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Ali Husaini al-Sistani
Arabic: ¢aliyy 'al-husayniyy 'as-sīstāniyy

Ali Husaini al-Sistani.
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Ali Husaini al-Sistani.

(1930- ) Influential Shi'i Islamic leader in Iraq, holding the titles of Grand Ayatullah and Marja.
His name relates to the home area of his family, Sistan in Iran.
Sistani is the head of a structure handling large amounts of money every year. Among his roles is to define the scholarships for religious education across the Muslim world.
While being conservative in many moral and social issues, Sistani is noted for separating political issues from religious. This was an ideology that he adapted from his mentor, Grand Ayatullah Abu l-Qassim Khoei of Najaf. This part of his ideology helped him survive the most turbulent years under Saddam Hussein, although he had much trouble in the 1990's.
Although he is reported to think that Islamic rules should adapt to time and place, he still maintains that man and women should not mix socially, that women should wear the hijab and that music is not allowed for entertainment.
Since the US-led invasion of Iraq he has opposed several of the US plans for a new state system in Iraq, and called for early direct election. He has many times expressed concern over the potential loss of the Islamic identity of Iraq.
Sistani is told to be honest, modest and ascetic.


1930 August 30: Born in Mashhad, Iran into a family of Islamic scholars.
1940: Starts studying Sharia, Muslim law, and philosophy in Mashhad.
1949: Starts studying Islamic theology and sciences in Qom, Iran.
1951: Sistani moves to Najaf, Iraq, where he studies under Grand Ayatullah Khoei .
1961: Receives the title Marja by Khoei, which is the highest authority on religion and law.
1992: Khoei dies, but has appointed Sistani has his successor. Sistani leads the funeral prayers of Khoei's burial.
1994: Sistani's mosque is closed by the Iraqi authorities.
1997: Sistani narrowly escapes an attempt on his life.
1998: Sistani enters into house arrest, either as a protest or by governmental command. He is still able to play an important role in religious matters in Iraq, by issuing handwritten comments.
2003: Following the US-led invasion of Iraq, Sistani issues fatwas calling on Shi'i leaders not to involve themselves in politics.
2004 August: Sistani gets heart problems, and has to leave for Britain for treatment.

By Tore Kjeilen