Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

Infobox ReligiousBio
background = #008000
name = Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani


religion = Shi'a Islam
alias = Arabic: السيد علي الحسيني السيستاني
Persian: سید علی حسینی سیستانی;
location = flagicon|Iraq - Najaf, Iraq
Title = Grand Ayatollah
Period = 1992 - Present
Predecessor =
Successor =
ordination =
post = Grand Ayatollah
date of birth = Birth date and age|1930|08|04
place of birth = flagicon|Iran - Mashhad, Iran
date of death =
place of death =
website = [http://www.al-sistani.org www.al-sistani.org]
Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani Arabic: السيد علي الحسيني السيستاني, Persian: سید علی حسینی سیستانی;. Born approximately August 4, 1930) is an Iranian born Grand Ayatollah, and Twelver Shi'a "marja" residing in Iraq since 1951. He is currently the preeminent Shi'a cleric in Iraq [Nasr, Vali, "The Shia Revival", Norton, (2006), p.171] as well as an important political figure in Post-invasion Iraq.

Biography

Early life

The Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was born August 4, 1930 in Mashhad, Iran to a family of religious scholars. His grandfather, for whom he was named, was a famous scholar who had studied in Najaf. Sistani's family originally comes from Isfahan. During the Safavid period, his forefather Sayyid Mohammad, was appointed as "Shaikhul Islam" (Leading Authority of Islam) by King Hussain in the Sistan province. He traveled to Sistan where he and his children settled the area of Iran known as Sistan, which accounts for the title "al-Sistani" in his great grandson's name today. Ali Sistani began his religious education as a child, beginning in Mashhad, and moving on to study at the Shi'a holy city of Qom in central Iran in 1949. After spending a few years there, in 1951 he went to Iraq to study in Najaf under the late Grand Ayatollah Abul-Qassim Khoei. Sistani rose in religious rank to be named a Marja in 1960 under the military dictatorship of Iraqi president Abd al-Karim Qasim.cite web |date= February 10, 2005|url = http://atimes01.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/GB10Ak02.html|title = Coming to terms with Sistani|format = HTML |publisher = [http://atimes01.atimes.com Asia Times Online] | accessdate = 2007-08-21 | last=Sami Moubayed ] At the unusually young age of 31 (1961) Ayatullah Sistani reached the senior level of accomplishment called Ijtehad, which entitled him to pass his own judgments on religious questions.cite web |date=Sat, 30 April 2005 15:30:08|url = http://al-huda.al-khoei.org/news/124/ARTICLE/1075/2005-04-30.html|title = When Ayatullah Sistani Speaks, Millions Obey: Says Time|format = HTML |publisher = [http://al-huda.al-khoei.org al-khoei.org] | accessdate = 2007-08-21 | last= |quote=]

Grand Ayatollah

When Ayatollah Khoei died in 1992, Sistani ascended to the rank of Grand Ayatollah by the traditional method - through peer recognition of his scholarship. His role as successor to Khoei was symbolically cemented when he lead the funeral prayers of his widely esteemed teacher and he would go on to inherit Khoei's network and following. With the death of other leading ayatollahs in Iraq including Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, Sistani emerged as the preeminent Shi'a cleric in Iraq. As the leading Ayatollah in Najaf, Sistani oversees sums amounting to millions of dollars. Sistani's followers offer him a fixed part of their earnings, which he spends for educational and charitable purposes. Sistani's office reports that he supports 35,000 students in Qom, 10,000 in Mashhad, and 4,000 in Isfahan.cite web |date= April 4, 2003.|url = http://www.geocities.com/martinkramerorg/2003_04_04.htm|title = The Ayatollah Who Spared Najaf|format = HTML |publisher = | accessdate = 2007-08-21 | last=Martin Kramer |quote=] He also oversees a network of representatives ("wakil") "who promote his view in large and small ways in neighborhoods, mosques, bazaars, and seminaries from Kirkuk" to Basra. [Nasr, Vali, "The Shia Revival", Norton, (2006), p.177]

He is also said to have a substantial following in Iran as a result of the post-invasion opening of the Iraqi shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala to Iranians, including "great popularity and influence among" the bazaari of the city of Qom. Many Iranians are said to return from pilgrimage in Iraq followers of Sistani. [Nasr, Vali, "The Shia Revival", Norton, (2006), p.221]

Baath Party

While Sistani had survived the persecution that killed many other Shia clerics, his mosque was shut down in 1994, and did not reopen until after the American invasion which toppled the Baath regime. Since that time, he has usually kept to himself in his house in Najaf. His behavior is seen by many as a protest against persecution, but others consider it to originate from the house-arrest orders issued by the Baath Party. Fact|date=February 2007 Despite his seclusion and inaccessibility, Sistani has extensive influence throughout the Shi'a population of Iraq through a network of junior clerics who convey his teachings. Due to his influence, he has played a quiet but important role in the current politics of Iraq. He is particularly known for forcing the Coalition Provisional Authority into a compromise on the constitutional process, for issuing a fatwa calling on all Shi'a especially women to vote, and for calling on Shi'a communities not to retaliate to Sunni sectarian violence. He is also the one who called for a truce at the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf where Muqtada Sadr and his Mahdi Army were cornered in a gun battle siege in August 2004.

In early August 2004, Sistani, who has long been suffering from a heart condition, reportedly suffered serious health problems and he travelled to London to receive medical treatment. It was the first time in many years that Sistani had left his home in Najaf, which seems to indicate that his medical condition was serious enough for caution.

Role in contemporary Iraq

Since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Sistani has played an increasingly wider political role in Iraq, and the Western mainstream media has called him the "most influential" figure in post-invasion Iraq.cite web |date=Last Updated: 1:13am BST 04/09/2006|url = http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/09/03/wirq03.xml|title = I no longer have power to save Iraq from civil war, warns Shia leader|format = HTML |publisher = The Telegraph| accessdate = 2007-08-21 | last=Gethin Chamberlain and Aqeel Hussein] cite web |date= November 27, 2003|url = http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,104263,00.html|title = Shiite Cleric Seen as Iraq's Most Influential Leader|format = HTML |publisher = pub| accessdate = 2007-08-21 | last= |quote=a frail, 70-something Shiite Muslim (search) cleric with a heart condition — has emerged in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq as the land's most influential figure, something U.S. planners may not have counted on.]

Muqtada al-Sadr, who is 43 years Sistani's junior and the head of an independent militia known as the Mahdi army, has risen to prominence in the course of 2004 and his military activities have undermined Sistani's influence. Muqtada al-Sadr launched an attempt to fight what he perceives as the "oppressive foreign forces" in the holy city of Najaf while Sistani was out of the country.

Shortly after the American invasion began, Sistani issued fatwas calling on Shia clergy to get involved in politics to guide masses towards what he sees as "the clearer decisions", and to fight what he sees as "media propaganda".However, as the summer of 2003 approached, Sistani became more involved, though always through representatives, never directly. He began to call for the formation of a constitutional convention, and later demanded a direct vote for the purpose of forming a transitional government, seeing this as a sure path to Shia dominance over Iraq's government, since most observers say that Shia make up about 60% of Iraq's population. Subsequently, Sistani has criticized American plans for an Iraqi government as not being democratic enough.

Sistani's edicts and rulings have provided many Iraqi Shia religious backing for participating in the January 2005 elections -- he urged, in a statement on October 1, 2004, that the people should realize that this was an "important matter" and he also hoped that the elections would be "free and fair . . . with the participation of all Iraqis". He issued fatwa telling women they were religiously obligated to vote, even if their husbands had forbidden them to do so. [Rod Nordland, "The Cities Were Not Bathed in Blood", "Newsweek", February 9, 2005, www.msnbc.com/id/6887461/site/newsweek. ] "Truly, women who go forth to the polling centers on election day are like Zaynab, who went forth to Karbala." [Ahmed H. al-Rahim, "The Sistani Factor", "Journal of Democracy", 16, 3 (July 2005), p.51] He has consistently urged the Iraqi Shia not to respond in kind to attacks from Sunni Salafists, which have become common in Sunni-dominated regions of Iraq like the area known as the "Triangle of Death", south of Baghdad. Even after the destruction of the Shia Askariya shrine in Samarra in February 2006, his network of clerics and preachers continued to urge calm and told their followers that "it was not their Sunni neighbors who were killing them but foreign `Wahhabis.`" [Nasr, Vali, "The Shia Revival", Norton, (2006), p.178]

An alleged plot to assassinate Sistani was foiled on January 29, 2007 when three Jund al-Samaa gunmen were captured at a hotel near his office. It is believed to have been part of a larger attack against a number of targets in Najaf.cite web |date= 06/03/2007 2:17 PM ET|url = http://www.iraqslogger.com/index.php/post/3052/Messianic_Shia_Cult_Emerges_in_Southern_Iraq|title = Messianic Shia Cult Emerges in Southern Iraq|format = HTML |publisher = [http://www.iraqslogger.com www.iraqslogger.com] | accessdate = 2007-08-21 | last=ZEYAD KASIM]

Al-Jazeera's insults against Sistani

In May 2007, hundreds of angry Shias demonstrated in Basra and Najaf against what they considered to be insults against Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani by TV presenter Ahmed Mansour and Qatari Al-Jazeera television. In the TV show, "Without Borders," or Bela Hodod Mansour had sounded skeptical of al-Sistani's leadership credentials, and adopted a dismissive tone while directing questions about the Iranian-born cleric to his guest, Shiite cleric Jawad al-Khalsi.

Ahmed Mansour contended that al-Sistani, who is in his late 70s, was not aware of what's happening in Iraq and that his edicts were written and released by his aides. At another point, he asked whether the United States was using Iraqi politicians as well as al-Sistani to promote its own interests in Iraq.cite web |date=Published: May 4, 2007|url = http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/05/04/africa/ME-GEN-Iraq-Al-Jazeera.php|title = Iraqi Shiites protest against Al-Jazeera's "insults" against top cleric|format = HTML |publisher = International Herald Tribune| accessdate = 2007-08-21 | last= AP]

Hacking Sistani's website

In 18 September 2008 hackers have attacked hundreds of Shiite websites including Shia Islam's most popular site linked to the community's leader in Iraq Ayatollah sistani,hackers from 'group-xp', linked to Wahhabis, have attacked 300 Shi'a Internet sites including Al-Beit, the biggest Shi'a website in the world.

Sistani website as well website linked to the Al-Beit foundation of Ayatollah Sistani were hacked, it was the "largest Wahhabi hacker attack" in recent years.

Visitors to the targeted site see a banner bearing the slogan "group-xp" in red with a message in Arabic denouncing Shiite beliefs and officials and they placed a video of comedian Bill Maher making fun of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and his advice to the Shi'a muslims. "Group-xp" is based in the United Arab Emirates and is linked to Wahhabi Muslims who follow a strict form of Sunni Islam

.cite web |date=Published: September 20, 2008|url = http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2008/09/iraq-the-ayatol.html|title = IRAQ: The ayatollah gets hacked|format = HTML |publisher = Los Angeles Times| accessdate = 2008-09-20]

Views

Wilayat al-faqih

Like his predecessor Grand Ayatollah Abul-Qasim al-Khoei, Al-Sistani does not share the definition of the doctrine of "wilayat al-faqih" (the authority of jurists) supported by Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran's current supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Sistani's web site says,

Question : What is Grand Ayatollah Sistani's opinion about Wilayat-e Faqih (governance of jurist)?
Answer : Every jurisprudent (Faqih) has wilayah (guardianship) over non-litigious affairs. Non-litigious affairs are technically called "al-omour al-hesbiah". As for general affairs with which social order is linked, wilayah of a Faqih and enforcement of wilayah depend on certain conditions one of which is popularity of acceptability of Faqih among majority of momeneen. [ [http://www.sistani.org/html/eng/menu/4/?lang=eng&view=d&code=221&page=1 Ali al-Sistani's Web page on fiqh and beliefs] ]

Instead of rule by Islamic clerics or `The Quran as constitution`, Sistani is said to favor the providing of values and guidelines for social order ("nizam al-mujama") as the role of Islam.. [Nasr, Vali, "The Shia Revival", Norton, 2006, p.173 ]

A reflection of his reluctance to become involved in politics is that despite his disagreements with Iran's ruling clerics, Sistani has reportedly "never tried to promote a rivalry" between his religious center of Najaf and the Iranian center in Qom. Never made any comments about the confrontations between reformists and conservatives in Qom or between clerics in Lebanon. [Nasr, Vali, "The Shia Revival", Norton, 2006, p.172 ]

Works

Books

* Current Legal Issues
* A Code of Practice For Muslims in the West
* Hajj Rituals
* Islamic Laws
* Jurisprudence Made Easy
* Contemporary Legal Rulings in Shi'i Law

*32 other books are not yet translated to English. [ [http://sistani.org/local.php?modules=nav&nid=2 Works of Sayyid Al al-Sistani] ]

Internet

With the establishment of The Aalulbayt (a.s.) Global Information Center, he has become "the electronic grand ayatollah par excellence". cite web |date=August 31, 2005|url = http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/GH31Ak03.html|title = Sistani.Qom: In the wired heart of Shi'ism|format = HTML |publisher = [http://www.atimes.com Asian Times Online] | accessdate = 2007-08-21 | last= Pepe Escobar ]

References

ee also

*Grand Ayatollahs
*List of Marjas
*Grand Ayatollah Modarresi
*Grand Ayatollah Bashir Najafi

External links

* [http://www.sistani.org/ Ayatollah Sistani's Official Web site (English, French, Urdu, فارسي , Türkçe , عربي)]
* [http://www.al-khoei.org/ Al-Khoei Benevolent Foundation]


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