May 8, 2009

Ayatollah Muqtada al-Sadr?

سيد مقتدى الصدر

According to the reports attributed to the Arabic-language newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat (Arabic for "The Middle East"), radical Iraqi Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has been elevated to the religious rank of Grand Ayatollah. That is the highest level in Shi'a Islam. I might believe that he has been designated as a mujtahid (religious scholar who can issue his own edicts, or fatwa) or an even an ayatollah, but there are only about 20 grand ayatollahs in the world, and I doubt he is one of them.

Other reports from the Middle East Media Research Institute, also citing al-Sharq al-Awsat, claim that al-Sadr will continue his studies in Iran for another year, after which he will return to Iraq. That makes much more sense.

Al-Sadr has been studying in Qom, Iran, for the last two years. His goal is to become an ayatollah, which he (rightfully) believes is a requirement to become an even more influential power broker in Iraq. Al-Sadr already has considerable cache in the country - he comes from one of the most prominent families not only in Iraq, but the the world of Shi'a Islam.

Muqtada is the fourth son of the late Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr. He is married to the daughter of another member of the al-Sadr family, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Sadr. These two are revered by Iraqi Shi'a as martyrs - one was murdered by Saddam Husayn's operatives and one was executed via Saddam Husayn's courts. The family is originally from Lebanon, where it is also highly regarded. Muqtada's cousin Imam Musa al-Sadr, founder of the Amal Movement in Lebanon, disappeared while on a visit to Libya in 1978 and has achieved almost mythical status.

The al-Sadr family also enjoys the distinction of being directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad (through his daughter Fatima's marriage with 'Ali). The men are entitled to be called sayyid and wear the black turban. The al-Sadr link to Muhammad and 'Ali is through Imam Ja'afar al-Sadiq and his son Imam Musa al-Kadhim, the sixth and seventh of the 12 Shi'a imams. Their shrine is located in Baghdad and is regarded as the third holiest site in the country after al-Najaf and Karbala'.

When Muqtada does acquire the credentials of a mujtahid and ayatollah, he will be in a position to exert even greater influence in Iraq. It is not a positive thing for anyone but his followers.

It is a shame that U.S. forces did not "address the issue" (yes, that means kill him) immediately after the invasion when al-Sadr was suspected of complicity in the murder of a cleric in al-Najaf.