Hizb Allah

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HIZB ALLAH

Hizb Allah (Hezbollah, Hizbullah) from the Arabic hizb allah, or "party of God," became a popular name for political Islamist groups in the late twentieth century, after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran began to use the Qur˒anic phrase (5:56–59; 58:19–22) to distinguish the righteous from the oppressors.

Focusing on the perennial conflict between the forces of good and evil, and the Qur˒an's apocalyptic vision in which the "party of God" will be "victorious" and will go to heaven, whereas the "party of Satan" will ultimately "be the losers," was effective in consciousness-raising and forging solidarity in the postcolonial context of sociopolitical strife. This general usage of "Hizb Allah" dominated in Iran in the late 1970s, when it was used by those who supported Ayatollah Khomeini in his opposition to the shah, "the West," and Israel, and in his advocacy of government based on Islam as interpreted by religiously trained (Shi˓ite) legal scholars. Somewhat earlier, a group of Sunni political Islamists in Yemen called themselves Hizb Allah, and later another small Sunni Hizb Allah appeared in Egypt, reputedly under the leadership of Yahya Hashim. A faction that broke away from Islamic Jihad in Palestine during the 1980s, led by Ahmad Muhanna, also called itself Hizb Allah. The Palestinian Hizb Allah, like its parent Islamic Jihad, is military in nature, rejects compromise with Israel, and believes the question of Palestine is fundamentally religious in nature. That is, returning Palestine and, in particular, Jerusalem, to Islamic sovereignty is considered a religious duty.

However, the term Hizb Allah (Hezbollah/Hizbullah) is most frequently associated with the Lebanese Shi˓ite group founded in 1982, following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Shi˓ite leader Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, who had studied with Khomeini in Najaf during the latter's exile in Iraq, became an outspoken opponent of Israel, and of "the West" in general. At that time, Iran's Islamic government sent a contingent of Revolutionary Guards to Lebanon to assist in the resistance to Israel, becoming the core of Shi˓ite militancy in Lebanon. The movement is led by a secretary general (most recently Hojjat al-Islam Hassan Nasrallah) and advised by a council (Jihad Council), including Lebanese Shi˓ite scholars and military advisors. Since its inception, however, Fadlallah has been the movement's spiritual leader and spokesperson.

With support from Iran, Syria, and private donations, Hizb Allah expanded its activities to include assistance to families of those who have died in war or are imprisoned, medical facilities (hospitals, pharmacies, rehabilitation centers), factories, education (scholarships), social services (including scouting and sports activities), communications (radio and newspapers), as well as infrastructure (including rebuilding sites destroyed in war). Since 1992 it has operated as a political party as well, competing successfully for the Shi˓ite vote in parliamentary elections. Nevertheless, Hizb Allah is most widely known for attacks carried out by its militia for covert operations, the Organization of the Islamic Jihad. These attacks have been waged against foreigners in Lebanon, both individuals (assassinations and kidnappings) and groups (such as the bombings of U.S. diplomatic and military installations in 1983 and 1984), as well as Israeli occupation forces in southern Lebanon.

In Iran, the popularity of Hezbollahi rhetoric has waned with the rise in popularity of Mohammed Khatami, who was elected president by a wide margin in 1997 on a campaign stressing the need for reform within Iran rather than opposition to the West. Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 after eighteen years of warfare led by Hizb Allah forces, by contrast, greatly enhanced Hizb Allah's standing in Lebanon and the Arab Middle East.

See alsoPolitical Islam .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Jaber, Hala. Hezbollah: Born with a Vengeance. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Kramer, Martin S. Hezbollah's Vision of the West. Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1989.

Saad-Ghorayeb, Amal. Hizbu˒llah: Politics and Religion. London: Pluto Press, 2002.

Tamara Sonn