A note on the title; I placed brackets around the term Accidentally because it otherwise presumes the innocence or complete naivety of the unofficial-but-official Saudi clergy. The rest of my title statement covers a subjective topic that has divided families and thrown nations into conflict around the Muslim world.
To some Muslims, the Saudi clergy are a Trojan horse eating away at the heart of Islam, but to others the clergy represent a return to pure Islam. We caution you to be sensitive when using the C word; supporters of Saudi Arabia’s religious authorities take offense to the very notion that they be labeled as clerics, because the maintenance of a clergy is prohibited in Islam.
But what is a clergy anyway? According to The Free Dictionary, it is the body of people ordained for religious service. The process of religious ordination carries with it legal and governmental collaboration. In sum, a clergy is a legally-appointed and maintained body or class of citizens whose sole institutional function is the guardianship of all religious matters. Saudi Arabia’s is a system reminiscent of the Pharisees sect who dominated the religious life of Jerusalem during the turn of the first millennium and the ascent of Jesus Christ.
It was the ancient struggle against the Pharisees which led to the Christian, and later Islamic natural opposition against priestly institutions–although the Christians quickly discarded that principle. The Pharisees came to power on the heel of Johan Girhan’s defeat of the Seleucids during the Second Temple period of Judaism, thereby establishing their priestly order as the sole trustees of the Torah of Moses. Through scriptural nitpicking, the Pharisees interpreted selective decrees from the Torah to justify and solidify their class privilege and ownership of religious edicts.
The Saudi equivalent of the Second Temple’s Pharisees are the Al-Shaikh family, descendents of the 18th-century warlord-cleric Muhammad Bin Abdul-Wahhab. In Saudi Arabia, all matters of religious study and decree are to be meted out by the Al-Shaikhs, who additionally reserve permanent authority in the Ministry of Justice and in the capacity of Grand Mufti.
During their rule, the Pharisees lived and operated as a noble class maintained by public coffers, free from common occupations. It was this mix of power and idleness that opened the Pandora’s box which came to be known in their infamous revisions of the Torah. The Pharisees’ weak knowledge of philosophical and legal traditions relegated them to discourse of the most trivial daily matters.
Overcome with their own priestly fatigue, the Al-Shaikhs and their minions have increasingly fell into the Pharisaic habit of obsessing over the minutiae of daily life. The top headline this week from the Saudi theological circus was a fatwa calling for female babies to wear burkas. As bizarre as it may be, it’s not surprising considering that another fatwa declared just two years prior to the latest one stated that non-familial men and women could override gender separation laws if the male drinks his female counterpart’s breast milk.
During the Second Temple period, the trivially-inclined priesthood of the Pharisees scrutinized every waking moment of the common Judeans’ day, reinterpreting or convoluting minor scriptural anecdotes to add to an ever-growing list of prohibitions and edicts. From sun up to sun down, ordinary Judeans had their entire day dictated by priestly decree; petty strictures on grooming, unfounded social prohibitions, and outright superstitions adopted as ritual.
Today, the Saudi clergy concerns itself primarily with frivolous topics of social conduct. They are busied with studying and elaborating the exact distance a man should maintain from a female stranger, the maximum number of days allowed between pubis trimming sessions, and providing the guidelines for an isolated women-only metropolis. In three decades of news monitoring, virtually all Saudi fatwas have originated from a disturbing obsession with the guardianship of womens’ chastity and mens’ cleanliness.
This culture of pettiness popularized by Saudi Arabia has become a mainstream fixture in Islamic communities throughout the world. Piety is now judged based on minor wardrobe and grooming details; cuffed pants represents greater piety than uncuffed pants, a goatee represents greater piety than a goatee combined with a mustache, and a buildup of callus in the forehead represents greater piety than a smooth forehead. It’s these minor, irrelevant physical attributes which have replaced action and quiet conviction.
Two thousand years ago in the ancient Levant, a fraternity of parasitic priests hijacked the Torah and created the cult of the Pharisees. Today, a similar cabal sits on a throne of vanity in Mecca and Medina, waging a war against the essence of Islam.
Zainab Guleed, DN Contributor/Staff