Sleepy Time with Sistani

January 25, 2008 § 1 Comment

(Sistani and Sleepy Bear.)

I can sum up the Western media portrayal (or more accurately, stereotype) of Grand Ayatullah Ali al-Sistani with one sentence: He’s just so quiet! I think many journalists have confused the characteristic of being “quiet” with the actual philosophical and religious trend of “quietism”– which actually doesn’t mean someone who doesn’t talk a lot. Sistani didn’t become the most widely followed marja’ because he had nothing to say, but because he had a lot to say about things that are relevant to his followers. So, yeah, Sistani is a quietist (as are many top Shi’i religious figures) in terms of his religious philosophy. This means that he does not involve himself too deeply in worldy, political issues.

In their coverage of Sistani, the press is also building on another common stereotype of Shi’i Islam propagated in the West — that all Shi’i clerics are politically volatile, spew hateful rhetoric, and are antagonists to the system. Not every single Shi’i leader is another Khomeini looking to establish a religious state. In fact, there is much disagreement within the marji’iyya on the role that Shi’i religious figures should have in affecting change on a political level. Sistani, obviously, is committed to a text-based study of Islam as opposed to becoming a figure for people to rally around for political change.

This brings us back to the paradigm of “Good Muslim” vs. “Bad Muslim.” Sistani is quiet, keeps to himself, and doesn’t incite folks to action therefore he is Good. Folks like Fadlallah who are outspoken politically (yet not actually involved) and criticize US policy in the region are bad.

(Muqtada al-Sadr and Angry Bear.)

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