Lebanon

Hezbollah-linked cleric Fadlallah dies

Reuters

Lebanese Shia-Muslim cleric Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, once regarded as the spiritual guide to the Hezbollah movement, died on Sunday aged 75. Fadlallah was listed as a terrorist in the United States. He died of internal bleeding in hospital in Beirut.

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During the Lebanese civil war in the 1980s US media alleged Fadlallah was behind the taking of American hostages by Iranian-backed radical Islamic groups. Other reports named him as a mediator in the crisis.

Charles Glass, London

Fadlallah was considered Hezbollah's religious guide when it was founded in 1982 with the support of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards. He also helped to found the Dawa Party of the incumbent Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in 1957. The party regarded Fadlallah as its spiritual guide.

He survived multiple assassination attempts, including a 1985 bombing in Beirut which killed more than 80 civilians.

“It’s odd that the United States should call Fadlallah a terrorist when in fact the CIA planted a bomb in Beirut a bid to try and assassinate Hezbollah and killed 85 innocent people.,” saysCharles Glass, a journalist who was kidnapped by Hezbollah in 1987. “I think he would have every right to call them terrorists.”

Glass does not know if Fadlallah was involved in his kidnapping or not.

“I would think it’s highly unlikely that he didn’t know about it or didn’t know where I or most of the other hostages were,” Glass told RFI. “But whether he was directly involved, I can’t say.”

Although Fadlallah was close to Hezbollah, he did not like being known as its spiritual leader. The movement had strong links to Iran when it came into being in 1982, but Fadlallah was not Iran’s man in Lebanon, Glass points out.

“There were many occasions on which Fadlallah’s own policies for Lebanon were in direct contradiction with what Iran wanted for Lebanon and he would when necessary speak against what the Iranians wanted in Lebanon,” he says. “He was partly responsible for a shift in Hezbollah to go away from armed struggle and become a legitimate political party and stop being just a clandestine movement.”

Fadlallah’s followers revered him for his moderate social views and pragmatism. He issued religious edicts forbidding female circumcision and saying women could hit abusive husbands.

Hezbollah's Manar television interrupted its regular broadcasts to announce his death and call for three days of national mourning.

"Lebanon, the Muslim nation and the world have lost a great Muslim scholar," Hezbollah said, adding that Fadlallah "was one of the most prominent supporters of Muslim unity who fought against strife".

However, he advocated suicide attacks as a means of fighting Israel, last year issuing a fatwa forbidding the normalisation of ties with Israel.

Glass believes Fadlallah was in some ways a progressive religious leader. He used to have a website where he gave advice on marital affairs.

“He was out of a tradition of religious leaders in Lebanon who spoke very strongly for the poorest section of the population who were the Shiite peasants of south Lebanon and the Beqaa valley,” he said. “But in other senses he was a religious reactionary who wanted to bring theocracy into the state.”

Fadlallah was born in 1935 in the Iraqi Shia holy city of Najaf, where his parents emigrated from Lebanon to study theology.

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