Allah says in the Holy Quran:
وَلَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا نُوحًا وَإِبْرَاهِيمَ وَجَعَلْنَا فِي ذُرِّيَّتِهِمَا النُّبُوَّةَ وَالْكِتَابَ فَمِنْهُم مُّهْتَدٍ وَكَثِيرٌ مِّنْهُمْ فَاسِقُونَ
ثُمَّ قَفَّيْنَا عَلَى آثَارِهِم بِرُسُلِنَا وَقَفَّيْنَا بِعِيسَى ابْنِ مَرْيَمَ وَآتَيْنَاهُ الْإِنجِيلَ وَجَعَلْنَا فِي قُلُوبِ الَّذِينَ اتَّبَعُوهُ رَأْفَةً وَرَحْمَةً وَرَهْبَانِيَّةً ابْتَدَعُوهَا مَا كَتَبْنَاهَا عَلَيْهِمْ إِلَّا ابْتِغَاء رِضْوَانِ اللَّهِ فَمَا رَعَوْهَا حَقَّ رِعَايَتِهَا فَآتَيْنَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنْهُمْ أَجْرَهُمْ وَكَثِيرٌ مِّنْهُمْ فَاسِقُونَ
We sent Noah and Abraham and placed in the progeny of them both the Prophethood and the Book. Then some of their descendants adopted guidance but many became transgressors.
After them We sent Our Messengers, one after the other and followed them with Jesus son of Mary and gave him the Gospel, and We put in the hearts of those who followed him, compassion and mercy, but monasticism they themselves invented-we did not prescribe it for them: they invented it themselves in order to seek Allah's good will. But then they did not observe it as it should have been observed. We gave those of them who had believed their rewards, but most of them are transgressors. (57:26-27)
The words in the original can have two meanings:
(1) "That We did not enjoin monasticism (rahbaniat) upon them: We enjoined upon them only the seeking of Allah's good pleasure:" and
(2) that monasticism was not enjoined by Us: they of their own accord enjoined it on themselves, to seek Allah's good pleasure."
In both cases this verse makes it explicit that monasticism is an un-Islamic creed, and it has never been part of the true Faith. The same thing has been stated by the Holy Prophet as:
"There is no monasticism in Islam." (Musnad Ahmed).
To understand this fully we should look at the history of Christian Monasticism.
Until 200 years after the Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him), the Christian Church knew no monasticism. Its germs, however, were found in Christianity from the very beginning. To look upon asceticism as a moral ideal and to regard celibacy as superior to matrimonial and mundane life is the basis of monasticism. Both these existed in Christianity from the beginning. Owing to the sanctification of celibacy in particular, it was considered undesirable for those that performed religious services in the church to marry, have children and be involved in domestic chores; so much so that by the 3rd century monasticism began to spread like an epidemic in Christiandom. Historically, it had three main causes:
First, sensuality, immorality and worship of the world had so permeated the ancient polytheistic society that in their zeal to counteract it, the Christian scholars adopted the extremist way instead of the way of moderation. They so stressed chastity that the relationship between man and woman by itself came to be looked upon as filthy, even when it was within marriage. They reacted so violently to mammonism that to possess property of any kind ultimately was considered a sin for a religious person and to live like a poor man and ascetic the criterion of moral excellence. Likewise, in their reaction to the sensualism of the polytheistic society they touched the other extreme. They made withdrawal from pleasure and all material comforts, self denial and curbing of the desires the object of morality and regarded torturing the body by different sorts of harsh discipline as the climax and proof of a person's spirituality.
Secondly, when Christianity started achieving successes and spreading rapidly among the common people, the Church in its zeal to attract more and more adherents went on imbibing every evil that was prevalent in society. Thus, saint-worship replaced the ancient deities. Images of Christ and Mary began to be worshipped instead of the idols of Horus and Isis. Christmas took the place of Saturnalia. Christian monks began to practice every kind of occult art like curing the sick by amulets and magic incantations, taking omens and fortune-telling, driving out spirits, etc. as were prevalent in ancient days. Likewise, since the Common people looked upon a dirty and naked person who lived in a cave or den as a holy and godly man, this very concept of saintlihood became prevalent in the Christian Church, and legends of their miraculous powers began to abound in the memoirs of the Christian saints.
Thirdly, the Christians possessed no detailed law and definite traditions and practices to determine the bounds of religion. They had given up Mosaic Law and the Gospel by itself afforded no perfect code of guidance. Therefore, the Christian doctors went on permitting every kind of innovation to enter the religion partly under the influence of alien philosophies, customs and practices and partly under their personal preference and whim. Monasticism was one such innovation. Christian scholars and doctors of law took its philosophy and rules and practices from the Buddhist monks, Hindu Yogis and ascetics, Egyptian Anchorites, Iranian Manicheans, and the followers of Plato and Plotinus, and made the same the means and methods of attaining self-purification, spiritual loftiness and nearness to AIIah. Those who committed this error were not ordinary men. From the 3rd to the 7th century (i.e.. till about the time the Qur'an began to be revealed) the religious personalities who were recognized as the foremost scholars and religious guides and leaders of Christendom, both in the East and in the West,-St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Bazianzus, St. Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine St. Benedict, St. Gregory the Great-all were monks themselves and great upholders of monasticism. It was under their influence that monasticism became popular in the Church.
Historically, monasticism among the Christians started from
The Christian Church in the beginning experienced some confusion in connection with monasticism, for although it recognized abandonment of the world, celibacy and voluntary poverty as an ideal of spiritual life, yet it could not declare marriage, producing children and possessing property or money to be sinful as the monks did. Subsequently, under the influence of holy men like St. Athanasius (d. 373), St. Basil (d. 379),
This monastic innovation has some characteristics which are briefly as follows:
(1) Inflicting pain on the body by severe exercises and novel methods. In this thing, every monk tried to surpass the other. The achievements of these holy men as related in the memoirs of the Christian saints are to this effect:
St. Macarius of
The memoirs of the Christian saints of this period are full of such instances. One particular saint had the characteristic that he observed silence for 30 years: he was never seen speaking. Another had tied himself to a rock; another roamed the jungles and lived on grass; another moved about carrying a heavy load; another kept his limbs and body tied in fetters and chains; some saints lived in the dens of beasts, or in dry wells, or in old graves; and some others remained naked and concealed their private parts under long hair and would crawl on the ground. After death the bones of the illustrious saints were preserved in monastery. I saw a full library decked with such bones in St. Catherine's monastery at the foot of
(2) Their second characteristic was that they were dirty and strictly cleanliness and bodily care, washing or applying water to the body was regarded as opposed to God-worship, for according to them purification of the body was tantamount to pollution of the soul. St. Athanasius has faithfully described this virtue of St. Anthony that he never washed his feet during life. St. Abraham from the day he entered Christianity neither washed his face nor feet for 50 years. A famous nun Virgin Sylvia, never allowed any part of her body except the fingers to become wet with water throughout life It is said of 130 nuns of 8 convent that they never washed their feet and would shudder with horror at a mere reference to bath.
(3) Monasticism practically forbade married life and ruthlessly discarded the institution of marriage. All religious writings of the 4th and 5th centuries are replete with the thought that celibacy is the highest moral virtue, and chastity meant that one should strictly abstain from sexual relation even if it was between husband and wife. The perfection of a pure spiritual life lay in complete self-denial, with no desire for physical pleasure. It was . necessary to suppress any carnal desire because it strengthened animality. For them pleasure and sin were synonymous so much so that being happy was regarded as being forgetful of God. St. Basil forbade even laughing and smiling. Owing to such concepts the bond of marriage between man and woman came to be looked upon as filthy. A monk was forbidden even to look at a woman, not to speak of marriage, and was required to abandon his wife if he was married. As for men it was also impressed on the women that if they wished to enter the
The Church continued to resist in one way or the other these extremist concepts for three centuries. In those days it was not required of a priest to be single and unmarried. If he was married before being appointed a minister, he could keep his wife. However, he was forbidden to marry after his appointment. Moreover, a person could not be appointed a minister if he had married a widow, or a divorced woman, or had two wives, or possessed a concubine. Gradually, by the 4th century, the concept became firm that for a married person it was odious to perform religious services in the Church. The Council of Gengra (A.D. 362) was the last one in which such ideas wen held as anti-religious, but a little later in 386, Roman Synod counseled the priests to avoid marriage relations and the following year Pope Siricius decreed that the priest who married, or continued to have sex relations with his wife if already married should be dismissed from office. Illustrious scholars like St. Ambrose, and
(4) The most painful and pathetic chapter of ascetic monasticism is that it cut asunder man's relations with his parents, with his brothers and sisters, and even his children. For the Christian saints love of the parents for son, love of the brothers and sisters for brother and love of the children for father also was sinful. They believed it was necessary for man to break off all those relations for the sake of spiritual progress. In the biographies of the Christian saints one comes across highly pathetic and heart-rending incidents. A monk, St. Evagrius, had been undergoing severe exercises in the desert for many years. Suddenly one day letters reached him from his father and mother, who were passing their days in great agony without him. The saint, fearing that the letters might arouse feelings of human love in his heart, cast the letters immediately into the fire, without even opening them. The mother and sister of St. Theodorus came to the monastery where he was staying, with recommendatory letters from many priests, and desired to have only a glimpse of him, but the saint refused to come out before them. St. Marcus' mother went to the monastery to see him. She somehow obtained the abbot's permission for it and requested him to order her son to come out before her, but the son was adamant to her prayers. At last, he implemented the abbot's orders by appearing before his mother disguised and with closed eyes. Thus, neither was the mother able to recognize her son, nor the son saw his mother. Another saint, St. Poemen ant his six brothers lived in a desert monastery of
In the same harsh way these saints treated their sisters and children. There is the story of Mutius, a prosperous man by aII means. Drawn out suddenly by the religious impulse, he took his 8-year-old son and went to a monastery. But for the sake of his progress to holiness it was necessary that he should give up love of his son. Therefore, first the son was separated from him Then the innocent child was subjected to harsh treatment before his very eyes and he watched it patiently. Then, the. abbot of the monastery ordered him to go and Cast the child into the river. He became ready even for this; then right at the time when he was going to throw the child into the river, the monks saved the child's life. then it was admitted that he had actually attained td the rank of a holy man.
The viewpoint of Christian monasticism in these matters was that the one who sought love of God, should break off all relations of human love that bound him in the world to his parents, his brothers and sisters and his children. St. Jerome says, "Even if your nephew clings to you with his hands round your neck; even if your mother calls you back in the name of having suckled you; even if your father obstructs your way and lies down before you, you should hasten out to the banner of the cross, trampling the body of your father, without shedding a tear. Ruthlessness in this matter is piety itself." St. Gregory writes, "A young monk who could not give up love of his parents, left the monastery one night in order to pay them a visit. God punished him for this error, for as soon as he returned to the monastery, he died. His body was buried in the grave but the earth did not accept it. He was placed in the grave again and again, and the earth threw him out every time. At last, St. Benedict placed a sacred offering on his chest, and then the grave accepted him." Of a nun it is said that for three days after her death, she remained subject to a torment because she had not been able to cleanse her heart of her mother's lout. About a saint it is written that he never treated anyone harshly except his relatives.
There, in the beginning the Bishop of the Arian sect attacked the Athanasius party. Virgin nuns were dragged out of their convents, stripped naked and beaten with thorny branches and branded in order to make them give up their creed. Then, when the Roman Catholics came to power in
(6) Side by side with this retreat from the world and life of seclusion and poverty, wealth of the world also was amassed most avariciously. By the beginning of the 5th century the condition was that the bishop of
(7) In the matter of chastity also monasticism was repeatedly defeated in its fight against nature and defeated well and proper. In the monasteries some exercises of self-mortification were such as required the monks and nuns to live together in one and the same place, and they had often to pass the night in the same bed in their enthusiasm for more and more temptations. St. Evagarius, the well-known monk, has praised the self-control acquired by the Palestinian monks, saying: "They had mastered their passion so completely that although they bathed with the women together, looked at their bodies, touched them, even embraced them, yet they remained invincible to nature." Although bathing was an odious thing in monasticism, such baths were also taken for the sake of exercise in self-control. At last, about the same
From these details one can fully appreciate what corruption of Christianity is the Holy Quran alluding to when it says: "The Christians themselves invented monasticism, but they did not observe it as it should have been observed."
(Ref: Tafseer taken from Tafheemul Quran by Syed Abul