Sunday, July 04, 2010

Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah

I am still in Doha and don't have time to write an essay about Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah. But much of the writings (not only in English) is missing many elements about his background and thought. In his early years in Najaf, where his father `Abdur-Ra'uf Fadlallah was a teacher, he was very much disturbed, as he once told me, by the strength of the communists in that country. The conflict with the communists affected his early readings and his manner of argument. This was during the time when the Iraqi communist party was the strongest party in Iraq and beyond. His relationship with Hizbullah is always misunderstood and there is much about that relationship that is now known, by Westerners but also by some Arabs. The relationship with Hizbullah turned into conflict by the 1990s: Fadllalllah was giving a weekly sermon in Damascus and there he developed a new line of religio-political thought and he broke from Wilayat Al-Faqih. He once gave me a tape from the mid-1980s in which he explained how he moved from the Shura concept to Wilayat Al-Faqih. Well, he later moved away from Wilayat al-Faqih and developed a new liberal thinking especially on issues of personal status laws. He openly discussed female masturbation and ruled that a woman can fight back if she is a victim of domestic violence. He urged for a closer relationship between science and religion. Those views and others primarily on Wilayat Al-Faqih put him at odds with Hizbullah and with Iran, and an Iranian cleric specialized in responding to Fadlallah. Hizbullah urged that the matter of the conflict not be open and be discussed at the clerical level (I know about that conflict primarily from Hasan Nasrallah who once patiently answered my questions about the conflict with Fadlallah during that time). But all that changed by 2006: when the typically ignorant Israeli Orientalists still believed that Fadlallah was the "spiritual guide" of Hizbullah--as Western media and some scholars insisted that he was--and Israeli war criminals bombed his house and many of the institutions that he had built. That made Fadlallah a staunch ally of Hizbullah, and he remained so to his last days. This should be a topic of a PhD dissertation: to deal with the transformation of the religio-political thought of Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah. His influence extends beyond Lebanon and much of the donations to his organization comes from outside of Lebanon. Before people speculate about "religio-political inheritance" in Lebanon they should know that the marji`iyyah can't be transmitted to heirs. His passing will only strengthen the position of Hizbullah and Sistani will continue to be emulated by those who don't agree with Khamenei as the object of emulation in Lebanon.