Lunch with Mohammad Hussein Al-Ansari
Thanks to Geoff who added a few remarks below the fold
When one is seeking an audience with an ayatollah who ranks as the most important Shiite religious figure in Australia, before there can be lunch, there must be protocol.
“It is like meeting a cardinal,” says his son, Mohammad Basim al-Ansari, head of the Office of the Ayatollah for Australia and abroad, as we sit on mismatched furniture over tea, toast and coffee in a narrow CBD terrace house cafe with Sydney counterterrorism activist Fouad Nagm.
e juggle calendars; the Ayatollah Sheikh Mohammad Hussein al-Ansari’s Islamic version and the Herald’s Gregorian. Lunch must be scheduled outside Ramadan and one of the ayatollah’s regular trips to Najaf in his homeland, Iraq.
The meal will be at his home, as he rarely eats out, Basim explains. He speaks English and Farsi, but prefers to use his Arabic mother tongue because he can be more precise.
Basim, a Sydney University graduate medical student and bioethics researcher who will interpret for him, gives a preliminary sketch of his father, a poet, scholarly writer and legal authority for his Shiite followers.
The home phone rings incessantly and he has been known to take calls at 4am, Basim says. Clerics of his lofty status usually have chauffeurs but he drives himself. In Iraq, where ayatollahs have been murdered in the past, he shuns bodyguards so his followers step in to protect him.
The ayatollah’s public stance against Islamist terrorism brings the Herald to the doorstep of his blond-brick Bankstown house one Sunday for a rare interview. Fouad Nagm has used his theological teachings to underpin his federally funded counterterrorism work at a youth centre connected with the Bankstown mosque led by the ayatollah.
“Islam does not approve of any actions that lead to the destruction [and] killing of people,” the ayatollah says in thoughts posted on the internet. He has decried the abuse of the religion by self-proclaimed Islamic preachers, describing them as impostors, although he declines to name them.
The al-Ansaris have for centuries been religious scholars and after a short stint as a civil engineer, the ayatollah switched to theological studies. In the wood-panelled front room of the family home where we are to have lunch, he carries the gravity of his office and is imposing in his white turban and garb, sheer black cloak and peppery beard.
But after the traditional greeting of right palm over his heart, the first belly laugh surfaces. It is the laugh of a man who sees every day as a bonus after living in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq where, he says, the oppression was so severe that he knew of one man murdered for recounting a dream.
He announces, straight up, that Australia is the best country in the world for its freedom of thought and lack of discrimination. “The United States of America has the statue of freedom. Australia has the practicality of freedom,” he said.
He and his family came as refugees in 1999 after an assassination attempt was made on him in the holy Iranian Shiite city of Qum, to which he fled after his role in the 1991 Iraq uprising as an aide to Grand Ayatollah Khoei made him a target of Saddam’s regime.
Through Basim, as interpreter, he explains that after escaping with his life as others close to Khoei were murdered, he was one of three lobbyists appointed by Shiite scholars in Iran to publicly condemn the Iraqi regime over the killings in their religious capital, Najaf.
Posing as friends, a couple with a child, carrying guns with silencers, got past security guards at the ayatollah’s home in Qum. The ayatollah was saved because he was out. He believes the plot emanated from the Saddam regime.
In the manner of the Iraqi ayatollahs, he speaks of politics obliquely. Ask about Iran and he says there is an Iranian ambassador in Canberra. Iraq? He is not a politician. There are two types of actors â€“ those you see at the cinema and those who are politicians. He does not wish to be an actor because he is a truth-seeker and values transparency, he says.
Basim and his brother Muzaffar load up the long, low table with the dishes of Iraqi food cooked by their Najaf-born mother, Maliha al-Khalili.
“The best gift God can give a man is a good wife. So this is a great gift I have been given,” the ayatollah says.
Does he have just one wife, the Herald asks from beneath the polite black-and-white headscarf the women of the family have loaned.
“Yes, because difficult two wife,” the ayatollah says in English and gives his deep laugh. This is not a practice he approves of, especially in modern society, he adds.
The feast includes bamiah, okra and herbs cooked with tomato, garlic and spices and kartoshi pickles, green salad and bread encrusted with rice on which we spread a Najafi rich herb stew called sabzi, washed down with tiny cans of 7-Up. To follow, dates,Â home-made carrot halva and fruit salad.
The ayatollah enthuses about the similarities between Australia and Najaf, a multicultural centre where students from all over the world gather and every cuisine can be found. Has he tried Australian food? ‘‘The barbecue,’’ he answers in English.
Basim’s mother and twin sister Basma have joined us and it is time to question the ayatollah’s views on marriage rights. He has written that a woman is free and equal to a man in all her rights and duties. However, he says a marriage cannot proceed if a woman’s father does not agree and, further, that if a husband has done his duty by his wife, he can decide whether she can leave the house or not. Is this freedom and equality?
The answer takes about 20 minutes as he describes the role of the family in Islamic thought, arguing that the religion is “a multidimensional, multilayered legal system” and explains the role of each party to a marriage.
“When we say equality, it does not mean that one equals one. It does not mean a mathematical equality. Rather, we are thinking of an equilibrium so the family life can continue and at the same time both parties feel equal in the attention given to them,” he says.
Because of the physiological differences relating to women as the child-bearers, it is impractical for a man to relax at home while his wife works because he must carry a family burden as great as hers, he says. Women should not even have to cook when they are pregnant.
In the Islamic concept of leadership, there should be someone who leads the family outside the house, even if there is a different leader inside it. Man has been given this role because when women have children there are certain duties they are unable to perform, he says. “It’s like a ship … even if there are only two people in the ship, if you have two captains, the ship will sink eventually.”
However, Khadija, the wife of the prophet, was a businesswoman and even if a woman works, even if she is a millionaire, her husband has a duty to provide every cent towards her food, clothing and expenses, he says.
However, I say, the ayatollah understands oppression, having suffered under Saddam Hussein; what if a husband is a tyrant who will not let his wife go out? If a husband abuses his power, the wife can tell the ayatollahs who are the religious authorities and they will give him a warning, he says. “If he does not follow the warning and if she chooses [to do so], she will divorce him.”
It becomes clear why the ayatollah’s phone is always ringing. From warring man and wife to national conflict, he has a role. A year ago, he was the first signatory to the United Nations from Australia’s Shiites calling for immediate action to end the massacres of peaceful protesters in Bahrain.
He is also willing to speak out against the global spread of terrorism. He uses the metaphor of a seed that is so deeply embedded that it is difficult to kill. While we can hack at the tree that has grown in favourable environmental circumstances in recent years, it will still be hard to get at the seed, he argues. For the coming of peace, he says, there must be a heavenly solution.
“Unfortunately, Islam is an oppressed religion and it’s not oppressed only by others, but the first and foremost oppressors of Islam are the Muslims themselves, by practising some act and claiming that it is Islam when it’s not.”
When TV screens show scenes from Iraq of someone grabbing a young person and slaughtering them while shouting, “Allah Akhbar â€“ God is great”, the enmity and hatred in their hearts has nothing to do with Islam and is actually killing it, he says.
An Islamic ruling on the slaughter of sheep is that it must be done away from people and other animals, and that they must not even be shown the knife. It is a crime against Islam itself when a man is slaughtered in its name before TV cameras so the world can watch, he says.
The Shiite religious thinkers kept Iraq safe from civil war by preaching peace. He was sitting next to Grand Ayatollah Sistani himself as he issued a “fatwa”, or religious decree prohibiting Shiites to retaliate when they were attacked, he says.
Lunch ends with protocol. Mrs al-Ansari gives me a ring set with a Najaf stone. Basim’s gift is a work by the ayatollah, which he has translated: “Human Cloning: An Islamic Study on its Permissibility and Implications.”
It is 4pm and the ayatollah leaves for another appointment, his phone ringing again.
Life and times
1952Â Born in Amara, Iraq, into a family of religious scholars.
1973Â Civil engineering degree from Baghdad University.
1975Â Moved to Najaf al-Ashraf to study Islamic knowledge and law.
1979Â Married Maliha al-Khalili, of Najaf.
1991Â As aide to Grand Ayatollah Khoei, involved in popular uprising in Iraq and forced to flee to Iran.
1995Â Attained the rank of ijtihad, the highest in the Shiite faith.
1999Â Assassination attempt by Saddam Hussein regime, came to Australia with family as a refugee.
2001Â Founded Al-Rasool Al-A’dham mosque in Bankstown.
2003Â Started annual procession of peace with followers through CBD.
2011Â The youth centre linked to the mosque began counterterrorism work.
- kafirs, apostates, women who commit adultery, homosexuals and Muslims who dont follow the true path.
- Iran loves hanging homosexuals and stoning adulterous women.
- He states that he believes in one wife but does not mention temporary marriages.
- Shia Islam has a ‘muta’ or pleasure marriage where a contract is made for a day or two for sex.
“You belong to a religion that whoever conceals it Allah will honour him, and whoever reveals it, Allah will disgrace him”
- Shia Islam also approves of paedophilia (because Mo did it)
- Shia Muslims have a practise called “thighing” which was condoned by the Ayatollah Khomeni of Iran. In his book Tahrir Al wasila, p. 241, issue number 12, it says:
“It is not illegal for an adult male to ‘thigh’ or enjoy a young girl who is still in the age of weaning; meaning to place his male member between her thighs, and to kiss her.”
“A man can have sex with sheep, cows and camels â€“ however he should kill the animal after his orgasm. He should not sell the meat to people in his own village, however selling the meat to the next door village should be fine”. [Khomeini’s book “Tahrirolvasyleh” 4thÂ volume by Darol Elm, Gom, Iran 1990]