Arab, Kurdish Chieftains Visit Sistani
Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader, met with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani on Saturday, and emerged to say he was confident that the Coalition Provisional Authority would turn over sovereignty to an Iraqi government by July 1.
Speaking of Sistani, I received by email a fascinating account by a participant of a recent joint visit to Sistani of Kurdish and Sunni Arab clan leaders. I was given permission to quote from it by the person who sent it to me, on condition that I guard the confidentiality of the persons involved. I thought that as an educated Sunni Arab impression of Sistani, the account has historical significance.
Impressions of Sistani:
“He had a heavy (and I mean really heavy) Persian accent which he didn’t (and couldn’t) hide. He used classical Arabic, but the structure of his sentences was not perfect . . .
. . . he went on and on about Sunnis and Shia saying that these were doctrines differing on how to interpret Islam and they were all decent and good-intentioned. They were definitely no reason for bloody strife. He talked about the ancient pillars of the sunni doctrine and praised them all in detail and said how he respected them as men of faith and as scholars. The difference between the Shia and Sunna, he believed, was far less significant than the danger facing the Iraqi nation at present. Well, personally that put him on my right side!
Then [one Kurdish chieftain] . . . sounded his fear that through democracy the Shia would dominate Iraq and consequently the Kurds.
He said that he didn’t believe there was much danger of that happening. The Shia were not a single political entity. Some are atheists, some are secular; even religious Shia did not all follow the same leader.
He said that he firmly believed that the clergy should not interfere with the running of people’s lives, with government or with administration. He had forbidden his followers from putting their noses into the state’s affairs. He said that clearly and categorically (several times to stress the point!) . . .
Some of the other things he said (This is a rather loose translation!):
“The most important thing at this time is unity. Division of the people is treason! Even silence, in these turbulent times, is evil.”
“Give my regards to your tribes and to the Sunna clergy and tell them that Sistani “kisses their hands” and begs them to unite with all Iraqis, Shia, Kurds, Christian, Turkmen. You just unite, and count on me to stand up to the Americans! The worst that could happen is that I die! That doesn’t worry me!”
. . . He mentioned the “Arab Nation” so many times! He evidently viewed himself as an Arab. Being born Persian did not affect the fact that he was a Sayyed [descendant of the Prophet Muhammad]. He made that perfectly clear . . .
He was extremely humble in his talk, his attire and his mannerisms.
He was much younger than I had thought; looked like early seventies but quite agile and healthy-looking.”