Who is Ali Sistani?
Before writing about Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Husayni Sistani, some terms needs to be clarified to make it more familiar when reading this article.
1. Ayatollah: this is a title achieved after extensive and long studies especially in the doctrine of religion and its application on life. The studies many continue for life in the Hawzah without reaching to the above level. Only very few reach this title usually after the age of 50 or 60 years. Most of the candidates remained in a lesser level than Ayatollah. Reaching to that level means a lot of people among Shiites follow that person's interpretative judgment about too many issues in their life and pay their charities to his school. Ayatollahs are not on the same level of knowledge and there is always one among them who is the most knowledgeable. There are two types of Ayatollah. The lower type is the person who is able to draw up conclusions (Istenbat) compatible with the doctrine about the aspects of life. The highest level is the one who called (Mojtahed) or able to make his own jurisprudences compatible with the principle of the doctrine and publish it in a thesis called (Risala) which should be signed by a committee from the more knowledgeable Ayatollahs in Hawzah, usually his supervisors or teachers. This person then achieves the level of Ayatollah Al Uzma or the highest level. This is the level of Ali Sistani who is considered the most knowledgeable person among the few Ayatollahs in the world. He then got millions of followers all over the world from Australia to USA and everywhere in the Arab and Islamic countries.
2. Hawzah: the name itself means gather the things together! It is a kind of theological University founded more than 1000 years ago in beginning of the 10th Century AC in Najaf by Abo Jaffer Al Tosi who came from Baghdad with 300 of his students. Before this Tosi studied in Baghdad and achieved the highest professorial level at that time which was called the Pulpit of Theology (Manber Al Kalam) awarded by the Abbasid State's government in Baghdad. In actual fact the basis for the Hawzah had been formed many years before that around 865 AC by Mohammad Bin Zaid Al Alawi who built schools and accommodations for the students in Najaf and the teaching goes back to the era of Imam Ali who transferred the Islamic Capital to Kufa which is 10 miles from Najaf. Kufa had too many schools even before Imam Ali used it as his capital. Imam Ali was killed by the Kharji (Bin Moljem) while he was prostrating in prayer in Kufa mosque at dawn and buried in Najaf. His tomb is not far from the Hawzah. After Hawzah was established in Najaf branches or daughter Hawzahs had been established in other cities in and outside Iraq. Now there are Hawzahs in Baghdad, Eastern province of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, and many other areas.
There are 30 schools belong to Najaf Hawzah and about 3000 students from all over the world. The curriculums decided by the teachers for 3 levels each may last for 20 years depend on the student satisfaction and his supervisors advises but the minimum for each level is 5-8 years. Subjects like chemistry, physics, math and others are also included. It has big libraries with thousands of books and manuscripts.
In spite of the oppression that the Shiites in Iraq exposed to under all the Sunni government in Baghdad especially Saddam the Najaf Hawzah remained stable and economically self sufficient by its followers.
3. Sayyid: The general meaning of it is (Mr) but if used specifically it means some one who descended from Prophet Mohammad via his daughter Fatima and Ali his cousin and son in law. Those Sayyids who wear turbans are recognized by its black color the same of what used to be done by Mohammad and Abraham his grandfather.
Indeed the origin of Prophet Mohammad, Isaac, Jacobs and other Abraham's sons is from Iraq. Abraham their grand father was from Ur in the south of Iraq the cradle of the civilization!
Born 1930 in Mashhad, Iran into a family known for its religious background. He studied and learned Arabic literature, rhetoric and theology in Khurasan, Iran. In 1948 he traveled to Qom in Iran and studied in its Hawzah. At that time every student wish to expand and consolidate his knowledge has to study in the Najaf Hawzah. He came to Najaf in 1951. He was supervised by Ayatollahs Hakeem, Hilli and Kheoi. In 1964 he started to teach level 3 students in the Hawzah. He gained the degree of Ijtihad and after extensive studies and research works certified by Khoi and Hilli. He is well known for his intelligence, and vast research activities. He published about 20 books and researches and many other hand written literatures. His way of teaching liked by a lot of students and he separate religion from politics. It has always been said by the people, who know him that his personality characterized by equity and respecting other's opinions, piety, polite, well educated, and he believes in training beside education.
During Saddam's regime Ali Sistani was no difference from the other Shiites who were severely oppressed by that regime but he remained doing his job in the teaching and support for the Shiite population all over the world. The regime put him under house arrest. He lives in a simple rented house not far from the Hawzah and Imam Ali shrine. He meets his visitors in a simple office in his home with no furniture but they have to sit on simple mattresses on the floor.
Sistani got millions of followers not only in Iraq but in Iran as well and many other countries all over the worlds. He is considered the most prominent Ayatollah and Shiite religious leaders in the world.
Sistani's call for an election in Iraq based on clear vision and understanding of the situation irrespective of the technical requirements to do the election. Sistani is flexible and willing to adopt an alternative way if democracy is granted in the near future.
If Sistani issue a Fatwa about the situation the Fatwa will be carried out by all the Shiites in Iraq and many outside Iraq. This may lead to the failure of any non-elected government if Sistani issued a Fatwa against it. But if the government is elected it will be difficult to justify a fatwa unless some thing very serious happened. It is a very important that the US should understand this indeed. Therefore the election what ever its mechanism will give more power and legality to the new government and Sistani acceptance about any plan means more than 65% of Iraqis. This is a fact which has to be taken seriously!