Grand Ayatullah as-Sayyid Ali al-Hussaini as-Seestani
As-Sayyid as-Seestani [also known as Al-Udhma Al-Sayyid Al-Seestani or as-Sayyid Ali al-Hussaini as-Seestani] was born in Rabi'ul Awwal, 1349 A.H. (1930 A.D.) in Mash'had where the Shrine of Imam Ali ar-Ridha (a.s.). His family is said to be known for its knowledge, piety and commitment. He was brought up in the tradition of Shia Muslims clerics and scholars.
After studying the preliminary (muqqadimat) and secondary (sutooh) levels, he studied rational sciences, and divine knowledge under the supervision of a number of doctors of that parochial school. He attended the research of externals (bahtel-Kharij)- graduation classes- in the same theological college. He modeled himself after the late al-Mirza Mahdi al-Asfahani a scholar and textual critic. He then moved to Qom, centre for religious learning during the lifetime of its rector, the supreme religious authority the late Grand Ayatullah as-Sayyid Hussain al-Burujardi in 1368 A.H. where he studied jurisprudence under him. He made use of al-Burujurdis juristic expertise and his theories in the "biographies of transmitters of hadith (Prophetic traditions). He also attended the lecture of the late jurist al-Kuhkamari.
In 1371 A.H. as-Sayyid as-Seestani moved to Najaf Holy City where the famous parochial school is located. He continued attending study circles of men of thought and knowledge such as Imam al-Hakim, as-Shaikh Hussain al-Hilli and Imam Al-Khoee. He regularly attended Imam al-Khoee's lectures in jurisprudence and fundamentals of jurisprudence for over 10 years. As for ash-Shaikh al-Hilli, he studied under his supervision one complete study course in jurisprudence.
Acording to some, As-Sayyid as-Seestani excelled beyond his peers, especially in the force-fullness of his interjections, his quick wit, his prolific research in jurisprudence, biographies of transmitters, and his keeping abreast with many theories in different fields of theological sciences.
There used to be competition between Martyr Ayatullah Mohammed Baqir as-Sadr and him. In 1380 A.H. and in recognition of his achievements he was awarded a permit by Imam Al-Khoee and another by ash-Shaik al-Hilli, certifying that he had attained the level of (ijtihad)- deduction of legal judgment in matters of religion. In the same year he was awarded a diploma by the distinguished traditionalist and scholar ash-Shaikh Agha Buzurg at-Tahrani testifying to his skill in the science of "ilmerrijal" biographies of 'hadith', prophetic traditions, narrators and that of 'hadith'. He was then 31 years of age.
Unlike traditional clerics who follow literally what they have been taught, as-Sayyid as-Seestani's approach to juristic principles is characterized by lending weight to some of these principles by reinterpreting them.
Unlike traditional professors of theology who have no tendency for inventiveness, as-Sayyid as-Seestani and Martyr as-Sayyid as-Sadr are in a class of their own. They go to greater lengths to give the answer to a problem with the need for and interest of research in mind. For instance as-Sayyid as-Seestani approached the problem of the usage of the word in different meanings; the fundamentalist discussed it from the perspective of possibility and impossibility, as a rational and philosophical research, whereas he discussed it from the perspective of incidence and incidence because such a discussion offers the strongest proof of possibility.
Comparison between the different schools of thought in order to put forward a sound study for any subject, as-Sayyid as-Seestani compares his findings with those of al-Mirza Mahdi al-Asfahani, representing Mashhad school of though, as-sayyid al-Burujardi, of Qom, and the three textual critics, as-Sayyid al-Khoee, and ash-Shaikh Hussain al-Hilli, representing Najaf.
As-Sayyid as-Seestani is of the opinion that a jurist cannot be called as such unless he has acquired all the necessary expertise to enable him to do so. Among such vehicles is the mastery of Arabic, full knowledge of the traditions of the Prophet and his Progeny and detailed accounts of their narrators for the science of biographies of transmitters of "hadith" is a prerequisite tool for the jurist to achieve authenticity. In this respect he holds opinions which may go against what is universally held.
As-Sayyid as-Seestani interprets practice on the basis of "respect (ihtiram)" i.e. showing respect for others peoples laws and opinions. He has based his interpretation on the freedom of expression.
Some professors of an-Najaf center for theological studies (Hawzat - an-Najaf) were quoted as saying that after the death of a-Sayyid Nasrullah al-Mustanbit they advised the late as-Sayyid al-Khoee to groom someone for the office of the supreme religious authority and the rectorship of Najaf Parochial School. Acording to some, the choice fell on as-Sayyid as-Seestani for his merits, knowledge, probility and impeccable character. He then started leading the prayer in Imam al-Khoee's mosque -- al-Khadra -- during his life time, writing his annotation on as-Sayyid al-Khoee's manual acts of worship. After the passing away of as-Sayyid al-Khoee, he was among the six persons who took part in his funeral, and performed the service on the dead body.
When trials and tribulations are deployed to serving the personal ends of some specific cleric, or the general climate experience acrimonious propaganda warfare fanned by mutual enmity and envy, the ulema of the parochial school (al-Hawza al-Ilmiyah), among whom is as-Sayyid as-Seestani, prefer silence and refrain from entering the fray. Such was the state of affairs in the aftermath of the death of as-Sayyid al-Hakim and as-Sayyid al-Burujurdi, and history repeated itself after the departure of as-Sayyid al-Khoee where competition and jockeying for titles and positions became rife.
It is said that, As-Sayyid as-Seestani's contenment and humility is reflected in his simple attire, the small house in which he lives but does not own, and the simple furniture therein.
Central Command (CENTCOM) deputy director of operations Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said during a April 03 2003, press briefing in Qatar that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a Shia source of emulation based in Najaf, has issued a fatwa "instructing the population to remain calm and to not interfere with coalition actions." Brooks also described "evidence of other religious leaders that have had enough of this regime, and in due time they will speak out." Brooks' statement was followed by contradictory ones, as well as comments about the confusion that reigns in Najaf. Sistani's office issued a statement denying that the cleric has issued a fatwa calling on Iraqis not to resist coalition forces, Al-Jazeera satellite television reported on April 3. Lebanese Hizballah's Al-Manar television also reported on April 3 that it could not confirm "the truth about the aforementioned [fatwa]," citing "parties [contacted] through our own channels." Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, a spokesman for the London-based Al-Khoi Foundation, said in an April 3 interview with Al-Jazeera that "our sources say that complete confusion prevails in Najaf...[w]e have no one who could go to Ayatollah Sistani to ask him for a religious ruling." Al-Ulum added that "what we have heard" is that the ayatollah wants the Iraqi people not to resist coalition forces. The Khoi Foundation on 4 April announced that it still had not confirmed the fatwa, IRNA reported, and added that it is in touch with Abd-al-Majid al-Khoi in Najaf to clarify the situation. "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on the same day that US forces facilitated the return to Najaf of Abd-al-Majid al-Khoi and other Iraqi exiles in order to win the religious community's support.
On May 27 2003, he issued a fatwa prohibiting the killing of former Iraqi officials or Baathists involved in torturing or arbitrarily arresting Iraqis.