Ali al-Sistani: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani
Ali Sistani.jpg
Sistani is the highest religious authority of Shia Muslims, and leader of the Hawza (Najaf)
Religion Usuli Twelver Shia Islam
Other name(s) Arabic: السيد علي الحسيني السيستاني
Persian: سید علی حسینی سیستانی
Born August 4, 1930 (1930-08-04) (age 79)
Mashhad, Iran
Senior posting
Based in {Najaf, Iraq
Title Ayatollah
Period in office 1992 - Present
Predecessor Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei
Religious career
Post Grand Ayatollah

Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani (Arabic: السيد علي الحسيني السيستانيPersian: سید علی حسینی سیستانی, born August 4, 1930) is the current highest-ranking Shi'a Muslim religious scholar in Iraq who leads the Hawza of Najaf. He is a Grand Ayatollah and Twelver Shia marja' born in Iran and residing in Iraq since 1951. He is currently the preeminent Shia cleric for Shia in Iraq and around the world [1] as well as an important political figure in post-invasion Iraq.



Early life

Sistani was born in Mashhad, Iran, to a family of religious scholars. His grandfather, for whom he was named, was a famous scholar who had studied in Najaf. Sistani's family originally comes from Isfahan. During the Safavid period, his forefather Sayyid Mohammad, was appointed as Sheikh ul-Islam (Leading Authority of Islam) by King Hussain in the Sistan province. He traveled to Sistan where he and his children settled, which accounts for the title "al-Sistani" in his great grandson's name today. Sistani began his religious education as a child, beginning in Mashhad, and moving on to study at the Shia holy city of Qom in central Iran in 1949. After spending a few years there, in 1951 he went to Iraq to study in Najaf under the late Grand Ayatollah Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei. Sistani rose in religious rank to be named a Marja in 1960 under the military dictatorship of Iraqi president Abd al-Karim Qasim.[2] At the unusually young age of 31 (1961) Ayatollah Sistani reached the senior level of accomplishment called Ijtihad, which entitled him to pass his own judgments on religious questions.[3]

Grand Ayatollah

The top maraji of Najaf Hawzah: (from left to right) Mohammad Ishaq al-Fayyad, Ali al-Sistani, Mohammad Saeed Al-Hakim and Bashir al-Najafi.

When Khoei died in 1992, Sistani ascended to the rank of Grand Ayatollah by the traditional method — through peer recognition of his scholarship. His role as successor to Khoei was symbolically cemented when he led the funeral prayers of his widely esteemed teacher and he would go on to inherit Khoei's network and following. With the death of other leading ayatollahs in Iraq including Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, Sistani emerged as the preeminent Shia cleric in Iraq. As the leading Ayatollah in Najaf, Sistani oversees sums amounting to millions of dollars. Sistani's followers offer him a fixed part of their earnings, which he spends for educational and charitable purposes. Sistani's office reports that he supports 35,000 students in Qom, 10,000 in Mashhad, and 4,000 in Isfahan.[4] He also oversees a network of representatives (wakil) "who promote his views in large and small ways in neighborhoods, mosques, bazaars, and seminaries from Kirkuk" to Basra.[5]

He has a substantial following among Shia's all over the world, as he is the current Nayb-i Imam (Preeminent Marja) of the Twelver Sect, of Shia Muslims. In Iran as a result of the post-invasion opening of the Iraqi shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala to Iranians, including "great popularity and influence among" the bazaari of the city of Qom. Many Iranians are said to return from pilgrimage in Iraq followers of Sistani.[6]

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim Part of a series on Shī‘ah Islam


The Fourteen Infallibles

Muhammad · Fatimah · Ali · Hasan · Husayn · al-Sajjad · al-Baqir · al-Sadiq · al-Kadhim · al-Rida · al-Taqi · al-Naqi · al-Askari · al-Mahdi

The Twelve Imams
Ali · Hasan · Husayn
al-Sajjad · al-Baqir · al-Sadiq
al-Kadhim · al-Rida · al-Taqi
al-Naqi · al-Askari · al-Mahdi


Fourteen Infallibles
Occultation (Minor · Major)
Akhbar · Usul · Ijtihad
Taqleed · 'Aql · Irfan


Judgement Day · Justice
Prophethood · Imamate


Prayer · Fasting · Pilgrimage
Charity · Taxes · Jihad
Command Justice · Forbid Evil
Love the family of Muhammad
Dissociate from their Enemies

Holy cities

Mecca · Medina · Jerusalem
Najaf · Karbala · Mashhad
Samarra · Kadhimayn


Usuli · Akhbari · Shaykhi
Nimatullahi · Safaviya
Qizilbash · Alevism · Alawism
Bektashi · Tabarie


Marja · Ayatollah · Allamah
Hojatoleslam · Mujtahid
List of marjas · List of Ayatollahs

Hadith collections

Peak of Eloquence · The Psalms of Islam · Book of Fundamentals · The Book in Scholar's Lieu · Civilization of Laws · The Certainty · Book of Sulaym ibn Qays · Oceans of Light · Wasael ush-Shia · Reality of Certainty · Keys of Paradise

Ba'ath Party

Sistani has survived the persecution that killed many other Shia clerics. His mosque was shut down in 1994, and did not reopen until after the 2003 invasion of Iraq which toppled the Ba'ath regime. Since that time, he has usually kept to himself in his house in Najaf. His behavior is seen by many as a protest against persecution, but others consider it to originate from the house arrest orders issued by the Ba'ath Party.

Despite his seclusion and inaccessibility, Sistani has extensive influence throughout the Shia Muslims all over the world especially in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon, a network of junior clerics who convey his teachings. Sistani patronizes several leading Shia charities and provides financial support for most of the Shia religious schools or madrasas and mosques around the world. Due to his influence, he has played a quiet but important role in the current politics of Iraq. He is particularly known for forcing the Coalition Provisional Authority into a compromise on the constitutional process, for issuing a fatwā calling on all Shia especially women to vote, and for calling on Shia communities not to retaliate to Sunni sectarian violence. He is also the one who called for a truce at the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf where Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army were cornered in a gun battle siege in August 2004.

In early August 2004, Sistani, who has long been suffering from a heart condition, reportedly suffered serious health problems and he travelled to London, United Kingdom, to receive medical treatment. It was the first time in many years that Sistani had left his home in Najaf, which seems to indicate that his medical condition was serious enough for caution.

Role in contemporary Iraq

Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Sistani has played an increasingly wider political role in Iraq, and the Western mainstream media has called him the "most influential" figure in post-invasion Iraq.[7][8]

Muqtada al-Sadr, who is 43 years younger than Sistani and the head of an independent militia known as the Mahdi Army, has risen to prominence in the course of 2004 and his military activities have undermined Sistani's influence. Muqtada al-Sadr launched an attempt to fight what he perceives as the "oppressive foreign forces" in the holy city of Najaf while Sistani was out of the country.

Shortly after the invasion began, Sistani issued a fatwā calling on Shia clergy to get involved in politics to guide masses towards what he sees as "the clearer decisions", and to fight what he sees as "media propaganda". However, as the summer of 2003 approached, Sistani became more involved, though always through representatives, never directly. He began to call for the formation of a constitutional convention, and later demanded a direct vote for the purpose of forming a transitional government. This can be seen as a sure path to Shia dominance over Iraq's government, since most observers say that Shia make up about 60% of Iraq's population. Subsequently, Sistani has criticized American plans for an Iraqi government as not being democratic enough.

Sistani's edicts and rulings have provided many Iraqi Shia religious backing for participating in the January 2005 elections -- he urged, in a statement on October 1, 2004, that the people should realize that this was an "important matter" and he also hoped that the elections would be "free and fair . . . with the participation of all Iraqis". He issued a fatwā telling women they were religiously obligated to vote, even if their husbands had forbidden them to do so.[9] "Truly, women who go forth to the polling centers on election day are like Zaynab, who went forth to Karbala."[10]

He has consistently urged the Iraqi Shia not to respond in kind to attacks from Sunni Salafists, which have become common in Sunni-dominated regions of Iraq like the area known as the "Triangle of Death", south of Baghdad. Even after the destruction of the Shia Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra in February 2006, his network of clerics and preachers continued to urge calm and told their followers that "it was not their Sunni neighbors who were killing them but foreign `Wahhabis.`" [11]

An alleged plot to assassinate Sistani was foiled on January 29, 2007, when three Jund al-Samaa gunmen were captured at a hotel near his office. It is believed to have been part of a larger attack against a number of targets in Najaf.[12]


A protest against the Al Jazeera insults

Al Jazeera's insults against Sistani

In May 2007, hundreds of angry Shias demonstrated in Basra and Najaf against what they considered to be insults against Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani by TV presenter Ahmed Mansour and Qatari Al Jazeera television. In the TV show, "Without Borders," or Bela Hodod, Ahmed Mansour had sounded skeptical of al-Sistani's leadership credentials, and adopted a dismissive tone while directing questions about the Iranian-born cleric to his guest, Shi'i cleric Jawad al-Khalsi.

Ahmed Mansour suggested that Sistani, who is in his late 70s, was not aware of what's happening in Iraq and that his edicts were written and released by his aides. At another point, he asked whether the United States was using Iraqi politicians as well as al-Sistani to promote its own interests in Iraq.[13]

Hacking Sistani's website

On September 18, 2008, hackers attacked hundreds of Shi'a websites including Shia Islam's most popular site of Sistani. The hackers from Group-XP, based in the United Arab Emirates, are linked to Salafi Muslims who follow a strict form of Sunni Islam. They have attacked 300 Shia internet sites including Al-Beit foundation of Ayatollah Sistani, the biggest Shia website in the world. This was the "largest Wahhabi hacker attack" in recent years.[14]

Visitors to the targeted site saw a banner bearing the slogan "group-xp" in red with a message in Arabic denouncing Shi'a beliefs and officials. They replaced a video of Sistani's advice to Muslims with one of comedian Bill Maher making fun of Sistani and his advice to the Shia.[13]

However, this event has led to the hacking of more than 900 Wahhabi and Salafi websites by Shi'a hackers.[15] In addition, on October 3, 2008, a Shia hacker from the United Arab Emirates, nicknamed ShiaZone, uploaded a video on YouTube showing his screen while signing in to group-xp's hacked email accounts. The emails were Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo! accounts. The hacked email accounts were group-xp's contact information that was posted on the hacked Shi'a websites.[16]

Criticism by Saudi cleric

In January 2010, during a Jumu'ah khutba (Friday sermon), Saudi cleric Mohammad al-Arifi delivered harsh criticism of al-Sistani, calling him an "atheist" and "debauched".[17]. The remarks by the Saudi cleric were considered extremely insulting by Shi'a Muslims around the world, causing major outrage in some Shi'a populated countries like Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki rebuked the Saudi religious authorities to allow such criticism of Shi'a clerics.[18]. Lebanon-based military organization Hezbollah also condemned the attack on al-Sistani, calling the speech "inauspicious" and praising al-Sistani as one of Shi'a Muslims "most prominent religious references".[19]


Ahl al-Kitab

The Ahl al-Kitab (People of the Book) are the Jews, Christians and [for Shia] Zoroastrians. Like many of his peers, Ayatollah al-Sistani considers them to be ritually pure:

Question: What is the fatwa about Ahlul Kitab? Are they clean or unclean?

Answer: The Ahlul Kitab (that is, the Jews, the Christians and the Zoroastrians) are ritually pure (tahir) as long as you do not know that they have become ritually impure (najis) by coming into contact with an impure object. You can follow this ruling when dealing with them.[20]

This extends also to the permissibility of eating food prepared by the Ahl al-Kitab.[20]


Like practically all Shia marja, Ayatollah al-Sistani does not allow abortion, except when there is risk of the pregnancy harming the mother:

Question: Is a mother allowed to abort the feotus, if she does not want it while the soul has not yet entered it and there is no serious danger to the mother’s life?

Answer: She is not allowed to do that, except if the continuation of the pregnancy would harm her health or put her in an unbearable difficulty.[21]

Unlike many of the Ahl al-Sunnah (Sunni) scholars, Shia marja do not allow abortion on the grounds of expected illness or deformity of the expected child. Ayatollah al-Sistani shares this view:

Question: Sometimes the doctors reach the following conclusion: This foetus is afflicted with a very serious disease; it is therefore preferable that it should be aborted because if that child is born, it will be deformed or will die soon after birth. Is it, therefore, permissible for the doctor to abort the foetus? Is it permissible for the mother to agree to the abortion? And who of the two will become liable for indemnity?

Answer: Just the fact that the child will be deformed or that it will not live for a long time after his birth does not ever justify the termination of the pregnancy. Therefore, it is not permissible for the mother to consent to the abortion just as it is not permissible for the doctor to go ahead with the procedure. And whoever performs the abortion will become liable for the payment of indemnity.[21]

Ayatollah al-Sistani also does not allow abortion after the event of a rape.[22]


Ayatollah al-Sistani allows the practice of adoption but maintains that the relationship gained by the adopter and the adoptee cannot become mahram:

Question: Are we allowed to adopt children and consider them as our own children?

Answer: It is permissible for a person to adopt a child, but the child is not considered his son or daughter; the child remains a stranger (non-mahram) to him or his wife and he or she does not inherit the person who has adopted him or her.[22]


Alcohol is considered ritually pure by Ayatollah al-Sistani, but not permissible to drink in accordance with the Qur'an.[23] Additionally, Ayatollah al-Sistani does not allow one to engage in the business of selling alcohol or eating/drinking at a place where alcohol consumption is present at your table:

Question: What is your opinion on Muslims eating in non-Muslim or even Muslim owned and operated restaurants which serve halal food however also serve alcoholic drinks? If the alcohol is not being consumed at our table, does this change the ruling?

Answer: If alcohol is not consumed at your table, there would be no objection and you can eat halal food in that restaurant. Yes, if going to such a restaurant is considered bad for the reputation of a Muslim, it is not permissible to eat in there. [23]

Artificial Insemination

Ayatollah al-Sistani does not allow artificial insemination (AI) under any circumstances. The one whose sperm was used in the process will be considered the father and the appropriate inheritance laws will apply.[24]


Like most scholars, Ayatollah al-Sistani considers dogs to be impure (although he considers cats to be pure):

Question: Is it permissible to keep a dog? If not, why?

Answer: It is permissible to keep a guard dog but it is najis.[25]


Ayatollah al-Sistani does not allow the shaving of the beard until it reaches a visible length and recommends that it is grown to a fist-long length.[26] However, he allows it under extreme circumstances:

Question: Is it permissible to shave beard, if one is faced with an unavoidable or a difficult situation?

Answer: A Muslim is allowed to shave his beard, if he is compelled to do so or if he is forced to shave it for medical reasons, etc. It also allowed if he fears harm to his life by not shaving or if growing the beard would put him in difficulty (for example, if it becomes a cause of ridicule and humiliation that is not normally tolerable by a Muslim).[26]


Ayatollah al-Sistani holds the traditional views on clothing for both males and females.


Ayatollah al-Sistani allows contraception as long as no harm is caused to the user[27]:

Question: What is Grand Ayatollah Sistani's fatwa on the use of IUD and pills by a woman to prevent pregnancy?

Answer: It is permissible for a woman to use Intrauterine Devices (IUD) and other birth control devices provided that they do not pose serious harm to the woman’s health and that the insertion of the device does not involve a harãm act, such as the male touching or looking at the private parts of the woman’s body that are forbidden for him to look at. Similarly, it should not involve the female looking at, and touching without gloves the private parts that are harãm to touch or look at. Moreover, the IUD should not cause the abortion of the fertilized ovum after its implantation [in the womb].[27]

Board Games

Ayatollah al-Sistani regards board games (or other potential instruments of gambling) to be prohibited in Islam:

Question: Some people play with gambling instruments other than chess and backgammon for enjoyment and without placing a bet.

Answer: [It is prohibited to play with all that is considered a gambling instrument even without placing a bet].[28]


Dancing in public is prohibited by Ayatollah al-Sistani:

Question: Some schools in the West make it obligatory that their male and female students learn dancing. This dancing is neither accompanied by the common song, nor is it for entertainment; it is part of the educational curriculum. So, is it harãm for the parents to allow their sons and daughters to attend such classes?

Answer: Yes, if it contravenes the religious upbringing. Rather it is, based on obligatory precaution, forbidden absolutely, if the student has reached the age of maturity — except if he has a valid reason for approving of it; for example, if he follows a mujtahid who allows it. In the latter case, nothing prevents him from allowing his child to take part in [such activity].[29]


All forms of magic (white, black etc) are not permitted by Ayatollah al-Sistani.[30]


Like most Shia marja, Ayatollah al-Sistani strictly forbids the practice of masturbation in all circumstances.[31] Although it is allowed when one's spouse is involved:

Question: If my wife wants me to masturbate in front of her, is it then allowed?

Answer: [Not if] you masturbate using your own hand. If your wife helps you ejaculate, there would be no objection.[31]


Question: Just as many questions are asked about halãl and harãm music, many questions are asked about halãl and harãm songs. Is it correct to say that harãm songs are those that arouse sexual, lustful urges and promote unstable and degrading behaviour? Is it correct to say that songs that do not arouse lustful desires, but elevate the souls and thoughts to lofty levels like religious songs of praise dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and the Imams (a.s.), or the songs that lift the spirits and morale [of the fighters] and the like are halãl songs?

Answer: All songs (al-ghinã’) are harãm. Based on the definition that we accept, al-ghinã’ is the entertaining expression by way of tunes that are common to those who provide entertainment and amusement. In this prohibition, we should include the recitation of the Holy Qur’ãn, supplications (du‘ãs), and songs of praise of Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) uttered to the accompaniment of those tunes [that are used by the entertainers]. The prohibition of reciting other non-entertaining expressions —like songs intended to lift the morale [of fighters]— is based on compulsory precaution. However, the tune that cannot be described as such is not harãm by itself.[32]

Waliyat-i Faqih

Like his predecessor Khoei, Sistani does not share the definition of the doctrine of Velayat-e faqih (the authority of jurists) supported by Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran's current supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. However, his point of view about wilayat al-faqih is more advanced than that of al-Khoei. The only difference between Sistani's wilayat al-faqih and the other two Grand Ayatollahs is in the range of power that a Grand Ayatollah has in ruling the Islamic community. He believes in more power than al-Khoei believes but less than that of Khomeini. Sistani's web site says,

Question: What is Grand Ayatollah Sistani's opinion about Wilayat-e Faqih (governance of jurist)?

Answer: Every jurisprudent (Faqih) has wilayah (guardianship) over non-litigious affairs. Non-litigious affairs are called "al-omour al-hesbiah". As for general affairs to which social order is linked, wilayah of a Faqih and enforcement of wilayah depend on certain conditions one of which is popularity of Faqih among majority of momeneen.[33]

Instead of rule by Islamic clerics or 'The Quran as constitution', Sistani is said to favor the providing of values and guidelines for social order (nizam al-mujama) as the role of Islam.[34]

A reflection of his reluctance to become involved in politics is that despite his disagreements with Iran's ruling clerics, Sistani has reportedly "never tried to promote a rivalry" between his religious center of Najaf and the Iranian center in Qom. He has never made any comments about the confrontations between reformists and conservatives in Qom or between clerics in Lebanon.[35]

On the specific question of obedience to a Supreme Leader, he has said that any pronouncement of a Supreme Leader "supersedes all (including other Marja') unless the pronouncements are proven to be wrong or the pronouncements are proven to be against what is in the Qur'an or in Religious Tradition."[36]



  • Current Legal Issues
  • A Code of Practice For Muslims in the West
  • Hajj Rituals
  • Islamic Laws
  • Jurisprudence Made Easy
  • Contemporary Legal Rulings in Shi'i Law
  • 32 other books are not yet translated to English.[37]


With the establishment of The Aalulbayt (a.s.) Global Information Center, he has become "the electronic grand ayatollah par excellence".[38]

See also


  1. ^ Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, Norton, (2006), p.171
  2. ^ Sami Moubayed (February 10, 2005). "Coming to terms with Sistani". Asia Times Online. Retrieved 2007-08-21.  
  3. ^ "When Grand Ayatullah Sistani Speaks, Millions Obey: Says Time". 30 April 2005. Retrieved 2007-08-21.  
  4. ^ Martin Kramer (April 4, 2003.). "The Ayatollah Who Spared Najaf". Retrieved 2007-08-21.  
  5. ^ Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, Norton, (2006), p.177
  6. ^ Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, Norton, (2006), p.221
  7. ^ Gethin Chamberlain and Aqeel Hussein (Last Updated: 1:13am BST 04/09/2006). "I no longer have power to save Iraq from civil war, warns Shia leader". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-08-21.  
  8. ^ "Shiite Cleric Seen as Iraq's Most Influential Leader". pub. November 27, 2003.,2933,104263,00.html. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "a frail, 70-something Shiite Muslim (search) cleric with a heart condition — has emerged in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq as the land's most influential figure, something U.S. planners may not have counted on."  
  9. ^ Rod Nordland, "The Cities Were Not Bathed in Blood", Newsweek, February 9, 2005,
  10. ^ Ahmed H. al-Rahim, "The Sistani Factor", Journal of Democracy, 16, 3 (July 2005), p.51
  11. ^ Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, Norton, (2006), p.178
  12. ^ ZEYAD KASIM (06/03/2007 2:17 PM ET). "Messianic Shia Cult Emerges in Southern Iraq". Retrieved 2007-08-21.  
  13. ^ a b AP (Published: May 4, 2007). "Iraqi Shi'a protest against Al-Jazeera's "insults" against top cleric". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2007-08-21.  
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b Q & A » Ahl-e Kitab (3)
  21. ^ a b Q & A » Abortion (5)
  22. ^ a b Q & A » Adoption (3)
  23. ^ a b Q & A » Alcohol (10)
  24. ^ Q & A » Artificial Insemination (5)
  25. ^ Q & A » Animals (3)
  26. ^ a b Q & A » Beard (6)
  27. ^ a b Q & A » Contraceptives (5)
  28. ^ Q & A » Chess (4)
  29. ^ Q & A » Dancing (6)
  30. ^ Q & A » Black Magic (4)
  31. ^ a b Q & A » Masturbation (5)
  32. ^ Q & A » Music (4)
  33. ^ Q & A » Governance of Jurist (1)
  34. ^ Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, Norton, 2006, p.173
  35. ^ Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, Norton, 2006, p.172
  36. ^ Ayatollah Watch quoting statement on his website on August 9, 2009
  37. ^ Works of Sayyid Al al-Sistani
  38. ^ Pepe Escobar (August 31, 2005). "Sistani. Qom: In the wired heart of Shi'ism". Asian Times Online. Retrieved 2007-08-21.  

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Ali Sistani article)

From Wikiquote

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (born 1930) is an Islamic cleric in the Republic of Iraq.

Sistani has abstained from personally delivering public addresses and shunned media contacts. As a result, quotations pertaining to him are from secondary sources which were made available through interlocutors, aides, and so forth.




  • People are not finding potable water and you're bringing me juice? No.[1]

Fatwa against Israeli goods

  • It is not permissible for a Muslim to buy products of the countries that are in a state of war with Islam and Muslims, for example, Israel.[2]

Former Baathists

  • Sistani's office refuses the replacement of the law [which excludes former Baath Party members from returning to public life] because it is not an Iraqi demand but it is a political demand to please some sides.



See also

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address