There is a common misconception among people that leads them to assume that just because a person holds a certain position of authority or office, that he/she automatically has legitimacy. Further, that he/she must be intelligent. This is applicable in politics, business, as well as in matters religious. That most politicians and businessmen are thoroughly corrupt and deviant is conveniently overlooked. It is equally true that intelligence does not have much to do with people getting into positions of power or acquiring wealth. Some of the dumbest people in the world have occupied very important positions: Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush are prime examples of this.
The reverse is also generally true. It has been observed that some of the most intelligent people in the world tend not to be rich and they shun politics (they must be really smart!). There are notable exceptions of highly intelligent people that were also rich. Imam Abu Hanifa was a brilliant scholar as well as a successful businessman. He used his wealth to help educate an entire generation of students. In the contemporary age, Bill Gates made his fortune through his own effort. He dropped out of Harvard University and went on to strike it rich. Unlike most other rich people, he has utilized his wealth to help many worthy causes such as education, worldwide. He is perhaps unique in this respect because most rich people simply inherit their fortune and want to keep it.
In politics, we see that dynastic rule plagues much of the Muslim world. The “monarchs” — Western slaves would be a better description — as well as other assorted dictators that litter the Muslim East (aka the Middle East) offer a good example of children inheriting power from parents or brothers. Power and authority are sexually transmitted. Take the example of Bani Saud, the Bedouins that erupted from the dark crevices of Najd in the mid-18th century. They have been in control of the Arabian Peninsula for nearly a century. After ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Saud died in 1953, his oldest son Saud became king. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz was completely illiterate; his only claim to fame was his prowess in raiding and plundering caravans. He was a brigand and a thief, yet he declared himself “king,” thanks to the support he received from the British colonialists. They did not do it out of love; they needed the brigand to defeat and ultimately dismember the Ottoman Sultanate. Its disintegration also led to the implantation of the Zionist entity in Palestine. In a sense, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Saud bears as much responsibility for the creation of the Zionist entity as the British colonialists.
Rule has simply passed between the sons of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Saud ever since. With Salman becoming king last January, the rules have changed. He not only dismissed Muqrin as Crown Prince, replacing him with Muhammad bin Nayef, but also elevated his own son, Muhammad, as Deputy Crown Prince. This was a clever move. Ibn Nayef has no male children, thus no direct successors (assuming that the Kingdom lasts that long). Upon Ibn Nayef’s death, his cousin Muhammad bin Salman would automatically become king, again assuming no serious crisis. Again, no guarantees there, but what qualifications does Muhammad bin Salman have to be appointed Deputy Crown Prince apart from being the king’s son? He was appointed defence minister as well and has made a mess of the assault launched against dirt-poor Yemen where thousands of innocent people have been killed.
Let us continue with our discussion of the “Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” There is an army of preachers on the regime’s payroll. It also appoints “imams” for the two sacred masjids in Makkah and Madinah. Many Muslims in their innocence assume that these imams must be great scholars since they occupy such important positions. There is no doubt about the importance of the positions of the two holy masjids but are these “imams” really scholars? True, they are good qaris (reciters of the noble Qur’an) but that does not confer any knowledge or erudition on them. In fact, these preachers are not even permitted to think for themselves, much less critically. The khutbahs they deliver are handed to them by the regime’s minions. That alone would disqualify them from any honour. Imam Ghazali had warned Muslims about such preachers. He said avoid those ‘ulama that go as supplicants to the king’s court; instead, seek advice from those who shun the kings.
Imam Ghazali was a great scholar. Muslims would do well to pay heed to that great scholar of Islam who has left an indelible mark on Islamic learning and history.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought