Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani Should Have Quit While He Was Ahead

Oh, yes he should have:

Clashes between supporters of two prominent Shi’ite clerics in Iraq have spread from Nasiriya in the southern province of Dhi Kar to other parts of the country, as Baghdad struggles to calm tensions between them.

The trouble began on February 17, when a recently-opened office of Shi’ite cleric Mahmoud al-Hasani al-Sarkhi was set on fire. The office was located in a part of Dhi Kar dominated by followers of the country’s most revered Shi’ite scholar, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The violence has escalated since them, with attacks on individuals as well as buildings.

In the most recent incident, a car belonging to Sheikh Ahmed al-Ansari, Sistani’s envoy in the southern Maysan province, was targeted by a bomb last week. On April 3, an explosive device was planted outside the house of Sistani representative Sheikh Hasan al-Khamasi in Hilla, 100 kilometers south of Baghdad.

al-Sistani attempted a “retirement” six years ago.  But, as I noted at the time, “… in Islam, especially with Sufism in retreat and Islamicism (Wahabbi and otherwise) taking over, we find the idea of a prominent Muslim leader retreating from politics an oxymoron, irrespective of his own desires in the matter.”

He may be envious of his Buddhist counterparts, who (as I also noted at the time) can do this when the going gets rough:

For love of the Chinhuai River, in the old days I left home;
I wandered up and down behind Plum Root Forge,
And strolled about in Apricot Blossom Village;
Like a phoenix that rest on a plane
Or a cricket that chirps in the yard,
I used to compete with the scholars of the day;
But now I have cast off my official robes
As cicadas shed their skin;
I wash my feet in the limpid stream,
And in idle moments fill my cup with wine,
And call in a few new friends to drink with me.
A hundred years are soon gone, so why despair?
Yet immortal fame is not easy to attain!
Writing of men I knew in the Yangtse Valley
Has made me sick at heart.
In days to come,
I shall stay by my medicine stove and Buddhist sutras,
And practice religion alone.

Quotation from Wu Ching-Tzu, The Scholars. Translated by Yang Hsien-Yi and Gladys Yang. New York: Grosset and Dunlap.

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