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)
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.


US sanctions Iran’s Quds Force, Hezbollah

US sanctions Iran’s Quds Force, Hezbollah
Updated 13 sec ago

US sanctions Iran’s Quds Force, Hezbollah

US sanctions Iran’s Quds Force, Hezbollah
  • The US would continue to strictly enforce sanctions on Iran’s illicit oil trade
  • Ruwan Al-Rejoleh, a MENA expert and consultant based in Washington, called the sanctions an “important step”

DUBAI: The US has designated a network run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force an “international oil smuggling and money laundering network.”
A US Treasury Department report on Wednesday said that officials had facilitated the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Iranian oil for both the IRGC-QF and Hezbollah.
It acted as a critical element of Iran’s oil revenue generation, and supported proxy militant groups that continued to “perpetuate conflict and suffering throughout the region.”
The department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Brian Nelson, said the US would continue to strictly enforce sanctions on Iran’s illicit oil trade.
He added that similar sanctions could apply to anyone purchasing oil from Iran.
Ruwan Al-Rejoleh, a MENA expert and consultant based in Washington, called the sanctions an “important step.”
“Assisted by Hezbollah, this oil network has been allowed to operate freely for too long. This is an important step, but the administration must keep pushing Hezbollah and its allies to the margins,” she said. “Hezbollah, who control the Lebanese Energy Ministry, recently took advantage of Lebanon’s energy problems to secure preferential access to the Lebanese market for their masters in Tehran.”
She said Sonatrach, a state-owned Algerian company, had been responsible for sending fuel oil to Lebanon and that its exit had “exacerbated the country’s already crippling” energy problems.
Ghada Aoun, Mount Lebanon’s state prosecutor, launched politically motivated proceedings against Sonatrach, which caused the Algerians to leave, she added.
“Hezbollah used this chaos to secure access for Iran to Beirut’s energy market.”


Italian pharma giant opens Mideast HQ in Dubai

Italian pharma giant opens Mideast HQ in Dubai
Updated 27 May 2022

Italian pharma giant opens Mideast HQ in Dubai

Italian pharma giant opens Mideast HQ in Dubai
  • Move is part of Menarini’s planned regional expansion
  • CEO: ‘We are looking forward to serve many more patients in the Middle East’

LONDON: Italian pharmaceutical giant Menarini has opened its Middle East headquarters in Dubai’s Science Park.

Specializing in pharma research and production, consumer healthcare, oncology and diagnostics, the move is part of the group’s planned expansion into the Middle East and Africa.

“It is a historical moment for us as we open our regional offices in Dubai to significantly grow our presence and portfolio in the Middle East,” said CEO Elcin Barker Ergun.

“As a 135-year-old family-owned company, we are looking forward to serve many more patients in the Middle East in the coming years with our unwavering commitment to quality.”

Among those in attendance at the opening ceremony was Amin Hussain Al-Amiri, assistant undersecretary of public health policy and licensing in the UAE.

Also in attendance were Italian Ambassador Nicola Lener, Menarini’s General Manager Luca Lastrucci, and its regional head Basel Thaher.

Ali Al-Sayed, director of the pharmaceutical services department at the Dubai Health Authority, said: “A defining objective of Dubai 2030 is to be a global hub for knowledge-based, sustainable and innovation focused businesses.

“As a company with longstanding roots based in medical research, Menarini will be a strong contributor to this visionary strategy.”

He added: “Together, we share Dubai’s overarching healthcare vision of positioning Dubai as the leading destination for healthcare knowledge, education and training.”


Iran protesters seek justice as building collapse toll rises

Iran protesters seek justice as building collapse toll rises
More than four days after the tower block’s collapse, rescue teams were recovering bodies from under slabs of cement. (AFP)
Updated 27 May 2022

Iran protesters seek justice as building collapse toll rises

Iran protesters seek justice as building collapse toll rises
  • A large section of the 10-story Metropol building crumbled on Monday, causing one of Iran’s deadliest such disasters in years
  • More than four days after the tower block’s collapse, rescue teams were still recovering bodies from under slabs of cement

TEHRAN: Hundreds of people took to the streets in southwestern Iran demanding justice after a tower block collapse killed 24 people, news outlets in the Islamic republic said on Friday.
A large section of the 10-story Metropol building that was under construction in the city of Abadan, in Khuzestan province, crumbled on Monday, causing one of Iran’s deadliest such disasters in years.


Images published by Fars news agency showed hundreds of residents marching along Abadan’s streets on Thursday night, mourning those who lost their lives by banging on traditional drums and hitting cymbals.
Some shouted “Death to incompetent officials” and hailed the “Martyrs of Metropol,” Fars said.
People also took to the streets of Khorramshahr city, in the same province, expressing their sympathy with the families of those who died and calling for “a decisive and serious” trial of those responsible, it added.
Similar protests were held on Wednesday night in Abadan, state TV had reported.
More than four days after the tower block’s collapse, rescue teams were still recovering bodies from under slabs of cement.

A video posted on Tasnim news agency’s website on Friday showed rescuers carrying a gurney with a body wrapped in a black bag.
Abadan governor Ehsan Abbaspour, cited by ISNA news agency, said the number of people killed in the disaster stood at 24, up from 19 previously.
Officials said 37 people were also injured, although most have since been discharged from hospital.
It remains unknown how many people may still be trapped under the rubble.

More than four days after the tower block’s collapse, rescue teams were recovering bodies from under slabs of cement. (AFP)
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had called for perpetrators to be prosecuted and punished, in a statement posted on his official website on Thursday.
The provincial judiciary said at least 10 people were arrested following the incident, including the mayor and two former mayors, accused of being “responsible” for the collapse, the Judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported.
An investigation has been opened into the cause of the disaster in Abadan, a city of 230,000 people, 660 kilometers (410 miles) southwest of Tehran.
First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber visited Abadan on Friday to “investigate the dimensions of the building collapse incident,” according to ISNA.
In a previous major disaster in Iran, 22 people, including 16 firefighters, died in a blaze that engulfed the capital’s 15-story Plasco shopping center in January 2017.


Iran summons Swiss envoy over US seizure of Iranian oil

Iran summons Swiss envoy over US seizure of Iranian oil
The ministry called for an immediate release of the ship and its cargo. (Reuters)
Updated 27 May 2022

Iran summons Swiss envoy over US seizure of Iranian oil

Iran summons Swiss envoy over US seizure of Iranian oil
  • The US seized Iranian oil from a Russian-operated ship near Greece

Iran on Friday summoned the envoy of Switzerland, which represents US interests in Tehran, to protest against the US seizure of Iranian oil from a Russian-operated ship near Greece, the foreign ministry said in a statement quoted by Iranian media.
The ministry called for the immediate release of the ship and its cargo, the IRNA state news agency quoted it as saying.
The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on what it described as a Russian-backed oil smuggling and money laundering network for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force.
A spokesperson for the US Department of Justice declined to comment on the oil seizure.
“The Islamic Republic expressed its deep concern over the US government’s continued violation of international laws and international maritime conventions,” IRNA and other media quoted the foreign ministry as saying.
A source at Greece’s shipping ministry told Reuters on Thursday that the US Department of Justice had “informed Greece that the cargo on the vessel is Iranian oil.”
It was unclear whether the cargo was impounded because it was Iranian oil or due to the sanctions on the tanker over its Russian links. Iran and Russia face separate US sanctions.
Three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday that the US plans to send the cargo to the United States aboard another vessel.
The Iranian-flagged ship, the Pegas, was among five vessels designated by Washington on Feb. 22 — two days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — for sanctions against Promsvyazbank, a bank viewed as critical to Russia’s defense sector.
IRNA reported on Wednesday that its foreign ministry summoned the charge d’affaires of Greece’s embassy in Tehran following the seizure of the cargo of a ship which was “under the banner of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Greek waters and he was informed of the strong objections” of Iran’s government.
IRNA quoted Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization as saying the tanker had sought refuge along the Greek coast after experiencing technical problems and poor weather, adding that the seizure of its cargo was “a clear example of piracy.” 


US seizes 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil

US seizes 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil
Updated 27 May 2022

US seizes 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil

US seizes 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil
  • Cargo confiscated off coast of Greece 
  • Sanctions enforced again as nuclear deal hopes fade

JEDDAH: The US has confiscated more than 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil from a tanker off the coast of Greece in a new wave of sanctions enforcement.
The cargo of oil was pumped off the tanker into another vessel on Thursday and is now being transferred to the US.
The oil tanker, the Pegas, was targeted under two sets of sanctions — against Russia because it is Russian owned, and against Iran because it was carrying Iranian oil.
The Pegas was one of five vessels named by Washington on Feb. 22, two days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in sanctions against Promsvyazbank, a bank viewed as critical to Russia’s defense sector. The tanker was renamed Lana on March 1 and has been flying the Iranian flag since May 1.
The vessel, with 19 Russian crew members on board, was initially impounded by Greek authorities last month off the coast of the southern Greek island of Evia.
Greece said the ship had been seized as part of EU sanctions on Russia for the invasion of Ukraine, but the vessel was later released.

FASTFACT

The oil tanker, the Pegas, was targeted under two sets of sanctions — against Russia because it is Russian owned, and against Iran because it was carrying Iranian oil.

However, the US imposed new sanctions this week on a Russian-backed oil smuggling and money laundering network for the Quds Force, the foreign operations unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. As a result, the oil tanker was seized again.
Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization said the tanker had sought refuge along Greece’s coast after experiencing technical problems and poor weather, and the seizure of its cargo was “a clear example of piracy.”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the charge d’affaires of Greece’s embassy in Tehran following the seizure of the cargo.
The ship was “under the banner of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Greek waters and he was informed of the strong objections” of Iran’s government, the ministry said.
In 2020, Washington confiscated four cargos of Iranian fuel aboard foreign ships that were bound for Venezuela and transferred them with the help of undisclosed foreign partners on to two other ships which then sailed to the US.
Operations against smuggled Iranian oil had tailed off recently amid hopes for a revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions, including those targeting oil exports.
However, talks on reviving the deal have stalled, and the new oil cargo seizure suggests that the US is again enforcing sanctions.
Washington’s Iran envoy said this week the chances of reviving the nuclear deal were now shaky at best, and the US was ready to tighten sanctions on Iran.