Monasticism or rahbānīyya (Arabic: رَهْبَانِيَّة) is to abandon this world and its pleasures, such as marriage and eating meat, as well as seclusion away from people and the community, in order to worship in monasteries and convents. In Islam, monasticism is forbidden, unlike asceticism (zuhd) which is encouraged. The Prophet Muhammad (s) prohibited Muslims from monasticism and called them to jihad, characterizing it as the monasticism of his Umma.
According to a hadith from the Prophet (s), Christians came to adopt monasticism when they were repeatedly defeated by unjust rulers. According to historical sources, monasticism emerged among Christians in the third century. It is believed by some scholars that Christian monasticism was a source of Sufism in Islam.
Monasticism is the abandonment of worldly pleasures such as marriage and eating meat, as well as seclusion away from people and the community, in order to worship in monasteries and convents. Monasticism has been forbidden in Islam. In Islam, monasticism as seclusion away from the community is contrasted to asceticism (zuhd) as the abandonment of material affairs. It is believed by Muslim scholars that Islamic asceticism results in a better social life, instead of the abandonment of such life. An obvious piece of evidence for the impermissibility of the abandonment of social life is the story in which the Prophet (s) prohibited 'Uthman b. Maz'un from seclusion after his child's death.
Some scholars appeal to a hadith from the Prophet (s) to show that monasticism as forbidden in Islam differs from asceticism as encouraged in Islam in that the latter consists in the abnegation of, and disinclination to, harmful pleasures, whereas the former consists in disinclination to all worldly pleasures, even those that are permissible.
According to some hadiths, the Prophet (s) considers monasticism in Christianity to be originated in the fact that Christian believers were repeatedly defeated by unjust people and thus they had to hide in deserts and mountains. According to some Qur'anic exegetes, the Qur'an 5:87 implies that monasticism is an instance of forbidding divine blessings; hence, it is contrary to Islamic laws and rulings. Moreover, the Qur'an makes it explicit that Christian monasticism was a tradition invented by some people and was never legislated by God. According to some scholars, Christian monasticism emerged in the third century.
Christians who first adopted monasticism characterized their lifestyle as being in the manner of Isa (a) (Jesus) who never married. They also appeal to part of the Bible in which Jesus (a) told his followers that "others live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."
Forbiddance of Monasticism in Islam
There is a hadith from the Prophet (s) in which monasticism is prohibited and it is made explicit that there is monasticism in Islam. The Prophet (s) calls Muslims to jihad, instead of monasticism, saying that jihad is the monasticism of his Umma. In a remark by Imam 'Ali (a) as cited in Nahj al-balagha, Asim b. Ziyad who was wearing a cloak and had abandoned the world is characterized as a person who is his own enemy and who is misguided by the Satan.
In Bihar al-anwar, al-Allama al-Majlisi cites over ten hadiths from al-Shaykh al-Saduq's al-Amali and al-Khisal, as well as Tafsir al-Qummi and other Shiite sources, in which monasticism is prohibited.
Effect of Monasticism on Sufism
Some Orientalists as well as Muslim scholars are said to believe that Christian monasticism was a source of Sufism in Islam. According to scholars such as Zaki Mubarak in Egypt, Muslims considered the doctrines of Isa (a) (Jesus) as their instructions and guidelines in spiritual practices. They were familiar with the Gospel, and evidence from the Christian scripture can be found in Islamic work such as Ibn Qutayba's 'Uyun al-akhbar as well as al-Ghazali's al-Ihya ulum al-Din. Also, Christians who enter the church carrying a book of supplications are assimilated to Sufis who enter mosques carrying books of dhikrs.
- O you who have faith! Do not prohibit the good things that Allah has made lawful to you, and do not transgress. Indeed Allah does not like the transgressors.
- Then We followed them up with Our apostles and We followed [them] with Jesus son of Mary, and We gave him the Evangel, and We put kindness and mercy into the hearts of those who followed him. But as for monasticism, they innovated it—We had not prescribed it for them—only seeking Allah’s pleasure. Yet they did not observe it with due observance. So We gave to the faithful among them their [due] reward, but many of them are transgressors.
- Surely You will find the most hostile of all people towards the faithful to be the Jews and the polytheists, and surely you will find the nearest of them in affection to the faithful to be those who say ‘We are Christians.’ That is because there are priests and monks among them, and because they are not arrogant.
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