Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
There is a very interesting dialogue recorded in Surah Saba in the holy Quran that will happen between Allah and the angels on the Day of Judgment, which tells us that a large majority of humans is worshiping Jinn (powerful men):
And remember the day, when Allah will gather them all together; then He will say to the angels: ‘Was it you that they worshiped?’ They will say, ‘Holy are You. You are our Protector against them. Nay, but they worshiped the Jinn (powerful men); it was in them that most of them believed.’ (Al Quran 34:40-41)
Now, we all know that some Muslims may worship graves, but none worship Jinn or imaginary beings besides Allah and we also know that the masses are often misled by the powerful people, be they political leaders or religious scholars or other religious elites, a fitting commentary of the above verses. So, it is easy to grasp that Jinn, at least in the above verse, means powerful men and not demons.
A large majority of the Muslims hold their religious leaders in such awe and reverence that it becomes counterproductive and they are often able to mislead them.
Before renaissance, Aristotle was such an infallible authority in Europe that people would dig out his opinion, rather than observe nature for themselves; as a result scientific method was not possible and any new observation or fact was shot down by the contrarians with a quote from him. Reason and rationality played second fiddle to human authorities of the past, until they could be gradually rescued from the jaws of worship of the Jinn, in this case Aristotle.
This worship or devotion to the leaders, even when they are wrong, I believe, is the greatest cause of sectarian divide among the Muslims. Their obsession with their sectarian leaders and their refusal to learn from other sources makes many of them frogs of a well, who take the well to be the ocean. This creates a myopic reality for the devoted followers of each sect.
This, I believe, is true for every Sunni and Shiite sect but is easier to prove in the case of Shiite sects as they have made the leadership into a formal science.
According to them, Iṣmah or ‘Isma (Arabic: عِصْمَة; literally, “protection”) is the concept of incorruptible innocence, immunity from sin, or moral infallibility in Islamic theology and is characteristic of prophets, imams, and angels. When attributed to human beings, Ismah means “the ability of avoiding acts of disobedience, in spite of having the power to commit them”. Along with a pure constitution, excellent qualities, firmness against opponents, and tranquility (as-Sakinah), Ismah is a divine grace bestowed by God.
An infallible (Arabic: معصوم ma`sūm) is someone who is free from error in leading people to belief, in perceiving divine knowledge, and in practical matters. Prophets must be immune from all errors and sins in order to perform their mission of upholding and promoting the divine religion, interpreting the Quran, and establishing a wholesome social system.
According to Twelver Shia, who are a majority in Iran, The Fourteen Infallibles (Arabic: معصومون Ma‘ṣūmūn) “divinely bestowed free from error and sin” include Muhammad, may peace be on him, his daughter Fatimah, and the Twelve Imams. Ismaili also attribute ismah to Ismaili imāms and Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad, while Zaidis do not attribute the quality to the Zaidi imams.
While I would agree, as regards the prophets, in some sense, as long as we remember that the Quran itself documents some indiscretion on the part of prophet Adam and the prophet Yunus, I do not think the concept of Ismah is true for other religious leaders. Today I will pick up two examples, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei and Prince Aga Khan. I have no beef against them, in fact I have often promoted Prince Aga Khan’s good work for Islam and the Muslims in the pages of the Muslim Times here.
The devout Iranians and the committed Ismailis may not see the fallibility of their respective leaders, but I bet you that to the rest of the world, and to the Iranians the fallibility of Prince Aga Khan and to the Ismailis the fallibility of Ali Khamenei, are self evident and they will not require any arguments to that effect.
The Supreme Leader of Iran (Persian: رهبر معظم ایران, translit. rahbar-e mo’azzam-e irān), also called the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution (رهبر معظم انقلاب اسلامی, rahbar-e mo’azzam-e enqelāb-e eslāmi), officially in Iran called the Supreme Leadership Authority (مقام معظم رهبری, maqām mo’azzam rahbari) is the head of state, highest ranking political and religious authorityof the Islamic Republic of Iran. The armed forces, judicial system, state television, and other key governmental organizations are under the control of the Supreme Leader of Iran. The current longtime Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, has been issuing decrees and making the final decisions on economy, environment, foreign policy, education, national planning, and everything else in Iran. Khamenei also makes the final decisions on the amount of transparency in elections in Iran, and has fired and reinstated presidential cabinet appointments. The Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei directly chooses the ministers of Defense, Intelligence and Foreign Affairs, as well as certain other ministries, such as the Science Ministry.
Do you see the building of a totalitarian dictatorship? Even science is not immune from his jurisdiction. The Supreme leader is everything and every one else is nothing. This alone to me is proof enough for his fallibility and I do not need to find any more mud on him to prove my point.
Ali Khamenei is also a marja and the second and current Supreme Leader of Iran, in office since 1989. He was previously President of Iran from 1981 to 1989. In Shia Islam, marjaʿ (Arabic: مرجع; plural: marājiʿ), also known as a marjaʿ taqlīd or marjaʿ dīnī (Arabic: مرجع تقليد / مرجع ديني), literally meaning “source to imitate/follow” or “religious reference”, is a title given to the highest level Shia authority, a Grand Ayatollah with the authority to make legal decisions within the confines of Islamic law for followers and less-credentialed clerics. After the Qur’an and the prophets and imams, marājiʿ are the highest authority on religious laws in Usuli Shia Islam.
To know more about the absolute authority of Ali Khamenei please read: Reading the Quran: Do They Still Cook You on the Stake, For Knowing the Scripture?
The Muslims would do well to study the history of The Royal Society and related societies in UK, for the last few centuries to see how the British Empire developed sciences since the renaissance and ruled the world.
While we are learning from the history and not limiting ourselves to our supreme religious leaders, we may as well learn from the history of Galileo and the Catholic Church:
— The Muslim Times (@The_MuslimTimes) January 22, 2017
Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini, Aga Khan IV, KBE, CC (Arabic: شاه كريم الحسيني، الآقاخان الرابع; Persian: شاه کریم حسینی، آقاخان چهارم; Urdu: شاه کریم حسینی، آقاخان چهارم; born 13 December 1936) is the 49th and current Imam and Aga Khan of Nizari Ismailism, a denomination of Isma’ilism within Shia Islam with an estimated 10-15 million adherents (10—12% of the world’s Shia Muslim population). Aga Khan is a business magnate with British citizenship, as well as a racehorse owner and breeder. He has held this position of Imam, under the title of Aga Khan IV, since 11 July 1957, when, at the age of 20, he succeeded his grandfather, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III. It is believed that Aga Khan is a direct lineal descendant of the prophet Muhammad through Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, considered the first Imam in Shia Islam, and Ali’s wife Fatima az-Zahra, Muhammad’s daughter from his first marriage. In 1986 Aga Khan ordained the current version of the Ismailia Constitution – an ecclesiastical decree affirming to Nizari Ismailis his “sole right to interpret the Qur’an and provide authoritative guidance on [all] matters of faith” and formalising his sole discretion, power and authority for the governance of Nizari Ismaili jamats (places of worship) and institutions.
Prince Aga Khan has assumed, “sole right to interpret the Qur’an and provide authoritative guidance on [all] matters of faith!” I believe it is a travesty of grand proportions, as the Quran wants each individual to read and understand the Quran and be accountable in the Afterlife for one’s beliefs and deeds.
— TheMuslimTimes (@TheMuslimTimes2) July 17, 2017
Forbes describes Aga Khan as one of the world’s ten richest royals with an estimated net worth of US$800 million (2010). The same could not be said about the prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, who was promised a large portion of spoils in the Quran and did not leave anything for the family and gave away almost every thing in charity.
I believe, all the Muslim leaders try to draw their authority from a rigid interpretation of the role of the prophet in the Quran but violate his model whenever they need to.
The Muslims should be learning their religion from multiple sources, Muslims of all flavors including this humble one and including the non-Muslims like Karen Armstrong, Prof. John Adair, Lesley Hazelton, Joel Osteen and Dr. Craig Considine, to name a few. After all the prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, said, “A word of wisdom is the lost property of a Muslim. He should take it wherever he finds it.” (Tirmizi)
He also said, “The similitude of believers in regard to mutual love, affection, fellow-feeling is that of one body; when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and fever.” [Muslim]
Such broad perspectives by following the prophet’s universal precepts can help us grow and be ready for the 21st century global village.