Islamic Conference held in Dakar . . .

March 17, 2008 § Leave a comment

Muslim leaders from 57 countries convened in Dakar for the 11th annual Organization of the Islamic Conference this weekend and the above cartoon from al-Hayat depicts a very common sentiment in the Muslim world regarding the various “summits” and “conferences” that their leaders hold.

The writing on the copy machine reads: Summit of Islamic Countries in Dakar. The word for “summit” in Arabic, al-qima, has dual meanings like in English — it can either mean a conference or the apex of a mountain. In this sense, the “summit” is producing the same decisions year after year, and it just so happens that these decisions are really just Islamic states masturbating to images of themselves, hence the photo-copy of the actual “summit.” That’s just my interpretation.

Shi’i marja Mohammad Husayn Fadlallah shares similar sentiments, though he didn’t quite say it was political masturbation. He said that he regrets that the summit was merely an attempt to fill a political vacuum, but on an Islamic level. He said that the conference, which was launched from the “womb” of the threat of the Palestinian issue has come to accept the Israeli occupation as a settled issue.



March 3, 2008 § Leave a comment

Ahmadinejad with Iraqi President Jalal Talibani from al-Jazeera.

Ahamadinejad to visit Najaf and Karbala

Al-Hayat reports that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will visit the Shi’i holy cities of Najaf and Karbala to visit the shrines of Imams Ali and Husayn, respectively, and pay a visit to Grand Ayatullah Sistani. A representative from Sistani’s office has confirmed the visit, but did not give details on what would be discussed.

Iraqi security forces have taken increased security measures in preparation for his visit and the Electric Ministry announced that electricity will not be cut from Imam Ali’s shrine in Najaf for the next three days. Shaykh Husayn al-Safar, a top religious scholar in the Najaf hawza (or seminary), said that Ahmadinejad’s visit is confirmation that the hawza of Najaf is the principle center for Shi’i studies and that the city’s ‘ulama (or religious scholars) are recognized as spiritual leaders of the Shi’a.

Walayat al-Faqih

Another scholar said that despite Sistani’s Iranian identity, Sistani operates outside of the framework of nationalism and politics and that he has not recognized the authority of the walayat al-faqih. The three other grand ayatullahs living in Najaf — Muhammad Sa’id al-Hakim, Muhammad Ishaq al-Fiyad, and Bashir al-Najafi — also do not recognize the concept of walayat al-faqih and refuse to have it taught in the hawza.

(Photo of the Sayyida Zaynab shrine in Damascus from Novine . . . who was allowed to take photos.)


In the summer of 2007, Ahmadinejad paid a visit to Shi’i shrines in Damascus, including the shrines of Sayyida Ruqayya and Sayyida Zaynab. (Ruqayya is the daughter of Imam Husayn and Zaynab his sister.) The big news at this time was that Ahmadinejad broke into tears at Zaynab’s shrine. Maybe we’ll have a repeat showing.

Talabani met with Sistani, talked about stuff

February 11, 2008 § Leave a comment

(Image of Talabani from al-Hayat.)

Al-Hayat reports that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani traveled to Najaf to meet with Ayatullah Sistani. In a press conference, Talabani said that a new government will be formed with PM Maliki at its head which will not succumb to a sectarian quota system. Talabani also denied the presence of movements that seek to replace Maliki with Iraqi Vice-President Adil abd al-Mahdi. Talabani did not give any specific details on his meeting with Sistani.

The article also says that Moqtada al-Sadr’s jaysh al-mehdi will extend its cessation of activities for six more months.

I question the LA Times’ photo selection

February 7, 2008 § 1 Comment

The LA Times published a short profile of Sayyid Fadlallah, the highest-ranking Shi’i cleric in Lebanon. The photo below ran next to the web-version of the story. Everyone knows that the open-mouth photo of a public figure is NEVER flattering, so I question why the LA Times chose to run a photo of Fadlallah where he looks like he’s about to sneeze or yell at somebody.


The LA Times article is sympathetic to Fadlallah — or as sympathetic as a Western media outlet will allow — and doesn’t fall back on too many misconceptions, namely, that Fadlallah is the “spiritual leader” of Hezbullah. (Though the author does erroneously say that Fadlallah was “once” the group’s spiritual leader.) In fact, the author portrays Fadlullah’s relationship with Hezbullah as more of a competition. A quote from the article:

“There’s a real rivalry with Nasrallah, [the secretary general of Hezbullah] who has become both a military and religious leader,” Traboulsi said. “Many conservative Hezbollah clerics are reacting against Fadlallah’s rulings.”

I think it is a little hasty and probably inaccurate to portray the situation as a “rivalry” between Fadlallah and Nasrallah. Both figures occupy totally different roles in Lebanon — and I doubt that many people would argue that Nasrallah fashions himself as a religious leader. Fadlallah’s position as a widely-respected and followed marja has been solidified and there is nothing that either camp could gain by engaging in a competition.

But still, A.R. Norton’s book on Hezbullah actually states that the majority of Lebanese Shi’a follow Sistani, as opposed to Fadlallah, but this does not lessen Fadlallah’s impact.

Two Sistani Representatives Kidnapped in Basra

February 5, 2008 § Leave a comment

Aswat al-Iraq reports (via the Shi’a news network al-Tariq ila Karbala) that two Sistani representatives were kidnapped by unknown gunmen in Basra. Their kidnappers have demanded $100, 000 for their release. British troops withdrew from Basra in September 2007.

Sunni-Shi’a Conference in Baghdad Calls for End to Violence

February 4, 2008 § 1 Comment

Al-Hayat reports on a gathering of Shi’i and Sunni religious figures in Baghdad organized by the Union of Muslim ‘Ulama. A wide range of representatives came, including Sadrists. Those who attended stressed the unity of Iraq and called for an end to the violence between religious sects. Several ‘ulama who were interviewed said that they wished to end terrorism and stop all takfiri fatwas, meaning fatwas that label another sect a “kafir” or infidel.

Shaykh Samada’i said, “Today, there is no difference between Omar or Ali or between this sect or that sect…”

Shaykh Mahmoud al-Aysaawi, Imam at the Abd al-Qadir mosque, said that he held, “American forces and regional countries responsible for the sectarian strife (fitna) that Iraq has witnessed.” Many echoed similar sentiments.

(Image from the Baghdad Conference of Shi’is and Sunnis praying side by side, from al-Jazeera)

The conference resulted in more than 13 orders (tawsiyya), including:

  • Islam is a religion of life, and its roots and principles are one between the Sunni and Shi’i schools of thought.
  • Freedom and justice are the primary rights of all peoples.

Friday Sermon: Don’t call a woman a whore unless you have proof

February 1, 2008 § Leave a comment

(Photo of Fadlallah in shades from

January 25, 2008

Fadlallah starts his sermon with a discussion of women and their rights in Islam. He discusses the “four witnesses” clause in the Quran — that if a woman is accused of adultery, then four witnesses must be produced who witnessed the actual sex act in order to issue a punishment. Fadlallah uses this to say that it is impermissible to go around accusing women of adultery and that if someone wants to make accusations, then they better have some damn good proof. Fadlallah alludes that is essentially impossible to prove that a woman is adulterous. He also uses this time to denounce “honor crimes.”

The English translation of his sermon says:

Similarly, a brother or a husband might accuse his sister or wife with adultery and kill her in what is known as crimes of honor. These people, as we have mentioned several times, are criminals and they should be sentenced to death, like any other murderers.

The Prophet is said to have been told by someone: If I find my wife with someone in bed, should I kill her. They Messenger (p.) asked him. Where are the four witnesses? Meaning that, the legal punishment should not be resorted to unless there are four witnesses.

In the second half of Fadlallah’s sermon, where he addresses political issues, he focuses on the crisis in Gaza — criticizing the Israeli occupation, the Western countries that support it, and the Arab countries who sit by and watch silently. He said:

Due to all these circumstances, the question is still: Is there an Arab world that hold its responsibilities towards the Arab situation? Or do these rulers continue to run after the American cowboy, who visits their countries to conclude arms deals that do not give the Arabs any strength but rather support the American economy and the American arms industry?

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