Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fadlallah, highest Shia cleric of Lebanon, dies at 74

Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadallah, Lebanon's most influential Shia cleric, has died in Beirut at the age of 74. He was  admitted in hospital last month suffering from internal bleeding.
Fadlallah was born to Lebanese parents  in 1935 in Najaf, the centre of Shia scholarship in Iraq. He studied Islam more than 20 years in his birthplace before moving to Lebanon in 1966. He attained the status of marja, or 'source of emulation', the highest level of authority amongst Shia clerics.
Fadlallah was often described as Hezbollah's 'spiritual guide', but he never held a role within the organisation. He did support some of its actions, however, endorsing suicide attacks against Israel. Also he issued a fatwa  in 2009 that forbade normalised relations with the Jewish state. At the same time, he condemned other suicide attacks that targeted civilians, like the Moscow subway bombings earlier this year. He also condemned the September 11 attacks on the United States, saying they were 'not compatible with sharia law'.
In 1985 there was an attempt on his life. A bomb consisting of 200 kg of dynamite exploded at some tens of metres from his home in Beirut. Fadlallah escaped unharmed, but the bomb destroyed a seven story building and a cinema and killed at least 80 people while wounding 256. Most of the killed were women and girls who had just left a mosque. It was widely suspected that the CIA and it's director William Casey were behind the attack, as a revenge for the attacks on the American embassy and the American marines in the beginning of the eighties.
Fadlallah was also a staunch critic of American foreign policy in the Middle East, accusing it of bias in favour of Israel. While the West criticised him for his politics, conservative Islamic scholars often condemned Fadlallah for his moderate views. Fadlallah was widely known for his views on women, describing men and women as equals, and issuing a fatwa in 2007 which encouraged women to defend themselves against violence. He condemned honour killings, and permitted female masturbation, but favoured the hejab as a means to preserve women's dignity. He also issued a ruling banning female circumcision.
His extensive charitable works added to his popularity. Fadlallah established a network of schools and orphanages in Shia suburbs of Beirut and in southern Lebanon.
Fadlallah was an early supporter of the Iranian revolution and of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's first supreme leader.But he eventually became a critic of the concept of vilayet-e-faqih, the Iranian system of government in which a Shia religious leader exercises absolute authority. He was quoted as having said that no Shia authority had a monopoly on the truth, not even Khomeiny. Instead he oriented himself more on the line of ayatollah Ali al-Sistany.With Sistani and the Iraqi Hawza (highest religious council) he fell out, however, on the issue of the role of the Iraqi Da'awa Party of  Nuri al-Maliki. Fadlallah, belonged to the Da'awa ands was it's spiritual guide, while Sistani was much more oriented towards a modern role for the state.

Update Thursday 8/7:
Iraq's prime minister is in Beirut to pay his respects for Lebanon's late top Shiite cleric.
Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah was one of the founders of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa party. He was also believed to be the party's religious guide until his death on Sunday following a long illness.A 100-member Iraqi delegation took part in his funeral south of Beirut on Tuesday that drew tens of thousands of mourners.

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