Iraq’s political instability raises Al-Sistani succession stakes 

Special A member of the Hashed Al-Shaabi (Popular Moblization units) carries a portrait of Iraqi Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in a street in the southern city of Basra. (AFP/File Photo)
A member of the Hashed Al-Shaabi (Popular Moblization units) carries a portrait of Iraqi Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in a street in the southern city of Basra. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 08 November 2021

Iraq’s political instability raises Al-Sistani succession stakes 

A member of the Hashed Al-Shaabi (Popular Moblization units) carries a portrait of Iraqi Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in a street in the southern city of Basra. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Al-Sistani’s lectures were attended by hundreds of students, many of whom became leading Shiite jurists in the Arab world 
  • The grand ayatollah’s outsized persona among Muslims and the world at large will loom large over his successor

DUBAI: Besides Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama, few religious leaders today command as much respect among Muslims and non-Muslims alike as Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the 91-year-old “supreme marja” of the world’s Shiite Muslims.

Al-Sistani was a disciple of Ayatollah Abu Al-Qasim Al-Khoei, who was for decades the most renowned religious teacher in Iraq’s shrine city of Najaf, where he was known as the “professor of jurisprudence.”

His lectures were attended by hundreds of students, many of whom would themselves become leading Shiite jurists in Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan and the Gulf.

After Al-Khoei died in 1992, a number of religious scholars in Najaf emerged as leading muftis. Among the most influential were Sayyid Abd Al-Ala Al-Sabziwari, Sheikh Ali Al-Gharawi, and Sayyid Ali Al-Sistani.

There was also a group of jurists in the seminary in Qom, Iran, among whom were Sayyid Mohammed-Reza Golpaygani, Sheikh Mohammed Ali Al-Araki, Sayyid Mohammed Al-Ruhani and Sheikh Mirza Jawad Al-Tabrizi.

After the deaths of several of these leading muftis, Al-Sistani was named marja — meaning literally “source to follow” or “religious reference” — granting him the authority to make legal decisions within the confines of Islamic law.

This was despite the presence of popular figures in Iran such as the “revolution’s guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Sheikh Nasser Makarem Shirazi, and others in Iraq such as Sayyid Mohammed Saeed Al-Hakim and Sheikh Ishaq Al-Fayadh.




An Iraqi supporter of the Hashed Al-Shaabi military network lifts a picture of Iraq's top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani during a rally in front of the US embassy in the capital Baghdad. (AFP/File Photo)

Al-Sistani soon emerged as a popular and trusted religious guide, but after the fall of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 his name grew in prominence beyond the boundaries of the seminary and even beyond the borders of Iraq.

Such was his influence that international delegations would routinely visit him at his humble home in Najaf. Iraqi politicians also flocked to meet Al-Sistani to win his support. But as he became increasingly disappointed by the spread of corruption and sectarianism in Iraq, he stopped giving these audiences.

Now, given Al-Sistani’s advanced age, the question of who will succeed him has become increasingly urgent.

During the past two decades, there have been four great jurists in Najaf: Al-Sistani, Mohammed Saeed Al-Hakim, Bashir Al-Najafi and Ishaq Al-Fayadh. Al-Hakim was viewed by many as the likely successor but he died on Sept. 3 this year, casting the succession into doubt.

Sheikh Hussein Ali Al-Mustafa, a Saudi researcher who specializes in Islamic sciences, said Al-Sistani’s inevitable passing will come as a blow but one that the community will absorb and eventually overcome.

“The post-Sistani era will face any issues and the Najaf seminary is capable of filling the void, even though Al-Sistani’s absence will constitute a great loss not only for Shiite Muslims, but for all believers in moderation, tolerance and coexistence,” he told Arab News.

“There are basic constants in the Najaf jurisprudence school and these constants will not change, whether Al-Sistani is dead or alive. These constants are: Avoidance of direct political action; no truck with political parties; focus on people’s interests and easing their suffering through social and economic services; and satisfactory answers to believers’ jurisprudential questions.”




Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani. (AFP/File Photo)

But why is the fate of the Najaf seminary considered so important?

“Najaf has five important characteristics,” Jawad Al-Khoei, secretary-general of the Al-Khoei Institute in Najaf, told Arab News. “It is the oldest scholarly estate of Shiite Muslims that has survived to this day, as it is more than a thousand years old, in addition to the fact that it includes the resting place of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib.

“It is also known for being financially independent for decades, which has made it relatively free to issue fatwas; its refusal to mix religion with politics; its rejection of calls for the establishment of an Islamic government; and for the research and scientific freedom it enjoys.”

He added: “All of this has given Najaf a role that transcends its religious duties, to be a sponsor of people’s interests, working to repel harm away from the people and seeking to solve their social, life and cultural problems, with the marja’s main concern being people.”

Al-Sistani’s authority has gone far beyond the traditional role of the marja, including a hand in trying to heal the rift between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. In 2007, he said he is “at the service of all Iraqis,” stressing that there are no “real differences between Sunnis and Shiites.”

In one speech, delivered by his representative, he said: “Shiites must defend the social and political rights of Sunnis before Sunnis themselves do it, and Sunnis should do the same.”

FASTFACTS

* Ayatollah Al-Sistani has been included in all editions of “The Muslim 500: The World’s Most Influential Muslims.”

* In 2005 and 2014, Al-Sistani was nominated for the Nobel Prize Award for his efforts to establish peace.

Al-Sistani’s patriotic stand has made him a guardian of sorts for all Iraqis. His bona fides were burnished in Najaf in March this year by the meeting between him and Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, during which they discussed ways to promote peace and coexistence.

Clearly, Al-Sistani’s outsized persona will loom large over his successor, who is likely to be someone deeply influenced by his ideas and who has worked as part of his team. But the question remains as to which of them will attempt to fill his shoes.

“Usually, a jurist does not immediately become a marja after being commissioned to the position of marja. This rather happens through different stages and over several years,” said Al-Khoei.

“Either other jurists of equal rank pass away, or they are nominated by experts in the seminary and the most important professors who conduct accurate specialized research into their level of expertise and disciple count, without forgetting the number of testimonies of ijtihad they received from senior jurists who preceded them.

“Then there are the jurist’s books, the level of their depth and scientific accuracy, plus another important element, which is piety.”

There are currently more than 40 religious scholars who offer “external research” courses at the Najaf seminary. These highly specialized jurisprudence and religious sciences studies are equivalent to a doctorate in regular universities. Those who pass this stage receive a degree of “ijtihad,” though its levels vary from one scholar to another.




A handout picture released by the media office of Ayatollah Al-Sistani showing the Iraqi Shiite cleric meeting with Pope Francis. (AFP/Handout/File Photo)

The jurists most likely to emerge during the “post-Sistani” era can be divided into three main categories, based on the hierarchy of age, education and experience.

The first category includes older jurists of high educational rank who are loyal to Al-Sistani. These include Al-Fayadh and Al-Najafi.

However, their advanced ages and classical style will make them less attractive to the new generation of Shiites, who want the marja to be younger, more modern in outlook and better able to understand the rapidly changing times.

Al-Fayadh and Al-Najafi are now maraji taqlid — or a “source of emulation.” If their status remains unchanged, it is possible that a small number of Al-Sistani’s “emulators,” especially Shiites in Afghanistan and Pakistan, might consider him their reference after his death.

The second category includes highly educated jurists such as Sheikh Baqir Al-Irwani, Sheikh Hadi Al-Radi, Sheikh Hassan Al-Jawahiri, Sayyid Mohammed Baqir Al-Hakim, and Sayyid Mohammed Jaafar Al-Hakim.

Given the advanced age of the Al-Hakim brothers, their ascetic way of life, their eschewing of political matters and their refusal to address fatwas, it is unlikely that they will be considered for the position of marja after Al-Sistani.

Al-Radi, Al-Irwani and Al-Jawahri have a large circle of students and are greatly respected within the seminary.

“These three names have the biggest advantage in the post-Sistani stage, because of their jurisprudential depth and ability to research,” said Islamic scientist Al-Mustafa.

“They have experience and exposure, therefore the wider audience of Al-Sistani’s followers will — most likely — refer to them, whether in Iraq, the Arab Gulf or Europe.”




An Iraqi Shiite fighter from the Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitaries is seen with an image of Iraqi Ayatollah Ali Husaini Al-Sistani on his vest. (AFP/File Photo)

The third category includes scholars such as Sayyid Mohammed Ridha Al-Sistani, Sayyid Mohammed Baqir Al-Sistani, Sayyid Riyadh Al-Hakim, Sayyid Ali Al-Sabziwari, and Sayyid Sadiq Al-Khorsan. They too enjoy “ijtihad” and have students spread throughout international seminaries.

However, sources close to the Najaf seminary told Arab News that the Al-Sistani brothers will not take up the position of marja after the death of their father because “traditions in the seminary forbid the inheritance of the marja position from father to son.”

In addition, “despite the proven knowledge of Sayyid Mohammed Ridha Al-Sistani, he has no personal desire to be a marja. He is happy with teaching and participating in managing the affairs of his father’s religious reference.”

Ayatollah Riyadh Al-Hakim, who is seen as a modernizer, is the son of the late Sayyid Mohammed Saeed Al-Hakim. He resides in both Iran and Iraq and “has very good administrative experience as well as the ability to understand political, social and cultural developments,” a source close to Al-Hakim’s family told Arab News.

All indications from Najaf are that Mohammed Baqir Al-Irwani, Sheikh Hassan Al-Jawahiri and Sheikh Hadi Al-Radi are the three most likely candidates to assume Al-Sistani’s mantle.

But so glacial is the “supreme marja” selection process that Al-Sistani’s successor most likely will not be known any time soon — or even immediately after his era has ended.


Oman police thwart attempt to smuggle 73kg of cannabis

Oman police thwart attempt to smuggle 73kg of cannabis
Updated 7 sec ago

Oman police thwart attempt to smuggle 73kg of cannabis

Oman police thwart attempt to smuggle 73kg of cannabis
  • Police authorities in Dhofar Governorate earlier arrested two people from the African continent after 13 kilograms of hashish were found in their possession

DUBAI: Police in Oman have foiled an attempt to smuggle a large haul of the drug cannabis into the country.

It is the latest in a number of seizures forming part of the government’s efforts to raise awareness and prevent the spread of controlled substances.

The General Department of Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Control, in cooperation with the Coast Guard Police, arrested two people while they were unloading 73kg of cannabis on a beach in Muscat Governorate,” the Royal Oman Police said in its Twitter account, adding that legal proceedures were underway.

 

 

Police authorities in Dhofar Governorate earlier arrested two people from the African continent after 13 kilograms of hashish were found in their possession.

A forum in Dhofar earlier this week discussed the issue of controlled substances in Oman.

The event explored the types of substances being brought into the country, as well as the reasons for the use and the effects of their abuse, viewed from a social and family perspective.


US and Kuwait discuss enhancing global food security

US and Kuwait discuss enhancing global food security
Updated 8 min 29 sec ago

US and Kuwait discuss enhancing global food security

US and Kuwait discuss enhancing global food security

KUWAIT: The US Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Michele Sison met with Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah during an official state visit, Kuwait State Agency (KUNA) reported.

They explored ways to boost cooperation to enhance global food security and health sector.

They discussed bilateral ties and reviewed the latest regional and international developments of common interest.


Palestinian Authority to seek full membership at UN

Palestinian Authority to seek full membership at UN
Updated 11 August 2022

Palestinian Authority to seek full membership at UN

Palestinian Authority to seek full membership at UN
  • President Mahmoud Abbas to make the case for enhanced status at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23

RAMALLAH: Palestinian leaders have launched a new diplomatic drive to obtain full membership of the UN.

The campaign will culminate with a landmark speech by President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23, in which he will make the case for enhanced status.

“In the absence of a political path and hope for the Palestinians to end the occupation, they have no choice but to resort to the UN to enhance the status of Palestine as a state and the Palestinians as a people on their land under occupation,” Palestinian government spokesman Ibrahim Melhem told Arab News on Wednesday.

The UN granted Palestine non-member observer state status at a historic vote in the General Assembly in November 2012, when 138 countries voted in favor, 9 opposed it, and 41 abstained. The resolution included “the hope that the Security Council will consider positively” accepting the request for full membership. Abbas submitted this in September 2011, but it fell in the Security Council because the US threatened to use its veto.

Fatah official Sabri Saidem told Arab News that France had encouraged the Palestinians to demand full membership of the UN, and Sweden and Ireland had expressed their unconditional support for the move. He said the Palestinians would now seek more Arab and international support.

UN membership was “a long-awaited entitlement, especially with the continued Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people, the failure of US President Joe Biden’s administration to implement its vision in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and double standards when it comes to Palestine and Ukraine," he said.

 

 


Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital

Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital
Updated 11 August 2022

Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital

Heavy rains collapse 10 historic buildings in Yemeni capital

SANAA, Yemen: Heavy rains lashing Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, which dates back to ancient times, have in recent days collapsed 10 buildings in the Old City, the country’s Houthi rebels said Wednesday.
At least 80 other buildings have been heavily damaged in the rains and are in need of urgent repairs, said the rebels, who have controlled Sanaa since the outbreak of Yemen’s civil war more than eight years ago.
The Old City of Sanaa is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the area believed to have been inhabited for more than 2 millennia. Its architecture is unique, with foundations and first stories built of stone, and subsequent stories out of brick — deemed to be some of the world’s first high-rises.
The buildings have red brick facades adorned with white gypsum molding in ornate patterns, drawings comparisons to gingerbread houses — a style that has come to symbolize Yemen’s capital. Many of the houses are still private homes and some are more than 500 years old.
In a statement, Abdullah Al-Kabsi, the culture minister in the Houthi administration, said the rebels are working with international organizations and seeking help in dealing with the destruction. There were no immediate reports of dead or injured from the collapses.
The houses had withstood centuries but this season’s intense rains have proved too much for the iconic structures. Bricks and wooden beams now make for massive piles of rubble in between still-standing structures.
The rains show no signs of letting up.
“I get scared when I hear the rain and pray to God because I am afraid that my house will collapse over me,” Youssef Al-Hadery, a resident of the Old City said.


Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows
Updated 10 August 2022

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows

Yemen has enough wheat for two-and-a-half months, document shows
  • Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, and 45 percent of its wheat needs came from Ukraine and Russia
  • Importers are unable to store significant amounts of wheat due to infrastructure limitations at Yemeni ports

ADEN: Yemen has secured enough wheat to cover two-and-a-half months of consumption, a commerce ministry document dated Aug. 4 showed, as global disruptions and local currency instability risk deepening the war-torn country’s hunger crisis.
A review by the internationally recognized government in Aden showed 176,400 tons of wheat available — 70,400 stockpiled and 106,000 booked for August/September delivery — according to the document.
This is in addition to 32,300 tons of wheat available from the United Nations, which feeds some 13 million people a month in Yemen, the document showed.
Yemen is grappling with a dire humanitarian crisis that has left millions hungry in the seven-year conflict that divided the country and wrecked the economy. Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, and 45 percent of its wheat needs came from Ukraine and Russia.
HSA Group, one of Yemen’s largest food conglomerates, said it had booked around 250,000 tons of wheat from Romania and France, sufficient to supply the market until mid-October, and that it is looking to secure a further 110,000 tons.
“Following the announcement of the Ukraine grain deal, we are currently looking to secure Ukrainian wheat for the Yemeni market if it remains affordable and accessible,” an HSA spokesperson, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
The United Nations and Turkey brokered a deal last month to restart exports from Ukraine, cut off since Russia’s February invasion, which could ease grain shortages that have driven up global prices. So far, however, there have not been any shipments of wheat.
Yemeni importers are unable to store significant amounts of wheat due to infrastructure limitations at Yemen ports and the country’s limited storage capacity, the HSA spokesperson said, and therefore the firm books new shipments every 2-3 weeks depending on availability and global prices.
Another issue facing importers is Yemen’s foreign reserves shortage and a serious devaluation of the currency in some parts of the country, where food price inflation has soared.
The Aden-based central bank has put in place an auction mechanism to ease access to foreign currency, but no import financing mechanism is currently in place to support the market.