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July 15, 2004
A New Vision Of Shi'ite Islam From Iraq?

This report from the AP looks suspiciously like progress in the war on Islamofascist terror, if subtle progress:

Now, with Shiites empowered in postwar Iraq, the gloves are off again. But this time, the antagonists are the Shiite ayatollahs of Iraq, a mainly Arab country, and Iran, formerly Persia.

At stake is the leadership of the world's estimated 170 million Shiites and the outcome will have profound consequences not only for the two nations but the entire Islamic faith.

At the heart of the conflict is a rivalry between the holy cities of Najaf in Iraq and Qom in neighboring Iran.

A victory by Najaf's "quietist" school of thought, which places a cleric's spiritual calling ahead of involvement in politics, could deal a serious blow to the claim of legitimacy by Iran's ruling clergy. It could also provide a counter-ideology to the militant political Islam adopted by some Sunni Muslim groups in the region and which are behind the terrorism of recent years.

Najaf suffered for decades under the brutal, Sunni Saddam Hussein dictatorship, allowing the spiritual and intellectual lead of Shi'ite Islam to pass to Qom in Iran. Qom's mullahs bred the deadly hybrid of radical Islamist thought, rabid anti-Semitism, and the demand for temporal imposition of shari'a, the rigid fundamentalist Islamic code of justice. Najaf's mullahs traditionally have urged a less temporal form of Islam, focusing more on spirituality and eschewing (for the most part) political entanglements. With this history in mind, it is easy to see why Moqtada al-Sadr could never command much of a following in Najaf and why the imam Ali Al-Sistani insisted that he leave the holy cities of Shi'a.

With the removal of Saddam Hussein, Najaf now wants to assume its historical place as the intellectual and theological center of the Shi'a, a move that the Iranians see as potentially destabilizing. After all, their entire government runs on the basis of the absolute political authority of the mullahs in the Supreme Governing Council, which already causes widespread disaffection with Iranians, especially the younger citizens. Rebellion against their authority during Najaf's oppression amounted to little more than a rejection of Islam, in the eyes of the Iranians, therefore causing more than a little reluctance. With Najaf's renaissance, more and more Shi'a will see an alternative vision of Islam -- and the key strut to the SGC's stranglehold on political power in Iran will have been kicked out from underneath them.

The good news is that Sistani presides over the Najaf shrine and, as has been seen during the occupation, only involves himself reluctantly in political issues. One of the major fears after Saddam's collapse was that the Shi'a would rise in the south and present the CPA with an unstoppable uprising, overwhelming the Kurds and Sunnis in the center and north of Iran. That Sistani chose not to do this is less surprising given the context of his beliefs, but also reflects the wisdom (questioned at the time) of respectfully soliciting his input in the development of the interim government.

Sistani turned out to be the stabilizing influence we needed in the South, postwar, and Najaf may well wind up being the moderating influence Islam needs in the 21st century.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 15, 2004 6:04 AM

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