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On the role of intermediaries between Mohammed and believers

There are many currents within Islam and offshoots of Islam. Some peaceful, some violent. The most violent current is jihadist salafism. The more mainstream Muslim Brotherhood tends to be peaceful on an international plane, but violent in the ‘West Bank’ and Gaza, where it also embraces jihadism.

Sufis and Shia currents not tainted by Khomeinism, such as the marja led by Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani have shown a remarkable openness and willingness to engage with other religions, even welcoming Pope Francis recently to Najaf in Iraq. Further along on the path of pacifism lie the Ahmadiyya and Baha’i communities, which both view Mohammed as a prophet, yet claim that Mohammed was not the seal of the prophets.

Salafists reject the whole judicial corpus which was edified in the centuries following the demise of the prophet of Islam.

Instead, they solely rely on the Quran and the Hadiths – Muhammed’s sayings – to regulate believers’ behavior.

Since the Prophet of Islam spent every year following his conquest of Medina wielding the sword against non-Muslims, it is unremarkable that Muslims who rely exclusively on the guidance of the Quran and Hadiths are more prone to engage in religious violence.

Mainstream Islam, to which the Muslim Brotherhood subscribes, recognizes four main schools of jurisprudence: the Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki and Shafi’i schools.

These schools historically sought to reconcile the Quran and the Hadiths with the need of administering law and order in urbanized settings outside of Arabia. In other words, mainstream Islam sets jurists as intermediaries between Mohammed and believers.

Sufis, which are historically indebted to Gnostic, Buddhist and Hindu spiritual traditions, embrace the teachings of sheikhs who founded tariqas or spiritual brotherhoods that cultivate meditative and spiritual traditions successive to Mohammed.

These sheikhs also serve as intermediaries between Mohammed and believers.

This phenomenon of beneficial intermediation is also evident in the Shia tradition. Twelver Shias, the largest Shia community, believe that twelve imams starting from Ali, Muhammed’s son-in-law are the legitimate heirs and depositaries of Islamic traditions.

This belief and the need to organize and interpret the teachings of Mohammed, Ali and later imams have allowed Twelver Shias to develop a sophisticated intellectual and hermeneutic tradition which is largely absent among contemporary Sunnis.

This tradition has played a key role in allowing Iranians and Shias in Pakistan and India to outperform Sunnis culturally and socioeconomically.

Yet even Shias are bested by Baha’is and Ahmadiyyas. Baha’is believe that the founder of their faith Baha’u’llah was a prophet, just like Ahmadiyyas believe that their founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was the embodiment of Jesus. Since Muslims, like Christians, believe in Jesus’ return to earth, Ahmadiyyas invested the founder of their community with the right to abrogate Mohammed’s teachings, particularly the imperative of armed struggle.

Bah’a’ullah on the other hand argued that all religious traditions and all religious founders taught the truth for their times, thus abrogating the exclusive truth of Islam. Although in the Islamic world Baha’is and Ahmadiyyas are persecuted as heretics, their abjuration of religious violence and religious supremacism have boosted these communities’ ethical, cultural and socioeconomic level.

The overarching picture is not haphazard. It reveals that the less mediated the relationship between Muslims and Mohammed, the more intolerant and violent the Islam practised tends to be, whereas the more mediated this relationship is, the more likely are Muslims to excel intellectually and ethically.

On a planetary scale, this overall trend is clearly visible in the fact that Saudi Arabia, a hotbed of Salafism, has – despite its tremendous wealth – utterly failed to produce any cultural or intellectual achievements of note.

In distant Indonesia, syncretism with pre-Islamic Hinduistic and Buddhist traditions has inspired the Islam Nusantara movement that aims to elevate the ethical level of Islam. In other words, the greater the cultural and intellectual distance from pristine Islam, the more fruitful the ethical and intellectual efforts of Muslims.

The militant Shia ideology represented by Ayatollah Khomeini does not refute this intermediation thesis.

The personality cult which the Islamic Revolution built around the figure of Ayatollah Khomeini, de facto placed the latter on a pedestal next to Mohammed and Imam Ali, neglecting centuries of Shia scholarship that had nurtured and refined religious teachings.

The former suggests that the most promising path to refine the Ummah is to add as many intermediaries as possible between Mohammed and Muslim believers. Since great reformers such as Baha’u’llah and Mirza Ghulam Ahmad do not abound, perhaps an alternative path to modernize the Ummah is to instill in young Muslims a love for secular subjects such as philosophy, sociology and psychology. This should allow their beliefs about the world and themselves to be increasingly mediated by reason and logic. In addition, secular literature, poetry and music should be promoted in order for the thirst for feelings and emotions to not be exclusively addressed by their religious texts.

The Islamic world will emerge from its current nadir when it realizes that social and moral progress is facilitated by building upon what followed Mohammed.

Embracing a belief in the cumulative nature of progress, rather than submission to the doctrine that the most pristine Islam is also the best Islam, promises to elevate the status of Muslims.

Source: Rafael Castro – Arutz Sheva