Citation for Faḍlallāh, Muḥammad Ḥusayn

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Carré, Olivier , Olivier Carré and Joseph A. Kéchichian. "Faḍlallāh, Muḥammad Ḥusayn." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. May 22, 2022. <>.


Carré, Olivier , Olivier Carré and Joseph A. Kéchichian. "Faḍlallāh, Muḥammad Ḥusayn." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed May 22, 2022).

Faḍlallāh, Muḥammad Ḥusayn

The spiritual leader of Ḥizbullāh (Party of God), Sayyid Faḍlallāh (1935–2010) was born in Najaf, Iraq, into a Lebanese family that hailed from ʿAynata, a village close to Bint Jubayl. Faḍlallāh 's father was an ʿalim (religious scholar) in the Iraqi shrine and university city, where his gifted young son excelled in religious studies. One of his principal teachers was Abol-Qāsem Khoʿi (Abū al-Qāsīm al-Khūʿī), whose doctrine and practice rejected direct political participation by the ʿulamāʿ (community of religious scholars). Faḍlallāh cites the influence of his other teacher, Muḥsin al-Ḥakīm, and of his fellow student Muḥammad Bāqir al-Ṣadr. Al-Ṣadr was politically active in the 1960s, turning the Shīʿī university at Najaf into a center of political and religious opposition to the Iraqi regime. The regime had at first been favorably inclined toward the Communists, but was soon dominated by Arab nationalists within the Iraqi Baʿth party.

As early as 1964, at the age of 29, Faḍlallāh defined the function of a Muslim intellectual: “to bridge the deep divide that exists between youth and religion” because of the public status held by the ʿulamāʿ and the distance between them and young people. At 31, he was appointed cleric to the eastern suburb of Beirut, in Nabʿah, an impoverished area. There, Faḍlallāh established cultural youth clubs as well as free clinics and community centers, harbingers of future Ḥizbullāh activities. The success of these clubs encouraged him, by 1972, to spread his message in his native region of Bint Jubayl.

The late 1960s and early 1970s witnessed significant encroachments by Israel against Palestinians in South Lebanon, causing a Shīʿī exodus toward Beirut. Faḍlallāh completed a major treatise, Islam and the Logic of Power (al-Islām wa manṭiq al-quwah), in March 1976 at the height of these confrontations. In the course of the Lebanese civil war, Nabʿah was destroyed, emptied of its inhabitants by extremist Christian militias, and Faḍlallāh was taken prisoner. He recounted that he began his book on the contemporary requirements of Islam (Khatawat) while the bombs were still falling. In a 1977 postscript, he emphasized how he placed himself “squarely in the experience of the have-nots,” which further defined his philosophy.

Released, but expelled to the Dahīyah—the southern suburban areas of the capital, Faḍlallāh was immersed in the country 's Shīʿī refugee crisis. For several years thereafter, his ministry was defined by political questions, coupled with appalling conditions throughout the South. The event that mobilized him was the 1978 disappearance of Mūsā al-Ṣadr, the charismatic head of the Harakat al-Maḥrūmīn (Movement of the Disadvantaged), who was abducted and perhaps executed by the Libyans. Within a short year, Iran ushered in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, an event that, for the astute Faḍlallāh, meant opportunity. Khomeini received him in 1984 and named him marjaʿ al-taqlīd (source of imitation), a legitimizing honor, in 1986. From that point on, the balance of political and spiritual obligations became his main concern.

Political Life in Lebanon.

In the civil-war configuration of Lebanese politics, Amal—the successor to ḥarakāt al-Maḥrūmīn—was pro-Syrian, anti-Palestinian, first and foremost Lebanese, not linked to Khomeini, and disposed to compromise with the Katāʿib (the Phalanges, a Maronite party) and Israel. When a splinter Shīʿī group emerged in 1982, Faḍlallāh called them al-islāmiyūn (roughly, the “Islamists”). These groups were united within the Organization of the Islamic Jihād. and consisted of: Amal Islami, formed in 1982 at Baalbek by three hundred Iranian Revolutionary Guards who had arrived at the end of 1979 and which increased to 1,500 members in the Syrian-controlled area of Lebanon by 1982; the Sunnī Tawhīd movement, based in Tripoli, which acquired Palestinian pro-Arafat elements beginning in 1983; and Ḥizbullāh, in Beirut, which commanded more than a thousand fighters. By 1983, the group was ready to conduct its “first operations of the popular Islamic resistance against Israeli occupation,” openly acknowledged in 1985.

Throughout the early 1980s, Faḍlallāh delivered sermons and lectures that were simple, clear, and reflective, yet firm and radical. His pronouncements gained popularity, both at home and overseas. On March 8, 1985, he was the target of an attempted assassination—one of several over a period of years—when a car bomb destroyed an entire apartment building, killing eighty and injuring over two hundred. Allegedly, the attack was organized by Western intelligence, perhaps funded by Saudis and carried out by former British commandos. Faḍlallāh claimed that the then-director of the CIA, William J. Casey, had told an Arab ambassador that he “had become annoying to U.S. policy and should be removed.” (“Will U.S. Foreign Policy Increase Terrorism?” Paul Cochrane, contributing editor, July 5, 2004, at American intelligence was persuaded that Faḍlallāh blessed the devastating 1983 attacks in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French paratroopers. Faḍlallāh insisted that American investigators “were incapable of finding any proof that [he] was responsible for these operations.” (“Will U.S. Foreign Policy Increase Terrorism?” Paul Cochrane, contributing editor, July 5, 2004, After 1985, Faḍlallāh became the president of the Lebanese council of Ḥizbullāh.

The Palestinian Conflict.

In the spring of 1985, Faḍlallāh defended Beirut 's Palestinian camps, which were besieged by Amal acting on Syrian orders. This effort complicated matters as Iran and Syria, which were nonetheless allied powers, clashed in Lebanon. By early 1986, Ḥizbullāh and its pro-Iranian allies violently rejected the inter-Lebanese agreement that had been drawn up at Damascus in December 1985. In this rejection, Ḥizbullāh followed the example of the Maronite Lebanese Forces and opposed Amal.

In the second “war of the (Palestinian) camps,” waged after September 1986, Ḥizbullāh was neutral and clashed only with Syrian troops, which were eventually deployed in West Beirut. Damascus yielded to the Islamist enclave. During this time, Faḍlallāh attended two formal scholarly meetings in Tehran and Lausanne, which produced a draft of the Lebanese Islamic Constitution. Although Faḍlallāh harbored clear doubts about the Islamic state and the risks of absolute personal power, he nevertheless contemplated such a blueprint for multi-confessional Lebanon.

Further Political Developments in Lebanon.

Faḍlallāh's political commitment engendered and nourished his theological reflections, especially since he was no longer an active participant in military affairs. Remarkably, it was Sayyid Ḥasan Naṣrallāh—not Faḍlallāh—who succeeded ʿAbbās al-Mūsawī, after he was assassinated by Israel in 1992. A tenuous situation emerged after Ḥizbullāh opposed the October 1989 Ṭāʾif Accord, which introduced constitutional readjustments for Lebanon, followed by low-intensity clashes in the Israeli-declared “security zone” in the south. Without denouncing resistance, Faḍlallāh nevertheless favored political participation, supporting the August 1992 Lebanese legislative plebiscite, ostensibly because the new system of confessional secularism somewhat favored the Shīʿī community.

Although Ḥizbullāh originally aimed to transform Lebanon into an Islamic republic, this goal was abandoned, according to Faḍlallāh, and NaṢrallāh confirmed that he “believe[d] the requirement for an Islamic state is to have an overwhelming popular desire, and we ’re not talking about fifty percent plus one, but a large majority. And this is not available in Lebanon and probably never will be.” (The New York Review of books, Volume 51, Number 7, April 29, 2004 “In Search of Hezbollah,” By Adam Shatz, Ḥizbullāh concluded that it could not force a one-person-one-vote system onto the country 's Christians. By 1998, when Faḍlallāh spoke at a conference on women 's rights at the American University of Beirut, additional concessions to modernizing influences were visible. Faḍlallāh recommended that, within the framework of a trial, stoning for “crimes of honor” should not result in death. In effect, the ḥudūd (Qurʾānic penalties) were seen as being the concern of the judicial powers and not the victims themselves, further illustrating the influences of a multi-confessional system.

Views on Terrorism.

Still, the learned scholar continued to be an outspoken leader for the Shīʿī community in Lebanon, supporting Ḥizbullāh even if he repeatedly condemned various terrorist attacks against civilians. He and Naṣrallāh firmly condemned the September 11, 2001 al-Qaʿida assaults on New York and Washington, D.C. Nevertheless, Faḍlallāh issued a fatwā forbidding any Muslim from assisting the United States in its occupation of any Muslim country.

In 2004, he made it clear that U.S. foreign policy increased terrorism, because “the method the American administration has used in the war against terror may have complicated the situation even more.” Faḍlallāh insisted that the roots of terrorism stemmed from U.S. foreign policy, which “[led] to a psychological state that oppose[d] the U.S. administration.” He cited Washington 's support of Arab elites as acentral cause for generating terrorism. Moreover, the occupation of Iraq, he underscored, “increased acts of terrorism against the U.S. and everyone going along with it, including the Iraqis themselves.” Faḍlallāh reiterated a widely held belief, especially among Shīʿī Lebanese, that the war for Iraq as well as the United States’ absolute commitment to Israel, served the latter rather than Arabs or Muslims. He insisted that “as along as the American policy [was] what it is in the region, and as long as the Palestinian issue remain[ed] with no just solution and the situation in Iraq continue[d], terrorism in the Arab and Islamic world, and the whole world, shall increase by 100 percent.”

United Nations Involvement.

In the aftermath of the Cedar Revolution that mobilized Lebanon after former Prime Minister Rafiq Ḥarīrī was assassinated on February 14, 2005, Faḍlallāh and other Ḥizbullāh leaders stood with Damascus. He rejected the Syria Accountability Act, which called for a withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, believing that the country would not be affected by whatever sanctions were imposed on Damascus. In fact, Lebanon was mired in internal conflict from then on, especially following the devastating August 2006 war between Ḥizbullāh and Israel. Faḍlallāh insisted that the expanded United Nations force in Lebanon was deployed to protect Israel, which naturally engendered strong disapproval. Faḍlallāh urged the Lebanese to treat the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) with caution, saying that the international forces were doing little to stop Israel 's violations of UN Resolution 1701, which imposed a ceasefire on August 14, 2006 to end the month-long conflict.

Resolution 1701 called for the disarmament of Ḥizbullāh, the withdrawal of all Israeli troops from southern Lebanon, and the deployment of 15,000 Lebanese soldiers to be backed by an equal number of UN peacekeepers in mainly Shīʿī south Lebanon. The thirty-four-day Israeli offensive in Lebanon claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Lebanese civilians, 30 percent of them children under twelve, and wounded at least 4,000 others. Faḍlallāh and others noted with justified contempt that the deadly Israeli assault left much of southern Lebanon in ruins and displaced nearly a million civilians from their homes.

In early 2007, Faḍlallāh spoke to the vast, mostly Arab Sunnī audience of alī-Jazeera (estimated at over 45 million) on Sunnī–Shīʿī clashes in Lebanon and Iraq. He denounced bloodshed of any kind and called for an end to intra-Muslim killings. Yet he complained about takf īrīs who allegedly tolerated the killing of Shīʿī Muslims.

Sayyid Faḍlallāh passed away on July 4, 2010 at the age of 74. Several of his followers “launched a school of beliefs and thoughts, a school that would always be committed to the main causes of Islam, from Jihad to Resistance, and face all foreign threats against the region,” which further committed Ḥizbullāh to the central Arab cause, Palestine, as well as persisting with its abhorrence of American policies. Although Faḍlallāh was known for his relatively liberal views on women, his political perceptions were controversial. Still, Faḍlallāh was respected by all sides in his ancestral country, as the Lebanese bade farewell to their last great Shīʿī marjaʿ al-taqlīd.

Theology and Political Legitimacy.

Although the Lebanese Islamic Constitution, which Faḍlallāh helped to develop in the 1980s, provided for a lajnah (commission) of wilāyat al-faqīh (rule of the jurisconsult) to exist alongside the president of the republic, the Shīʿī leader quickly realized its pitfalls. Fadlallah 's democratic views and his misgivings about the totalitarian wilāyat al-faqīh, excluding the marjaʿal-taqlīd, were no longer apparent in this document. The legitimacy of this Lebanese lajnah was to be Khomeini, the sole faqīh qāʿid of all the Muslims in the world. The Lebanese president of this local lajnah would be presented simply as Khomeini 's representative, designated by him. In this regard, Faḍlallāh finally acknowledged a unique supreme authority (wilāyah), as well as delegated, dependent local authorities. The theory of the pluralist marjaʿīyah thus collapsed. Faḍlallāh had at this same time pondered the question, which he termed “agonizing,” of the choice between a sole wilāyah for the world or multiple authorities in Muslim countries; the choice was thus between an imperial Muslim state under one single authority, or a confederation of autonomous Islamic states that would meet periodically in a central assembly led by Khomeini. The Lebanese Islamic Constitution adopted the former solution, which proved to be a non-starter.

The Place of Non-Muslims.

Faḍlallāh faced the delicate issue of how to handle non-Muslims in a professed Islamic state. For him, secular individual freedom did not exist. Going against the great Muslim tradition that had existed in practice as well as in theory since the eleventh century, he rejected the fundamental distinction between political and religious powers. He opposed his teachers who did not wish to become involved in political activity, in particular his own mentor in Najaf, al-Khoʾi. Moreover, he praised the involvement of Muḥammad Bāqir al-Ṣadr in the Daʿwah party in Iraq, and explained al-Ṣadr's eventual withdrawal, and even his refusal to let his disciples be politically active, as only a tactical decision of superior wisdom (taqīyah) in the face of the all-powerful police strength of Saddam Hussein. Faḍlallāh himself emphasized the necessity of a disciplined political party to serve Islam.

It might have been expected that Faḍlallāh 's experience in Lebanon, his commendation of coexistence with Christians, his desire for a substantive dialogue, and his desire for an open and humanized fiqh (jurisprudence) would have brought him to discover new solutions. This has not been the case. He has maintained that Christians must renounce political sectarianism. Yet he did not expect Muslims to do the same. The desired Muslim state was not founded on the legal equality of all people, regardless of their religious and family ties, even though these ties might be taken into account, as in the present-day Lebanese constitution.

The Nature of Authority.

As to politics in general and war in particular, Faḍlallāh, like Khomeini, adhered to the uṣūlī (fundamentalist) tradition of modern Shiism that was established at the end of the eighteenth century as an alternative to the great tradition then called akhbārī (textual). To be uṣūlī was to valorize ijtihād (effort) in modern circumstances, to give authoritative opinions, advice, and decisions to individuals facing new problems. In the fundamentalist tradition, these opinions and authorities were numerous and varied, and each great leader (marjaʿ) had his particular tradition (taqlīd). Fadlallah sawtaqīyah (dissimulation) as a rule governing concrete daily conduct without the supervision of a marjaʿ al-taqlīd. He accused the Akhbārīs of confirming and even sanctifying the gap between the immutable and ideal norms (sharīʿah) of the golden age of the imams and daily life, which had no link with those norms and was guided only by the light of mysticism.

Rebellion and Revolution.

According to Faḍlallāh, the possibility of a violent revolution at an appropriate juncture was not excluded, because of the breach between the intangible ideal of sharīʿah and traditional customs and new conditions. In addition, Faḍlallāh sought to emulate the revolutionary examples of ʿAlī and ḥusayn more than the quietist examples of the subsequent imams. He even claimed to draw inspiration from the rebellion movements that were crushed by the Shīʿī powers, backed by the ʿulamāʿ in the name of taqīyah. He made such claims as early as the first year of the civil war in Lebanon, in 1976. At the same time, he accused the Islamic extremists of indulging in impulsive and disorganized actions—“without taqīyah.” The time of taqīyah was the time of education, preparation, and organization in a party that was disciplined and adhered to a firm doctrine.

Islamic Government.

Nothing that Faḍlallāh suggested concerning the modernization of fiqh has gone beyond the level of generalities. Certainly seductive to his youthful listeners but lacking concrete revolutionary application. Following the model of al-Ṣadr, and not Khomeini, he emphasized the entire scope of fiqh, especially its social and political aspects. Thus he intended that the role of faqīh (especially that of the marjaʿ al-taqlīd) should go beyond simple director of the individual consciences. He affirmed the existence of an Islamic economy, social structure, and politics, according to certain general principles that, however, did not establish a specific type of political regime.

More specifically, in the applications of the supposedly modernized fiqh, Faḍlallāh ruled out the restoration of the caliphate, and was wary of Khomeini 's own theory of wilāyat al-faqīh al-qāʿid (governance of the jurisprudent). It was true that he clearly stated his allegiance to Khomeini, but this allegiance was to his jihādī (struggle movement) rather than to the man himself. Thus, Faḍlallāh excluded the notion that Khomeini was the representative or the forerunner of the imam Mahdi. Rather, Khomeini 's legitimacy lay in the reality of his Islamic government that, Faḍlallāh has said, was truly the first to be established after long centuries of expectation. He implicitly denied the Islamic character of all other existing regimes in the Muslim world.

For Faḍlallāh, the very nature of authority was thus subjected to concrete political visions that recognized justified rebellion without engaging in perpetual revolutions. He supported the establishment of an Islamic Government that did not impose rule by fiat. His political thought, in short, was distinctive. It was tolerant of his adoptive country’s multiculturalism that necessitated compromises.

See also AKHBāRīYAH; ḤIZBULLāH, subentry on ḤIZBULLāH IN LEBANON; LEBANON; MARJAʿ AL-TAQLīD; SADR, MUHAMMAD BāQIR AL-; SHīʿī ISLAM, subentry on MODERN SHīʿī THOUGHT; UṢūLīYAH; and WILāYAT AL-FAQīH.Translated from French by Elizabeth Keller


Works by MuḤammad Ḥusayn Faḍlallāh

  • ʿAla tariq harakat al-quwah fil-dawlah al-Islamiyah.Al-tawhid (March 1986): 85–102.
  • Al-Haraka Al-Islamiyyah: Humum wa Qadayah. 4th ed.Beirut: 2001.
  • Al-Islam wa-manṭiq al-quwah (Islam and the Logic of Power), 2d ed.Beirut: Al Muʿassasah Al Jamiʿiyyah, 1981.
  • Al-Marjaʿiyyah wa Harakat al-Waqiʿ. Beirut: 1994.
  • Al-muqawamah al-Islamiyyah. Beirut: 1985.
  • Fī Hiwar al-Din wa al-Marʿa wa al-Siyasah wa al-Mufawadat.Al-Majalla, June 17, 1995: 23–26.
  • Fiqh al-Sharīʿah. Vol. 1. 5th ed.Beirut: Dar al-Malak, 2001.
  • Iradat al-Quwah: Jihad al-Muqawamah f ī Khitab al-Sayyid Faḍlallāh. Beirut: Dar al-Malak, 2000.
  • Khatawat ʿala ṭariq al-Islam. 3d ed.Beirut: 1982.
  • Maʿa al-ḥikmah bi-khatt al-Islam. Beirut: 1985. Collection of articles published between 1979 and 1981.
  • Mafahim Islamiyyah. 12 vols. 4th ed.Beirut: 1982.

Secondary Sources

  • Carré, Olivier. L ’Utopie islamique dans l ’Orient arabe. Paris: Presses de la Fondation nationale des sciences politiques, 1991. See chapter 9, “Khomeinisme libanais: Orgueilleux et Déshérités chez Fadlallah,” and chapter 10, “La Révolution islamique selon Fadlallah.”
  • Kramer, Martin. “Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah.”Orient2 (1985): 147–149.
  • Kramer, Martin. “The Oracle of Hizbullah: Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah.” In Spokesmen for the Despised: Fundamentalist Leaders of the Middle East, edited by R. Scott Appleby, pp. 83–181. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.
  • Sankari, Jamal. Fadlallah: The Making of a Radical Shiʿite Leader. London: SAQI, 2005. Traces Fadlallah 's trajectory from his early intellectual development through his scholastic and political career.

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