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H.E. Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hussein Sistani

Marja of the Hawza, Najaf, Iraq

Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hussein Sistani is the prime marja, or spiritual reference for Ithna’Ashari‘a (Twelver) Shi‘a Muslims. He is the leading sheikh of the Hawza Seminary in Najaf, Iraq and the preeminent Shi‘a cleric globally. Sistani is one of the most respected of the marjaiyya—the highest position of authority in the Usuli school of Twelver Shi‘a fiqh.

 

 


 Preeminent Shi‘a Cleric & Marja Taqlid

Sistani’s influence in the Twelver Shi‘a sect stems from his scholarly lineage and education, which have enabled him to reach the status of marja taqlid—the highest status in the Usuli branch of Twelver Shi‘a Islam. Marja taqlid means literally one who is worthy of being imitated— placing Sistani in a position of great authority over Twelver Shi‘a Muslims. There are currently only 29 marjas worldwide. Sistani is descended from a family of religious scholars, and was educated in the leading institutions in Iran. He later went to Najaf, Iraq to study under the Grand Ayatollah Abu Al Qasim Al Khoei. On Khoei’s death in 1992, Sistani took over as grand ayatollah, inheriting Al Khoei’s following. He soon rose to become the leading cleric in Iraq. With the recent opening of Iraqi shrines to Iranian tourists, Sistani is gaining a following outside of Iraq.

Financial Influence

Sistani also has very significant financial clout due to his position as marja. As a marja his followers give him a religious tax (khums, Arabic for one fifth). The redistribution of this tax for the common good is one of the key roles of a marja. Much of this remittance is redistributed through the Al Khoei Foundation—the largest Twelver Shi‘a development organisation in the world that maintains a network of educational and humanitarian establishments for both Shi‘a and non-Shi‘a Muslims.

Quietist Influence

Significantly, Sistani is against the idea of Velayat-e Faqih, suggesting Shi‘a clerics should not be involved in politics. Paradoxically this approach has afforded him very strong influence as a religious leader unsullied by politics. This became clear after the Iraq invasion when Sistani issued a legal ruling (fatwa) calling on the clergy to guide Iraq’s populace, and later during the 2005 elections when he issued a ruling telling Shi‘a women that they were religiously obliged to vote. Ali Sistani has used his position of quietist authority to wield influence also as a peacemaker in the turbulent post-invasion Iraq. At a time when Sistani was losing support to Sheikh Muqtada Al Sadr, he showed his sway by arranging a lasting deal between Sadr and US forces at the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf in 2005—a deal that secured the Shrine and pushed for an American retreat. Sistani was vocal about encouraging Iraqis to participate in the 2010 parliamentary elections. He strongly condemned the Baghdad church attack in October 2010 and also advised Iraqi security forces to take more responsibility for the protection of Iraqi citizens.

 

50,000 The number of students that Sistani supports in Iran.
38 The number of books that he has published, six of which have been translated into English.
21The number of years since he ascended to the rank of Grand Ayatollah.
Turkish FM meets grand Shiite cleric 'Ayatollah Sistani' in Najaf - Ahlul Bayt News Agency - abna.ir
2013-11-12 06:20:04

(Ahlul Bayt News Agency) - Turkey and Iraq should apply for U.N. arbitration to resolve a long-standing water problem, according to grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a spiritual leader for Shiites in Iraq and the wider region, as well as a major ...

Iraq Interior Ministry Lauds Ayatollah Sistani's Anti-terrorism Stance - Ahlul Bayt News Agency - abna.ir
2013-10-23 06:43:02

Iraq Interior Ministry Lauds Ayatollah Sistani's Anti-terrorism Stance. (Ahlul Bayt News Agency) - Iraq's Interior Ministry issued a statement praising grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani for his anti-terrorism stand. The ministry said the grand Ayatollah's ...and more »

Turkey's approach toward Iraq's Shiites will reduce sectarianism - Al-Monitor
2013-11-13 23:45:35

While in Najaf, Davutoglu met for almost an hour with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. He described Sistani as the “safety valve” of Iraq, calling him a “global peace man” who stands against sectarian sedition in Iraq and the region. He also said that ...and more »

Turkey FM fails to convince Iraqi cleric over water supply cut - Press TV
2013-11-12 13:53:45

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has failed to convince Iraq's senior Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani over his country's measure to cut water supply to Iraqis. During a meeting held in the Iraqi city of Najaf on Monday, al-Sistani ...

Turkey: Ankara Testing Out "Zero Problems With Neighbors" 2.0 - EurasiaNet
2013-11-12 22:06:34

Yes, after being accused of taking sides in Iraq's sectarian conflict, Davutoglu worked hard to reach out to the country's Shiite leadership, visiting with both Muqtada al-Sadr and Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and even donning a black suit and green tie ...

Davutoglo in Holy Najaf: We Are Determined to Work with Iraq on Region's Unity - Al-Manar TV
2013-11-11 17:49:29

The Turkish FM Ahmet Davutoglo continued his meetings with the Iraqi officials and the religious references, included Ayatollah Sayyed Davutoglo in Holy Najaf Ali al-Sistani and Sayyed Muqtada al-Sadr. Davutoglo confirmed after meeting Sayyed al ...and more »

Sunni, Shiite rift main worry in Mideast / Turkey to improve ties with Iraq ... - Ahlul Bayt News Agency - abna.ir
2013-11-11 07:46:05

He is also expected to meet influential Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani today. Praising the latest rapprochement with the neighboring country, Davutoglu emphasized the importance of the mutual visits. "The ties have gained new rhythm with these ...

Turkish FM Visits Imam Hussein's (AS) Holy Shrine - Ahlul Bayt News Agency - abna.ir
2013-11-12 16:34:46

On the second day of his official trip to Iraq, the official who headed a Turkish delegation, also went to the holy city of Najaf and met with Grand Ayatollah Sistani to discuss with him the current developments in the region. The trip was made at an ...

Turkish FM: 'Peace in Mideast Depends on Peace in Iraq' - AINA
2013-11-11 22:47:32

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the highest Shiite authority in Iraq, in Najaf on Monday within the scope of his two-day visit to Iraq. Speaking to the press after the meeting, the Turkish FM stated that ...

Middle East balance of power tilts back in Iran's favour - Financial Times
2013-11-01 19:47:35

In this he has the support of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader. But if Mr Rouhani cannot .... Ayatollah Sistani, the leading scholar in Shia Islam, says fighting on behalf of the Assad regime is wrong and has nothing to do with religion ...

Do not refer to the Sunnis as our other brothers, but refer to them as ‘Us'

Birth: 4 August 1930 (Age: 84)

Source of Influence:

Influence: Highest authority for 17-20 million Iraqi Shi‘a, and also internationally as religious authority to Usuli Twelver Shi‘a

School of Thought: ,

Status: Featured in current year

Do not refer to the Sunnis as our other brothers, but refer to them as ‘Us'
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50,000 The number of students that Sistani supports in Iran.
38 The number of books that he has published, six of which have been translated into English.
21The number of years since he ascended to the rank of Grand Ayatollah.
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