Cricket's fine, but no chess for Iraq

2/9/2005 – The votes are still being counted, but it looks like the Shia leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani will emerge as the big winner in Iraq. With the distinct possibility of an Islamic theocracy emerging, the Ayatollah's teachings on chess, cricket, music, earrings and a variety of other topics are being carefully studied by the Western press.

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As The Independent reports, cricket is allowed (Nigel Short and Peter Svidler rejoice), but chess is "absolutely forbidden". Women may not shake hands with men. Music is permitted but only if it is not for enjoyment. Men cannot pray when wearing earrings.

These are the views of the most powerful man in Iraq, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In politics he is a moderate. He opposes the US occupation but has not issued a call to oppose it in arms. It was his determination that Iraqis must be allowed to vote which forced the US, after prolonged prevarication, to agree to an election. It was under his auspices that the United Iraqi Alliance, combining diverse parties, mostly Shia, was formed. It is likely to win at least half the vote.

The views of Ayatollah Sistani on chess, cricket, music, earrings and almost any other topic can be found on his website Sistani.org. A special Q&A section answers specific questions on everyday activities.

Even if the Shia clergy try to stay behind the scenes, they will have great authority over Iraqi politics. Without the support of Ayatollah Sistani, the religious parties and independent individuals would have had far fewer votes. They must listen to the clergy.

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