Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How's It Going 2000 Men?

Appropos of nothing in particular, I found this bit about the increasingly wired Grand Ayatolllah Ali al-Sistani to be interesting:

Sistani leads one of the most advanced transnational networks in the region through the digital information superhighway…By spreading his network via the Internet and acquiring increasing amounts of wealth Sistani has become a powerful figure who can bring the Shi‘is closer together across the greater Middle East.

Since 2003, [Sistani’s organization] in Najaf has opened educational (including libraries and publication centers) and information technological facilities in cities like Basra, Karbala, Kufa, Kut, and Samarra. These facilities not only provide books and Internet service, but also offer teaching facilities, where ordinary Iraqis are instructed on religious and even secular matters, including how to browse the Internet for educational purposes. Although for security reasons the centers are still relatively small, Iraqis can also seek the religious advice and the financial support of Sistani’s charitable organization at the centers.

…The Center of Professional Services at Najaf provides training in computer sciences and organizes community competitions for both male and female youth on religious and scientific topics. Besides its community functions, the Global Center of Aalbayaat in Najaf provides intensive computer training services for seminary students and Najaf residents, as well as cyberconferences on religious topics, allowing the students to interact with seminary students from countries ranging from Iran to the United States. A number of Internet centers have been established in cities such as Karbala, Kadhamayn, and Basra.

The Internet has increased the size and the prestige of Sistani’s social organization worldwide. Despite objections by a number of high-ranking clerics in Qom about the possibility of spreading vice through the Internet, Sistani was the first marja‘ to take advantage of cyberspace. Sistani approved the establishment of an Internet center in Qom in 1996 after his son-in-law, Shahrestani, introduced the idea to him, and the center has since been the host domain of a number of religious institutions and clerical websites based in Iran. According to one of his aides in Qom, Sistani and his son-in-law believed the Internet was a way to reach out to Sistani’s millions of followers in an age of globalization. They saw no vice in the new technology but only the ability to spread the cause of Shi‘ism. They saw Islam as the heart of science and the Internet as its capillary.

The Aalulbayat Global Information and Media Center is the most popular computer center in Qom. The center provides one of the most significant and well-known religious websites in the Shi‘i community (, and is the hub for websites dedicated to spreading the word of more than fifty high-ranking clerics, including Ayatollah Ali Khameini, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic. Sistani’s personal website,, offers the faithful information ranging from news articles about Sistani to answers to practical questions of a religious nature. In fact, in a small office on the first floor of the center, Sistani receives more than 1,000 questions a day concerning issues ranging from personal piety to politics. Most of the questions are forwarded to Najaf, where Sistani replies and his representatives forward the answers back to Qom; the rest are answered by clerics who are personally approved by Sistani at his center in Qom. [emphasis added]

Yeah, but does he blog? What to make of this crop of aspiring Shiite political/religious leaders: Moqtada al-Sadr is allegedly a recovering video game addict, and the venerable Sistani is a pioneer in the use of the Internet to bring the diasporic Shiite community closer together. Kids these days.

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