A key figure in the founding of militant group Hezbollah has died aged 74, hospital sources have said.
Lebanon’s leading Shia Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk) was regarded as Hezbollah’s spiritual guide after the group was founded in 1982.
On Friday, the ayatollah was admitted to hospital suffering from internal bleeding.
Born in 1935 in Najaf, the centre of Shia scholarship in Iraq, Fadlallah spent more than two decades there studying Islam. Then he moved to Lebanon where he spent most of his adult life.
He attained the status of marja, or “source of emulation,” the highest level of authority amongst Shia clerics.
Fadlallah had followers not only in his home country and in Lebanon, but also among Shia communities in the Gulf and Central Asia.
In the 1980s, many of his sermons were widely distributed on audiotapes in Lebanon, which helped to spark increased political awareness among the country’s Shia population.
‘Not compatible with sharia law’
Often described as Hezbollah “spiritual guide”, Fadlallah never held a role within the organisation, though he did support some of its actions. He endorsed suicide attacks against Israel and issued a ruling in 2009 that forbade normalised relations with the Jewish state.
But in the mean time he condemned other suicide attacks that targeted civilians, such as 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.”
Because of his outspoken political views, he was a target. In 1985, a 200kg car bomb exploded near Fadlallah’s Beirut home. Although he was unarmed, dozens of people were killed in a nearby apartment building, which was demolished by the blast.
The blast was linked to the US Central Intelligence Agency by Bob Woodward, an American investigative journalist, but US officials have long denied any involvement.
Fadlallah was also a staunch critic of American foreign policy in the Middle East, accusing it of bias in favour of Israel.
“I have not found in the whole long history of the Arab-Israeli conflict even one neutral American position,” Fadlallah said in 2009 in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
Last year he wrote a letter to US president Barack Obama in which he accused US policies of contributing to “the loss of the Palestinian cause”.
Views on women
Criticised by the West for his politics, Fadlallah was also often condemned by conservative Islamic scholars for his moderate views.
Fadlallah was widely known for his views on women, describing men and women as equals, and issuing a ruling in 2007 which encouraged women to defend themselves against violence. He also issued a ruling banning female circumcision.
His popularity grew with his extensive charitable works. In Shia suburbs of Beirut and in southern Lebanon, Fadlallah established a network of schools and orphanages.
He was also an early supporter of the Iranian revolution and of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s first supreme leader, though he eventually became a critic of the concept of vilayet-e-fiqh, the Iranian system of government in which a Shia religious leader exercises absolute authority.
“[He] now argues that no Shia religious leader, not even Khomeini and definitely not his successor, Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei, has a monopoly on the truth,” Vali Nasr, an Iranian-American academic, wrote in his book The Shia Revival.
“Like all other believers, says Fadlallah, leaders are fallible and open to criticism.”
As Hezbollah increased its ties to Iran, Fadlallah’s relationship with the militant group grew strained.
For the last few months, his son, Jaafar Fadlallah, has been running many of his father’s affairs.