Sistani: Clerics Must Remain Outside Politics
November 17, 2003
Zaid H. Fahm
NAJAF -- Some seven months since the fall of the regime, the elusive Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani remains adamantly against the involvement of Muslim religious leaders in Iraq's politics and political institutions, but still advocates the elections of a constitutional convention.
In a rare communication with the press, Sistani outlined his thoughts on the new Iraq to Iraq Today, conveying his concerns and hopes for Muslims in Iraq.
Sistani has long argued that the men of religion must advise people in their daily lives and concerns and open their mind to dangers matters of consciences they may face if they were to veer from Islam or religion in general. But, he said, religious men must give Muslims the chance to decide for themselves what is best for them. Men of religion should not order people or using them for their own sake and interests, because if they do they will lose the basic sense of being religious men.
Nonetheless, he remains adamant that the new Iraqi constitution be formed soon with an election of constitutional convention members. "Everything should start with a general election to put the first steps to form the constitution conference in place," Sistani said. "As for the law, because Islam is the religion of most people in Iraq the rules of our Islam must be represented in some of the rules of the constitution."
The steering committee responsible for choose the people who will likely write the constitution visited Sistani on several occasions several times, he said, and they agreed that elections should be organized to form the constitutional conference.
It has been a turbulent few months for Sistani, who has found himself in direct clashes with Muqtada Sader, Najaf's fiery and confrontational preacher. Last month, clashes between Sader's men and supporters of Sistani left 14 dead in a week of skirmishes centered on gaining control of the holy city from Sistani. "We hope that this kind of clash doesn't happen again in the future," Sistani said. "When the clashes began I sent a special envoy to calm down the situation there and tried to solve the problems there. He succeeded in that."
Sistani offered some reasoning for his abrupt pullout from Karbala's town council two weeks ago, a move that sapped away much of the council's legitimacy (See Iraq Today, November 10).
The council, which was heavily populated by Sistani's backers, was expanded to 40 members to allow other groups to have a voice, including Sader's. But in a sudden move, Sistani pulled his men out insisting that he did not want to answer for the council's mistakes. "Our marja prefers not to interfere in the administrative affairs of the city," he wrote Iraq Today. "We will make sure to supply the needs of poor people and the people who need any kind of help with all the capabilities a marja can have."
But Sistani refrained from any comments about the new government that formed by Muqtada Al Sader and about his policy and what he has doing lately in Iraqi street. Despite a decades long feud, Sistani insists he is still in charge.
The high ground
Sistani is widely considered the highest marja for Shia and has the widest following of any cleric in Iraq. He was born in 1929 in Mashad, Iran to a well-respected family known for its religious standing and its roots go back to the prophet Mohamed, earning him the title "Seyed". He began studying in Qom in 1948 then moved to Najaf where he began studying under the highest marja a the time, Abu al-Kasem al-Khoie (Al Khoie's son Abdul Majed was killed in Najaf shortly after the fall of the regime, in a grizzly hour long attack).
Sistani's has long advocated the interest and the rights of the Iraqi individual, arguing that every person is responsible for his or her own choices in life and be careful to live an Islamic life. Islam, he often preaches, gives guidance to find the right path in life.
Between 1992 and 1993 several high level clerics like al-Khoie died, leaving Sistani as the heir apparent to the Hawza. Most of the school's religious scholars backed Sistani, who was widely respected as a wise scholar. But several clerics, most notably Mohamed Sadeq al-Sader, refused to honor Sistani's position. Sader insisted he could lead al-Hawza better, setting off a long running rivalry that lives on in his son Muqtada, who has taken on the Shia orthodoxy head-on. Indeed, the latest clashes between Sader and Sistani date back decades along time before and its not a new thing for the both sides but it had a long history in the days of Muqtada's father Mohamed al-Sader.
Sader's men have long dismissed Sistani for being non-Arab, insisting that al-Hawza be an Arabic institution. But Sistani rarely answers their dismissals, delicately managing the aggressiveness in order to avoid even bigger battles. Sistani may be fighting the battle of his life as infighting amongst the Hawza and the Shia in general has tainted the post-Saddam life of many Muslims in Iraq. But, he says, he is still confident his creed will prevail. http://www.iraq-today.com/article.php?id=246
With Iran, US plays tough-guy
Gulf News, 23-11-2003
The US Administration may think it is "on a roll" in its fight against perceived unwelcome regimes, but it has yet to prove it is capable of completing what it has already undertaken in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, not content with causing chaos there, America turns its attention to Iran, claiming it has a nuclear capability, that is, the ability or near ability to make a nuclear bomb.
While Iran has been economical with the truth on this, the authority charged by the United Nations to verify such capability, the International Atomic Energy Association, IAEA, is content Iran does not possess a weapons programme. The IAEA concedes there is still more investigation to be done, but will not declare that Iran is not telling the truth and that there is, indeed, a nuclear programme being undertaken.
Unfortunately the American administration is not content with the statements issued by the IAEA and asserts that the IAEA's report is "questionable". Although the US appears to have backed down from its demand to impose UN sanctions on Iraq for non-compliance with the IAEA treaties, the aggressive attitude being adopted by the US is very reminiscent of the time when they hounded UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, discrediting the independent investigator's findings over Iraq.
The present head of the IAEA, Mohammed ElBaradei, who was also under fire alongside Blix, has called America's disbelief of its findings "disingenuous" and that the IAEA "reflects facts, as radar does, without partiality." It is possible, of course, that the US fails to understand what an impartial body is, since experience has shown us that its so-called impartiality over the Palestine-Israel question is very far from impartial. Maybe it is because of such a record, America comes to distrust all other impartial bodies. http://www.aljazeerah.info/Opinion%20editorials/2003%20Opinion%20Editorials/November/23%20o/With%20Iran,%20US%20plays%20tough-guy%20Gulf%20News.htm