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Ayatollah Breaks With Conventions, Triggering Criticism

Iran --Shiite Cleric Kamal al-Haydari undated.

The unconventional pronouncements of a Qom-based senior cleric, Kamal al-Haydari, about Shiite jurisprudence and jurists, have once again infuriated state-recognized "Ayatollahs" and traditional clergies close to the Iranian government.

Born in Najaf, Iraq, the 64-year-old al-Haydari resides in Qom, the hub of the Twelver-Shi'ite seminary in Iran.

By submitting the issue of "takfir" in seminaries, he has questioned one of the Shi'ite authorities' essential tools.

Takfir is a concept in Islamic discourse designating ex-communication, as one Muslim declaring another Muslim, or any individual, as a non-believer or an apostate.

One of the world-famous examples of the ruling on takfir by the Shiite authorities is related to the death fatwa, which the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued against British author Salman Rushdie for his acclaimed novel, "Satanic Verses."

The saga of Rushdie well illustrates the deadly impact and brutal consequences of the takfir fatwas.

Previously, a plethora of controversial Islamic interpretations by al-Haydari had also triggered a series of criticism.

Nonetheless, for the first time, the powerful Qom Seminary Teachers Association, renowned as the "seminary police," has also joined the anti-al-Haydari chorus, expanding anger against the controversial "Grand Ayatollah."

According to unofficial reports, Iranian security forces and intelligence agents have closed al-Heydari's office in Qom, taking down all signs and transferring the under-guard to Tehran.

The same reports also allege that Iranian authorities have banned the prominent seminary lecturer from holding classes.

However, official Iranian media have not yet published any report on al-Haydari's fate.

The story began a month ago when Al-Iraqiya TV aired a six-part interview with al-Haydari on religion and secularism, the fifth of which addressed the issue of inter-religious differences and how inter-religious disputes lead to takfir fatwas and bloodshed between the two groups of Muslims.

The statements al-Haydari made on the program resulted in the infuriated reactions against him that have been expressed across Iran and Iraq.

Al-Haydari noted that issuing takfir edicts was not limited to Sunnis, and that Shi'ite scholars have also been involved.

Furthermore, the Shi'ite scholars believe the Sunnis are "intrinsically apostates," meaning that although they consider Sunnis as "apparently" and "outwardly" Muslims in the mortal world, they believe that Sunnis are not genuine Muslims inwardly and will be considered infidels and apostates in the hereafter.

However, al-Haydari stressed that not all Shi'ite jurists believe in the "apparent apostasy" of the Sunnis and practically consider them as the members of other Islamic sects.

The issue of apostasy, as well as usage of takfir among Shi'ite sources of emulation or Grand Ayatollahs, is not new and has been discussed in seminaries for ages.

Still, this is the first time that a high-ranking Shi'ite cleric has leveled such a fundamental criticism at Shi'ite authorities, blasting them for calling the dominant part of the world's Muslims as "infidels."

Naturally, such a critique would be costly for the Shi'ite authorities and ultimately the government of Iran, given that the Middle East region is embroiled in religious rivalries and wars between Shi'ites backed by Iran and Sunni clerics in Arab countries.

In addition to his status as one of the most controversial clerics in the contemporary Twelver-Shi'ite world, al-Haydari is also an avid reader of Western philosophers, including Berkeley, Dawkins, Descartes, Foucault, Kant, Nietzsche, Russell, Wittgenstein, and many others.