Shias fight over world leadership

A BATTLE royal has emerged over the choice of a new head of the Shia community worldwide following the death of the 94-year-old Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Reza Golpayegani in Iran on 9 December.

Last week Iran's religious establishment named Ayatollah Sheikh Muhammad Ali Araki, who is in his nineties, as Golpayegani's successor. While he might be qualified for the job, many leading Shias both inside Iran and elsewhere fear the appointment of Ayatollah Araki would pave the way for his eventual replacement by Iran's strongman and spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The row over the succession risks straining relations between Iran and the radical Shia groups it supports, including Hizbollah in Lebanon and the Iraqi opposition group, Al-Dawaa, based in Tehran.

At Friday prayers yesterday, Iran's chief justice, Ayatollah Muhammad Yazdi, called for Mr Khamenei to be designated as the sole leader of the world's Shia Muslims. Most Shias live in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan.

If Mr Khamenei filled the post, the fusion between religious and political authority would be complete for the Islamic Republic of Iran. No one has fulfilled the dual functions of both spiritual and religious leader there since the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989.

After his death, the most senior ayatollah in Iran was Golpayegani, who was based in Iran, and the most senior worldwide was the late Grand Ayatollah Abulqassem al- Khoei, based in Najaf in Iraq, who died in 1992.

Since 1992, the governments of both Iran and Iraq have sought to intervene in the selection of the successors to these figures.

Shia leaders are traditionally chosen not by governments but through a long process held by different communities. Furthermore, Mr Khamenei is not acceptable to many because of his lack of academic qualifications in theology, owing to his pursuit of politics.

Over the past days, the authorities in Iran have detained hundreds of supporters of dissident grand ayatollahs in Tehran and the cities of Mashad and Qom, according to information coming out of the country.

Reports from Tehran say the holy city of Qom, regarded as the cradle of militant Islam and home to many of the world's grand ayatollahs, is under virtual martial law. 'Ever since members of the Golpayegani family refused to allow Ayatollah Khamenei to lead the funeral ceremonies, tension has been very high in Qom, and fighting has erupted between followers of senior ayatollahs and the revolutionary guards,' according to Dr Mehdi Haeri, a dissident ayatollah teaching in German universities.

At the same time, Tehran has warned the Lebanese Hizbollah that it will lose vital financial assistance from Iran unless the organisation's leadership officially announces its 'full allegiance' to Mr Khamenei.

The Shia community is deeply divided over the question of its leadership, split between those who follow Iran's political-revolutionary line and the conservatives who insist on the separation between religion and politics.

Sheikh Muhammad Fadlallah, the spiritual leader of Hizbollah in Lebanon, backs the candidacy of Ayatollah Syed Ali Seestani of Najaf, as do the influential Khutaba community in India, Shias in Saudi Arabia, and many of the Shia clerics imprisoned by the Iraqi regime.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HRIS Project Manager - e-Learning - Surrey - up to £450 per day

£450 per day: Ashdown Group: HR Systems Project Manager - Surrey - up to £450 ...

Ashdown Group: Senior Network Engineer - London - £70,000

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An excellent opportunity ...

Ashdown Group: Senior Systems Administrator - London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Systems Administra...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness