The Nature of Sainthood

The Famous Green Dome of the Prophet's Mosque

The top cleric in Saudi Arabia recently called for a reduction in the status and importance of the Prophet’s mosque in Medina. From the Telegraph UK:

Al-Masjid al-Nawabi

For many years, hardline Wahabi clerics have had their sites set on the 15th century green dome that rests above the tomb holding the Prophet, Abu Bakr and Umar in Medina. The mosque is regarded as the second holiest site in Islam. Wahabis, however, believe marked graves are idolatrous. A pamphlet published in 2007 by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, endorsed by Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, stated that “the green dome shall be demolished and the three graves flattened in the Prophet’s Masjid”.

Inside of the Prophet's Mosque, Screen before the Tomb of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and his two most faithful companions Abu Bakr (may God be pleased with him) and Umar (may God be pleased with him)

This is an anathema to Islamic history. Muslims on the Hajj pilgrimage are only required by Islamic law to visit Mecca, but out of demonstration of love for their Prophet, they greet his spirit at his home in Medina, and send prayers asking for blessings for his house and the house of Abraham. The hardline Saudi clerics now claim that for the past millennium and a half Muslims have been making the pilgrimage incorrectly.

This is the Salafist/Hanbali/Wahhabi fundamentalist perspective which is tearing apart the Muslim world. A Western materialist would respond that the prophets of God had no power when they were alive, and a Salafist says they cannot hear anything after they are dead.

But in mysticism, the saints are alive and hear as we do. Jews believe the prophets hear the prayers of their followers in heaven, and, on occasion, I have gotten Christians to believe that prophets are alive and  “chilling” in heaven, albeit they cannot intercede for us on behalf of God. (They believe their Prophet, Jesus, is alive and can intercede for us instead.)

This is the tradition the Saudis are terrified of. Jihadists attack Sufi shrines all over the world for being gathering places for saint worship. I read some interesting rhetoric, “If they want to demolish graves above ground, the first grave they should demolish is the Grave of the Prophet.” This is precisely what the Saudis would like to do, and 95% of Muslims would oppose them if they tried.

Osho says all Masters are alive, and enter a room when you invoke their name. Sufis, Hasidim, Hindus, and Catholics somehow agree on this point, that the saints can hear us and answer our prayers.

(quote Faza’il-e-Amaal prayer book here, where the Prophet is alive, and is informed of news regarding the ummah, and intercedes on our behalf)

— Such exaggeration (“he hears us wherever he is”) is one of the defining attitudes of people towards their saints, perhaps as a defense against the pain from hearing of the death of a saint. It is preferable to to believe he still hears us than to imagine he does not.

NATURE OF SAINTHOOD

He is almost always poor, if not an orphan or outcast. He is rejected by society, and afflicted by querulous followers who pester him in this life and the next.

In biology, he is the Omega Male, the lowest rung of the social order who has the least influence or position of authority. He is born in a manger, or is the descendant of slaves.

In wolf packs in North America, when a lone outside wolf (the Omega Male) enters to eat what’s left of the carcass after everyone else has already eaten, his status is considered so insignificant, he is not troubled when he eats leftovers. “Insignificant” is the operative word. For example, when the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) died in 632 CE, almost certainly the emperors of Persia and Byzantium did not receive news of his death as a madman in a backwater region. They could not have forseen this orphan founding a religion which would collapse their empires within a century.

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