Fadlallah, Muhammad Husayn (1935– )

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Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, spiritual leader of the Shi a of Lebanon, was born in Najaf, Iraq, in 1935 to a religious family from Southern Lebanon. Known in the West as the spiritual leader of Hizbullah, unlike most Shi a ulema, he traces his genealogy to Imam Hassan rather than Imam Hossein. He studied with Ayatollah Khu i in Najaf, following which Fadlallah settled in eastern Beirut and became Khu i's representative. He lived and worked as a Shi a among Sunnis and Christians during the civil war in Lebanon. At the onset of the war he wrote about the relationship between political power and ideology and became an active community organizer. In his relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran, he has both continued his contacts with Tehran as well as maintained a distance from the Iranian leadership.

Fadlallah's career is marked by differences from other Shi a ulema. These differences include his focus on social and charitable organizations, women's participation in public life, and a rather decentered view of leadership. He believes that marja iyya, religious leadership, should be distinguished from wilayat al-faqih,or political leadership. There should be many waly (political leaders), whereas only one person should hold the title of marja . This means that there are many waly who are the interpreters of religion and politics in society. On the other hand, marja is a symbolic and religious leadership and jurisdiction goes beyond the political and national boundaries. Fadlallah believes that marja should be unified under one authority. Regarding jurisprudence, he argues that the Qur an takes precedence over the sunna, and that jurists need to interpret meaning directly from the Qur an. Fadlallah's religious and political status increased, especially among radicals, after Ayatollah Khomeini gave him ijaza (religious permission) to collect khums (religious tax) from his followers in 1982.

See alsoPolitical Islam .


Aziz, Talib. "Fadlallah and the Remaking of the Marja iya." In The Most Learned of the Shi a: The Institution of the Marja Taqlid. Edited by Linda S. Walbridge. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Mazyar Lotfalian