January 16, 2008 § Leave a comment
I’m going to start providing summaries and analysis of the Friday sermons of prominent Shi’i clerics in the Arab world. But before I launch that feature, I’ll attempt to give an accurate ideological and personal portrait of many of these figures.
I’ll begin with Sayyid Mohammad Husayn Fadlallah (pron: Faahd-dul-luh). I hope to explain why Fadlallah’s views are relevant to popular Shi’i thought and how his views can help individuals gain a better understanding of wider thought trends in the Middle East as a whole and in Lebanon in particular.
Fadlallah is the highest ranking Shi’i religious figure in Lebanon. His official title in Arabic is: Samaahat al-‘Alaama al-Marja’ al-Sayyid Mohammad Husayn Fadlallah.
- Samaahat connotes respected
- al-‘Alaama means learned
- al-Marja’ is trickier, but essentially means source of emulation
- al-Sayyid means a descendant of the Prophet Mohammad.
Fadlallah descends from the Hasanid line, meaning he is a descendant of Hasan, the Prophet’s grandson, Imam Ali’s son, and the second in the line of the Shi’i Imams. Fadlallah could also be labeled Grand Ayatullah or al-Ayatullah al-udhma. The process by which one ascends to the Shi’i marji’iyya, or the highest earthly level of religious authority, is a life-long process marked with periods of intensive study in a prominent city such as Najaf, Iraq or Qom, Iran and the student must attain a certain level of popularity and support from the wider Shi’i community.
Many Western news sources erroneously label Fadlallah as “Hezbullah’s Spiritual Leader.” Fadlallah’s mosque and charity work is centered in al-Dahiyya, or the southern suburbs of Beirut, where Hezbullah runs many social services and enjoys a tremendous amount of support. With that in mind, many supporters of Hezbullah attend Fadlallah’s sermons and view him as their marja’, or source of religious emulation. Fadlallah supports Hezbullah as a Resistance force in Lebanon, but to say that Fadlallah is the “spiritual leader” of Hezbullah would ignore the traditionally independent role that Shi’i religious leaders play in their respective countries and the mutual denial of both Hezbullah and Fadlallah of any connection between the two. Furthermore, Hezbullah officially looks to the Iranian marja’ Ali al-Khamenei as their spiritual leader.
(Image of Khamenei with Hezbullah fighters in the background from wa3ad.org, an organization affiliated with Hezbullah.)
Fadlallah often makes headlines because of his relatively progressive views on the role of women in Islam. Of course, Fadlallah interprets the role of women through an Islamic framework and uses the Quran and Sunna as justification for all of his beliefs. He is a very outspoken supporter of equal rights from women and men and he continually pushes the idea that women are equal to men in their ability to reason. One of Fadlallah’s books Dunya al-Mara’ or the World of Women puts all of his positions in a very accessible and easy-to-read format for his followers.
Members of the mari’iyya all offer their own tafsir, or analysis, of the Quran and the Sunna. Individuals who are muqallad, or loyal, to a specific marja’ will seek out the marja”s views on specific issues and incorporate those into their daily routines. The views of individual marja’s are disseminated in a variety of ways. The internet is one method by which a marja’ may transmit his rulings. Since I’m not able to directly communicate with many marja’s then I will be looking at their messages as they convey them through the internet because this is the source of information most accessible to me.