Theocracy Comes To Iraq?

Several media organizations have picked up on a story indicating that Ayatollah al-Sistani, the chief Shi’ite cleric in Iraq is demanding that Iraq’s constitution be based on shari’a. If true this would be a potentially devastating setback to the future of a free Iraq.

At the same time, I have doubts about the veracity of this report and Iraq The Model also doubts that Sistani would make such a demand and finds at least one Sistani spokesman indicating that the rumors are false.

Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was influnced by the Marja al-Khoei and the Najaf School of Shi’a Islam. The Najaf School interprets the concept of the Velayat-e-Faqih, the authority of Islamic clerics to oversee secular affairs in a completely different light than the Iranian clerics that descend from the Qom School of Shi’ite Islam. The Najaf School draws a delineation between the sacred and secular affairs. The Najaf School’s interpretation of the Velayat-e-Faqih is in some ways similar to the Christian theology of St. Augustine, who argued in City of God for a distinction between earthly and sacred affairs. They see Islam as a moral guide for legislation, but do not argue that the clerics have a moral obligation to control secular affairs as does the Qom school.

This is why Marja al-Sistani supporting shari’a seems so out of character – it would be the equivalent of the head of the Southern Baptists endorsing transubstantiation. It would be contrary to Sistani’s own religious background and jurisprudence.

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