Lebanon’s Ayatollahllah fadlallah and the Mercaz Ha-Rav Yeshiva Attack in Jerusalem


Vol. 7, No. 35    March 10, 2008

  • Ayatollah Mohamad Hussein Fadlallah, the most important religious authority among the Shiites of Lebanon and the Gulf states, is the most senior Shiite religious figure in Lebanon to have praised the massacre of eight Israeli students at Mercaz Ha-Rav Yeshiva in Jerusalem on March 6.
  • In recent years, an intense effort has been made by American-based academics to portray Fadlallah as a moderate religious leader who is seeking to establish ecumenical understandings between Christians and Muslims. Journalists have characterized his religious rulings as “liberal.”
  • Yet it was Fadlallah who provided the fatwa (religious opinion) to the suicide bomber who attacked the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. Fadlallah supported the seizure and hostage-taking at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, backed suicide bombing attacks in 2002, and praised Iran’s efforts to build long-range missiles as the “pride of the Islamic world” in 2008.

Ayatollah Mohamad Hussein Fadlallah is the most senior Shiite religious figure in Lebanon to have praised the massacre of eight Israeli students at Mercaz Ha-Rav Yeshiva in Jerusalem on March 6. In his sermon during Friday prayers, Fadlallah declared: “the heroic operation in Jerusalem proved that the mujahedeen in Palestine are able to hit the Zionists hard.” His remarks were carried by Hizbullah’s television network, al-Manar, on March 8.

In Fadlallah’s announcement, there is no mention that a religious institution was targeted. Moreover, while the Mercaz Ha-Rav Yeshiva is on the western side of Jerusalem, al-Manar insisted on saying that the Palestinian gunman had struck in “occupied al-Quds.” Fadlallah denies that he is formally connected to Hizbullah; nonetheless, he served as its mentor and spiritual guide as he sought to reach out to Shiites beyond the organization. Even today, he has enormous influence over Hizbullah’s adherents.1

In fact, Ayatollah Fadlallah is the most important source of religious authority among the Shiites of Lebanon and the Gulf states. In recent years, an intense effort has been made, especially by American-based academics like Augustus Richard Norton, to portray Fadlallah as a moderate religious leader who is seeking ways of entering into a dialogue with the West.2 There are those who argue that one of his main intentions is to establish ecumenical understandings between Christians and Muslims. Journalists have characterized his religious rulings as “liberal.”3

Alistaire Crooke, the former British intelligence operative who calls for a Western dialogue with Islamists, has also been critical of policymakers who do not hear “when respected leaders like Ayatollah Fadlallah call for talk, dialogue and listening.”4 In this context, there is a body of scholars who sought to counter the argument that it was Ayatollah Fadlallah himself who provided the fatwa (religious opinion) to the suicide bomber who attacked the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. It is also known that Fadlallah supported the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the holding of its personnel as hostages.5

But Fadlallah’s statements have to be read carefully. Speaking to the Daily Star in Beirut during June 2002, Fadlallah backed suicide bombing attacks: “Basically it is haram (prohibited by religion) to kill oneself or others; but during jihad (holy war or struggle for the sake of Islam), it is accepted and allowed, as jihad is considered an exceptional case.”6 In early February 2008, he praised Iran’s efforts to build long-range missiles as the “pride of the Islamic world,” just after meeting Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon.7 It is clear that if Fadlallah was willing to praise the massacre of young students in Jerusalem, he is also granting legitimacy, more broadly, to terrorist acts of this sort which injure and even kill innocent civilians.

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Notes

1. Martin Kramer, “The Oracle of Hizbullah: Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah (Part 1),” in Spokesmen for the Despised: Fundamentalist Leaders of the Middle East, http://www.geocities.com/martinkramerorg/Oracle1.htm

2. Augustus Richard Norton, “Hizballah: From Radicalism to Pragmatism?” Middle East Policy, Middle East Policy Council, Vol. 5, 1998, http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst;jsessionid= HT1Jfcng0dzpsvQ82dSzM4G2rXwjjJ5vhZsHRPyzML1HDHknbBL0!-932623737?docId=96397557

3. Borzou Daragahi, “Lebanon Cleric Advises ‘Modern Shiites’,” Los Angeles Times, February 2, 2008, http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-fadlallah6feb06,0,6418242.story

4.  Alastair Crooke interviewed by Abdullah Faliq, The Cordoba Foundation, “Should the West Dialogue with Islamists,” Conflict Forum, October-December 2006, http://conflictsforum.org/2007/should-the-west-dialogue-with-islamists/

5. Kramer, op. cit.

6.  Ibrahim Mousawi, “Fadlallah Explains Religious Basis for Suicide Attacks,” Daily Star, June 8, 2002, http://www.lebanonwire.com/0206/02060802DS.asp

7. “Fadlallah: Iran’s Missile Is the Pride of the Islamic World,” Naharnet, February 7, 2008, http://www.naharnet.com/domino/tn/NewsDesk.nsf/Lebanon/2E210BA4D2B69E12C22573E800496FDF?OpenDocument

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Dr. Shimon Shapira is the author of Hizballah: Between Iran and Lebanon, 4th ed. (Tel Aviv: Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University, 2006). He is a senior research associate at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

About Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira

Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira was a senior research associate at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs when he wrote this article. Today, he is Chief of Staff to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.