The Rank of Islamic Clerics

Guardian for the Jurist

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his Household) said: “The preeminence of a cleric over others is similar to the preeminence of a Prophet over

The Rank of Islamic Clerics
Guardian for the Jurist

The Rank of Clerics

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his Household) said: “The preeminence of a cleric over others is similar to the preeminence of a Prophet over his community.”[1]

Imam Khomeini said: “Those clerics are the manifestation of Islam, the clarifiers of the Quran, and the manifestation of the most honorable Prophet.”

Clerics are:

1-The Inheritors of Prophets: Clerics have not inherited the wealth of Prophets, but they have inherited their knowledge and responsibility in society. Some narrations have pointed this out.

2-The Clarifiers and Guiders to Islam: We can only know true Islam through clerics who guide us to Islamic knowledge and practices. Imam Ali (peace be upon him) said: “Scholars are those who guide [people] to God.”[2]

Imam Khomeini emphasized this in some of his words. He said: “For centuries, Islamic scholars were the refuge of the destitute, and the oppressed have always quenched their thirst from the great jurisprudents’ river of knowledge... They bore with confinement, banishment, harm, harassment, and injuring speech, and they have offered great martyrs to God.”

3-The Guardians of Islam: Imam Khomeini attributed this great title to clerics in a speech where he addressed a group of them, saying: “Storm through affairs and engage in matters. It is not right for one of you to say: ‘I am a jurisprudence, and I have nothing to do with other than [jurisprudence].’ You are a jurisprudence, but you have to engage in affairs…because you are the guardians of Islam, and you must watch over it.”

The role of clerics is of greater significance during the Era of Absence of Imam Mahdi (may God hasten his honorable emergence).

We are entitled to ask: Why do clerics have such a prominent position? How did they gain such great privileges in Islam? What is the reason why the Infallible Imams (peace be upon them) emphasized the role of clerics in the narrations which we mentioned?

It is undoubted that what clerics have offered throughout history clarifies the reason behind this venerable status.

The Bearers of the Doctrines of Islam and the Spreaders of Knowledge

Imam Khomeini said: “It is of no doubt that throughout the history of Islam and Shiism, Religious Seminaries and adhering clerics always formed the most essential and fortified basis for Islam...”

Throughout history, Islamic clerics have wholly fulfilled their duty as Imam Khomeini stated: “If it weren't for the presence of Islamic jurisprudence from the first phase of Islam until now, we would know nothing about Islam now. Jurisprudents are the ones who made us know Islam, they are the ones who taught Islamic jurisprudence and wrote it down, and they are the ones who suffered and presented Islam to us.”

Struggle in the History of Clerics

In addition to carrying the weighty responsibility entrusted to them, clerics also bore the duty of confronting tyrants and preserving the Islamic society with all available means and capacities. Imam Khomeini pointed out the importance of this duty in some of his words. He said: “The clerics who were martyred are not only the martyrs in the battles and confrontations in Iran. The number of unknown martyrs from Religious Seminaries and the clerics who were martyred alone – at the hand of agents and cowards -while they were spreading knowledge and religious laws is great.”

Clerics were always present in the fields of struggle until Imam Khomeini fulfilled his blessed revolt. He said: “Where is there a public Islamic revolt where we do not find that the Religious Seminary and the clerics are the first to martyrdom?”

Targeting Clerics

Clerics were -and still are -targeted from all directions. They have been assassinated and oppressed. The enemies also targeted them through ruining their reputations and debasing them.

Imam Khomeini said: “I have to make it clear to all religious seminaries - from the Seminary of Qom and the Seminary of Mashhad to all the seminaries which you see. I say: Today, you are at the head of the list of targets (they want to get rid of you)…”

Why are clerics targeted, and what are the factors which led to this?

1-Imperialist Plots: Arrogant powers and greedy Imperialists who strive to dominate the Islamic Nation and its capacities are not oblivious to the historically effective role of clerics. This is why they have always targeted them and they will remain doing so, as Imam Khomeini said: “From now on, the Islamic World will witness every once in a while a blast of fury of the plunderers of the world against a struggling cleric. True Islamic clerics have never submitted to the Capitalists and the worshippers of money…"

After Imperialists became hopeless of subjugating clerics for their benefit, they were only left with targeting the reverence which people held toward clerics in order to separate the public from them and to prevent them from affecting people.

2-Placing Secret Agents in Religious Seminaries: Imam Khomeini said: “One of the important methods which they undertook to achieve their ominous and dangerous aims against Islam and religious seminaries was through placing deviant and corrupt individuals in religious seminaries. The great threat of this on the short range is debasement of religious seminaries through their misconduct and deviant morals and tactics…"

3-The Love of the Worldly Life: Some people forget the reason why God created them, and the worldly life and its fake ornaments are their utmost concern. These deviant individuals who are preoccupied with the worldly life view that clerics are the essential obstruction preventing them from attaining their desires and illicit aims because these clerics display clear insight. Thus, these individuals deliberately or unheedingly mar the reputation of clerics, weaken them, and negatively affect people’s reverence toward them.

Imam Khomeini pointed something related to this when he said: “Does religious duty require that a person directs insults at Muslims? That he directs insults to clerics? That he degrades his peers? Is this religious duty?"

The Responsibility toward Clerics

The responsibility toward clerics may be summarized in activation of their roles and facilitating their duties in a way which ensures the application of the teachings and laws of religion, and the preservation of the Message. Some narrations have pointed out details such as sitting with scholars and the necessity of benefitting from them.

These narrations clearly indicate two benefits from sitting with scholars:

1-Gaining the knowledge of these clerics: Many holy verses emphasized the significance of scholars. God said in the Holy Quran: {Say, "Are those who know and those who do not know equal?"}

2-Gaining high morals: Luqman counseled his son saying: “My son! Sit with scholars and bring your knees close to them, for Exalted and Glorious God revives hearts with the light of wisdom just as he revives the earth with the rain of the sky.”[3]

The Negative Effects of Abandoning Clerics

Sitting with clerics is one of the paths to God, and it is the fortification which protects a person during trials and adversity. Imam Ali Al-Sajjad (peace be upon him) referred to this in his supplications. He said: “Or perhaps Thou did not find me present in the gatherings of scholars and thus Thou forsook me.”

In his words, Imam Ali Al-Sajjad (peace be upon him) refers to all the negative effects of abandoning scholars and not benefitting from them through one word which includes everything: “Forsaking”. If God forsakes us, then we will have nothing left. “My God, do not entrust me to myself [even for a moment of] a blink of an eye.”


[1] The Balance of Wisdom, volume 3, 2088
[2] Ibid., 2420
[3] Ibid., 202


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