Clergy system in Islam

No class or order of men have obtained as much influence and acquired so complete an ascendancy over the human mind, as the clergy. The clergy system is one of the gravest errors into which all the major religions of the world have fallen into. Such a system has no basis in Islam and cannot be justified by the hadith of the Masumeenasws.

Evolution of the clergy system

A clergy system has evolved within all the world’s major religious movements and so widespread has it become within them that it is virtually impossible to overcome by their followers. So subtle is its encroachment that even those who deny being guilty of it are nonetheless victims of its malignant influence. So much a part of the thought processes of our generation has it become that even those who seek to offset it are tricked into using its vocabulary and parroting its specialized jargon.

Historians have searched in vain for the date of its birth, and analysts are just as puzzled about the motivation which foisted it upon an unsuspecting world. It was never a part of revelation of any religion, yet it was suddenly on the scene exercising a threatening and menacing influence and claiming divine sanction for its existence. The seeds of this system could be attributed to an innate ambition in aspiring men to become leaders and stand between humans and God, and to become mediators because of a fancied superior knowledge of religion. Or maybe this system is planted in a soil fertilized by political alliance, allowing the secular ruler to control the destinies of a people by elevating men to hierarchical prominence in a superficially created spiritual structure.

Definition of a clergy system

By a clergy system we mean an organized system of religion “management” in which the clerics have distinct roles, responsibilities and titles. One typically enters such a system at a young age through admission in an associated seminary (school). After graduation they are awarded special titles within a clerical ranking system and are entitled to adorn themselves with special robes and attire. Few stay behind to perform higher-level functions that sustain the system but most of them return back to service communities where they become priests, imams, or resident “scholars”. They conduct religious rites, become preachers and are consulted in all religious matters. Religion becomes their primary profession and their main source of livelihood.

Clergy system divides people into classes

The biggest problem with the clergy system is that it divides the people into two distinct classes – the clergy class and the layman. The clergy are referred to with various titles like Maulana, Hujjatul Islam, Ayatullah, etc. They distinguish themselves in gatherings with their special attire and command privileged treatment. Such a classification was never authorized by the Masumeenasws. The Masumeenasws have classified people as follows:

People are of three types – the scholars (aalim), the students (mutaalim), and rubbish (ghisaa). Weasws are the scholars (aalims), ourasws Shiites are the students (mutaalim), and the rest of the people are worthless. [Imam Jafar Sadiqasws, Wasail ul Shia, H. 33092]

This hadith clarifies the meaning of an aalim (scholar, knowledgeable one). The aalims are only the Masumeenasws and every one else is either a student or worthless. There is no further classification – period. Note that based on the above hadith, if someone claims to be an aalim then they are challenging and competing with the position of the Masum Imamsasws.

Seeking knowledge of the hadith is obligatory on every Muslim

True knowledge emanates only from the Masumeenasws and they are the exclusive source. Any one who claims to be knowledgeable without referring back to the hadith of the Masumeenasws and without at all times placing themasws in the forefront have in fact been unjust and taken false credit. Knowledge is only from the ‘aalim-e-rabbani’ – the divine scholars:

Imam Musa Bin Ja’farasws said: There is no salvation except with obedience; obedience is acheived through knowledge; knowledge is attained by studying through ‘Aql’ (special intellect that guides one to the right path) coupled with strong faith, and there is no knowledge except from the divine scholar (aalim-e-rabbani, meaning the divine Imams) [Wasial ul Shia, H. 33096]

The Holy Prophetsawas of Islam said: Seeking knowledge is incumbent upon every Muslim, male and female. [Al-Majlisi Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 1. p. 177]

Imam Aliasws said: A person setting forth for the acquisition of knowledge is like the one who struggles in the way of Allahajwt. [Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 1, p. 179]

The Messenger of Allahajwt said: Seeking of knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim. Seek knowledge from its sources (Masomeenasws) and take it from the People of Ahadith’. [Wasail ul Shia, H. 33127]

Acquiring knowledge of religion is obligatory on each and every Muslim not just a small group of people. The knowledge referred to here is the knowledge of the hadith (the sayings and practices of the Masumeenasws). Are only a group of people encouraged to pursue knowledge and the rest should simply follow them blindly? Certainly not!

The problem is that the clerics have intervened to wield power and control over people, have cast unnecessary doubt and suspicion on hadith, have complicated simple matters, discouraged the people from accessing the hadith directly, and have twisted and distorted the truth to serve their interests.

The One who earns through religion has no religion

Another problem with the clergy system is that it produces religious professionals whereas the Masumeenasws have strictly prohibited us from earning livelihood through religion.

Amir-ul-Momineenasws said: He who holds on to the religion through striving in the world secures his religion but that who earns sustenance through religion loses his religion all together. [Mastadrak ul Wasail, vol. 12, ch. 6, h. 52]

Amir-ul-Momineenasws said: Making progress in the religion through worldly means will be rewarded whereas improving worldly affairs through religion will be admonished. [Mastadrak ul Wasail, ibis]

Amir-ul-Momineenasws said: The seeker of the ‘World’ by the means of religion is rebuked and disgraced. [Ghurar-al-hakam, Ad’deen wa duniya]

The Imamsasws and their closest companions did not make religion as their profession. In fact, we find that Imam Baqirasws, for example, used to work on a farm to support his family.

Imam Muhammad al-Baqirasws was the man of many qualities of greatness, reverence and piety. He was the greatest scholar of his time. His life was the best model of good manners and piety. He used to work on his farm. He put in hard labour so as to earn enough to support his family, and to help the poor and the needy.

Why did the Masumeenasws not establish a clergy system?

In the famous Hadith-e-thaqalayn (the hadith of the two weighty things), the Holy Prophetsawas said:

Verily I leave behind two things of paramount importance (thaqalayn) – the book of Allahajwt and my progeny my Ahlul Baytasws. If you hold on (tamassaktum) to both of them you will never (ever) go astray after me.
– Holy Prophet (saws)

Note the word ‘tamassaktum’ used in the above narration. It originates from the root word ‘massaa’ which means to to touch, pass on, or hand on a thing without having anything in between. In short – direct contact without any intermediary.

The Holy Prophetsawas did not say “I leave behind you three things the Quran, Ahlul Baytasws, and a Clergy System”. If a clergy system is so important for the guidance of people then why did the Prophetsawas or Imamsasws themselves not establish one. In fact, they should have laid the foundation of the greatest clergy system on earth and should have exercised all their energies in creating one because without such a system it would be impossible for the “layman” to understand religion and reach the truth. But we find that not only did they never establish such a system but also never mention any principles on how to implement one. There is not a single hadith that even hints at creating such a false system and such a false distinction among the people.

Dress code of the clergy

Now let us look at the special dress code that the clerics wear. Why do they need to differentiate themselves from the masses? The Prophetsawas and the Imamsasws did not have a special attire that separated them from the common people. The Holy Prophetsawas used to wear whatever garments were readily available and were customary among his people. His dress was so simple and common that he would be unrecognizable (through dress) by newcomers to the city of Medina.

Were the closest and most knowledgeable companions of the Holy Prophetsawas and Imamsasws clerics? Did they ever make religion a profession? Were they awarded titles like Hujjatul Islam and Ayatullah? Then on what basis has this system entered into the fold of Islam?


Knowledge is not acquired by studying for decades in a seminary, rather it is a light that Allahajwt sends in the heart of a believer.

The Messenger of Allahajwt said: Knowledge is not (acquired) through extensive learning. Rather, it is the light that Allah (swt) sends in the heart of whomever He wishes to guide [Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 67, p. 140]

The clergy system in all of the world’s religions operates to exercise power and control over people. It produces religious professionals and at the same time an ignorant class of people who are indirectly encouraged to be lethargic and indolent as far as pursuing knowledge is concerned. Nowhere in the traditions of the Prophetsawas or the Imamsasws can we find justification or principles to create such a system. If this clergy system is not the biggest innovation in Islam then what is?

Like all other man-made systems, the clergy system uses men so long as they follow its unwritten creed and conform to its traditional methods. But men are expendable and are good only so long as they co-operate and produce. Once they rebel at being owned and made flunkies they will be sent packing and made to feel that they are deserters, renegades and apostates. So it becomes easier for everyone just to play ball than to fight and challenge the system.

Alternate to the clergy system

Insha Allah we will address this subject in subsequent posts based on the teachings of the Masumeen.asws


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