In 2014, the world was taken by surprise when a group of men claiming to be the ruling government of Islam, under the guise of ISIS, otherwise known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, had gained control of one of the largest cities in Iraq, Mosul. Iraq was instantly declared under a state of emergency and what happened in the following days and months was total chaos. 1700 Iraqi youth and men were executed in a single day for their affiliation to the Shia faith known as the Speicher Massacre and soon enough, Christians, Yezidis, and Sunnis who did not agree with this line of Takfirism were also killed. Iraq was in shambles and was pleading the world for help. While many stood idly by, one man answered the call of the oppressed that would eventually form the foundation to a better Iraq.
The debate of marjiy’aa (guardianship) has been ongoing amongst the followers of the AhlulBayt (as) for years as many questioned the legitimacy of scholars and their right to give guidance and rulings. However, it was at this time we saw the importance of our mar’aja (highest ranking scholars) and exactly why the AhlulBayt (as) have stressed knowledgeable leaders be key in our journey to Allah (swt). Shortly following the fall of Mosul, Iraq and the world saw this importance embodied in one man–the Grand Ayatollah Syed Sistani of Najaf. A man who has been holed up in his house for years due to safety and security concerns for his life was now going to be the man behind the movement that would change the face of the Iraqi people as well as the future of Iraq. It was at that exact moment when his words were echoed in the courtyard of Sayyid al-Shuhada, Imam Husayn (as), that we saw what it meant to be truly Hussaini. Through his representative in Karbala, Sayyid Sistani called on the men who are able and met other conditions of wajib kefai (required by a group of people, not all individuals) to take up arms and join security forces in defense of Iraq–stressing unity amongst all Iraqis.
Afterwards, reports of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis volunteered to defend and protect both the shrines and personal property including the lives of other Iraqis–Muslim or not. Many began their training right away and became what we know today as al-Hashd al-Shaabi, or the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Since then, we have seen both their successes and failures, but their continued resistance and resilience to the cause of justice and truth thanks to the leadership of one of the highest ranking scholars in the Muslim world.
Syed Sistani has remained at the forefront of this battle by continuously guiding the PMF through his representative in Karbala. Through him, the honorable Syed Sistani has counseled the fighters in such a manner that lives up to the actions of our great warrior, Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (a):
“Be attentive to the sanctity of the human souls! Never should you do to them something which God has not deemed permissible. Be attentive to the sanctity of the lives of those who do not fight: the weak, children, women. Even if families of those who fight you.
Know that most of those who fight you are victims who have been led astray by others. Let your righteous actions, your just conduct, and your sound admonition, serve as an example for them. Do not resort to oppression.
Corruption can only be cured by justice.
It may be the case that when you adhere to good conduct & discipline you suffer losses. This, nevertheless, is more spiritually rewarding. Be the guardians and admonishers of those who accept you, so that in the end they will support you against your enemies. Help the weak among them however you can. They are your brothers and your family. Show compassion towards them like you do with your own.” –Syed Sistani
In one man’s words and actions, we have seen what love of Allah (swt) and the AhlulBayt (as) does to a man. We have seen humility, pride, justice, and most of all; we have seen a practical embodiment of the ideals of what Islam really looks like.
Although Syed Sistani has been at the forefront with his counsel and guidance, it was not only one man that saved Iraq and is still saving Iraq. In fact, I am sure Syed Sistani would decline any affiliation with this idea. In reality, it is through one man’s example that thousands of others, thousands of youth, elderly, men, women, and children alike were inspired to unite for the defense and protection of their homeland, and by default, the holy lands of our beloved masoomeen, or infallibles (sawa).
Under direct counsel once again by Syed Sistani, the PMF were embedded with ulema, or clerics, of Iraq to keep the soldiers in line. There have been imperfections on behalf of the PMF–even injustices–but it is under Syed Sistani’s guidance that these actions are being accounted for. The clerics serve as spiritual leaders over the many branches of the PMF in Iraq. Now, mid 2015, nearing a year after ISIS has invaded Iraq and executed thousands, rape and pillage towns and cities like, destroyed countless artifacts including the shrines of past prophets, we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. The PMF are successfully reclaiming territories one by one from ISIS and the horrific chapter of Iraq’s is nearing a close.
We have seen many faces emerge at this time, Abu Azreel; a now famous man for his humor in fighting ISIS, and many others. There are so many others behind the movement that Syed Sistani lay the foundations for that we will never know their names, let alone their faces. Instead, we will visit and honor them in the graveyard of Wadi as-Saalam where many are buried after being martyred.
The martyrs of resistance and resilience will not go forgotten–in fact–we will remember them as they protected the visitors of Imam Husayn (as) this year on Arbaeen, as they protected the shrines of Samarra and other holy areas, and other countless examples, thanks to the man that has inspired both Iraqis and the world alike, Syed Sistani. May God lengthen and prolong his life.
As the battles for justice rage on, many have asked the Grand Ayatollah what can be done on behalf of believers outside of Iraq. He has asked for recitation of the supplication for the People of Frontiers (Duaa Ahl al-Thugoor) from Imam Sajjad (as) and we once again reminded of his eminence’s example of the AhlulBayt (as), living up to the words of Prophet Muhammad (s) that “supplication is the weapon of the believer.”
“O God, bless Muhammad and his Household,
increase their number, hone their weapons,
guard their territory, defend their midst,
unite their throng, arrange their affair,
send them supplies in a steady string,
undertake Thyself to suffice them with provisions,
support them with victory, help them with patience,
and give them subtlety in guile!”
–Duaa Ahl al-Thugoor