Ali Husaini al-Sistani

Grand Ayatollah

Shi’ite cleric Ali al-Sistani is said to be more influential than any Shi’ite politician.  As a Grand Ayatollah, he holds the highest rank in Iraq’s Shi’ite community. With millions of loyal followers in Iraq, Sistani has also become known for his strong influence in national politics and the Iraqi nation-building process since the fall of the Saddam-regime, despite the fact that he holds no political office. His endorsements of candidates figure heavily in voting patterns, and immediately following the US-led invasion in 2003, he sought to unite the various components of Iraq’s Shi’ite community under a single bloc in parliament. He has repeatedly called his followers to restrain from violence against Sunnis, even after the 2006 bombing of the Shi’ite Samarra Mosque, one of the most holy sites in Iraq for Shi’ite Muslims.

Though Sistani had at one point voiced opposition to the formation of political parties, he later became involved in Iraqi politics, supposedly in an attempt to ensure a Shi’ite-led government. In the 2005 elections, he tacitly supported the Shi’ite Islamist United Iraqi Alliance and Nouri al-Maliki. Despite his vocal opinions, he leads what is considered a “quietist” school of Shi’ite thought which refrains from direct involvement in the political process. Though this school differs from his Iranian counterparts such as Ayatollah Khameni who backs a preeminent role for clergy in government, Sistani has been criticized by others for being too closely associated with Iran.


•    Website of al-Sistani