The Clergymen and Religious Vulturism – Why it pays to De-commercialize Prayer

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It was interesting participating in the national webinar on Tabligh (religious outreach) organized by Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, Nigeria earlier today. Although, toward the end of the 5-hour national programme, a respected lady walked into the premises of my office at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat mosque, Lokoja, Kogi State, and so, I had to come out of the mission house to meet her.

“I am Mrs. Yakub. We’ve just parked into a building in the neighbourhood and I’m directed here to make an enquiry whether a daily Qur’anic class for children is being run here,” she said after our initial exchange of greeting of peace.

“Yes,” I answered, and further gave her some details about the school, adding that though we’d temporarily shut down due to the Covid-19 lockdown but hoping to resume soonest.

Impressed, perhaps, by the short introduction I made about the school and the missionary activities of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and service to humanity, she further asked me whether there is an organized class for adult women. She explained that she’s an ex-Christian who has just recently converted to Islam and deeply interested to learn more about the Islamic faith and practice.

The sound of the words “ex-Christian” and “new-convert” really prompted a wave of impetus in me such that after responding to her enquiry in the affirmative, I briefly made some remarks on the peaceful teachings of Islam and how it has nothing to do with terrorism, killing and violence. She, too, corroborated with some impressive comments on Islam and particularly told me how she’d found her way to the fold of Islam.

During our conversation, this respected lady who belongs to Ebira extraction of Kogi State let me know that her eldest child, a 9-year old girl, has been battling with some congenital anomalies that have rendered her dumb and cripple ever since birth. She mentioned how she’d taken the girl to various hospitals across various states of the federation but to no avail.

More particularly, she related how, as a distressed mother desperate for whatever could cure or whoever could heal her child, she was taken by two of her siblings to their pastor who owns a church in Lagos for prayer and miracle, possibly. Unfortunately, however, instead of encountering a church of solace for her, she was disappointed finding herself in what could best be described as a ‘business center’ where the pastor, whom her younger sisters had earlier glorified to the high heaven, was only engaging in a sheer commercialization of prayer as a means of religious vulturism for materialistic ends.

“You are going to pay a sum of one hundred and twenty two thousand naira,” she quoted the self-styled man of God as billing her.

“But, what is that for, sir?” she asked.

Justifying, the pastor replied that the amount is “for both the holy water and anointing oil.”

With a disenchanted facial expression, she instantly whispered to her sisters of her readiness to leave. “My inner spirit doesn’t trust this pastor,” she thought within. But the enchanted sisters stubbornly tried to persuade her to play along. They entreated that, although they’d anticipated nothing less than a disapproving reaction from her, but she’s got no option other than to give the pastor a trial.

Unconvinced, she rose and walked out; leaving behind only a vain promise that she will come back to the pastor. She said she further warned her sisters that if they don’t desist from going to the pastor, he was going to milk a hell out of them. But the obdurate sisters foolhardily persisted, and not until they’d fully paid the price before they eventually left the church for another.

Ending her narrative, she remarked how, to her dismay, the practice of commercializing prayer has become rampant in our contemporary time among many of the clergymen across various religions.

“Yea, you’re right,” I said concurringly, and went ahead to relate similar cases I had gathered.

I told her that, just the way she’d walked into my compound, one Mr. Onimisi, a Muslim youth, had recently come in and related to me a similar experience he’d had from such kind of clergymen, an Imam, in this case.

As he entered my office and we began to converse, he told me that he’s come to join the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. “That’s an interesting and inspiring decision,” I exclaimed impressively.

Conversing further, however, my intuition beaconed at me to ask him what had inspired this decision of his. So, I asked, “Could you, please, tell me why you’ve decided to become an Ahmadi Muslim?”

Responding, he told me that two things had influenced his decision. Firstly, his negative experiences from the way Islam is being practised in his place. The second reason is that through his recent attendance of Friday services at the Ahmadiyya mosque here, he’s been exposed to the pristine teachings of Islam being preached and practiced by Ahmadiyya.

Narrating some instances of the previous disappointing experiences he’d had with some Muslim clergymen, he said once he and his friend both went to an Imam in his hometown for prayer. On being welcomed, they complained of their continued joblessness in spite of their qualifications and persistent searching for job and then requested him to pray for them.

To their surprise, the Imam did not waste time before billing them. “Each of you will have to pay a sum of ten thousand naira,” he told them. He said, although he received this with a negative impression, yet, he still felt he need not bothered too much by it anyway. However, what next was a conversation that lasted for some minutes as they continued to negotiate the price.

“Please, could you kindly reduce the price for us?” “We’re extremely lacking financial means; even we’d had to borrow the transport fare we paid to come here,” they begged.

Trying to concede to them, the Imam asked how much they can afford. They said they would appreciate if he could collect three thousand naira each.  Eventually, he agreed to that; though that was not until they’d agreed to make a part payment! “Now, you may go and come back after three days,” he discharged them after collecting the advance payment.

The third day came and they went back to the Imam eagerly. Apparently, they were expecting to receive nothing less than a positive outcome of a prayer offered by a ‘big Imam’. But, how did the climax of their encounter with him turn out to be?

Continuing with his narrative, the brother said that as they entered and sat, the Imam opened the conversation with a request that they should introduce themselves to him. “That really prompted a big surprise to us that the Imam could no longer recognize us, just after three days!” He lamented to this writer, as his face began to elicit a renewed feeling of disappointment.

“What about the prayer after the span of the three days?” he asked in a somehow angry mood.  The Imam, who had never remembered since to express their request before God, could only answer in a low voice, “I’m still intending to begin the prayer.”

You would wish to ask what about the part payment they had only managed to make out of extreme inconveniences? What about the promise he made and the concomitant trust they had reposed in it? Where is the integrity of a man of God?

Anyhow, that was how everything ended with negative impressions from a disappointing encounter with our self-styled Imam whose main concern was meeting his worldly needs through religious vulturism!

The outcome of the practice of commercialization of prayer by the clergy is a sheer disservice to God, to humanity and to religion itself. In effect, it invariably stunts the spirituality and blemishes the religious integrity and dignity of those who indulge in it. More so, it stifles the affinity between clergymen and their followers, leading to mistrust and resentment.

Truly, however, has the Holy Prophet of Islam, (peace and blessings of God be upon him) in a long Hadith (prophetic tradition) recorded by Abu Na’im in his al-Hilya, predicted that the practice of commercializing religion for material gains would become an appalling hallmark of many of the end time pseudo clergymen. It is however disheartening that such clergymen see no negativity in it.

However, it should be appreciated that there still abound in our contemporary world large numbers of sincere and objective religious organizations and their clergymen who strongly consider commercialization of prayer an anathema. Such clergymen derive honour and satisfaction in the fact that, why some would approach the presidents, the governors and other leaders etc., through those who are close to them, whenever people feel the need to approach the Supreme God, it is the clergymen they would turn to, because they believe they are close to God. Hence, they have continued to demonstrate to the world why it pays to de-commercialize prayer in a bid to render sincere service to God and religion and genuine and sympathy-driven caring for humanity.

Before rounding up, it cannot be out of place to buttress the above with an instance, at least. Though the readily available practical instance here is a personal experience between this writer and a Muslim brother, it shouldn’t be deemed uncalled for as long as it is expressed with the  highest sense of humility, and without any element of a ‘holier than thou’ false claim or pietistic pretense.

Sometime ago, as I returned to my Mission House from a Friday service I had just officiated, one Igala man, Mr. Abubakar, who is a tailor and having his shop in my neighborhood came to meet me. He looked worried as he narrated his travail to me.

According to him, there is a particular recurring dream he had been seeing and each time he saw it, it is invariably followed by a particular life problem that has continued to bedevil his life, his destiny.

Having listened to him, I prayed for him and promised to continue with the prayer till the next Friday when he should come back. As the promised day dawned, he came and I completed the prayer with him. Impressed by this experience, he dug his hand into his pocket, brought out certain amount of money and rose to give me. I objected and asked him to have his seat.

At this juncture, I could notice a deep expression of surprise in his face. “I have never met an Imam who would decline an offer like this,” he remarked in a positive mood. Speaking further, he said, “This has assured me that your prayer for me will be blessed.”

The good news is that, today, almost ten years after, he has never again seen the dream nor experienced the problem. More so, the result is that, barely five months later, he joined the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat along with his wife and children. Furthermore, the honour, here, is that since that time up till now, whenever I have new cloth to sew, as a tailor, he would always come to pick, sew and return it without billing a naira. Even whenever I blushingly refused him, he would protest, saying “O Missionary! Please, what you’ve done for me was much more than these little services of mine.”

You would agree with me that such selfless services to God, to religion and to humanity and the concomitant increased spirituality and sustained affinity and brotherhood in faith all show why it pays that all clergymen should de-commercialize prayer.

Yunus Omotayo is a Missionary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, Nigeria.
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