Saturday, July 7, 2007

You do not have the right to force!

This is a great report from The Observer at Guardian Unlimited. It is most unfortunate that moderate Mullah Abdul Majid al-Khoei was killed - by his own people - just like Gandhi, Lincoln, Anwar Sadat, and many others before him.

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

Julie Flint
Sunday April 13, 2003
The Observer

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 London, the charitable organisation Majid had headed since escaping from Iraq in 1991, was hosting a meeting between Sunnis and Shia, typically endeavouring to soothe fears. He 'ambushed' me - he relished his quirky command of English, not having spoken a word of the language in 1991 - and we talked for hours. He was speaking in confidence, he said; he did not to want to exacerbate tensions. But now that he is dead, his body mutilated almost beyond recognition, it seems right to recall what he said.

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 Iraq. The purpose? '

Iran wants to tell America: "You can't be alone in Iraq. You have to deal with us. If you don't there will be no stability." Money and Islam and heaven is a powerful combination!'

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 Iraq, despite its Shia majority, be run by religious rule. 'What about the Sunni?' he asked. 'What about the non-Muslims? What kind of Islamic rule would we have in Iraq? Sunni? Shia? We have to show our respect for Sharia law, but religious government is not good for the future of Iraq.'

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 engineered by the regime. Without him to ease their passage through the city, the US troops that took Najaf without bloodshed, thanks to his mediation skills, have withdrawn to the outskirts.

Tragically, for the Shia and for Iraqis as a whole, Majid appears to have been killed by the extremism he rushed to Iraq to try to avert. Last Thursday morning, he was holding a reconciliation meeting in the Imam Ali mosque between religious leaders and Haidar Rifeii, the Guardian of the Shrine of Imam Ali who, as such, came under Saddam's Ministry of Religious Affairs.

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 Iraq,' he said the last time we talked. 'But they have to listen to the clergy and the tribes. They must not say: 'Who do they think they are, these five clergymen and 10 tribal leaders? We removed Saddam Hussein!"'

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 America's understanding of the Iraqi south and the challenges it faces in the new order it has been catapulted into.

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