People would be excused for thinking that Isa Qassim, leader of the Ulama (Clerics) Council, has lost his way when they hear that he compared “true clerics” – himself included – to Allah, the Prophet and his apostles. So much so that he plainly affirmed that whoever defies said clerics has recanted against Islam and God.

In one fell swoop, the respected gentleman has positioned himself and other men of the cloth – at least those he brands as “true” – not only as intermediaries between man and Creator, but by association, infallible. They must be unquestioningly obeyed and whoever dares to question them is deemed apostate.

Islam, we thought, is one religion that does not require priests for God to accept our supplications.

Isa Qassim pictured in Sitra, Bahrain

Stranger still, is that Duraz, the seat of his power, seem to be completely under his influence. There is not a street nor alleyway in that decrepit village not decorated with his oversized pictures. The walls which could barely support their own weight and showing their age, groan further under the weight of banners and placards extolling his and other clerics’ virtues.

Their stature is further reinforced by idle idol worshippers; a cabal who are ready to pound those who object to this newest level of grandiosity as counter to the very Islam they claim to serve and represent.

In politics it is more worrying still. By Qassim’s instructions, Al-Wefaq was elected by riding on his affirmation that they are indeed the “party of believers”, the party of God. Hence, excluding all others from an already questionable field and allowing them to be swept into parliament. Their saving grace – in his book – is not their individual expertise nor experience or even perceived potential; rather, it is their piety and blind and exclusive obedience to him. A fact confirmed by his political branch’s leader – Ali Salman – who categorically confirmed that Qassim’s opinions will always take precedence.

How might one criticise, given that now these clerics are no longer simple mortals? How are we to outline faults in their logic or even person if they are presumed infallible? Or, on a practical level, how is one to point out even one of their simple mistakes or dare to have a differing opinion if the reward is a blackened eye or a burnt house?

Our community, I am sorry to say, will simply continue to elevate clerics to a much higher level than they actually deserve and will continue to acquiesce to their every request. They will continue to abrogate their responsibility in uncovering flaws due to a tired premise that even if a cleric errs, he is still promised some bountiful reward. It is, they believe, on the cleric’s shoulders that their sins are discharged and as such they will rise pure to the hereafter. If questioned, the inevitable and encouraged response is that they were simply following orders.

What’s the way out of this quagmire? I have no quick answer.

We have been wrestling with this particular issue in one way or another since time immemorium; yet we realise that this worship of personalities is corrosive and unproductive. It is no wonder that we find ourselves adrift in a highly turbulent sea. Instead of these personalities recognising the fact that it is their responsibility to encourage their adherents to the creation of solid institutions and promote good governance or even self improvement – all of which require solid, constructive, harsh and sometimes plain ugly criticism, we find them competing with each other on superficial pursuits; appear bigger and grander than each other, in all probability using collected alms, to engender and propagate their personality into inviolate cults.

It is no wonder; therefore, that I hear a new phrase being bandied about in Duraz these days: Shaikh Isa Qassim, the Nasrallah of Bahrain!