Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Caliphates - 8. The Pan-Islamic Mandate

Al-Safa Palace and the Kaaba, Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Three-and-a-half years after Imam Khoei's assassination in Najaf, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) met at Al-Safa Palace in Mecca (Makkah). The OIC, with its 57 member nations, has positioned itself as the voice of the Ummah - the Muslim world - and is second only to the UN as the largest international organization in the world. Its main office is located in Tehran, Iran.

The OIC drafted and approved The Makkah Pact at that 2006 conference, aimed at making a compelling call for Sunni and Shiite unity throughout the Islamic community, but particularly in Iraq, where bombings of mosques, assassinations, and attacks by one sect against the other were rampant. The Pact forbade Shiites and Sunnis from killing each other, and issued what amounted to a universal proclamation that, "The Muslim is he who professes his faith by proclaiming 'Lailaha Illallah Muhammad Rasulullah' (There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet). By this statement, the Muslim embraces and accepts the five pillars of Islam and the central tenets of its faith, thus rendering his blood and property inviolable."

The Pact was equally applicable to Sunnis and Shiites without exception because, according to the Conference, "the differences between the two schools of thought are merely differences of opinion and interpretation and not essential differences of faith." The question was to what extent radical Islamic leaders would heed the call. The fact that the Pact was endorsed by key Muslim clerics and leaders from both sects certainly went a long way toward assuring widespread Muslim acceptance.

Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army
Muqtada Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, the militia named in honor of the coming Twelfth Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi, had harassed Coalition forces and terrorized Iraqis since 2003. They were at least as guilty of Muslim-on-Muslim violence as any. The violence began in earnest with the assassination of Imam Khoei and continued violently and persistently for five years until it finally changed somewhat in mid-2007. Would this highly radical group that seemed as inspired by a lust for violence and mayhem as by faith, respond to the OIC's call for unity?

A January 19, 2008 Newsweek article, "The Great Moqtada Makeover," proclaimed that while General David Petraeus' surge was instrumental in settling down the violence in Iraq, some credit should have gone to "an unlikely character," Muqtada al-Sadr. The article observed that five months earlier, he had ordered his Mahdi Army to quiet its violence in Iraq. In its cheerleading, either for Sadr or for a peaceful transition to Iraqi self-governance, the Newsweek article failed to note the influence the Makkah Pact might have had on Sadr's game plan. The Makkah Pact called for unity in Iraq "in order to put an end to the (foreign) occupation and restore and reinstate Iraq's Arab-Islamic role." That has become Sadr's line since the middle of 2007, "To our Iraqi Sunni brothers, I say that the occupation sows dissension among us and that strength is unity and division is weakness," he said. "I'm ready to cooperate with them in all fields."

Muqtada al-Sadr Returns to Iraq
On January 5, 2011, Al-Jazeera reported that Sadr had returned to Iraq after years of self-imposed exile in Iran. He had left Iraq in late 2008 and traveled to the Muslim holy city Qom in Iran to participate in religious studies. His first stop upon returning to Iraq was the Imam Ali Holy Shrine in his hometown Najaf.  Three days later, he gave a speech in which he called the United States, Britain, and Israel "common enemies" against Iraq.

Today, the U.S.-led Coalition forces are reducing numbers and more and more functions of government are being handled by the Iraqi government. With the U.S. largely out of the security picture in Iraq in the next couple of years, Sadr needs to be patient now. In order for the OIC to expect to see the kind of Middle East it envisions, it needs Iraq to be a template for Muslim unity, at least for now, and it needs Muqtada al-Sadr - maybe one day Ayatollah Muqtada al-Sadr - to lead the way. If the OIC wins, Sadr wins (and so does Ahmedinejad in Iran). The question is, "what do they win?"

Tomorrow, the final installment: From the Ashes of Corruption