Clerics and the Clergy System

Nowadays we consider a clergy system to be an essential part of religion. The clerics define the identity of the religion and we regard them as the official representatives. Our religious lives revolve around clerics. After all how can religion function without the services of the priests, the mullahs and the rabbis? We have accepted this system to be a normal function of society and never question it’s origin. But did you ever think how this system came into existence? Is it divinely prescribed? Did God or the Prophets ever intend to create one?

A clergy system is founded on the premise that society can be divided into two classes – clergy and laity (layman, common man). Each class having a distinct set of responsibilities. The clergy class should dedicate their life to religious studies and services. While the laity concern themselves with worldly pursuits. The clerics are the authorized representatives of the religion. They should develop a deeper understanding of the divine scriptures. They should be well-versed with the religious law. They must apply the laws and principles on themselves and lead a pious life. The common man should rely on them for guidance in all aspects of religion.

Is this division authorized by God? This system exists as a major force in every religion. Yet you will find that the founder or divine messenger has not defined the rules and regulations to establish one. Not prescribed by God, yet it claims divine sanction. It creeps into every religion and is foisted upon an unsuspecting population. Over time it gains influence and becomes well established. Since it is not based on divine law, it keeps evolving to adapt to the changing needs and circumstances. This is a man-made system as we will also prove through hadith. Now the question is, whether it serves to protect or corrupt religion? Does it propagate or hide the truth? Is it needed for the continuity of the divine message?

If a clergy system is crucial for guidance of mankind the Prophet would have laid its foundation. If without this system, the common man is at a risk of misguidance, he would have exercised his energies in creating one. Hadith-e-Thaqalayn mentions that the Messenger of God has left behind the Ahlul Bayt for guidance. Surely the Ahlul Bayt should guide us on the validity of a clergy system. Are there any hadith that supports this system?

On the contrary, we find abundant hadith against establishing such a system. I will quote you five hadith from our reliable sources that refute this system.

Hadith 1: The categories that God has divided us into:

People are of three types the scholars (aalim), the students (mutaalim), and rubbish (ghisaa). We are the scholars (aalims), our followers (shias) are the students (mutaalim), and the rest of the people are worthless. [Reference: Wasail ul Shia, H. 33092]

This is how God has divided mankind. The infallible Imams, being directly chosen by God, belong to a distinct category. The rest of us are at best the students of the Imams. There is no scope for further division in this hadith.

This hadith also clarifies the definition of Aalim. This title should be exclusively used for the Imams. They are the Aalims. They are the knowledgeable ones. They can answer any question. No true Shia would call himself an Aalim, even if he spent his entire life studying religion in some obscure seminary.

Hadith 2: Religious knowledge is obligatory on all believers

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

This hadith is clear in it’s import. The Holy Prophet did not say: “Seeking knowledge is incumbent on a small group of people among you. The rest should refer and seek knowledge from them”. No, it is the duty of every believer to acquire knowledge. And to acquire it directly from the sources. The sources being the Prophet and Imams. Unfortunately the clergy system promotes a large class of people to remain ignorant in religion. It also provides opportunity for the clerics to monopolize knowledge and interpret it to suit their interests.

Here is another hadith from Imam Ali which should remove all doubt:

O people! Know that religion becomes complete through seeking knowledge and acting accordingly. You must know that seeking knowledge is of a stronger imperative nature for you than seeking wealth. In wealth everyone’s share is guaranteed. As, the Just One (meaning God) has already divided wealth among you. He (God) Himself and through my sword will guarantee that you receive your share. Knowledge, however, is stored with those who possess it. You are commanded to seek knowledge from them. You must seek the knowledge. [Reference: Wasail ul Shia, H. 33111]

Who are the possessors of knowledge from whom we are commanded to seek knowledge? Would God ever command us to follow anyone but His representatives – the Imams?

Hadith 3: Religion can not be a profession

The clergy system produces religious professionals. Whereas, the Imams have prohibited us from earning livelihood through religion. Below are three hadith from Amir-ul-Momineen Imam Ali:

The one who holds on to religion while engaged in worldly striving secures his religion. But the one who earns his sustenance through the means of religion loses his religion all together. [Reference: Mastadrak ul Wasail, vol. 12, ch. 6, h. 52]

Making progress in the religion through worldly means will be rewarded whereas improving worldly affairs through religion will be admonished. [Reference: Mastadrak ul Wasail]

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

Neither the Imams nor their companions made religion as their profession. We find Imam Baqir, for example, working on a farm to support his family.

Imam Muhammad al-Baqir was a man with many qualities of greatness, reverence and piety. He was the greatest scholar of his time and his life was the best model of good manners and piety. He used to work on his farm. He put in hard labour to earn enough to support his family, and to help the poor and the needy. [Reference:]

Hadith 4: True knowledge is not acquired through learning

True guiding knowledge is a light that God sends in to the heart of a believer. It is not acquired through lengthy study in a seminary.

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

Any sincere believer that God chooses can be the recipient of this guidance. This believer is a better guide and more valuable then any priest who has spent his entire life studying religion.

Hadith 5: Prohibited to distinguish oneself by dress

Why do the clerics have a special dress code that differentiate them from the common men? So that they can be acknowledged as learned in a gathering? This is again prohibited:

If a person wears a certain dress in order to become famous (known), then on the day of judgment Allah will make him wear the dress of the fire of hell. [Reference: Sayings of Imam Hussain (asws) Wasail ul Shia Third Edition pg 278 chapter 12 Hadith 4]

The Prophet and the Imams put on customary attire never distinguishing themselves from the rest of the people. There are numerous incidents in history where the people had to ask “Who among you is Muhammad?” or “Who is Ali ibn Abi Talib from amongst you?”. They were unrecognizable (through dress) by people who did not know them.

A dress can never be a sign of knowledge. Knowledge does not have a dress code. It is perceived through interaction and understanding. It is a light in the heart of the believer.


The seat of the cleric is a powerful position from which the masses can be controlled. That is why we usually find the clerics in alliance with the political rulers of their times, allowing them to jointly control the destinies of people.

Every divine messenger arrives to destroy the corrupt systems of their times and the clergy system is an integral part of it. In history, when do you see the clerics whole heartedly accepting the divine guide without any opposition? Who corrupts religion other than the clerics? They being the official interpreters and representatives. When the divine guide appears what option do they have but to challenge him in order to protect their rule and authority.

The clergy system in all the world’s religions operates to exercise power and control over people. It is based on an invalid division of mankind. It produces religious professionals and at the same time an ignorant class of people who are encouraged to be lethargic and indolent in pursuing religious knowledge. Nowhere in the traditions of the Prophet or the Imams can we find justification to create this system. It is an innovation. It is a system of deception laid by Satan whose goal is to drive the believers towards polytheism.


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