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Franklin Lamb’s Tribute to Ayatollah Fadlullah

November 23, 2011
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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.

Tens of thousands of people swarmed the coffin of Lebanon’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Fadallah as it made its way through the streets of south Beirut. 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 Beirut’s 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 An-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. In 2007 he issued a Fatwa forbidding “Honor Killings” which he viewed as barbaric and anti-Islam. 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. Fadlallad 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.

Orphanages:

  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

Medical Centers:

  1. Bah`man Hospital Beirut (Haret Hreik)
  2. Al Sayyida Al-Zahra’(a.s.) Hospital South Lebanon
  3. (Al-Abbasyyah) Under construction

Schools:

  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

Vocational Schools:

  1. Ali Al-Akbar Vocational Institute Beirut (Doha)

Islamic Centers:

  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)

Religious Colleges:

  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 is believed to have targeted him more than half a dozen times including during the July 2006 Israeli attack.

In Lebanon and in Washington, 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.

Some of his thoughts and commentary:

On the US dominated UN Security Council:

“International community in the United Nations does not speak about Israel’s gradual annihilation of the Palestinian people or the missile holocaust that targets them daily with US weapons that give Zionists the capabilities to kill these people, destroy their infrastructure, and brand those who demand freedom and removal of the occupation from their land with the charge of terrorism. It is as if people’s freedom is a terrorist demand”.

“The massacres of Qana, Sabra and Shatila, and Jenin and Gaza have passed without the international community pausing for a moment to condemn Israel, which is now commemorating the holocaust by wreaking vengeance on the peoples of the region. We ask in our talks with the European Union: If Jews were subjected to this holocaust at your hands, why do we have to pay the price when the Arab and Islamic world had harbored Jews in its countries and offered them security and economic privileges as well as religious freedoms? Jews have lived among us in full freedom and dignity because Islam teaches us to respect religious minorities.” 11/5/2005

On Iraq:

“We believe that the Iraqi issue is very complicated. We don’t think that the Shiites brought the Americans and the British to Iraq because America had been planning the invasion of Iraq since the eighties, in order to secure the strategic interests it has mentioned many times. When America decided to invade Iraq, it did so under the pretense of removing the weapons of mass destruction. Back then, it did not even mention the Iraqi regime, its negative attitude towards its people and its tyranny, because the Iraqi regime was an American regime through the relations of Saddam with the American intelligence [agencies] and his implementation of many American plans, including the invasion of Kuwait.”

“Iraq is wanted to be preoccupied with the sectarian and ethnic quotas amid a security chaos, which risks a civil war. This would help the occupation to stay and achieve its strategic interests at the expense of the nation.”

“The US-backed Western axis, within the framework of which the EU states are moving, still insists on resuscitating America and refuses to admit its defeat in Iraq, because it does not want that to lead to a real political turning point that serves the interests of the Islamic and liberation forces. The efforts of this axis are therefore concentrated on protecting the western enterprise by once again targeting Islam and kindling the sectarian fire.” 4/23/2006

Regarding statements by some Arab leaders regarding Zionist attacks on Al-Aqsa and Palestinian unity:

“Verbal protests by some Arab regimes are useless. The issue of the Al-Aqsa Mosque needs a strong political action. The serious development taking place may require the Arab countries which have diplomatic relations with Israel to withdraw their ambassadors and put strong pressure on Israel… I think this is the least that can be done by those who talk about their respect for the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Israel does not care about Arab protests and these protests do not pose any problem to it…..I tell the two movements and all Palestinian factions that if they argue about the formation of a national unity government, they should know that there is no government in Palestine for the Palestinians. With all due respect to the brothers in Hamas, we find that the real government is that of Israel, which is controlling all Palestinian affairs. We also tell the head of the Palestinian Authority that there is no Palestinian Authority because Israel controls all the authority and government positions. Accordingly, this conflict is not over a real issue, but over an illusion that does not exist. Therefore, I believe that the solution lies in continuing the intifadah and activating resistance against Israel…. I believe that the game the West plays in this regard through some US envoys or the Quartet is only aimed at wasting time so that Israel can achieve all that its wants. We hear the United States say it is against the wall and large settlements, but it actually does nothing against them… the United States and its allies do not want the Palestinian state to come into existence… Palestinian unity is the only option which can achieve some of the Palestinian people’s aims.” 2/7/07

On Sunni-Shia relations:

“The political issue is not confined to Hezbollah or the Shi’is. The opposition consists of several factions as is known to all. Besides, the government is not a Sunni government. It is a coalition government made up of all communities.” He adds: “I can strongly assert that the Shi’is in general have no political plan that is independent of the Lebanese people’s plan. All they want is to live together with the other citizens away from any sectarian regime so that they will have equal rights and duties like the rest of the Lebanese… the United States and its allies do not want to solve the problem of Lebanon, and therefore, the situation is very complicated. The Shi’is are loyal to their country. Having relations with others should not mean that they place loyalty to others above their loyalty to their country…The Shi’is pose a threat only to Israel because they are the power which protects rather than harms Lebanon.” 2/7/07

On Palestine following a meeting with former President Jimmy Carter:

“For more than 20 years and before Hezbollah was born, I believed and continue to believe that America is the problem, especially with regard to the Palestinian question. Today I heard former President Jimmy Carter say the United States used the veto 40 times to defend Israel at the UN Security Council, thus acting against the will of the entire international community. This is what we note now during the US occupation of Iraq – an occupation which was carried out under a pretext America finally admitted was incorrect”. 6/2009

On abolishing Lebanese sectarianism:

“I believe that the sects that get too involved in their own issues far from the other sects are the source of Lebanon’s woes. Thus I always called for developing the concept of citizenship as an alternative to the sectarian system” 2/7/07

Addressing the American people following the 2008 election:

“We have always been and still are – as Muslims – looking forward to friendship with the American people as part of our message to be open to all the nations of the world. Islam has called on us to establish friendships with all people, respect them, and protect their rights, regardless of their colour, religion and race. Dealing with the spirits of justice and with the morals of mercy and love with other people makes us closer to the Creator, who honored all human beings and favored them above all other creatures “But at the same time, we used to face American administrations which worked – in one way or another – to confiscate our rights as Arab and Muslim people. These administrations looked to the region with an Israeli eye, thus overlooking the tragedy of the Palestinians who were displaced by Israel, which practiced all kinds of displacement, murders and massacres against them. It also refused to allow them to return to their homeland, while bringing Jewish people to replace them.

The current US Administration proved to be the most biased one, as it ignored negotiations in the beginning, and allowed Israel to destroy Palestinian infrastructure and to commit cruelest crimes against them. It also justified the [presence] of the separation wall although the International Justice Court confirmed its illegitimacy. Moreover, the American president has announced recently the Jewish character of the state at the expense of Palestinian rights that were ratified by the United Nations in its successive resolutions…The American nation and its aware and thoughtful level, which monitors the facts and realizes their backgrounds, knows very well that the Arab and Islamic people have never employed the weapon of hatred against them or against their countries, as there was no kind of antagonism between them. They also know that the Arabs and Muslims did not colonize the region as others did”. 2/10/08

On rejecting terrorism:

“We must concentrate on rejecting terrorism against innocent individuals, irrespective of their identity and political and religious affiliation. We must emphasize our respect for peoples’ movements in resisting the occupiers and usurpers, being movements that truly represent a right that cannot be denied and exercise this right according to legitimate and moral rules that are characterized by the highest degrees of honor, pride, and dignity.” 7/24/08

On encouraging Women to participate in politics:

“God created the human being from one soul, from which He created its spouse in order to allow diversity. History has often described the woman as a weak creature and some might refer to this description as a religious label. But the holy Koran talks about the weakness of human beings in general. Woman should share with man in producing education, enhancing the wheel of knowledge, creating civilization, being open to all issues, and partaking in political action. We know that some women succeeded in assuming the highest level in experience and positions, while man in our east is in a position of illiteracy and backwardness…We must fight superstition and backwardness and illiteracy with knowledge, which is the responsibility of the woman who should specialize, as men do, in all fields of knowledge. We read in the Koran that God does not want the human being to restrict himself to one field of knowledge, but to be in an accumulating process as said by the honorable verse: “Please God, grant me more knowledge”. God wants us to be part of a nation that shares with the world its movement and knowledge and culture and to have a role in the decision-making process.”

“It is the responsibility of both men and women to work towards making our nation powerful and able to make security, economic and political decisions…”

“A wise, educated, and knowledgeable woman has the right to partake in political action at the level of parliament, cabinet or any senior position, because she has a mind just as a man has. She has to integrate with man to rescue the country and create a better future. A woman’s motherhood is not restricted to breastfeeding and looking after the children, but she has to raise well-informed children to live in a free, knowledgeable and educated country. This is her religious responsibility. You should have confidence in yourselves because I am concerned about the woman who lacks self confidence. I call for self-confidence and not arrogance, through education, knowledge and experience. You have to be active in society so others have confidence in you.” 9/11/08

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 supporting 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 the Zionist colonial project that stole Palestine.

This article first appeared on Counterpunch

Franklin P. Lamb, LLM,PhD
Director, Americans Concerned for
Middle East Peace, Wash.DC-Beirut

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