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Iraq's Sistani calls on world not to abandon Afghans

Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, asked the international community and the Muslim world to stand with the people of Afghanistan following a meeting with Afghan Shiites.

A group of Shiite clerics from Afghanistan met with Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, this week, as he urged the international community to maintain support for the Afghans.

Members of the Shia Afghan community presented a report of the current critical situation of Afghanistan to Sistani on Sunday. 

In a statement Tuesday, Sistani expressed his deep regret over the suffering of the people of Afghanistan over the past decades, especially the nation's women.

“Muslims and the global community should not leave the Afghanistan people alone in such circumstances, and [should] not spare any effort to lessen their suffering," the statement read. 

He also emphasized the necessity of preserving unity, national solidarity, and peaceful coexistence with all ethnic and religious groups, and the need to avoid violence in dealing with Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers.

According to a 2019 Pew survey, about 10-13% of the population in Afghanistan is Shia while about 90% are Sunni.

The minority is spread across different ethnicities, including the Hazara, the Tajiks, the Pashtun and the Qizilbash. The majority is the Twelver Shia denomination, believing in the 12 imams, similar to most Shia in the world, including Ayatollah Sistani. A small group of Afghan Shiites are Ismailis, believing in six imams.

In his statement, Ayatollah Sistani avoided any sectarian reference, while putting emphasis on the people of Afghanistan in general.

Shiites in Afghanistan have long suffered from religious persecution. Since the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan in August of 2021, several terrorist attacks have targeted the Shia community. 

In October 2021, a terrorist attack on the biggest Shiite mosque in Kandahar left 30 dead and dozens injured. Last September, an educational institution in a predominantly Shiite area in Kabul was attacked, leaving over 50 killed and 100 wounded. Last August, Amnesty International reported systematic attacks on the Hazara Shiite community in Afghanistan.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility to a number of the attacks since Taliban took over. But the new rulers of Afghanistan are trying to appear more tolerant, in contrast to their previous time in power from 1996 to 2001. 

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