Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Iraqi Shiite religious authority Ayatollah Hussein Ismail al-Sadr has argued against politicizing religion due to its guiding and cultural role and calls for preserving its sacredness. He also denounced the presence of armed militias in Iraq, saying they weaken the role of the state and end the rule of law.
In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat in his Al-Kazimiyah office, which is packed with books filling four huge libraries on different religious and sectarian issues, as well as scientific and literary books, Al-Sadr said, "The role of religion is to guide, educate, and give advice. Therefore, it must not be involved in the political game since this would lessen its sacredness. We must not politicize religion."
Al-Sadr spoke expressed optimism about the Iraqi situation. He said, "The Iraqi situation has many positive points represented by the cultural and social structure. Certainly, the society suffers some negative points, especially on the security level and its inability to control the borders. From the first day, we have called for the need to fortify these borders, but nothing has been done so far. So in my opinion, the question has a lot to do with the security issue." Al-Sadr emphasized the need "to back the Iraqi security forces, including the army and the police and to train and develop them in terms of equipment and technical support. What we have now is far below the required level."
Al-Sadr acknowledged Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs and said, "Iraq is open to all, including Iran and many other foreign parties that want to establish a presence in Iraq. This is due to the open borders and the freedom that exists in the country. I believe that many neighboring states have some presence in Iraq. Terrorists that come from the Arab states represent the presence of these states in our country."
The independent Shiite religious authority, who calls for moderation and centrism, explained the difference between the Al-Sadr current that follows Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (the first Al-Sadr), who was assassinated under the former regime. He said, "Al-Sadr current is basically the religious and cultural current that was led by Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr. It has its big school, followers, ideas, literature, and effects inside and outside Iraq through its Islamic thesis and dialogue with the other sects and religions. Therefore, the Al-Sadr Current is that of the late Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and of which I am a student. It is a current founded on dialogue, tolerance, affection, and deep intellectual thought. It respects the other opinion.
"Then Muhammad Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (the second Al-Sadr) came. Due to the political conditions that prevailed under the former dictatorial regime, many supporters, some of whom may have believed in the ideas of the first Al-Sadr, rallied around him. But, a big difference definitely exists between the two currents."
He added, "The thesis of the first Al-Sadr consisted of cultural ideas and theories, dialogue, and respect for the other opinion. As for the second Al-Sadr, he depended on practical challenges against the bitter reality faced by the Iraqi people."
Ayatollah Hussein al-Sadr declined to comment on whether the rebel Shiite religious scholar Muqtada al-Sadr (the son of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr) or his followers are heir to the Al-Sadr Current.
Ayatollah Al-Sadr affirmed that he is against the presence of armed militias in Iraq and said, "We certainly are not for the presence of militias in this country but for a strong state that protects the citizen under the rule of law. The presence of militias means a weak state. It also means denial of the importance and power of law. We are for the presence of a strong state that asserts the importance of the law."
The Shiite authority ruled out the possibility of a civil war in Iraq. He said, "Those who wager on civil war are the ones who actually want this war to take place. The Iraqi reality is otherwise. In fact, I experience this reality with all its colors and trends. In my opinion, there are not any signs of civil war or anything of the sort. We hold continuous meetings with our sons and dear ones from the Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish, Turkoman, Christian, Sabean, and Yazidi communities. They all stress Iraq”s unity and safety, saying we must have a unified Iraq. However, there are always extremist trends in society that try to spark sectarian, communal, or religious strife. With the presence of the devout in Iraq, we were able to overcome these seditions. A few days ago, I had meetings with Sunni tribal leaders. I called for a code of honor among the Iraqi tribes to stop any tribe from attacking another or an individual from one tribe to attack another from a different tribe. We are now trying to expand this code to include the Shiite tribes."
Ayatollah Al-Sadr emphasized the important role of religion from all sects. He said that they must stand against terrorism in Iraq. He also said, "The religious authorities and the scholars have a big influence on Iraqi society, because religion is rooted in society. Regardless of his religion and sect, the religious authority and scholars must use such influence, build a sound cultural edifice, and confront all deviant currents, which seek to distort Islam and the divine messages. The scholar must call for respecting human life before anything else. The Holy Quran says, ”We have honored the sons of Adam.” It also says: ”If any one slew a person, unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it would be as if he slew the whole people.” Therefore, the human being is honored and his spilling his blood is forbidden, regardless of his religion, nationality, or sect. God has given this honor to the human being because of his humanism before everything else."
Al-Sadr called for reissuing a fatwa (a religious ruling) that he once signed with a Sunni scholar and said, "Over a year ago, we called for the issuing of a fatwa forbidding terrorism and murder. It was signed by a prominent Sunni scholar, Dr Sheikh Abdel Qadir al-Ani, a number of prominent Christian clerics and me. We were to reissue the fatwa but the circumstances prevented that. We are now in the process of opening a forum for human dialogue to reinforce the ideas of love and peace among the Iraqi spectra regardless of different religions, sects, and nationalities. We are also holding meetings with tribal leaders, and Sunni and Shiite scholars with the same goal in mind."