The death of Shaykh Seyyed Hussain Fadlallah, a leading Islamic scholar of the Muslim world, in Beirut on July 4 has created a huge vacuum not only in Lebanon but also in the wider Muslim world. The 75-year-old alim and a leading ayatullah who was a strong supporter of Muslim unity and equally staunch opponent of US imperialism and Zionist colonialism.
The death of Shaykh Seyyed Hussain Fadlallah, a leading Islamic scholar of the Muslim world, in Beirut on July 4 has created a huge vacuum not only in Lebanon but also in the wider Muslim world. The 75-year-old alim and a leading ayatullah who was a strong supporter of Muslim unity and equally staunch opponent of US imperialism and Zionist colonialism, died of internal bleeding, according to his doctor Hashem Noureddine. He was in poor health and had been in the hospital for two weeks.
In announcing Shaykh Fadlallah’s death at a Beirut news conference, Bahraini scholar Abdullah al-Ghuraifi, described him as a “father, religious authority and spiritual leader to all Islamic movements in the Arab and Islamic world.” No doubt, Shaykh al-Ghuraifi was speaking for most scholars and activists in the Islamic movement. Black banners were hung in a sign of mourning outside the hospital and at the Al-Hassanayn mosque in Beirut’s suburb of Haret Hreik, where Shaykh Fadlallah gave religion lessons and delivered khutbahs before leading Jumu‘ah Salah. Tens of thousands of his supporters including women, wept openly. Al-Bashaer radio station that was run by his organization and, Hizbullah’s Al-Manar TV, broadcast Qur’anic verses. Not surprisingly, his funeral procession attracted more than a million people on July 6.
Shaykh Fadlallah’s death also evoked bizarre reaction in the West. When Octavia Nasr, a 20-year CNN veteran based in Atlanta, wrote on Twitter: “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot,” she was fired from her job. Israel-firsters pressured CNN to fire Nasr. Parisa Khosravi, senior vice president for CNN International Newsgathering, was quoted as saying in an internal memorandum that she “had a conversation” with Nasr and that “we have decided that she will be leaving the company.”
It was also Zionist pressure that forced Frances Guy, Britain’s ambassador to Lebanon, to remove her blog posting in which she called Shaykh Fadlallah “a true man of religion.” The bizarre reaction of CNN andBritish Foreign Office has not only exposed the myth of media freedom in the West yet again but also the myth of independence of the British government and the limits imposed on freedom of thought of its ambassadors. Robert Fisk, the veteran British journalist who has reported from the Middle East for more than three decades, could not resist taking on CNN. In a report published in the British daily, The Independent on July 10 under the headline: “CNN was wrong about Ayatollah Fadlallah,” Fisk wrote: “CNN has fired one of its senior Middle East editors, Octavia Nasr, for publishing a twitter — or twatter in this case, I suppose — extolling Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah of Lebanon, calling him ‘one of Hizbollah’s giants whom I respect a lot’. Well, he wasn’t Hizbollah’s man, but no matter. He was definitely a giant. A man of immense learning and jurisprudence, a believer in women’s rights, a hater of ‘honour crimes’….” Given his stature, Fisk does not risk losing his job but he has shed light on the cowardly CNN and the British government’s craven attitude to Israel over its own ambassador Frances Guy. He wrote: “But Ms Guy has incurred the anger of the Israeli foreign ministry, whose spokesman says it would be ‘interesting’ to know what the British Foreign Office thinks of her remarks. Personally, I would be far more ‘interested’ in what the Israeli foreign ministry knows of the British passports its government forged in order to murder a man in Dubai not many months ago. But it just goes to show that Fadlallah — who was also a poet — can get people’s backs up, even in death.”
While not directly involved in day-to-day politics, he was a towering personality dominating the religious scene in Lebanon for decades. Author of numerous scholarly works, his multi-volume tafsir, Min Wahy al-Qur’an (From the Revelation of the Qur’an), ranks among one of best tafsirs produced in contemporary times. He was a brilliant scholar and applied his vast talents to addressing some of the burning issues of the day. He was also a staunch defender of women’s rights and in one of his famous fatwas, had declared that wives had the right to hit back if their husbands hit them. In another fatwa, he banned smoking.
He had followers in many parts of the world including Lebanon, Iraq, the Persian Gulf region, and Central Asia. He established a number of institutions such as orphanages and hospitals for children and the poor and oppressed people of Lebanon. A grandfatherly figure, Shaykh Seyyed Fadlallah’s guidance at the spiritual as well as political levels will be sorely missed in Lebanon. It will be difficult for any single person to live up to his towering personality in Lebanon.
Seyyed Fadlallah was born in Iraq in 1935 and lived in the holy city of Najaf, where he studied and was considered one of the leading scholars even at the relatively young age of 30. He was one of the first backers of the Iraqi Dawa Party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. He moved to Lebanon in 1966 and began lecturing in the southern Lebanese village of Ainata, where his family hailed from. Soon his scholarship and charisma attracted a very large following.
He was instrumental in mobilizing Lebanon’s Shi‘i community that constitutes the country’s majority, to struggle for their socio-political and economic rights. Because of the confessional nature of Lebanese politics based on a French-imposed constitution that continues to sour relations between different groups, the Muslims were divided into Shi‘is and Sunnis. Major levers of power, such as the presidency and head of the army, were handed over to the Maronite Christians who despite being a minority were granted equal powers with Muslims. The Shi‘i community began to get organized and under the guidance of charismatic and muttaqi leadership provided by Shaykh Seyyed Fadlallah, the martyr Shaykh Ragheb Harb (martyred February 1984) as well as the martyr Shaykh Seyyed Mussawi (martyred February 1992), they began to assert themselves to demand their rights.
It was the Zionist invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 that proved a catalyst for change. The Zionist military machine armed to the teeth with lethal weapons by the Americans as well as their blessings invaded Lebanon to crush fighters of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The Zionists were led by General Arial Sharon, who rightly earned the title of the Butcher of Beirut for the massacres he perpetrated there. The Zionist army went all the way to Beirut and the Americans then forced the PLO to withdraw its forces from Lebanon. The US gave assurances that Palestinian families left behind in Lebanon would be protected from Zionist and indeed the Phalange militia attacks. The Phalangists are a fascist outfit that model their operations on Hitler and Mussolini’s ideology. No sooner had the PLO fighters sailed out of Beirut to Nicosia on their way to Tunisia, that the Phalangists backed by the Israelis perpetrated the Sabra and Shatilla massacres. Estimates about the number of unarmed Palestinian civilians — women, old men and children — butchered by the Phalangists vary between 3,000 and 10,000. What is indisputable is that the Zionists facilitated this genocide of unarmed innocent Palestinian civilians over a three-day period in September 1982. Sharon blessed this act of butchery.
As if this was not enough, the Zionists started to terrorize Lebanese civilians, especially in the south where the population is predominantly Shi‘i. In one particularly gruesome episode on October 16, 1983 in the town of Nabatiyah, the Zionists attacked an ‘Ashura’ procession killing two persons and injuring scores of others. This acted as a powder keg that sparked the uprising against the Zionist occupiers. In their customary brutality, the Zionists drew an Iron Curtain around the south in hopes of terrorizing the population into submission. While the total closure of the Southern Lebanon imposed great hardships on people — their vegetables and fruits on which they depended rotted in the burning Sun unable to transport them out of the area, and grain was deliberately contaminated by the Zionists with mud and filth making it unfit for consumption — they did not lose faith. Their leadership provided spiritual as well as political guidance in those very challenging and difficult times. Hizbullah gradually emerged on the scenes although it did not officially declare its formation until 1985 when it announced the establishment of al-Muqawwammah al-Islamiyyah (The Islamic Resistance) to confront the Zionist occupiers. It was in such trying times that the charismatic leadership of Shaykh Seyyed Fadlallah proved instrumental although he was not directly involved in the day-to-day operations of Hizbullah. It was his spiritual guidance and enormous prestige that enabled people to withstand Zionist brutalities that were fully underwritten by the US.
The Americans understood the important role Shaykh Fadlallah played in Lebanese society. They, therefore, plotted to assassinate him using their close links with Saudi intelligence. CIA director Bill Casey approached Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador in Washington, to become a partner in crime. Bandar, ever a stooge of the Americans, eagerly agreed and joined the criminal plot. Bandar put up the $3 million to hire the assassins led by a former British SS man. In March 1985, a car rigged with massive amounts of explosives blew up outside an apartment building near the Hasanayn Mosque soon after Seyyed Fadlallah completed Jumu‘ah Salah. This was the time when maximum number of worshippers were present, including late comers for salah. Miraculously, Shaykh Fadlallah survived the assassination attempt jointly planned and carried out by the American CIA and Bandar.
More than 80 civilians were killed and another 200 were badly injured. Shaykh Fadlallah survived the assassination attempt because he had left the Jumu‘ah Salah (Friday congregational prayers) a little earlier than usual to attend a meeting in another part of the city. Had he followed his usual schedule of staying back to meet people and answer their questions, he would surely have been assassinated by that massive explosion. The Lebanese immediately accused CIA of the dastardly crime, hanging a huge banner outside the damaged apartment building that read: “Made in America.” The Americans denied involvement but few people anywhere took such denials seriously.
In his book, The Veil (1987), Bob Woodward writes that when Bandar heard the news on television that Shaykh Fadlallah had survived the assassination attempt, he panicked and sent word through intermediaries that he would be willing to pay compensation to the victims. Seyyed Fadlallah, a big hearted person, forgave this heinous crime and asked instead that Bandar pay compensation to the victims’ families that amounted to a mere couple of million dollars. Bandar and then CIA-director, Bill Casey, should have been arrested and tried for mass murder. Casey died of brain haemorrhage in 1987 but Bandar is alive and believed to be under house arrest for plotting to overthrow King Abdullah’s government in 2009 in Saudi Arabia. It would be a good opportunity to deal with this pesky son of a concubine of Prince Sultan by putting him on trial for murder.
In Shaykh Fadlallah’s death, Lebanon has lost the spiritual as well as political guidance of an intellectual giant. It will be difficult for any single person to replace his towering personality.