Al-Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani

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Al-Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani
Personal Information
Religious AffiliationImamiyya
BirthRabi' al-Awwal 9, 1349/August 4, 1930
Place of BirthMashhad
Studied inMashhad, Qom, Najaf
Scholarly Information
ProfessorsAl-Sayyid Abu l-Qasim al-Khoei, Husayn al-Hilli, Ayatollah Burujirdi

Al-Sayyid ʿAlī al-Ḥusayni al-Sīstānī (Arabic: السيد علي الحسیني السيستاني; b.1930) is a Shiite authority and a teacher of advanced courses of fiqh and usul al-fiqh in Najaf. He studied in the Islamic seminary of Mashhad, Qom and Najaf. He attended the lectures of Ayatollah Burujirdi, Sayyid Muhammad Hujjat Kuhkamara'i, and Ayatollah al-Khoei. He became the Shiite authority after the demise of Ayatollah al-Khoei in 1413/1992. He played a crucial role in the regime change in Iraq and the approval of the new Iraqi constitution after Saddam Hussein.

When ISIS attacked Iraq, and moved towards central and southern parts of the country, Ayatollah al-Sistani announced that it was a collective obligation (al-wajib al-kifa'i) to defend the country. Some of his lecture notes have been published, such as Qāʿida lā ḍarar wa lā ḍirār. There are many academic and educational centers, libraries, and centers of social services in different parts of the world, such as Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Britain, and Lebanon, which were established by his office.


Al-Sayyid 'Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani was born in Mashhad on Rabi' al-Awwal 9, 1349/August 4, 1930. His father, Sayyid Muhammad Baqir, was a Shiite scholar, and his mother was the daughter of al-Sayyid Rida Mihrabani Sarabi. His grandfather, al-Sayyid 'Ali al-Sistani, was a student of al-Sayyid Muhammad Hasan al-Shirazi in Najaf who returned to Mashhad in 1318/1900-1.


Al-Sistani studied the preliminaries in Mashhad. He began his studies in the Islamic seminary in 1360/1941. He studied Arabic literature with Muhammad Taqi al-Adib al-Nishapuri, Sharh al-lum'a and al-Qawanin with Sayyid Ahmad Mudarris Yazdi, the intermediate level of fiqh (jurisprudence) and usul al-fiqh (principle of jurisprudence) with Mirza Hashim al-Qazwini, Islamic philosophy with Sayf Allah al-Aysi al-Miyanaji, Shaykh Mujtaba Qazwini, and Mirza Mahdi Isfahani. Al-Sayyid 'Ali al-Sistani also attended the Kharij lessons (advanced courses) of Mirza Mahdi Ashtiyani and Mirza Hashim Qazwini on fiqh and usul al-fiqh.

Three Years in Qom

In 1368/1948-9, al-Sistani moved to Qom and attended the advanced classes of Ayatollah Burujirdi in fiqh and usul al-fiqh. He also attended the advanced classes of Sayyid Muhammad Hujjat Kuhkamara'i.

In this period, he had correspondences with al-Sayyid 'Ali al-Bihbahani, a follower of Muhaqqiq Tihrani's school of fiqh, with respect to qibla. Finally, al-Sayyid 'Ali al-Bihbahani wrote a letter to al-Sayyid 'Ali al-Sistani (who was 21 years old then) on Rajab 7, 1370/April 14, 1951 and called him "a major scholar and an elite and meticulous faqih", postponing the rest of their discussion to when they met in person.

Immigration to Najaf

In 1371/1951-2, al-Sistani went to Najaf and resided in Bukhara'i Seminary School. He attended the Kharij lessons (advanced courses) of Ayatollah al-Khoei and Shaykh Husayn al-Hilli on advanced fiqh and usul al-fiqh. In addition to his participation in these two lectures for a long time, al-Sistani also attended the lectures of Sayyid Muhsin Hakim and Sayyid Mahmud al-Husayni al-Shahrudi.

Ijtihad and Marja'iyya

In 1380/1960-1 when he was 31 years old, al-Sayyid 'Ali al-Sistani received permissions for ijtihad from two of his teachers, Ayatollah al-Khoei and Shaykh Husayn al-Hilli. He is the only person who received a permission of ijtihad from Shaykh Husayn al-Hilli. In a note (dated 1380/1960-1), Agha Buzurg Tihrani confirmed al-Sayyid 'Ali al-Sistani's competence in rijal (biographical evaluation) and hadiths.

At the request of his teacher, Ayatollah al-Khoei, Ayatollah al-Sistani became the leader of congregational prayers in the al-Khadra' Mosque in Najaf since Jumada II 5, 1409/January 13, 1989. Before this, Ayatollah al-Khoei himself was the leader of congregational prayers there; he quit it because of illness. Ayatollah al-Sistani was the leader of the mosque until the last Friday of Dhu l-Hijja, 1414/June, 1994 when the mosque was shut down by the Iraqi government (in the period of Saddam).

After Ayatollah al-Khoei's demise on Safar 8, 1413/August 8, 1992, Ayatollah al-Sistani took over the marja'iyya (Shiite authority). After the deaths of Sayyid 'Abd al-A'la Sabziwari and Sayyid Muhammad Rida Gulpayigani in 1414/1993 as well as Muhammad 'Ali Araki and Sayyid Muhammad Ruhani, his marja'iyya became more wide-ranging.


Some works by Ayatollah al-Sistani have been published, and some of his work still remains unpublished.

English works:

  • A Code of Practice For Muslims in the West (Arabic:الفقه للمغتربین):

This book is translated as "A Code of Practice For Muslims in the West" and is divided into two parts. Part one deals with acts of worship and consists of seven chapters: Migration to non-Muslim Countries; Following a Jurist (Taqlid); Ritual Purity and Impurity (tahara); Prayer (Salat); Fasting (Sawm); the Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj); and Death Related Issues. Part Two on Laws on the Mundane Aspects of Life such as: Eating and Drinking; Dress and Clothing; Dealing with Laws in Non-Muslim Countries; Marriage and etc.[1]

  • Islamic Laws:

This book is Ayatollah al-Sistani's fatwas on ritual acts of worship. [2]

  • Al-Fatawa al-Muyassira (Arabic: الفتاوى الميسّـرة)":

The book is translated as "Jurisprudence Made Easy" and is also Ayatollah al-Sistani's Fatwas but the aim of the book is to disentangle the complexity of the juridical text, making it readily accessible to those who need to be acquainted with and act upon it among the laity.[3]

  • Current Legal Issues:

A selection of the answers to questions that cover current issues facing contemporary Muslims. They revolve around general themes, such as prayer, Hajj (pilgrimage), food, commodities, woman issues, reproduction, medical issues, ethical matters, modern science and technology, entertainment and leisure, work, transactions, religious dues and other topics.[4]

  • Manasik al-Hajj (Arabic: مناسك الحج):

The book is translated as "Hajj Rituals" and is about rulings and rituals of Hajj.[5]

Other published works:

Here are also some of his published work which is mostly his lecture notes written by his students:

Minhaj al-salihin
  • Minhaj al-salihin (منهاج الصالحین): the book contains fatwas by Ayatollah al-Sistani in 3 volumes. It was published in Qom in 1415/1994. Minhaj al-salihin is in fact a book by Al-Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim, modified and expanded by Ayatollah al-Khoei according to his fatwas, and was later modified and expanded by Ayatollah al-Sistani. The preface of the book written by Ayatollah al-Sistani is dated Dhu l-Hijja 20, 1413/June 11, 1993.
  • Qa'ida la darar wa la dirar (قاعدة لا ضرر و لا ضرار): notes from Ayatollah al-Sistani's lectures on fiqh written by al-Sayyid Muhammad Rida al-Sistani and published in 1414/1993-4.
  • Ikhtilaf al-hadith (اختلاف الحدیث): notes from Ayatollah al-Sistani's lectures in 1396/1976 written by his student, Sayyid Hashim Hashimi, and unofficially published in 195 pages. The notes show that Ayatollah al-Sistani's approach to resolving apparent contradictions in hadiths is to pinpoint the origins of such discrepancies in hadiths, rather than al-ta'adul wa l-tarajih (balancing and preferring).
  • Al-'Urwa al-Wuthqa (العروة الوثقی): al-Sistani's commentaries on al-Yazdi's well-known book, al-'Urwa al-Wuthqa. The second print of the book is published in Beirut in 1431/2010. The book has two volumes.
  • Al-Rafid fi l-usul (الرافد فی الاصول): notes from Ayatollah al-Sistani's lectures on usul al-fiqh written by Sayyid Munir Sayyid 'Adnan al-Qatifi in one volume in Arabic. The book is concerned with the value of usul al-fiqh for the Imamiyya, approaches to usul al-fiqh, and similar issues.

Affiliated Institutes

There are many academic and cultural institutes and centers affiliated with Ayatollah al-Sistani in different parts of the world, such as Qom, London, Beirut and Istanbul. Here are some of these centers:

  • Imam 'Ali (a) Institute in Qom: it was founded in 1994 in order to translate and publish Islamic books and the doctrines of Shiite Imams (a). It has published books in 25 languages. The institute has branches in London and Beirut that were, respectively, established in 1416/1995 and 1417/1996.
  • The Cultural Institute of Al al-Bayt (a) in Istanbul: it was founded in Turkey in 2001 in order to revive the culture of Ahl al-Bayt (a) and introduce people to their school and to Islamic values. The institute holds courses of the Quran and Islamic beliefs, religious ceremonies, and religious seminars, it translates and publishes religious books and journals, and it has founded the first library of Ahl al-Bayt (a) in Turkey. Its branch in Germany was established in 2005.
  • The Center for Research in Islamic Beliefs in Qom: it consists of a library, a faculty for replying to objections to Islamic beliefs and supporting people who have converted to Shiism, a department of documents, center for conferences, and internet.
  • Al-Mustafa Center for Islamic Researches in Qom: it was established in order to provide a storage of Shiite and Sunni sources regarding the Islamic beliefs. It has collected 3000 volumes of books as sources for an Encyclopedia of Islamic Beliefs.
  • The Center for the Revival of the Islamic Heritage in Qom: it seeks to collect manuscripts of Islamic sources.
  • The Astronomical Research Center in Qom. It was founded in 1418/1997 in Qom. It provides courses for astronomy, solar system, Islamic astronomy, and astronomical physics. The center has established a college of astronomy as well as a library of astronomy, it has translated astronomical papers, it has constructed an observatory, it has published work by early Muslim scholars concerning astronomy, and it publishes an astronomical calendar.
  • Imam al-Sadiq (a) Cultural Complex in Beirut: it was founded in 2006. It has an office for replying to people's questions about the rulings of sharia, a library, and a conference hall. The center also aims to provide social and cultural services.
  • The Al al-Bayt World Center for Information: it was established in the spring of 1998. It launched the website, al-Shia[6], in order to propagate Shiite values and the doctrines of Ahl al-Bayt (a). The website is in 29 languages. There are centers with the same name in Najaf, Karbala, Kadhimayn, Isfahan, Tehran, and Ilam.

Ayatollah al-Sistani's office has founded specialized libraries in Qom, such as the Library of Quranic Exegesis and Sciences, the Library of Hadith Sciences, the Library of Fiqh (jurisprudence) and Usul al-Fiqh (principles of jurisprudence), the Library of Philosophy and Kalam (theology) , the Library of Literature, and the Library of the History of Islam and Iran.

  • The Library of Quranic Exegesis and Sciences in Qom: it was opened in 1418/1997-8 with over 15000 books in Persian and Arabic.
  • The Library of Hadith Sciences in Qom: it was established in 1418/1997-8. It contains books regarding Shiite hadiths, rijal (biographical evaluation), diraya (comprehension of hadith), lexicology, dictionaries, hadith sources in English, French, and German, as well as hadith journals.
  • The Library of Fiqh and Usul in Qom. It was opened in 1420/1999-2000 with 15000 books and 1580 specialized journals. It contains books concerning fiqh, usul al-fiqh, rijal, and the law.
  • The Library of Philosophy and Kalam in Qom: it contains books concerning philosophy, kalam, logic, history, wisdom, mysticism, philosophical schools, and different religions.
  • The Library of Literature in Qom: it was founded in 1418/1997-8 and it contains over 45000 books in Persian and Arabic.
  • The Library of the History of Islam and Iran in Qom. It was opened in 1995 with 4000 books. In 2011, it contained 115000 books. The library has also published 16 books so far.

Ayatollah al-Sistani's office has also established centers for social services in different areas:

  • The cultural-residential complex, called "Madinat al-'Ilm" in Najaf. The center provides residences for the students of the Islamic seminary of Najaf. It consists of residential units, kindergartens, elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, health and business centers, as well as cultural services, such as libraries. Ayatollah al-Sistani's cultural-residential complex in Qom was founded in 1416/1995-6 in order to provide residence for the students of the Islamic seminary. Ayatollah al-Sistani's office also contributed to the residential complex of Mahdiyya in Qom, which provides residential units for the students of the Islamic seminary. It also provided such units in the residential complex of Thamin al-Hujaj (a) in Mashhad and the residential complex of Imam al-Hadi (a) in Qom.
  • The Islamic Seminaries of al-Balaghi and Najm al-A'imma in Najaf, the Quranic school of Karbala, as well as the school of Ruqayya (a) for orphans in Karbala are constructed and administered by Ayatollah al-Sistani's office.
  • The Charity Clinic of Imam al-Sadiq (a) in Qom, the Charity Clinic of Imam al-Hasan al-Mujtaba (a) in Ilam, the Specialty Clinic of Imam Husayn (a) in Karbala, Jawad al-A'imma (a) Specialty and Super Specialty Center of Ophthalmology in Qom, as well as al-'Ayn Institute of Social Welfare—which provides support and care for orphans—are also sponsored by Ayatollah al-Sistani's office.

Political and Social Contributions

  • Saying the Funeral Prayer for the body of Ayatollah al-Khoei: after Ayatollah al-Khoei's death, al-Sayyid 'Ali al-Sistani, who was the most prominent student of his, said the funeral prayer. According to the traditions of Shiite seminaries, the person who says funeral prayers for a deceased Shiite authority is his successor. However, Ayatollah al-Sistani's marja'iyya (authority for Shi'as) began in silence because of the complex conditions of Shi'as and the Islamic seminary of Najaf in the period of Saddam as well as Sayyid 'Abd al-A'la Sabziwari being alive until August 16, 1993.
However, Ja'far Natanzi, a student of Ayatollah al-Khoei, believed that Ayatollah al-Sistani's funeral prayers for Ayatollah al-Khoei does not imply that he was al-Khoei's successor in Shiite authority, because nobody had stayed in Najaf then. He also said about Ayatollah al-Khoei's funeral and Ayatollah al-Sistani's funeral prayer for him that "it was a silent funeral. al-Khoei's body was brought, Ayatollah al-Sistani said the funeral prayer and then left. He did not exhibit any signs of marja'iyya then. He is a wise person, and after him Sayyid 'Abd al-A'la was the Shiite authority".
  • Contributions in changing the regime and the laws of Iraq: after the attack on Iraq by US forces and the overthrow of Saddam's government, Ayatollah al-Sistani never asked people to resist the overthrow of Saddam, although he never allowed American officials, such as Jay Garner and Paul Bremer, to go to his house. He played a key role in encouraging people to participate in different elections to establish a new system and new laws for Iraq.
  • Resolving the conflict between Muqtada Sadr and American-Iraqi forces: the shutdown of the newspaper, al-Hawza, in 2004, in which Muqtada Sadr's Islamic, anti-American viewpoints were propagated, led to military conflicts between Jaysh al-Mahdi militias and American forces in Iraq. The crisis led to the entrance of American tanks in Karbala and conflicts between American forces and proponents of Muqtada Sadr in Karbala, Najaf, and Kufa. Tens of people were killed in this event. Several conflicts between Jaysh al-Mahdi on the one hand, and American and Iraqi forces, on the other hand, occurred and continued until May 2004, leading to the siege of Najaf, damages to the Shrine of Imam 'Ali (a), and the killing of tens of residents of Shiite-based cities of Iraq. Jaysh al-Mahdi forces made a stronghold in the shrine of Imam 'Ali (a). The crisis was finally resolved by Ayatollah al-Sistani's peace proposal on August 27, 2004. In this event, the administration of the Shrine of Imam 'Ali (a) and the Mosque of Kufa were assigned to the Shiite authority.
Pope Francis meets Ayatollah al-Sistani in Najaf on 6 March 2021.
  • The call for fighting the ISIS: after the fall of Mosul in Iraq and the advance of ISIS towards central and southern parts of Iraq, Ayatollah al-Sistani announced it a collective obligation (al-wajib al-kifa'i) to defend the country, the nation, and the sanctities. He asked the citizens who could carry guns and fight the terrorists to join the Iraqi security forces. Ayatollah al-Sistani's request was announced by 'Abd al-Mahdi Karbala'i, Karbala's Leader of Friday Prayers and Ayatollah al-Sistani's representative, and although it was not a fatwa, it functioned as a fatwa and led many people to join the fight against ISIS.
  • Pope Francis meets Ayatollah al-Sistani: Pope Francis and Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani met on 6 March 2021 in al-Sistani's modest house in Najaf. Ayatollah al-Sistani in this meeting talked about the injustice, oppression, poverty, religious and intellectual persecution, suppression of basic freedoms and the absence of social justice, especially the wars, acts of violence, economic blockade, displacement and so on, especially the Palestinian people in the occupied territories.[7]