Iraqi Shiite cleric and head of the Sadrist movement, Muqtada Al-Sadr, is doing intensive study to earn the title of 'marjea' ('expert' or 'authority'), which will entitle him to issue fatwas (religious edicts) for his followers, in accordance with Shiite traditions.
Al-Sadr is studying at the Al-Hawzah religious institution in Najaf, his official spokesman Sheikh Salah Al-Obeidi said in a press statement carried by Quds Press on Saturday.
Al-Hawzah -- Arabic for 'seminary' -- is a theology school for Shiite clergymen located in the preeminent center for Shiite teaching before the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. The seminary in the city of Qom took the lead afterwards.
Al-Hawzah, whose clerics were routinely subjected to expulsions and mass arrests at the time of Saddam Hussein, is made up of four senior Grand Ayatollahs.
Obeidi did not specify how long it would take Al-Sadr to qualify to issue fatwas, but it usually takes several years to reach that degree of knowledge.
Despite being the head of a political party, Al-Sadr has not completed his religious or civil education, and is known for his inability to improvise. Sadr has to read off a written paper when giving a speech, and consequently, his media appearances have been scant.
Prominent Shiite scholars have remarked that Al-Sadr lacks proper education for a person of his position -- he controls the formidable Mahdi Army, the Iraqi paramilitary force that initiated the first armed confrontation with American troops. His party constitutes a major bloc in the Iraqi parliament, and he has supporters all over the country.
Experts say the anti-occupation cleric is pursuing a religious degree to become a key player in the power struggle in the oil-rich south and to increase his support among the Shiite majority.
Al-Obeidi denied the claims, saying Al-Sadr was not interested in money or power.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).