Mark Shuttleworth, the first South African in space and the mastermind behind the Ubuntu open source PC desktop interface, and Bill Gates, the spirit behind the Windows operating system are both great men. So is Steve Jobs, the spirit behind Apple. Using Ubuntu, or using Windows or using Apple does not make anyone a great person automatically! In fact, using any of these, does not even make me an authority on the software. As a user, I’m a beneficiary of someone else’s greatness. I should be grateful, humble and hopeful that I could be of similar great service to my fellow man one day.
Not so with religions! Muhammad, Jesus and Moses were great men. However we see their followers arrogating themselves to absurdly sublime levels, rivaling the very authority of the original master. What gives a Muslim follower of Muhammad the right to speak in Muhammad’s name? Who gave any scholar of Islam the right to arrogantly speak for God or Muhammad? What gives any Shi’ite cleric the right to dress up in garbs and pretend to speak for Ali? The madness grows to viscous insanity when these imposters and usurpers then violently impose their half-baked understanding on the rest of us.
Priesthood is to be found in all religions, and is a scourge and a curse on religion. In Christianity, priesthood, though still wrong, has thankfully taken on a more benign form in recent years. Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, have sadly become the victims of a malignant, virile and violent priesthood. Islam should be renamed Blackmail. Muslims are coerced and blackmailed by their ignorant priests, into obeisance, not to Muhammad and God, but of their priests. God and Muhammad are only their invocations. Politically, Muslims’ priests use them as collective hysterical mob with which to intimidate the West. The pulpit has become a place of intimidation and threats. A cacophony of threats are issued there every Friday: Threat of Hell, threat of being declared a sinner, threat of being declared “Kaafir”, or apostate, threat of excommunication and more. Threats, threats, threats. Can Islam then not securely rest on sound intellectual foundations? Any belief system that needs blackmail and threats to survive is a false system.
The failure of the followers should not detract from the greatness of the master. When Christians invent absurd stories about Jesus that defy every iota of common sense in us, we should not blame the master Jesus. Can we blame Bill Gates if a malicious piece of software invades our Windows PC, and renders it useless? What if a malicious piece of software invades and infects 90% of the world’s Windows PC’s ?
In the end, we are all individually accountable for our beliefs and our actions. God aids us and intervenes through our magnificent intellect. Neither the holy Bible, or the noble Quran and nor the great Torah addresses a priestly class. They all address you and me directly. Yes, often the message espoused in our holy books is cryptic. For that purpose you and me were given a most noble decryption tool, namely our intellect. Through applying our intellect individually and collectively, we can receive sound guidance from the scriptures.
Surah At-Taubah, Verse 31 speaks eloquently on this topic:
اتَّخَذُوا أَحْبَارَهُمْ وَرُهْبَانَهُمْ أَرْبَابًا مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ
“They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords in derogation of Allah…”
That is not to say that we reject the validity of expertise and leadership. Experts and Leaders are boons to society. Experts offer insight, understanding and wisdom. Leaders offer inspiration and coherence. Leaders and experts are our allies in the collective quest to improve our condition.