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Competition Heats Up Between Qom, Najaf

The long-standing competition for influence between Shiites' two holiest cities is growing.
Iraqi Shi'ite al Hawza cleric Sheikh Jassim Al-Saidi prays in a Baghdad
mosque June 3, 2003 after being released from detention by U.S. forces.
Al-Saidi said that he had been accused of instigating violence towards
American forces occupying Iraq. REUTERS/Faleh Kheiber REUTERS

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Never before had a Shiite hawza (seminary) enjoyed a central position for the entire sect, drawing attention from Shiite communities from the farthest corners of the world and producing official Shiite thought for centuries — until Najaf took center stage three centuries ago. Najaf was like a Vatican for the Shiites, issuing fateful decisions for the sect and turning other religious schools into extensions of itself, led by scholars educated in Najaf. It turned into a formal institution with wide-ranging branches and connections managing religious affairs and a large part of social and political affairs in the Shiite world. This was all before the sun set on Najaf's biggest names as a result of political pressure exerted by Saddam Hussein's regime. This coincided with the victory of the religious revolution in Iran, prompting much of the human and symbolic capital from the Shiite sect to move to Qom, which had been a mere preparatory branch for students of religious studies to later move on to Najaf.

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