The Intermediaries

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Model of an ancient Jerusalem Temple

Matthew 21:12-13

Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.

“It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’

Jerusalem

Irrespective of the popular narrative, Jesus was not a pacifist. He was strongly against the clergy and the way they used the name of God for commercial gains. The temples were in control of the clergy. Architecturally the temples had a layered structure with the inner most part (sanctum sanctorum) only accessible to the clergy symbolizing an important aspect of religion; You cannot reach gods unless you go through people who have access to gods.

The clergy determined how the sacrifices were to be made in the Temple and they determined the amount of money that will have to be spent to please the gods. Of course all the material offerings eventually belonged to the clergy. A modest compensation for helping people connect with god.

Outside the temples there were flourishing businesses selling items that were required to please the gods. The temple was essential to sustain those businesses and the temple itself became an essential part of the economy. Clergy used the temple and the fear of gods to convince people that parting away with their wealth in the form of sacrifices would please the gods which would in turn solve their health and wealth related issues.

Jesus witnessed this and in his zeal he overturned the tables of money changers and the benches of those selling doves for sacrifice. He also opened the cattle that ran through the dusty streets of Jerusalem. It was a spectacle.

Egypt

In Egypt there are an estimated seventy million mummified animals. Remnants of a culture where mummified animals were offered to please the gods or to act as intermediaries who took wrapped messages from those alive to those who have passed away. Forensic examination of animal mummies has revealed that these animals were bred in small cages and then were mercilessly killed in the most cruel ways so they can be mummified.

Mummification was big business and an essential part of the Egyptian economy. Only the clergy knew all the right mantras to properly offer the animal mummies to the gods. They too charged a modest sum for their services.

India

The Brahmins in ancient India took it a whole new level. They controlled the temples, they controlled the temple money, and they put themselves on the top of the social hierarchy, restricted others from learning religion and made rules that entitled them to social benefits. The following is an extract from Atharva Ved Book 12 Hymn 5 which explains the duty of giving cows to Brahmins and the sin and danger of withholding the gift.

O Cow, break thou the head of him who wrongs the Brāhmans, criminal, niggard, blasphemer of the Gods. Let Agni burn the spiteful wretch when crushed to death and slain by thee. Rend, rend to bits, rend through and through, scorch and consume and burn to dust,Consume thou, even from the root, the Brāhmans’ tyrant, godlike Cow! That he may go from Yama’s home afar into the worlds of sin. So, Goddess Cow, do thou from him, the Brāhmans’ tyrant, criminal, niggard, blasphemer of the Gods,With hundred-knotted thunderbolt, sharpened and edged with razor-blades,Strike off the shoulders and the head.Snatch thou the hair from off his head, and from his body strip the skin: Tear out his sinews, cause his flesh to fall in pieces from his frame. Crush thou his bones together, strike and beat the marrow out of him. Dislocate all his limbs and joints. From earth let the Carnivorous Agni drive him, let Vayu burn. him from mid-air’s broad region.From heaven let Sūrya drive him and consume him.

Phew!!

This system was successfully challenged by Gautam Buddah. Many of Buddha’s followers were Brahmins who were by their nature fair people and wanted to end this discrimination and exploitation. Buddha did not discriminate between sexes or castes. His message was simple and convincing. This was a direct challenge to the intermediaries.

Mecca

The Quraish tribe of Mecca controlled the access to the temple of the tribes known as the Kaaba. People from distant places visited Mecca to make their offerings to the gods. All these material offerings eventually ended up with the Quraish tribe. Each tribe had their own god housed inside the Kaaba and to enter the Kaaba they had to pass through the house of the leader of Quraish tribe, symbolizing the idea that the Quraish were the intermediaries between the pagan Arabs and their gods. This way the Quraish maintained their influence over the tribes in the region.

The prophet of Islam, Mohammed, was a Quraish, he was supposed to enjoy the benefits that came to his tribe through the gods of the Kaaba. He was not supposed to challenge and destroy everything his ancestors had established by shrewdly using gods to benefit their own tribe.

In every prayer that Muslims offer they renew their pledge of worshiping one God and asking one God for help (Quran 1:5). Mohammed’s God was accessible to every human, Mohammed’s God did not keep sacrifices for himself but wanted people to help their poor relatives, help the orphans, the travellers. Mohammed’s God wanted people to spend money to free slaves from bondage. (Quran 2:177).

And as per Quran, Mohammed did not promise riches to people, nor did he promise that he will get them salvation in afterlife. On the contrary he told them he has no knowledge of the unseen and he does not know his own future. (Quran 7:188)

Mohammed’s God wanted men and women to pray to him as equals. There were no queues or special lines for the special dignitaries. At the time of prayers the rich and the poor, the men and the women, the healthy and the weak all stand in rows as absolute equals and pray.

Dargah (Muslim Shrines)

Dargahs are the antithesis of Islam. Dargahs re-establish the dominant role of the clergy, they re-establish intermediaries, they potentially open up ways for exploitation of gullible masses. As per traditions, when Prophet Mohammed died, his companions destroyed the tree under which he spent time so people don’t convert it into a shrine.

There are no saints, no popes, no Brahmins in Islam. As per Islamic theology, everyone is equally answerable to God for their actions on the day of judgement and no soul will be able to help the other. (Quran 82:19)

The act of declaring someone as a saint violates the fundamental principle of Islam that only God can be the judge of someone’s deeds. To declare someone as saint is direct intrusion into God territory. The people who are buried in these shrines themselves only carried the message of Mohammed, they never asked their tombs to be glorified or turned into places of public interest. This was done by people out of love and respect.

Where do all the donations go? To the Dargah Trust which is managed by Khadims (servants of the tomb). I am sure by now you may have made the connection between various examples I presented from the past and these ‘Intermediaries to the Intermediaries’.

Let us assume that whatever I wrote in this blog is due to my lack of knowledge of Islam. Even then one question remains unanswered. If some good person can hear you from beyond the dead then why is it necessary to go close to that person’s mortal remains? A tomb can be left alone in peace and still a person can seek help of those saints.

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7 thoughts on “The Intermediaries

  1. Your use of the word intermediary itself betrays prejudice. You make the relationship with the God transactional. You want to gain something from the God and you go through his agents on earth! In Sufism the relationship with the God is totally different. It is based on love. Sufi saint goes through the multiple stages of this love and finally achieves the oneness with Him. There is a lot of mystical theory and philosophy (e.g. Neoplatonism) which I will not go into here which you can find in any Sufism textbook (e.g. Annmarie Schimmel’s). The point is sufi saints are not agents or intermediaries. Yes they are special, because they have gone through the spiritual stages. Does it go against monotheistic tenets? Yes it does if you interpret them literally. Again, the point is sufi tradition is native to Islam. It is not something that was imposed from outside.

    My other much more important point is that the sufi heritage, specially in India in the way as it has developed, has become a common heritage of both Hindus and Muslims. It actually shows a middle finger to fundamentalists on both sides of the fence like those Hindus who are always whining about how aggressive, inflexible and intolerant Islam is and also those fundamentalist Muslims who are always talking about evil idolators. For this reason we absolutely must protect and nurture this legacy if we want to keep the Hindu-Muslim syncretic culture alive. Now within the Sufi tradition itself there are fundamentalist strains (like in Pakistan). We need to be aware of that as well.

    Your rest of the blog talks about commercialization & vulgarization of traditions. I totally agree there. But for every example of Dargah, I will give you an example from supposedly pure monotheistic tradition which is equally commercialized.

    • “Yes they are special, because they have gone through the spiritual stages. Does it go against monotheistic tenets? Yes it does if you interpret them literally”

      How do you even judge someone’s spiritual enlightenment? How is one’s personal connection with God relevant to this post? God should be equally accessible to everyone irrespective of caste, creed, race or spiritual enlightenment.

  2. Just for the record, the Vedas, although forming the core of Hinduism, are actually collection of mantras that are to be recited to the gods – specific hymns for specific gods – to appease them. Unlike some other ‘holy’ books, these are not instruction manuals for the humans – a very important distinction.

    The last part of the Atharva Ved Book 12 Hymn 5, the bit about gory punishment, is actually a prayer to cow goddess, none of which is to carried out by humans.

    Also the reference to brahmin is not a reference to verna, but profession – another important distinction.

    Regards

  3. Oh good, I thought my comment had vanished into the internet ether.

    According to mystical tradition there are esoteric insights in Islam which are accessbile only to those who have gone through the various sufi stages of enlightenment. You can read about the various stages here
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haqiqa

    If you can’t find Schimmel’s textbook, you can read the encyclopedia article here:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/arabic-islamic-mysticism/

    Sufism is actually directly linked to the great philosophical revival that happened in Islam 1000 years ago. It will be a great tragedy if Muslims disown one of the most glorious of their heritages.

  4. Hello BrumbyOZ,

    There is really nothing to celebrate about the Muslim hijabi girl who took selfies at the anti Islam rally in Belgium. https://twitter.com/Channel4News/status/733341858932228097

    Are Muslims supposed to act as jesters at these events to convince the bigots that they are harmless ? If the west really believed in all the anti-bigotry they claim they believe in, then the law enforcement should have clamped down on the event and charged the protestors with inciting hatred.

    The west has a very large right wing populous, the true liberals, which in my estimation are a minority in the west kept this large chunk of population sedated through loot from the colonized countries from around the world, that order is now breaking, the right wing will just become more and more dominant in the west now.

    Thanks,
    replybb

  5. Hello BrumbyOZ,

    You recently tweeted about Muslims in India. “So you have two choices. Keep crying for rights you will never get in India or become rich independent community. For eg the Bohras did that”

    It is not possible for any community to become and rich and independent if the entire system is tilted against them, at best you will have one or two exceptional cases here and there.

    Also note that once a Muslim area or community gets rich and independent and begins to control some trade, a “communal riot” in which their shops are burnt and businesses destroyed is not very far away. Sometimes its done through legislation like beef ban.

    Bohras have been successful for a variety of reason and the most important one is Bohras being a business community since time immemorial, plus they were able to establish their bases during the British era. They are also a homogenous group, the larger Muslim community is very diverse to replicate the same model and most have no business experience in their recent previous generations.

    Finally, I am surprised at your suggestion that Muslims should just accept the situation and live with it, would you tell the blacks of America or the Indigenous population of Australia the same thing ? Stop asking for your rights and accept your second class status ?

    What you are suggesting is so Fox News-esque, that the “Blacks should stop complaining and study hard and work hard, the American dream is open to everyone”, well, we know better, its not.

    Thanks,
    replybb.

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