1. The Quran does not in any way condone nor allow the establishment of priesthood in the lives of human beings. Relationship between the Creator and human beings is personal and non-delegable. We have a direct relationship with God without any intercessors. The non-delegable nature of faith in God is clear from the following verse:
"And behold! you come to us bare and alone as We created you for the first time: you have left behind you all (the favours) which We bestowed on you: We see not with you your intercessors whom you thought to be partners in your affairs: so now all relations between you have been cut off, and your (pet) fancies have left you in the lurch!" (Quran: 6:94)
2. There will be no one to defend us before God for our deeds on earth as our deeds will be self-explanatory. Due to this, there as never been, probably until recent times, any semblance of priesthood in the “Islamic world”. Priesthood necessarily implies a group of persons dictating and formulating what the structure of beliefs should be and how it should be practiced. Any departure from such established and accepted “priestly” considerations and agreements are frowned upon as deviating from the “accepted norms of the religion”.
3. In other words, in the world of man, it is always probable that priests will invent a religion in the name of God. However, the Quran clearly states that no man can dictate back to God what God’s Way (religion) should be. (I have written elsewhere that Islam is not a religion but a Way of Life ordained by the creator)
“Say: "What! Will you instruct God about your religion? But God knows all that is in the heavens and on earth: He has full knowledge of all things”. (Quran: 49:16)
“What! have they partners (in godhead), who have established for them some religion without the permission of God? Had it not been for the Decree of Judgment, the matter would have been decided between them (at once). But verily the Wrong-doers will have a grievous Penalty”.(Quran 42:21)
4. The Quran is abundantly clear that God and God alone is to be served and he alone is the source of all knowledge. Hence, any “religious knowledge” about Islam must primarily be obtained directly from the Quran. Any other knowledge from any other sources, including the alleged reported Hadith of the Prophet must not contradict the Quran. Likewise, any fatawas (views) of acclaimed “Islamic scholars” also have to be verified with the teachings of the Quran regardless of how learned the scholar is claimed to be. This is important because non-verification of teachings from other sources with the teachings of the Quran may lead to the unpardonable sin of syirik. Syirik is tantamount to alluding partners to God. For example, we accept blindly the teaching of an Islamic scholar or anyone as the teaching of God - we are placing our trust solely in him rather than in God. He now has become our god or gods. If we follow our vain desires as opposed to God, our desire becomes our god - this is syirik.
“And most of them believe not in God without associating (other as partners) with Him” (Quran 12:106)
5. Priests, by whatever name they may be called, are human beings. As human beings, they are subjected to the usual human temptations of wealth, glory and power. Allah has warned mankind that many priests prey on people’s need for faith, ignorance, fear and hope simply to enrich and glorify themselves.
“O you who believe! there are indeed many among the priests and anchorites, who in Falsehood devour the substance of men and hinder (them) from the way of
God. And there are those who bury gold and silver and spend it not in the way of
God: announce unto them a most grievous penalty” (Quran: 9:34)
6. Most priests, doctors of religion and religious scholars have a tendency to promote themselves and hold themselves out to society as “men of God”, “the experts or the learned ones” and they invariably surround themselves with an aura of sanctity with diverse paraphernalia and language. These personas often mislead many unthinking people away from the path of God such that the word and opinions of these groups of persons are treated as godly. In time, they are treated as gods whose views cannot be opposed or challenged by others outside their circle.
“Have you not seen those who claim sanctity for themselves? No! – it is God who sanctifies whom He pleases. But never will they fail to receive justice in the least little thing”. (Quran 4: 49)
7. In the Quran, God has given the example of the Pharaoh who positioned himself as a god. None of the Egyptians are at liberty to have their own religious views other than that which is sanctioned or permitted by him.
“(Pharaoh) said: "Believe you in Him before I give you permission? Surely this must be your leader, who has taught you magic! be sure I will cut off your hands and feet on opposite sides, and I will have you crucified on trunks of palm-trees: so shall you know for certain, which of us can give the more severe and the more lasting punishment!" (Quran 20:71)
8. God has stated in the Quran, that you have persons, by whatever name they are called, who will sound like they are quoting from the book of God but in fact, they distort and corrupt the true meanings to suit their personal opinions. This can only be done by people with knowledge but have a desire to manipulate things for their benefit.
“There is among them a section who distort the Book with their tongues: (As they read) you would think it is a part of the Book, but it is no part of the Book; and they say, "That is from God," but it is not from God: It is they who tell a lie against God, and (well) they know it!” (Quran 3:78)
“Behold! how they invent a lie against God! but that by itself is a manifest sin!” (Quran: 4:50)
9. Even though the institution of priesthood is not allowed in Islam, it is evident that informal priesthood has evolved in the “Islamic world” where you have sections of so-called people of knowledge who take upon themselves as the final and sole interpreter of God’s words. In Iran, this is very evident where various “ayatollahs” have taken very active roles in politics. This new culture of religious persons/priests taking partisan stands often tends to bring people away from the path of God. This is because, the priests, now armed with political powers are able to coerce weak people into adopting their ideologies in the name of God even though it far from God’s teachings.
10. One of the techniques of social and political persuasion used by priests to force their ideas onto the ordinary believers is by using the logic of majority or consensus. I humbly suggest that the argument of consensus and majority, however expedient it may be for administrative purposes, does not guarantee the truth nor is it relevant to the determination of a person’s true faith. A thousand lies agreed upon by a thousand people repeated a thousand times from generation to generation do not make it a truth. Once upon a time, the majority believed that the world was flat. Ideally, truth must be founded on facts and reason and must be consistent with the “natural laws”. True faith cannot be born from compulsion.
“Were you to follow the majority of those on earth, they will lead you away from the way of God. They follow nothing but conjecture: they do nothing but lie”. (Quran 6:116)
The Creator knows best.