Sayyed Ayad Jamal al-Din is unique among the post-invasion Iraqi politicians and clerics. Despite being a cleric, he advocates secular political culture, and although he spent 16 years in Iran to pursue theological studies, he rejects Khomeini's notion of wilayat al-faqih (the rule of the jurist) and is one of the harshest critics of Iran and of what he perceives as its interference in the Iraqi political system. Finally, while he is a Shi'ite as well as a Sayyed – meaning a descendent of the family of the Prophet Mohammad, who therefore wears a black turban – he has distanced himself from the Shi'ite marja'iya in Najaf, the highest center of teaching and authority in Shi'ite Islam. He is also unique in that he was not known to be active in the anti-Saddam Iraqi groups in the Diaspora. He is a young, charismatic, and articulate intellectual – capable of delivering his lectures extemporaneously and with clarity and conviction. While deeply religious, he does not hesitate to call for the separation of religion and state and for the promulgation of secular laws. In an age in which so many clerics are accused of fomenting hate and espousing violence, Jamal al-Din stands out as a voice of peace, reform, and moderation.
Sayyed Ayad Ra'ouf Mohammad Jamal al-Din was born in 1961 in the city of Najaf. His family was from the city of Nassiriya, in Dhe Qar Province, southern Iraq – the province which he represented in the outgoing parliament. His father was an Arabic teacher and scholar, who authored 50 books on language and faith. His uncle was Mustapha Jamal al-Din, a well-known poet.
In 1979, after he had coined anti-regime slogans, the young Jamal al-Din fled Iraq, first to Syria and then to Iran, where he proceeded to study philosophy, theology, and Sufism. In a 2006 interview, he said that he has the equivalent of a master's degree in philosophy, that he writes poetry, and that he follows literature, history, and modern thought. In 1995 he was offered a position as imam, or religious leader, of the Shi'a community in the United Arab Emirates, where he remained until the beginning of the invasion of Iraq. He was elected to parliament in the 2005 elections as a member of the Iraqi List (al-qa'ima al-iraqiyah), which was led by Ayad Allawi, Iraq's first prime minister after the invasion. Jamal al-Din has escaped four attempts on his life. His sharp criticism of Iran and denunciation of its interference in Iraqi affairs, as well as his criticism of Shi'ite political parties which do Iran's bidding, may have been at least partly responsible for the attempts on his life. In a telephone interview with the daily al-Sharq al-Awsat he gave a graphic description of one attempt, on the eve of the 2005 elections when he was campaigning in Nassiriya for a seat in parliament.
Jamal al-Din's Political, Religious, and Social Stands
Since his return to Iraq in 2003, Sayyed Jamal al-Din has become one of the Iraqis most frequently interviewed and quoted by the Arab media: Googling the name Jamal al-Din in Arabic returns 1.4 million references. While, in so short an article, one can hardly do justice to the range and scope of his ideas, one can say that seven central themes seem to wind through Jamal al-Din's political, religious and social stands and statements:
- The separation of religion and state
- The rejection of the concept of wilayat al-faqih
- The nature of Iraqi political culture
- Firm objection to the meddling of Iran in Iraqi affairs
- The role of the state
- The nature of terrorism
- Joining the political process
This article will conclude with a critique – what the opponents of Jamal al-Din say about him and his declared positions.
The Separation of Religion and State
Immediately upon the launch of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, even before the fall of the regime, a conference of exile leaders was held in the city of Nassiriya in southern Iraq. Jamal al-Din was one of the participants and undoubtedly the only one who advocated a secular constitution for Iraq. Appearing, perhaps for the first time, on the public stage, he called for secularism "in defense of religion." In his maiden speech in Iraq, he told the participants, many of them representing Shi'ite political parties and others representing secular forces, "The holy Koran has been kidnapped by the Islamic state because it is the state that interprets it, and we have to save the religion from the clutches of the state." His clarion call was not so much religious as it was political and philosophical, rooted in his belief that "nothing has harmed religion and distorted its teachings more than the Islamic state." History has shown," he said in an interview a few years later, "that in all the states that have ruled the Islamic world, religion has initially controlled the affairs of the state but quickly the state has come to control religion." His strongest statement on the subject was made at a lecture at the Henry Jackson Society in the British House of Commons. Jamal al-Din was clear and unequivocal on the subject. He characterized the first article in most Islamic constitutions, which declares the state as an Islamic state, as "a catastrophe." He argued that "religion is for human beings, not the state. The state does not pray, fast, or go on a Hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca—one of the five tenets of Islam]. The human being prays… A state has no religion. It is the people who have it." He has characterized the involvement of religious people in politics as a "grim" event that has caused unprecedented theft of public money. He has compared Iraq to Lebanon, where anything goes.
For Jamal al-Din, secularism is an instrument to manage the affairs of the state and the country. Throughout Arab and Islamic history, he asserts, the state has been in control of religion; never has religion been in control of the state. On the contrary, the state has made much the same use of religion as it has of the army, of state finances, and of the arts: "The fatwa sword, the poetry sword, the money sword, and the iron sword – all have been in the hands of the ruler allegedly by order of Allah." There should be a wall between religion and state, Jamal al-Din argues, to make sure that the state does not use religion for governing purposes. Summarizing his thesis, Jamal al-Din asserts that "the fingernails of the state need to be clipped lest the state become totalitarian." He asserts that he belongs neither to the Islamists nor to the secularists, since secularism is a characteristic applied to regimes, not to individuals. From his perspective, the secular movement looks to the future, not the past; it does not bemoan the past because it does not have a Wailing Wall.
Jamal al-Din's views on religion and state do not, in substance, stray far afield from the views propagated by the marja'iya in Najaf. Historically, it has been a major tenet of the marja'iya that clerics should limit themselves to offering advice and guidance to the rulers but should not, unlike the Iranian tradition and current practice, serve as the locus of political power.
The Rejection of the Concept of Wilayat al-Faqih
Ayad Jamal al-Din did all his religious studies in the city of Qom, the center of religious learning in Iran. His choice of Qom over Najaf, the most important center of Shi'ite scholarship in the Muslim world, may well have been for reasons of personal safety, given that he had fled Saddam's Iraq after engaging in political activities. Al-Arabiya Satellite TV put it well when it said that Jamal al-Din graduated with degrees in theology and philosophy with "a turban on his head and liberal thought in his brain." Soon after returning to his home country, he rejected Khomeini's concept of wilayat al-faqih in favor of a secular state, both on political and theological grounds.
Theologically, Jamal al-Din argues that the concept of wilayat al-faqih turns the supreme leader into someone who is ma'soum, or infallible. However, the status of ma'soum, he says, is restricted to Muhammad and anyone who claims it is an imposter for arrogating to himself the authority and the aura that are the Prophet's alone. Politically, Iraq is made up of multiple religions and ethnic groups, not to mention a large minority of Sunnis. Most significantly, the concept of ma'soum places ultimate power in the hands of a supreme leader, such as is the case in Iran, an unthinkable practice for a country shedding the excesses of a dictator and about to enter into a democratic endeavor. The concept of wilayat al-faqih will be politically, theologically, and socially divisive in Iraq and at odds with Iraqi political culture. It is noteworthy that the most senior Iraqi Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has also rejected the concept of wilayat al-faqih as inappropriate for multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Iraqi society.
The Nature of Iraqi Political Culture
Jamal al-Din has been clear from the outset of the invasion that bringing down Saddam Hussein was justified morally, legally, and politically. The free world needed to bring down such a bloody regime and to free 25 million people, apart from freeing the region from the leadership of a mad person who had oil and power. The invaders' biggest mistake, however, was dividing the Iraqi population along sectarian lines – an act which runs counter to the essence of democracy and is in violation of the Human Rights Declaration. He told the Henry Jackson Society in the House of Commons that the sectarian policy – namely, appointing the post-Saddam leaders proportionate to their sectarian or ethnic weight in the population, a policy that has become known as 'has-'hasah – "took Iraq into a dark tunnel, which we pray it will come out of in one piece."
In the same forum, Jamal al-din brushed aside the Shi'a/Sunni divide. He said that never in the history of Iraq had there been civil war. (One might question this statement given the long and bitter feud and frequent armed conflicts between the central government of Iraq and the Kurdish minority in the north.) Iraqi society, he said, is in agreement with itself. The problem in Iraq is political, and the solution must be political. He points out that the Sunni and the Shi'a listen to the same music and like the same food. Muhammad Mahdi al-Jawahiri, a Shi'ite Muslim, was one of the most famous Iraqi poets. The whole of Iraq knows and appreciates his poetry, and there are statues erected for him in two important Kurdish cities. In an interview with the London daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, Jamal al-Din said, "We are Shi'a and Iraqis at the same time. [Before the invasion] there were no sectarian differences in Iraq at the street, school, or work levels. We have never considered that this one was a Shi'a and the other one was a Sunni. But for the first time today I feel that I am looked at differently because I am a Shi'a. This has surprised me."
Jamal al-Din's solution to the conflict between the government and the Ba'thists, made up almost entirely of Sunnis, is a "forced dialogue" to save Iraqi blood. He said the struggle between the two parties is a struggle for power because the party in power arrived there on board American tanks, while those who lost it were driven out by the same tanks. While he advocates a dialogue, he is, at the same time, highly critical of the Ba'th Party, which he describes as a totalitarian party that for 35 years ruled Iraq by iron and fire. The party now refuses to acknowledge those in power, and the only victim is the Iraqi people. While the idea of a dialogue sounds attractive, he does not tell who will force it on two recalcitrant parties.
Sayyed Jamal al-Din is not happy with the Islamic parties that rule Iraq. These parties draw their raison d'être from broader Islamic movements that, he says, "raise the banner of martyrs, and base themselves on a history of being oppressed, without taking into consideration the bright future." He continues, "The religious discourse in Iraq sanctifies… the death of the martyrs who are viewed as a political asset. This discourse does not sanctify the living." If you choose to "be sanctified, to be immortal," Jamal al-Din would say, "you must first be killed." However, this runs contrary to "the will and aspirations of the Iraqi people."
Firm Objection to the Meddling of Iran in Iraqi Affairs
Nothing riles Jamal al-Din more than what he perceives as the enormous influence that Iran exercises over the affairs of his country. He fears that "[W]hen the last American soldier withdraws from Iraq, then Iraq will be declared an Iranian colony that will be ruled by the Revolutionary Guards." He said Iran is patiently awaiting the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, which it likens to "American sundown" to be followed by "Iranian sunrise." He has been very supportive and clear from the outset about the invasion of Iraq by the United States: This was an admirable project and the U.S. should remain in the country until it is stabilized.
Elsewhere, Jamal al-Din has said that Iran rules Iraq not by tanks, fighter jets, and military force, but through its agents in the Land of Two Rivers. Iran, he asserts, rules Iraq by remote control. He has called on the Iraqi parties to open their books and show the sources of their financing, suspecting, of course, that a lot of it originates not only from Iran but also from other countries in the region. Speaking to a Gulf audience, he warned that Iranian influence will be a threat both to Iraq and to the entire Middle East region.
Although mojahedeen-e khalq may have once made an attempt on his life, Jamal al-Din was one of the leading figures in Iraq who opposed the government's plan, made under Iranian pressure, to move them from their location in Camp Ashraf (100 kilometers west of the Iranian border and 100 kilometers north of Baghdad) to a place known for its punishing environment near the Saudi border called Nigrat Salman where successive Iraqi regimes "housed" their political prisoners. He told a human rights organization that an attempt to expel mojahedeen-e khalq from their camp would be an indicator of an organic tie with Iran. He said there are many pending issues with Iran, including water rights, the status of airplanes "parked" by Saddam Hussein on the eve of the war in Kuwait, and the issue of compensation that Iran is demanding from Iraq because of Saddam's 1980 invasion that lasted for eight years and caused hundreds of thousands of casualties and heavy destruction of physical and economic assets. Not only does Jamal al-Din oppose relocating the mojahedeen-e khalq, but he even calls on the Iraqi government to allow them to establish press, radio, and television inside Iraqi territory directed against the Iranian regime.
The Role of the State
Having been forced to flee his country by the Ba'thist authoritarian state, Jamal al-Din, understandably, would like to see an Iraqi state founded on democratic and secular values and devoted to providing services to the people. As mentioned earlier, such a state cannot have a religion because, unlike an individual, a state does not pray, fast, or a make a pilgrimage.
Jamal al-Din is particularly critical of the concept of the Islamic state. In an interview aired on Al-Arabiya TV he warned against the duality of shari'a and civil law which he terms "lethal." If some "brothers" insist on a strictly shari'a-based state, he declared, let them do so. But then there are consequences. Let them, for example, "collect the jizya poll tax from their Christian citizens. Let them annihilate the Yazdis because they do not belong to the People of the Book. Let them raise doubts about the status of the Sabaens in Iraq, because it is unclear whether they belong to the People of the Book or not." Clearly, this is not what he would want to advocate or condone. He is simply throwing a challenge at those who have not thought through the implication in modern times of a state based on shari'a.
With regard to the federal structure of Iraq, he favors decentralization over federalism, thereby allowing more flexibility to the central government in Baghdad. He does not see a pressing need to divide the country into federal entities, such as Kurdistan Regional Government established by the three Kurdish provinces. He recognizes there is a national consensus to give the Kurds a federal status, but he does not see the need to divide the rest of Iraq into entities dominated by the Shi'a in southern Iraq and the Sunnis in western and northern parts of the country. Taking a swipe at Iran, he said that it was the country that should have a federal form of government because of the large Arab community in Arabistan and even a larger Kurdish community in Kurdistan Iran.
The Nature of Terrorism
Most Western analysts attribute terrorism to poverty and social dislocation. Jamal al-Din's basic premise on the subject is that "the real mother of terrorism is tyranny."
Jamal al-Din is particularly critical of the role of the mosques in inculcating the values of jihadism and martyrdom that lead to acts of terrorism. "Al-Zarqawi was not born evil," he told an audience in Washington D.C., "but learned to be evil in the mosque. He was taught there to hate the whole world, and so he became ready to carry out acts of suicide."
Jamal al-Din alludes to a Friday sermon in the main mosque of Mecca, the holiest Muslim city, broadcast live on radio and TV in Saudi Arabia as well as in other countries of the Gulf. On that Friday, the Imam, who leads the prayers in the mosque and delivers the Friday sermon, started the supplication at the end of the prayer. For Jamal al-Din, "prayer is supposed to bring us close to God. Worshippers should be in a peaceful state of mind when they leave the mosque, feeling love even for birds, for trees, for flowers. But what happened [that Friday] was that they left the prayers in a pessimistic mood, full of fury and hatred." Here is what the Imam thundered in his sermon: "May Allah grant us victory over the Jewish people and make them our slaves. We shall take their women as our slaves as well." The Imam went on to appeal to Allah: "I beseech Thee to make their women barren; make them barren, so they won't bear more children."
In an interview, Jamal al-Din says that "Islam has various interpretations." According to him, "some of these interpretations are completely divorced from humanity, let alone from Islam itself." Such is the ideology that accuses other Muslims of heresy or takfir and, hence, deserving to be killed. This is precisely the ideology of terrorism. He warns of "a bloodthirsty interpretation" of Islam. But there is also the other interpretation of Islam that is civilized and human. Jamal al-Din sees "an abyss between the two interpretations."
In a lecture delivered in Washington in May 2005, Jamal al-Din dwelt on the danger of the spread of terrorism made possible of the new technology in the media and the internet. To combat terrorism, he offered two stark choices: "Either we achieve victory by wiping out terrorism politically, financially, and militarily, or else we surrender our throats and our children's throats for the terrorists to slit." Unfortunately, he concludes, almost with a sense of defeatism, "Terrorism knows no boundaries, and there is no power that is able to stop the arrival of terrorists to any part of the globe."
To combat terrorism, Jamal al-Din called for the legislation of an anti-terrorism law that would silence any voice that encourages and justifies terrorism whether the voice is heard in a mosque, on a public platform, or in the street. 
Joining the Political Process
After making his mark at the 2003 Nassiriya conference, where he advocated a secular state, Jamal al-Din, who spent the previous years as the Imam of the Shi'a community in the United Arab Emirates, decided to become politically active. For the first time in the history of Iraq, a Sayyed, a descendent of the family of Mohammad and hence eligible to wear a black turban, advocated the slogan "secularism is the solution." It was a slogan that irritated and offended the religious parties in Iraq, which advocated the slogan "Islam is the solution." Taking his slogan further, Jamal al-Din called for keeping the bars and liquor stores open, despite the restrictions in Islam on the consumption of alcohol. He said he applies the restriction to himself but would not impose it on others. Imposing it on others is exactly what Iraq has done. After a period when entertainment places and night clubs had become a flourishing business and had restored the rich night life to Baghdad, the government suddenly issued a decree in December of last year in the name of shari'a closing down bars and night clubs and restricting the sale of alcoholic beverages.
In 2005 Jamal al-Din chose to join the Iraqi List, headed by the previous prime minister Ayad Allawi. He was elected as a member of parliament, but in August 2009 he and two others announced their withdrawal from the Allawi faction in parliament and shortly thereafter announced the establishment of the Al-Ahrar party.
In October 2009 Jamal al-Din launched his election campaign, advocating a program of reconciliation among the various Iraqi factions, including supporters and opponents of the political process. For the March 2010 elections he assembled a group of candidates under his leadership. He excluded alliances with individuals with Iraqi blood on their hands and with people involved in corruption. If elected, he promised the creation of one million jobs and the provision of services. In this regard, his program does not differ from similar promises made by other competing parties.
On his website Jeel Ahrar (Generation Ahrar) he issued a special message to the youth of Iraq:
"This is your country. And the future is yours to make. You are not any less than the youth of neighboring Arab countries, or the youth of Europe or the United States or any other place in the world. You deserve better opportunities in life and at work, to build your homes and achieve your dreams. You own this future. You can change the human tragedy you are now living in, which is ruining your families and your country. Do not wait and let others dictate what your future will look like.
"Take action today. Join me and, God willing, we will create a new Iraq that will be everything you deserve it to be."
Thus, the rationale for establishing Al-Ahrar is to give the Iraqi voter an opportunity to vote in favor of a political party which is prepared to withstand external influences and to protect Iraqi sovereignty.
In an interview with Khaleej Times, he promised to launch a new grassroots campaign, saying, "for people to die of thirst in the 'Land of the Two Rivers' is nothing short of a catastrophe. Iraqis deserve a better life." The campaign will also be for a united, secular Iraq. Ahrar's candidates will be of all ethnic groups, although he will place special emphasis on women and young people. He did not say what type of woman he would welcome in his party, but did not hide his disdain for a woman who wears a veil (hijab) in order to get a job. He said he respects a woman who wears a veil in New York and a woman who does not in Najaf (the holiest city for the Shi'a) if she does so out of conviction and not under duress.
Criticism of Jamal al-Din
Since he is a public figure espousing unconventional views, it is not surprising that Jamal al-Din has been subject to criticism, particularly from the Shi'a religious establishment, which finds itself bewildered by one of its own repeatedly calling for the separation of state and religion and for the establishment of a secular state devoid of religious content that suppresses individual freedoms. Other critics have pounced on Jamal al-Din's donning the religious garb and black turban that identify him as a sayyed. Since he advocates separating religion from state, his critics ask, why should he not take off his turban and wear Western clothing, as some others have done when appointed into cabinet positions? The critics argue that he is using his religious garb and his turban to advance his secular thoughts, which represents an intolerable contradiction.
On the other hand, Amjad Hamed, a professor of political science at the University of Baghdad, has praised Jamal al-Din for his courage, saying that Jamal al-Din "has more courage than the other turbaned [individuals] that have used religion as a means of reaching parliament at a time when they practice matters which contradict their public religious orientations." Khulud Ramzi, writing on the Iraqi writers' forum, suggests that the Iraqi public's loss of confidence in parties with a religious orientation has prompted even the prime minister, with his Islamic roots, to distance himself from his al-Da'wa party and to seek alliances with secular elements in Iraqi society. "Why blame Jamal al-Din?" she has asked. Indeed, in recent months, Nouri al-Maliki has repeatedly declared that he was running in the general elections as a secular candidate.
Jamal al-Din has also been criticized for poor attendance at parliament or at the parliamentary foreign relations committee, of which he is a member. He has never been reluctant to speak his mind in interviews with the press or with TV, in Iraq or abroad, but he has been reluctant to do so in parliament.
While the results of the general elections in Iraq may not be entirely transparent, neither are they pre-ordained, as in most other countries of the region, and the results may be surprising. Ayad Jamal al-Din appeals to the educated and secular elements of Iraqi society, who are disenchanted by sectarian and Islamist politics practiced by the religious, mainly Shi'a, parties. He stands to benefit from this disenchantment if he manages to mobilize his potential supporters actively before the elections. One must not discount the risk to his safety, given that he has many powerful enemies who would not hesitate to remove him permanently from the political scene.
Among the vast literature written by or about Sayyed Ayad Jamal al-Din, we found most fitting one written by Ali al-Asadi, a writer, tellingly titled: "Sayyed Ayad Jamal al-Din – I fear for you from Noise-Silencers" and published in Al-Muthqaf (The Educated):
"The Shi'ite militias have tried to liquidate Sayyed Jamal al-Din in 2005 on the eve of the general election but his courage and the courage of those who were with him to protect him frustrated the plan and the criminals fled. But he remains a target as long as he adheres to the ideals of nationalism, sectarian impartiality and even more his eloquence in the defense of the supreme national interests of the country…It is these refined ideals from a turbaned Shi'a and democrat, who defends with clarity and without hesitation the principle of separating religion from the state, and the freedom of people for their beliefs and faiths that displease the merchants of religion and faith…"
Despite Jamal al-Din's good and honest intentions, the Sunni population which ruled Iraq throughout most of the years leading to the invasion now feels marginalized by a Shi'a controlled government. The violence afflicted on the Sunnis by Iranian-trained and armed Shi'a militias was countered by anti-Shi'a violence instigated by "al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers." While the violence by both parties has largely abated, it is still not far from the surface. The next elections, scheduled for March 6, will be critical in determining how the emerging political forces will behave on key national issues. The perception about the marginalization of the Sunni community must be laid to rest if the Shi'a-Sunni divide ceases to be a factor in the national dialogue, particularly with regard to the country's relations with its neighbors, primarily with Iran to the east and the large Sunni bloc of countries primarily of Saudi Arabia and Egypt to the west.
* Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli is Senior Analyst at MEMRI
 Mir Basri, "Eminent Men of Letters in Modern Iraq," London, Dar al-Hikma, 1999, Vol. IIII, pp. 340-341 (Arabic).
 Aswat (Iraqi News Agency), March 20, 2006.
 Al-Sharq al-Awsat, December 19, 2005.
 www.henryjacksonsocety/org/stories.asp?pageid=49&Id=1335&p=1 (December 23, 2009).
 Elaph, op. cit.
 www.henryjacksonsocety/org/stories.asp?pageid=49&Id=1335&p=1 (December 23, 2009).
 Al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 28, 2005.
 From an interview aired on al-Jazeera TV on February 2, 2009.
 In his lecture at the Henry Jackson Society.
 Al-Quds, December 20, 2009.
 Mojahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) is the largest and most militant group opposed to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Also known as the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, MEK is led by husband and wife Massoud and Maryam Rajavi. MEK was added to the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist groups in 1997. The organization was allied with Saddam Hussein's regime and received much of its support from it.
 www.iraq4allnews.dk/new/PrintNews.php?Id=32864&cat=6 (December 19, 2009).
 MEMRI, Iraqi MP Iyad Jamal al-Din on al-Arabiya TV Critical of Islamic State," Special Dispatch No. 1795 of December 27, 2007.
 Interview with al-Arabiya TV, October 10, 2005.
 From a lecture in Washington, D.C. on April 6, 2005.
 Takfir is a concept used by Islamist groups that declare Muslims as apostates, which would justify their killing.
 Interview with the Iraqi al-Fayhaa TV on November 30, 2005.
 MEMRI, Sayyed Ayad Jamal Al-Din, Iraqi Reformist M.P., April 6, 2005.
 www.iraqwriters.com/INP/view_printer.asp?ID=1948&AUTHOR (September 11, 2009).
 Op. cit.
 Khaleej Times, UAE, November 29, 2009.
 One of the 333 responses by viewers of is interview in Al-Arabiya TV satellite in which he dealt with theological issues. December 13, 2007.
 Op. cit.
 www.almothaqaf.com/new/index-php?option=com_content&view (January 7, 2010).