Skip to comments.Why Al-Qaeda Wants the Head of the Grand Ayatollah Sistani
Posted on 08/07/2007 10:35:08 AM PDT by NYer
ROMA, August 7, 2007 – At the end of last week’s general audience, Benedict XVI surprisingly dedicated a thought to a sports event, the victory of Iraq’s soccer team in the Asian Cup:
“I was pleasantly startled by the enthusiasm that spread among all the inhabitants, driving them into the streets to celebrate the event. As on so many occasions I have wept with the Iraqis, this time I rejoice with them. This experience of shared celebration reveals the desire of a people to have a normal and peaceful life. I hope that the event can contribute to realizing in Iraq, with the support of all, a future of authentic peace in freedom and mutual respect.”
In effect, that the celebrations of the football victory were not marred by massacres in Iraq has been interpreted by many as a positive sign. Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups – while maintaining their ferocity – seem more isolated today, in the war they are fighting within the Muslim world: a war that is for them more crucial than the one directed against the West.
In this conflict inside the Muslim world, the key figure in Iraq is a man among the most peaceful and peace-making: the grand ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the highest religious authority for the Shiite Muslims.
That he is the key figure is tragically proven by the endless string of murders of the people close to him.
On April 10, 2003, in Najaf, the holy city of the Shiites, the ayatollah Abdel Majid al-Khoei was assassinated. He was the son of Sistani’s spiritual master, the grand ayatollah Qassim al-Khoei, the most eminent Shiite theologian of the twentieth century.
On August 29, 2003, again in Najaf, a car bomb killed more than one hundred faithful who were leaving the mosque that holds the tomb of Ali, Mohammed’s brother-in-law and successor, the founding father of the Shiite Muslims. With them died another moderate religious leader, Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim.
On February 6, 2004, a terrorist commando group penetrated the labyrinth of alleyways around that same mosque, almost reaching Sistani’s home. They failed in their real objective, but they killed the sheikh Abdullah Falaq al-Basrawi, administrator of the offerings that flow to Sistani from the entire Shiite world.
On May of 2005, another of the grand ayatollah’s collaborators, Tahar al-Allaf, was assassinated.
At the beginning of 2006, the victim was the sheikh Kamal al-Din al-Ghureifi.
At the beginning of June of this year, Rahim al-Hesnawi was assassinated. In mid-July, Abdallah Fallaq. On July 26, Kazim Jabir al-Bidairi. All were close collaborators with Sistani.
Finally, on August 2, another of his trusted men was killed in Najaf, the sheikh Fadhil al-Aqil.
The “fault” of the grand ayatollah Sistani – in the eyes of his enemies – is that of being the most authoritative and consistent supporter of a vision of Islamic “quietism,” according to which the master teaches theology, law, and morality, and asks that the principles of Islam be respected in public life, but does not demand political power for himself, nor presumes to exercise coercive control over it.
This current of thought has always been the prevalent one in Najaf. The Iranian ayatollah Khomeini, who lived in this city from 1965 to 1978 and maintained the opposite view, was completely isolated.
Khomeini’s thesis, to which he gave form in 1979 with his theocratic revolution in Iran, was that “only a good society can create good believers.” And he conferred upon the experts of Qur’anic law the political power necessary to engineer the perfect society.
Sistani, on the contrary, maintains that “only good citizens can create a good society.” And he rejects any idea of theocracy.
In keeping with this vision, after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime the grand ayatollah Sistani ruled: “There will be no turbans in the government in Iraq.” He imposed as a religious obligation that all Iraqi citizens go to vote, including the women. He approved the new constitution, the most liberal in the entire Muslim world. He urged the Shiites not to react with violence to the attacks that were massacring the defenseless population. He condemned the fatwas of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Sunni sheikh who, before the Al Jazeera television audience, exalted homicidal martyrdom.
Amir Taheri, an Iranian intellectual exiled in the West, says: “For Sistani, power belongs to the twelfth imam. But since he is gone, it passes to the people. The final decision is to be made by the individual on the basis of reason, the greatest gift from God. Sistani’s vision is Aristotelian, a society of pious citizens.”
The grand ayatollah Sistani, 78, issues only rare and brief rulings. He lives in seclusion, intentionally far from the public eye. And this, too, is a traditional way of exercising authority in Islam. His guidelines are not listened to and applied by everyone, but they succeed in creating a norm for conduct, including in relation to Christianity.
In 2004, Sistani took a firm position in defense of the Christian minorities in Iraq, with words of very strong condemnation against the attacks on churches.
On October 29 of that year, he welcomed into his home in Najaf the Baghdad patriarch of the Chaldean Catholics, Emmanuel Delly. And this is how the latter described the encounter:
“The grand ayatollah received us with a warm ’welcome,’ he spent an hour with us, and at the end he did not disguise his satisfaction. Our common desire is that of finding a way to bring peace and tranquility to the country. We both know that Iraq is sick, but we want to find together the medicines to heal it. We talked together like two brothers who love each other.”
In September of 2006, during the days of violent anti-papal protest that exploded in the Muslim world after Benedict XVI’s lecture in Regensburg, representatives from Sistani paid two visits to the secretary of the Vatican nunciature in Baghdad, Thomas Hlim Sbib, in order to express esteem and friendship toward Benedict XVI, and the desire for a meeting with him in Rome.
The future of what remains of the Christian community in Iraq; the future, moreover, of freedom and peace for Iraq and its neighbors, and the evolution of Islam itself, are linked to the victory or defeat of Sistani’s approach.
The “moderate” Islam that so many invoke without knowing where to find it has in him a towering figure of reference.
The official website of the grand ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, which has sections in English and French:
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Sistani is the only Ayatollah I am praying (no kidding) for.
It is actually sad that so much depends on him... but he is a force of good in Iraq and we have an interest in having him around.
Shias are consider worse than Christian and Jews by the Salafists.
only good citizens can create a good society.
That statement — by itself — is true.
"This was encapsulated by an episode ignored by the Western press, but with profound consequences in Iran: Islamic months begin with the sighting of the new moon. Khamenei, in his role as Supreme Leader, reserves the right to make the final decision on when months begin and end. In order to exert authority and highlight religious differences, he often declares months to begin the day after religious authorities in other countries do. In 2003, most Shia clerics declared the end of Ramadan to be on November 25. Khamenei decreed its end to be the following day. The problem was, though, that Iranian journalists had already interviewed Sistani and published his answer. While innocuous to the Western audience, Sistani’s contradiction of Khamenei’s pronouncement shook the political establishment in Iran. How could Khamenei be the Supreme Leader if many Iranians looked toward Sistani for guidance?"
Excerpt from Iranian Strategy in Iraq, by Michael Barone
I meant Montazeri...
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