How important is a cleric in any Muslim's life

Life without a cleric By Hafizur Rahman
The News, April 24, 2007

A NEWSPAPER report has disturbed me and my family and we don’t know what to do about it. In any case it is too late to do anything. The matter concerns our faith.

Since we believe ourselves to be Muslims, we are naturally anxious that the end should be satisfactory. And with all the talk about the Shariah in Pakistan we want to be sure that we are not deficient in the matter of faith.

All this while we have considered ourselves not only Muslims but staunch Muslims, but our eyes have been opened by a revelation made by a well-known Islamic scholar of Rawalpindi. And what we behold with open eyes is hardly calculated to give us solace.An Urdu columnist has referred to a maulana’s revelation and thus brought it to our notice. And it is because of his column that we find our peace of mind disturbed. It has created doubts in our minds whether we are really qualified to call ourselves Muslims. According to this column, the maulana had dwelt on the role of the maulvi in our daily lives. So that there is no misunderstanding, I repeat the exact words as quoted by the columnist.

“The poor maulvi whom you revile (said maulana) is he who made your mother lawful for your father. It is he who chanted the azaan in your ear and breathed faith into you. And it is he who will say your funeral prayer when you die. What have you given him in return?”

Just forget what we have given the maulvi and all that, and concentrate on the three most important moments in a Muslim’s life as mentioned by the maulana. It is these three functions that have caused a commotion in my family and stirred us to our very depths about what may be in store for us in the hereafter. According to the maulana, all these three functions have to be performed by maulvis, even though we give them nothing in return.

You see, the problem in our case is that for all these three significant moments in our lives as Muslims we employ the services of maulvis. But when my wife and I were married, the nikah was read by an old friend of my father-in-law. He didn’t have a beard so he couldn’t have been a maulvi.

When my father died, his funeral prayer was led by an old friend of his whom we called Uncle. This friend too didn’t have a beard and used to protest violently if anyone addressed him as Maulvi Sahib. When our two daughters were born I myself recited the azaan in their ears. I do not have a beard, nor can I be described as a maulvi by any stretch of the imagination.

So what is the position now? Were all these occasions properly sanctified? Since those who presided over these rituals were not maulvis, and since (if we go by the word of the maulana) only maulvis are entitled or expected to perform these functions, can it be stated with authority that, in our case, the acts were in complete accord with the actual religious practice? Or will the verdict be that they were null and void, ab initio, as lawyers are in the habit of saying?

While I can make up for my personal lapse by getting a maulvi to recite the azaan in the ears of my daughters (and their four children too who had suffered a similar fate because of my eagerness to play the amateur maulvi), what about the funeral prayer of my father?

I would hate to be admonished by him when we meet in the next world, in case such a meeting is part of the post mortem scheme of the Almighty. But I can ignore that too. My father is not here to tick me off. When the time comes for that we shall see. But what about my nikah with my one and only wife?The matter is complicated by the fact that she died some years ago, and I hate to live with the thought that when she was alive we were not properly married for 37 years. The only consolation is that her funeral arrangements were not in my hands and the last rite was performed by an authentic maulvi. So there is at least one worry less. But the question still rankles whether it was holy wedlock or a theological deadlock while it lasted.

During my forty plus years on this planet I have been under the impression that in Islam you don’t need a practising maulvi for anything. Let alone chanting the azaan in an infant’s ear, or reciting the prayer on someone’s last journey, which any Muslim can do, I was taught that for a marriage to be solemnised the man and woman had just to take the prescribed vow before witnesses and the deed was done. I as nikah-khwan was not de riguer. Such is the simplicity of Islam and such is its freedom from a professional priestly class.

Among maulvis you can have the most learned and the most ignorant. The late Maulana Kausar Niazi was the most enlightened maulvi and there are scores in the Jamaat-e-Islami and the JUI and the Islamabad International Islamic University, with which I once had an association of sorts. Some of the imams of Islamabad mosques are real gems and it’s a pleasure to talk to them.

And there was “Maulana” Sabz Gull who was imam of a small mosque in the outskirts of the old city of Peshawar. This was in the end of 1958 or thereabouts. I was charged with the duty of finding a maulvi to preside over the nikah of a friendless young woman. After the ritual was over, I asked everyone concerned to sign on the nikah-nama. However, we were sheepishly informed by my maulvi that he was unlettered and could only affix his thumb impression on the document. I’ve still got that nikah-nama with me.

I don’t know if Maulvi Sabz Gull later learned to read and write, but apparently he was quite proficient and successful in the performance of his priestly duties. I wish I could locate him now. I am sure he would be able to find a way out of the dilemma in which that columnist’s remarks have placed me and my family.

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