WASHINGTON, July 24, 2014 — Grand Ayatollah Sistani and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon held an unprecedented meeting today, regarding the crisis in Iraq. The Grand Ayatollah has traditionally refused to meet with representatives from the United States or Europe. For that reason, a meeting with the United Nations signals a major decision on the part of Sistani.
According to reports, the two leaders discussed not only Iraq, but a variety of worldwide humanitarian disasters. Sources state that the Grand Ayatollah called upon the United Nations to pay serious attention to human rights deprivations in Pakistan. Several media outlets have announced a new campaign of targeted “Shia killings” in the country, where militants specifically target religious leaders and respected professionals in the Shia Muslim populace, in order to demoralize the entire community. The topic that dominated the conversation, however, was the activities of the “Islamic State” in Iraq.
The get-together lasted nearly 55 minutes, and took place at the home of the Grand Ayatollah, in the city of Najaf, just a few hundred feet from the shrine of Imam Ali.
Following the meeting, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said “I am extremely honored to have met His Eminence Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani today for the first time. He is a man of the deepest wisdom and tolerance. He is an inspiration and a role model for his many followers in Iraq and beyond. We reviewed the current crisis in Iraq and the necessary humanitarian response. I expressed the United Nations’ gratitude for His Eminence’s support for all efforts to protect civilians in the current conflict.”
A spokesman for Secretary Ban Ki Moon told Reuters the leader of the United Nations was meeting with Sistani in the city of Najaf to seek his wisdom on the crisis in Iraq.
Grand Ayatollah Sistani, nearly at the age of 84, holds considerable sway over Shiites in Iraq, and has a worldwide following. Together with three other Grand Ayatollahs in Najaf, the religious scholars maintain social services, encourage economic development, and of course, manage the nearly approximately one thousand year old seminary, called the “Hawza ‘Ilmiyya Najaf.”
Sistani is widely credited as the reason that Iraq has not completely fallen into civil war, and the staunchest advocate for the Iraqi system of democracy. Multiple voices around the world have called for the Grand Ayatollah to win the Nobel Peace Prize, including the UK Telegraph and the Tehran Times.
The UN Secretary General is a supporter of the Grand Ayatollah, saying “I expressed to His Eminence how deeply moved I was by his consistent calls for all sides to refrain from sectarian or ethnic rhetoric. I strongly welcome his crucially important appeal for all citizens to exercise the highest degree of restraint, to work on strengthening the bonds between each other and avoid any kind of behaviour that may affect the unity of Iraq.”
Despite the Grand Ayatollah’s popularity, he is a target for militants. A plot to assassinate Sistani was foiled in 2007, when three gunmen with terrorist affiliations were captured near his office. The Islamic State has threatened to kill Ayatollah Sistani, and destroy the shrines of Najaf and Karbala.
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