“Throughout my life, I have always supported the human being in his humanism and I have supported the oppressed. I think it is the person’s right to live his freedom and it is her and his right to face the injustice imposed on each by revolting against it, using his practical, realistic and available means to end the oppressor’s injustice toward him, whether it is an individual, a community, a nation, or a state; whether male or female.”
— Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, perhaps sensing his imminent death, during his last dialogue with the Washington DC based, Council for the National Interest at his home on June 2, 2010
Today, his family and hundreds of thousands in his community buried Lebanon’s senior Shia cleric, Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah in South Beirut.
May he forever rest in peace.
His passing shocked and saddened the region and the loss of his advocacy of dialogue, respect and unity among all religions is incalculable. The loss of his support for the current campaign to obtain civil rights for Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees will make that struggle more difficult. Justice for Palestine and ending the Zionist occupation was part of his unwavering lifelong work. Some media outlets, reported that shortly before he died, and upon being asked by a medical attendant a few days ago if he needed anything, he replied, “ Only the end of the Zionist occupation of Palestine.”
On the morning of 4th of July, Zeinab, the nurse on duty at the blood donor’s clinic at Bahman Hospital, a block from my former home in Haret Hreik, had just instructed this observer to remain sitting for five minutes and to drink the juice she gave me before I returned to south Beiruts blazing sun.
A companion and I had each just donated a pint of blood in response to an appeal from friends who worked in the Translation Office of Lebanon’s much loved senior Shia cleric, Sayeed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. He had been hospitalized for the past 12 days but on Friday his stomach bleeding had increased dramatically, related to complications from a liver problem he had been treated for over the past several years. Sayeed Fadallah also suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure.
As we waited, Zeinab returned, tears in her eyes, and simply said, “The Sayeed has passed away.” And she disappeared. So did my Shia hijabed companion, and as it seemed, everyone from the floor.
I decided to walk down the stairs to the main level and could hear sobs from hospital staff on each floor, now seemingly darkened with each level eerier than the preceding one as I descended.
As I left the main entrance of the hospital, a bit numbed I was thinking about some of the more than a dozen meetings I had the honor to attend with Grand Ayatolah Fadlallah and some of his staff over the past three years. Such as those who regularly visited him from the Washington DC based Council for the National Interest (cnionline.org), and one that I had arranged for former President Jimmy Carter.
Suddenly there was movement for two blocks in front and along the side streets adjacent to Bahman, a state of the art and science Hospital operated by Fadallah’s Al Marbarrat Charity. This hospital was among hundreds of civil buildings in Haret Hreik and South Beirut, that Israel had bombed in July of 2006.
“How did these guys get here so fast” I wondered, for it was only minutes since the Majaa ( religious guide) to millions in the Middle East had died. Some security units, dressed in black shirts, caps and trousers, walkie talkies in their left hands, others in civilian clothes, quickly placed traffic barriers in the area. They politely asked that all vehicles including motorcycles be relocated a least two blocks away.
Some, from their appearance, obviously war toughened fighters, wept and consoled men and women who began arriving at the hospital to pay their respects, first in two and three’s and then streams.
The loudspeakers from the Hassanayn Mosque, where every Friday Fadlallah for the past nearly 20 years, delivered sermons to tens of thousands of faithful, Muslim and Christian alike, began broadcasting religious music and Koranic verses to our shocked and grief stricken neighborhood. During the night of the 27th day of Ramadan, known as Laylat al-Kadr, (according to the Al Kadar Sura in the Koran, this is the day that the Angel Gabriel came down from heaven and the beginning of the revelation of the Koran) more than 50,000 filled Fadlallah’s Mosque and surrounding streets.
“The father, the leader, the marjaa, the guide, the human being is gone. “Sayyed Fadlallah has died this morning,” senior aide Ayatollah Abdullah al-Ghurayfi told a hastily called news conference, at the hospital, joined by the late cleric’s sons, Sayyed Ali Fadlallah and Jaafar, who, like nearly everyone else in attendance, could not hold back tears.
The sweltering evening of July 5th, an American delegation was given by his family and Hezbollah security the rare honor of viewing the body of Lebanon’s senior Shia cleric inside his Mosque near where he would be buried at 1:30 p.m. the following afternoon. The group met a wide spectrum of Lebanon’s political and resistance leadership but were not joined by anyone from the US Embassy since their government will boycott Lebanon’s national day of mourning and the burial of this Washington branded “Terrorist.” It was in 1995, that then President Bill Clinton, at the urging of AIPAC and facing a re-election campaign, so designated him. Former President Carter promised during a visit in June of 2009 that he would contact President Obama immediately about this travesty but was unable to have his name removed before the Sayeed’s death.
The American delegation paying their respects included residents of New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Hawaii and Oregon, a Catholic Priest and two nuns, some of whom were in Beirut as participants in the delayed Lebanon flotilla to help break the siege of Gaza. They felt they were the true representatives of their country, not their Embassy, thought by some to be in Lebanon to promote Israel’s agenda, not American interests.
Ever misleading the public with respect to the Middle East, the main stream western media began a thousand reports with the words, ““A fiery anti-American critic died.” It is nonsense of course. Fadallah was very pro-American in the sense that he often extolled the founding American principles and his relationship with the American people was valued by both. Barely two weeks before his death he left his sick bed to meet with a group of Americans from Washington DC, against the advice of his Doctors, and he urged them to work to preserve the founding principles on which their country was founded and to encourage dialogue between Muslims, Christians and Jews and to end the occupations of this region.
Like the rapidly growing number of American critics of US policy in the Middle East, many of his Fadlallah’s Friday prayer sermons denounced arming and supporting serial Israelis aggressions.
For more than 50 years, he worked at “modernizing” the Shari’a and rendering it accessible to modern day youth, addressing their concerns, expectations and fears in a fast-changing world. He was truly the Mufti of the youth and of women, their guide who never oppressed their dreams and always simplified rulings. He was available for questions regarding the most taboo of social and political subjects. He was also the enemy of stalemate and a rejecter of tradition in its inflexible sense. He insisted on subjecting all ideas to discussions, debates and reassessments and was much more interested in human beings than doctrines.
As the Beirut Daily Al-Nahar, editorialized this morning, “Sayyed Fadlallah is a unique guide who will be missed by Lebanon and the Arab and Islamic worlds. A long time will pass by before we see the surfacing of someone so tolerant and open-minded who has so much faith in mankind and a wish to cooperate with all the attempts and efforts deployed during the days of friction with all the forces and elites.”
His followers revered him for his moderate social views, openness and pragmatism. Fadlallah issued religious edicts forbidding female circumcision, condemning domestic violence-even allowing women to wear cosmetics and finger nail polish which some clerics opposed, and insisting that women could physically resist abusive husbands. He strongly supported female-male equality. He rejected the blood-letting at Ashoura events and like Hezbollah encouraged his followers to donate blood to the Red Crescent Society instead of cutting themselves. He also opposed the call to “jihad,” or holy war, by Osama bin Laden and cruised the Afghan Taliban, which he viewed as a sect outside Islam and he was among the first to condemn the 9/11 attacks. Fadlallah opposed ‘suicide attacks” but distinguished the right of an individual to sacrifice himself as a weapon during asymmetrical warfare by aggressors.
Fadallah supported the Islamic revolution in Shiite Iran, and advocated armed resistance to Israel. In 2009, again during a meeting with Americans, including Jews, Fadlallah, whose family came from the southern Lebanese village of Ainata, reiterated his call for a Muslim-Jewish dialogue as part of interfaith efforts aimed at bridging the gap among various religious, rejecting any offense against Jews or Christians in any Arab or Muslim country. But he emphasized to the delegation the importance of a Muslim-Jewish dialogue away from Zionist influence, stressing that Jews need to be freed from the cycle of world Zionism and Israel should be confronted because of its occupation of Arab lands.
He welcomed the election of Barack Obama in the US, telling the Wall Street Journal in 2009 that “some of Obama’s statements show that he believes in the method of dialogue”. He added: We don’t have a problem with any American president, but our problem is with his policy that might affect our strategic interest.” He later told visitors of his disappointment at President Obama’s Middle East policy, accusing him of being “under pressure” from Israeli supporters and “not a man who has a plan for peace”.
Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah had a widespread reputation for piety and scholarship through his teaching and the more than 40 books and treatises he wrote. He established religious schools and foundations, clinics and libraries as part of the charitable Al Marrarat Foundation. Among them are the following, open to all of Lebanon’s sect and foreigners alike, which comprise part of his living legacy.
1- Imam Al-Khouie Orphanage (Beirut-Daouha)
2- Imam Zein Al-Abidine (a.s.) Orphanage Biqaa (Hirmil).
3- Imam Ali Bin Abi Talib (a.s.) Orphange, South Lebanon. (The Ma`roub-Sour road)
4- Virgin Mary Orphange (a.s.) South Lebanon (Jiwaya).
5- Al- Sayyida Khadija Al-Kubraa(a.s.) Orphange, Beirut (Bir-Hassan).
6-The Zainab (a.s.) Orphange West Biqaa (Suh`mur) Under construction.
7-The Imam Al-Hadi Institute For The Deaf and Blind.
1. Bah`man Hospital Beirut (Haret Hreik).
2. Al Sayyida Al-Zahra’(a.s.) Hospital South Lebanon
3-(Al-Abbasyyah) Under construction.
1- The Imam Al Khouie Orphanage Beirut (Dawha)
2- Imam Al-Baqir Secondary school Beka`a (Hirmil)
3- Imam Al-Jawad Secondary school Beka`a (Ali Nahri)
4- Imam Ali Bin Abi Talib school South lebanon (Ma`roub)
5- Imam Hassan Secondary school, Beirut (Ruwais)
6- Al-Mujtaba Secondary School, Beirut (Hay Al-Salum)
7- Imam Ja`afar As-Sadiq school South Lebanon (Jwaya)
8- Al-Kaouthar Secondary school Beirut (Bir Hassan)
9- Imam Hussein School, Beka`a (Suh`mour) under construction.
1- Ali Al-Akbar Vocational Institute Beirut (Doha)
1- The large Islamic Center, Beirut (Haret Hreik: Consists of the Al-Imamain Hassnian Mosque, the Zah`ra Hall and the Islamic Cultural Center.
2- Imam Hasan Askari Center Beka`aa’(Sira’in)
3- Imam Hussein Center-Beka`a(Jlala)
4- Imam Ali Bin Abi Talib center South Lebanon.(AL-Hawzah-Sour)
5- Ahl Al-Beit Mosque Beka`a’ (Rayak)
6- Imam Ja’afar Al-Sadiq Mosque Beka`a (Hirmill)
7- Ahl Al-Beit Center, North Lebanon (Tripoli)
8- Sayyida Zainab Mosque, Beka`a (Ba’albek)
1- Islamic Sharia Institute
2- Women’s Religious College
3- Sour (Tyre) Religious College
4- Al-Murtada Religious School (Damascus)
In summary, Mohammad Hussein Fadallah was too moderate, progressive and too effective a spokesman advocating for the deprived to be tolerated by the US administration and Israel. Both required more stereotypical radical Muslim clerics to smear the region. The Mossad believed to have target him more than half a dozen times including during the July 2006 Israeli attack.
In Lebanon, the CIA is widely thought to have been behind the 1985 bombing outside his home and American author Bob Woodward wrote in his book, “Veil: The Secret War of the CIA,” that the late CIA director William Casey ordered Lebanese agents to plant the car bomb in frustration and retaliation for unsolved attacks on U.S. interests in the Middle East. Fadlallah escaped death but 80 civilians outside his Mosque did not and more than 200 were injured.
Fadallah’s role as a mentor for resistors to Israeli aggressions and his complicated relations with Hezbollah, including false US allegations that he was the “spiritual guide of Hezbollah” is treated in some detail in Chapter IV of a volume entitled: “Hezbollah: Inside-Out”, to be finalized and released following the achievement of Palestinian Civil Rights in Lebanon.
A generation was inspired by Sayeed Fadallah and listened to him and studied his voluminous writings. Two generations feel the emptiness of his passing away.
Mohammad Hussein Fadallah was a rare man of an angel’s wit, mirth and singular learning. A marvelous man of gentleness, lowliness and affability. Sometimes when defending the rights of Muslims,Christians, Jews and all people of faith or non-believers of good will, his countenance was changed by a sad gravity and his smiling eyes darkened. For to his core, Grand Ayatollah Fadlallah believed in the right and responsibility to resist injustice and occupation.
He was a man for all seasons whose conscience and piety would not allow him to be idle as long as the poor and downtrodden remained dispossessed and voiceless or his beloved Lebanon and Palestine was occupied. For this, and for no other reason he was placed and kept on the US Political Terrorism list as a Specially Designated Terrorist (SDT) in the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control and his American charitable assets confiscated.
Like Thomas More, Fadlallah rejected offered inducements and bribes including T list removal from Washington if he followed the Kings wishes and stop support to the Lebanese National resistance. He wore his nonsensical Terrorist label as a badge of honor as his daily good works mocked and marked the list keepers with shame and cowardice for squandering American founding principles and for funding, arming and providing diplomatic cover to the Zionist colonial project that stole Palestine.
Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org