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Ahwazi cleric denounces jihadism and theocracy in Westminster conference

In a speech to a conference on Shi'ism and democracy held at the Palace of Westminister on Tuesday, Ahwazi Arab Shia cleric Sheikh Mohammed Kazem al-Khaqani described jihadist suicide bombing and Iranian theocracy as impermissable in Shia Islam.

Sheikh al-Khaqani is the son of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Taher al-Khaqani, a leading Ahwazi cleric who was imprisoned immediately after the Islamic Revolution in Iran for advocating the separation of religion and state. The Grand Ayatollah died in suspicious circumstances while under house arrest in Qom. Sheikh al-Khaqani has made it his mission to continue his father's mission to advocate an authentic understanding of Shia doctrine, with tolerance, human rights and secularism at the heart of his teachings. He has been invited to the UK by the British Ahwazi Friendship Society, which is organising lectures and media interviews with the Sheikh.

At the Palace of Westminster meeting, which was organised by the Henry Jackson Society, Sheikh Al-Khaqani stated that Islam was based on the love of God and the right to justice, with the right to life as the first and most important human right. He reminded the audience that terrorist acts, particularly those aimed at other states, cannot be considered Islamic. He said: "Justice and faith necessarily dictate that no one should snatch any right from others ... [T]errorists who don explosive belts that kill innocents ... have no connection with the three celestial faiths [Judaism, Christianity and Islam]."

He added: "It is one of the particular doctrines of the Shia that Jihad in the sense of conquering a country is not permitted - that it is not the right of Muslims, but on the contrary is utterly forbidden"

Repeating the Qu'ran's statement that "there is no compulsion in religion", Sheikh al-Khaqani said that people were free to choose whatever belief they wanted and had the right to abandon Islam if they wish. The Sheikh's insistance that Islam cannot be imposed by force contradicts the Iranian regime's policy of executing anyone considered heretical or an apostate. Moreover, justice should be applied equally to all, regardless of whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim.

Sheikh al-Khaqani stated that Shi'ites should not use the flag of religion to topple states or political systems, suggesting that Iran's Islamic revolution violated Shia tradition. The use of religion to topple states - as was the case in the Islamic Revolution in Iran - is "is an erroneous banner, allied with a tyranny worshipping principals inferior to God Almighty." Instead, "the choice of political systems follows the peoples' choice. Indeed God Almighty has given an indication of how Islamic Society should be when He said in the Qu'ran: 'He ordered them to take counsel among themselves', namely that Muslims should act by mutual consultation among themselves, in all matters relating to their social lives and their system of governance."

Absolute theocracy, as seen in Iran, cannot therefore be considered as Islamic. If the Prophet Mohammed was required to consult with the people at every point, so too must all systems of government in the Muslim world. Sheikh al-Khaqani added that "the man of faith must be only a guide and a spiritual father, who refrains from intervening in affairs of governance. So it is also incumbent on the state not to intervene in matters of the faith and its institutions."

The rule of Imam Ali, who is considered the first Islamic Caliph among Shia Muslims and the fourth among Sunni Muslims, should provide a lesson on the values of tolerance and justice to Muslims in the modern world. Sheikh al-Khaqani pointed to Ali's forgiveness for his political adversaries and even when he was victorious over them in war he did not confiscate their wealth. The Sheikh's comments are particularly relevant to Ahwazi Arabs, who have been subjected to large-scale land confiscation programmes after the Iranian monarch Reza Pahlavi ended centuries of Arab autonomy when he deposed the local ruler Sheikh Khazal in 1925.

Sheikh al-Khaqani concluded his speech by stating that social injustice and human rights violations in Muslim countries were "inconsistent with the humanitarian message of Islam or other faiths." However, he reminded the audience that "some of the despotism with which we live in Eastern countries and a generation tolerating the violence and terrorism that it brings forth" may have its roots in the "past and present errors by Western states." He called on Westerners to take responsibility for these errors and help put them right in order to combat despotism and terrorism.

Click here to download Sheikh al-Khaqani's speech