London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iyad Jamal al Din, an Iraqi political activist and specialist in Islamic affairs attacked the Shiaa religious authorities for interfering in politics and favoring a particular political group. “It is dangerous,” he said, “to exploit religious legitimacy in politics. The Shiaa are courting catastrophe when the name of the religious leadership is exploited in politics. The 1,300 year old religious authority is respected throughout Iraq , and not only by the Shiaa community or parts of it.”
Jamal al Din is well known throughout his native country for opposing establishing a religious state in Iraq, instead strongly backing a secular state in Iraq . In an interview with Asharq Al Awsat in London, earlier this week, the Iraqi scholar said, “When the religious authority espouses a single state that does not represent the entire Shiaa community it puts itself in danger because its standing in Iraqi society and honor have been taken hostage by a few men.” If those in power succeed, Iraqis “will rejoice and say they have weathered the storm.” However, if the politicians fail, “their failure will reflect on the religious authorities.” Jamal al Din feared for the standing of the Shiaa religious establishment if it is to be tarnished by political bickering. “We want it to protect all Iraqis,” he added.
Explaining his preference for a secular state to in Iraq , the Iraqi scholar said such a regime “guarantees the freedom of political parties and individuals alike. It is a non- ideological regime.” He indicated that he did not believe secularism was an ideology in itself. Instead, he saw it as a method of administering the state. As such, according to Jamal al Din, the new Iraqi governments should be non- ideological and free of religious and doctrinal affiliations. “Its most important task ought to be managing the affairs of the country and its citizens and maintaining security. Other tasks historically entrusted to the government, such as acting as a moral guardian and encouraging the institution of the family should be transferred to civil society.”
In support of his calls for a secular regime in Iraq , Jamal al Din analyzed the history of the Islamic state and noted, “Since its founding by Muawiyah ibn Abbi Sufyan, the Arab Muslim state has been a burden on Islam. It has harmed its religion more than it has served it.” This is easily proven, he added, when one looks at the concentration of the world’s Muslims. “The two largest Muslim populations are in Southeast Asia , in Indonesia , Malaysia and neighboring countries, as well as in West Africa , in Nigeria . Islam did not spread under the Ummayid, Abbasid, or Ottoman dynasties; it was brought to these lands by Muslim traders.”
Jamal al Din, in London to give a number of lectures and take part in seminars on the Iraqi constitution held by the Committee to Support Democracy in Iraq said, :”Islam is a religion that is attractive to people. Many shun Islam because of government practices attributed to religion.” Therefore, he reasoned, “When a state is established independently of religion and without deriving its legitimacy from it, its behavior, whether good or bad, is its responsibility; religion remains safe from blame.”
Speaking on the experiment of the Islamic Republic in Iran , the Islamic affairs specialist said: “The leadership of the jurist as in Iran is unique in the history of the Shiaa sect. It involves mixing Islam and democratic mechanisms.” He revealed, “Ayatollah Khomeini did not rely on specific religious texts to implement the doctrine of the rule of the jurist [vilayat al faiqh]. It is estimated the vast majority of Shiaa, from the days of the great occultation [or gahyba, when God is believed to have hidden the Twelfth Imam from men to safeguard him] until today reject the principle of the rule of the jurist. Khomeini was the first leader to put this theory into practice.”
On the current political situation in Iraq , Jamal al Din said, “The ruling elite is overwhelmingly Shiaa with some liberal Islamist members. They won an overwhelming victory in the elections and we wish them success in the upcoming vote. They rule under a temporary civil law, the Law of Administration for the State of Iraq.” He warned against “the first signs of Lebanese style political sectarianism that have begun to appear. They are a dangerous omen for the future of the Shiaa community and all of Iraq .”
He revealed that Shiaa and Iraqi identities can exist side by side. In the past, “ Iraq was not divided along sectarian lines ub the street, at school, or at work. No one knew who was Shiaa and who was Sunni.” Nowadays, however, “For the first time, I feel others look at me differently because of the sect I belong to. It makes me wonder,” said Jamal al Din.
Regarding his political program for the upcoming elections and beyond, the visiting Iraqi activist said, “Democratic political groups intend to join forces. We plan to take part in the elections under the leadership of interim Prime Minister Dr. Iyad Allawi. Our movement is made of Sunnis, liberal Shiaa, Arab and Kurds. We will run in the elections even if we are pitted against candidates backed by Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Husaini al Sistani although we hope the clash can be averted.” Reflecting on the previous parliamentary elections, Jamal al Din said “We ran against the list backed by al Sistani and lost because we were inexperienced.”