August 7, 2007

DEFENDER OF THE THIRD FOUNDATION:

Why Al-Qaeda Wants the Head of the Grand Ayatollah Sistani: Because he is the key man for a free and peaceful Iraq. But that's not all. The future of Islam is also linked to the victory or defeat of his vision. The portrait of a great Muslim leader who after Regensburg expressed esteem and friendship for the pope (Sandro Magister, August 7, 2007, Chiesa)

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.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 7, 2007 12:06 PM
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