During a recent trip to my hometown of Najaf in southern Iraq, I stumbled across a book titled My Leader Khamenei in the personal library of a cleric studying in the Islamic seminary known as the Hawza. He had picked it up at a bookstore near the shrine of Imam Ali, where the first Shia Imam is buried. It is a popular destination for Muslim pilgrims – especially Shia Muslims – from across the world.

Najaf, which lies 100 miles south of Baghdad, is the heartland of Shia Islam. Home to a seminary established in the early 11th century and the seat of the Marja’iyya – the influential religious establishment led by Ayatollahs.

The fascinating aspect of the book was not that it was published in Najaf (by something called the Pure Islam Foundation) but that it came with a powerful endorsement on the opening page by none other than Shia Islam’s leading religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. According to this publication – Sistani had said:

Always walk behind Sayyid Khamenei and support Wilayat al-Faqih. Today, the reputation of Islam depends on the reputation and dignity of the Islamic Republic [of Iran], and the dignity of the Islamic Republic depends on protecting the dignity of Sayyid Khamenei.

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Image courtesy of War on the Rocks