Top Iraqi Shiite cleric Mohammed Saeed Al Hakim dies in Najaf

People close to the influential spiritual leader said he suffered a heart attack on Friday

Iraqis carry the coffin of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Saeed Al Hakim, one of Iraq's top four Shiite clerics, during his funeral procession in Karbala. Photo: AFP
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Large crowds attended the funeral procession on Saturday of Iraq's second most senior Shiite cleric, Mohammed Saeed Al Hakim, who died on Friday aged 85 after a heart attack.

Al Hakim, who had the rank of grand ayatollah, was considered a possible successor to Iraq's top Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, who is in his 90s.

Iraq's president, prime minister and other politicians issued statements eulogising Al Hakim.

Just as he left in us a rich heritage of tolerance, love and service to all Iraqis, he invites us to be proud and to remember the future generations
Mustafa Al Kadhimi, Iraqi prime minister

"Just as he left in us a rich heritage of tolerance, love and service to all Iraqis, he invites us to be proud and to remember the future generations," Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi said on his official Twitter account.

President Barham Salih in a statement paid homage to the "prominent figure" in Shiite Islam.

The US Embassy in Baghdad also tweeted its condolences, describing Al Hakim as "a symbol of peace, love, and harmony across the region".

Al Hakim's coffin was carried to the Imam Hussein Shrine for blessings in the holy city of Karbala before being returned to his home town of Najaf for burial.

Al Hakim's office said only that he had died of a sudden medical condition but sources there and relatives said he had suffered a heart attack three days after undergoing an operation.

Along with Mr Al Sistani, Al Hakim was one of four grand ayatollahs who teach at the Hawza, the religious seminary of Najaf.

The Najaf-born cleric is a member of the well-known and highly respected Hakim family of Shiite scholars. His maternal grandfather was Mohsen Al Tabataba’i Al Hakim, a scholar and one of the most prominent thinkers of Shiite Islam. His father was Muhammad Ali Al Hakim, one of the most respected clerics in Najaf.

His second cousin, Sayyed Ammar Al Hakim, leads the Al Hikma, or National Wisdom Movement, one of the largest Shiite political parties in Iraq.

Mourners carry the coffin of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Saeed Al Hakim outside the shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala, Iraq. Photo: AP

Along with the Afghan-born Mohammed Ishaq Al Fayadh, Al Hakim was seen as the most likely contender to succeed Mr Al Sistani.

His education focused on jurisprudence and religious studies and he had some of the most prominent clerics as teachers. Al Hakim soon turned to teaching and became one of the leading Shiite scholars in Najaf. He wrote many books and other published works, some of which were translated into several languages.

Like most Shiite religious leaders in the holy city, he was put under house arrest during the last days of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s rule, before the US invasion of Iraq. He was among a group of three top Shiite leaders who were threatened with death by a rival Shiite cleric shortly after Saddam was toppled in 2003.

Al Hakim was the target of an assassination attempt in 2003, when his house in Najaf was bombed. Three of his bodyguards were killed, and members of his family were injured. Al Hakim escaped with minimal injuries. Relatives blamed terrorists for the bomb, which was hidden in a gas cylinder.

Al Hakim is survived by his wife and eight children.

Updated: September 05, 2021, 8:34 AM