was wiped out or set on fire. So Muslims who newly converted to Christianity and Jews would face the worst kinds of torture, termination, and heinous killings throughout Spain, Portugal, and other adjoining countries. The Pope had been so powerful that even kings and emperors had to budge in his line or face its dire consequences. History tells us that the emperor Henri iv of Italy ,had barefooted and bareheaded to knock on the door of a castle in Italy wherein the Pope was residing, for three days and nights, begging and pleading to his majesty the Pope, to open his door, which he simply refused to do. That was the all-powerful Church once upon a time in its zenith, its ruthlessness, and its oppression of the suspected people.

In the seventeenth century, some voices of protest and resistance rose from within; the voice of Calvin, father Erasmus, and of Martin Luther et al ,gradually became louder and louder, joined by scholars, artists, writers, and free thinkers, and in due course stirred a revolutionary movement in Italy, Florence and elsewhere in Europe. Pastor Erasmus, Martin Luther, and Calvin said and propagated the notion that anyone can interpret the word of God; the Bible, and not just only the Pope.

The Church confronted these dissident and nonconformist voices very violently by incarcerating thousands, burning hundreds alive, and inflicting on many more the worst kinds of torture and killing. From this Protestantism came out reformation and enlightenment hand in hand, led to its first mass demonstration in revolting against the cruel kingship in Frans and the bloody French revolution brock out on 5 May 1789 culminated on 9 Nov 1799 as a harbinger of a radical political and social change.

In the wake of the French revolution there followed revolutions, upheavals, and liberating movements in every corner of Europe. The ninetieth century witnessed new fastest scientific inventions, an enormous industrial explosion, and the emergence of new political, economic, and social ideas that eventually created the new western civilization which is still in progress and ruling today’s world unchallenged as well as unparalleled.

In contrast to the West, the Muslim world has been living under the duress of its own church. Its church is a unique combination of traditional Ulema, jurists, sultans(kings), and Godmen. This undeclared church has been challenged by free-thinking ulemas like Ibn Hazm, Muslim Philosophers like Ibn Rushd, and luminaries like Ibn Khaldun and latterly Shah Waliullah et al, yet they all miserably failed to bring about a genuine change in the prevalent state of affairs among Muslims globally.

The evolution of Arabic and Islamic sciences and progress of thought among Muslims has come to a halt in the sixth century AH, and it has been declared that the door of ijtihad has now been closed. This spirit of Taqlid has become fully entrenched in the Muslim Ummah in every field be it Quranic arts, Hadis legacy or Islamic jurisprudence etc, and whatever voice has been raised against it has been crushed excusing on the grounds of being that defferent voice a kind of innovation, infidelity, and heresy.

And thus the ulema believe themselves to be the sole spokespersons of Islam, their monopoly has a resemblance in many ways to that of the Pope. Now the Muslim mind is inexplicably guarded by the same imperceptible church built during the Abbasid period, no one can stand against it. If anyone dares to do so, all the clergy together would sideline him.

With denying the law of causation the Asharites in general and imam Al-Ghazali amidst them, in particular, stood against rationality and reason and being a Shaikhulisma(the greatest alim of his age)not only for his age but for the coming generations too, all the other ulema followed his footsteps unquestioningly, and the situations since his times till day did not change much. As Ghazalian standards of knowledge in Muslim societies are still in use and the majority of ulema blindly follow the same pattern of thinking set by Ghazali centuries ago. While human knowledge is always in constant change and progress. This is why history tells us that when one of the Ottoman sultans wanted to introduce new European technics in training the army and reorganizing some other governmental sections the then Turkish shaikhulislam was in raged and issued a fatwa against the sultan invoking the special troops; the Janissaries, loyalists to the royals, to save Islam from this’’ heretic” step, resulting in that they rose in revolt against the sultan and all the reforming steps were withdrawn.

And Ulema in Arabia described television, telephone, films, and other modern gadgets and media equipment as satanic tools that should be haram and forbidden. And that is why we see ulema resisting vehemently against sir Syed Ahmad Khan and his reform movement in subcontinent in the ninetieth century and afterward. And the story of ulema around the world more or less is the same. These are, to me, the signs of an invisible church in Islam.

The only difference I could presume between Islam and Christianity in this respect is that we Muslims are privileged to have a protected sacred Divine text, the Quran, while Christians and other people of different faiths, in contrast, are not so lucky to preserve the original religious texts with them.

I think Muslim ummah could not go ahead in any field without breaking the chains of Taqlid (blind imitation) and without liberating from this blind imitation of elders(Aslaf) and patriarchs. Without this kind of breakup, no breakthrough is possible. For that purpose, there must be a separation between politics and religion in practice if not in theory. In fact, the core values of religion are reflected in its moral values and politics more or less is and should be based on human practical wisdom, experiences, and rational thinking. It doesn’t mean that it should be void of any morality, never, yet human practice and experience are always escaped innocent idealism ,it rather goes in pragmatic ways which are totally indifferent with the nature of religious morality.

However, in practical terms, the traditional Muslim society with all its weaknesses and unhelpful circumstances, under the influence of the rich treasures of Sufism and jurisprudence, had established a practical compromise in which the king or sultan was supposedly looking after worldly affairs and the jurists and Sufis were striving for moral reform in the society. It was as if a balance had been struck out there. In the present times, the global movements of Islamism have hit hard this balance with their misrepresentation and have tried to create unrest in politics and ethics alike. With their false rhetoric and the irrational narrative, they have stripped that balance and tried to destabilize both politics and ethics which has upset the established balance in Muslim societies and has given rise to extremist movements and violent organizations in different countries, this phenomenon, of course, is more harmful to Islam than the forces of Islamophobia could be.

*Research Associate with the Centre for Promotion of Educational and Cultural Advancement of Muslims of India, AMU Aligarh.

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