Senior Shiite cleric calls for separating politics from religion

Najaf, Iraq - A top Shiite cleric called on Muslims Friday to keep religion out of politics and not to use mosques and religious events for the interest of political groups, sects or personalities.

Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Eshagh al-Fayyadh, one of the top four Shiite clerics in Iraq, also urged Iraqi officials to unite in order to "rescue the nation from the catastrophic situation, and abandon their narrow personal and political interests and work for the good of the public."

"All preachers should take the road of objectivity while lecturing about religion and educating people. Don't politicize religion by transferring pulpits for the interest of a political party, a sect, a specific person, or to achieve personal goals and purposes," said the Afghan-born white-turbaned cleric.

Although most of the Shiites in Iraq follow Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, al_Fayyadh is known to have a major following as well.

During the 2005 general elections, images of clerics, mainly al-Sistani, as well as religious slogans were used during campaigns. Secular groups complained saying such moves influence Iraqis, many of whom are religiously observant.

Al-Fayyadh also called on the Iraqi government to fight widespread corruption in state institutions.

"This is a dangerous problem, even more dangerous than terrorism. It threatens the dignity of the Iraqi people and their religious and humanitarian values," he said in a statement.