He too insisted that no one has the right to force and impose on others to accept what they believed in. Everyone should have the freedom of choice to decide and bear with the consequences.
[You should click on the link to read the fascinating history of the changes in the flag]
The current flag of Iraq since 2004
The moderate mullah who knew the Shias must change
Abdul Majid al-Khoei was stabbed by a fanatic. Before he died he spoke of his hopes for his faith
Sunday April 13, 2003
This flag was used from 1963-1991
Abdul Majid al-Khoei was elated but worried as he prepared to return to Najaf, the city where Saddam Hussein 'disappeared' 106 Shia clerics, including his brother Ibrahim, on a single day in 1991. Not because he was returning with the help of the American army that was killing Iraqis in order to liberate them. Not because he feared for his life. But because he foresaw a battle royal ahead for the soul of Iraqi Shia.
It now seems possible that Majid was the first victim of that battle, that his killing last week, by a crowd whipped up by a violent young fundamentalist called Muqtada Al-Sadr, was an early victory for those who opposed his modernising vision of a tolerant Shiism open to critical co-operation with the West.
At the end of March, Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime was breathing its last and the Khoei Foundation in
Najaf at night
Majid's great concern was that after 35 years of oppression and neglect characterised by wholesale murder and assassinations of the Shia leadership, the Shia of Iraq would 'follow anyone'.
'The Shia are so poor!' he said, even before seeing, with utter dismay, the new depths of that poverty in the Shia south. 'They are not well educated. All you have to do is mention the name of the Imam Ali and say: "Here is the money and here is heaven" and they will be with you!'
Already, he said, some Iranian-supported exiles were sending money and weapons to 'ordinary people' in southern
Not withstanding his impeccable religious credentials as son and former student of Grand Ayatollah abu al-Qasm al-Khoei, Majid was a thoroughly modern mullah. The duty of a cleric, he believed, was to say: 'If you want to go to the mosque, welcome! If you want to go to a discotheque, welcome too! As a clergyman you have the right to explain which is better, the mosque or the discotheque. But you do not have the right to force. You cannot ask for belief by force.'
Nor, he said, could
Majid's body is now lying in the al-Khadra mosque in Najaf, beside his father, who died after years of house arrest under Saddam's regime, and his brother Mohammed Taki, who died in a car accident
Tragically, for the Shia and for Iraqis as a whole, Majid appears to have been killed by the extremism he rushed to
Some in Najaf have called Rifeii an 'animal'. To Majid, unfailingly compassionate, he was just another man caught in the Baathist trap. An armed group entered the mosque and told Majid to hand Haidar over so they could kill him. Majid refused, saying: 'We don't want bloodshed. We must be tolerant.'
Rifeii was beheaded and Majid stabbed. Some say he was taken, wounded, to Muqtada al-Sadr's house, but killed when he returned to the mosque.
Majid believed that Iraqi Shias had to build a 'bridge' to the West, but was also concerned about the limits of the West's understanding of Iraqi Shias. 'The Americans think they can control
His greatest fear, however, was that a Pax Americana would not be able to distinguish between the 'mistakes' he warned the Shia would inevitably make as they pulled themselves into the twenty-first century - and manipulation by others.
Respect the Shia and help them out of their poverty, he said, and extremism will die in the bud. Interpreting his murder, and the reasons for it, will be the first test of