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Faḍlallāh, Muḥammad Ḥusayn

Nabil Hage Ali
The [Oxford] Encyclopedia of Islam and Law What is This? An English-language legal reference for scholars of Islamic studies and Western engaged readers presenting the history and development of Islamic Law.

Faḍlallāh, Muḥammad Ḥusayn


an influential Lebanese Shī‘ī cleric. Born in Iraq into a prominent religious family of Lebanon, he lived in the Shī‘ī shrine city of Najaf and studied under the preeminent clerics Muḥsin al-Ḥakīm (d. 1970) and Abū al-Qāsim al-Khū’ī (d.1992).

In Iraq, Faḍlallāh dedicated his writings to stemming the communist and nationalist tide, and to stir activism of the Islamic community. He belonged to a generation of Shī‘ī scholars like Muḥammad Bāqir al-Ṣadr who strove to empower the downtrodden Shī‘a and Islamize politics. Faḍlallāh returned to Lebanon in 1966 to operate several religious centers and seminaries. In the late 1970s, Faḍlallāh developed close relations with Islamic cadres and students who later became affiliated with Ḥizbullāh in 1982.

Faḍlallāh's affinity to the Islamic groups, and his public acknowledgment of Iranian leader Ruhollah al-Musavi Khomeini's religious authority after 1979, led to him being erroneously labeled as the leader of Ḥizbullāh despite his continual denials. In the following years, his relation with Ḥizbullāh began to deteriorate, seemingly over matters of a theoretical nature such as the theory of government. In fact, Faḍlallāh began to critique Khomeini's theory of government (known as wilāyat al-faqīh, or regime of the leading legal scholar), after the latter's death in 1989. The main controversy around Faḍlallāh, however, took place after he declared himself a marji’ taqlīd (source of emulation) in 1994, reducing the Iranian religious and political influence on his operations, institutions, and community of followers which he shared with Ḥizbullāh. Yet the tension in the Faḍlallāh-Ḥizbullāh relationship lessened with time; it almost disappeared after his unconditional support for Ḥizbullāh during the 2006 Lebanese-Israeli war.

Faced with the intricacies of the multi-confessional Lebanese society, he debated Christian counterparts about the nature of the Islamic state. Faḍlallāh attempted to quell their fears by asserting that an Islamic regime is a political project that does not require religious obedience of minorities. In latter years, he became less occupied with this discussion.

His controversial legal views reveal audacity and awareness of global political and social developments. For instance, he rejected the mantle of leadership of the Islamic community for those considered the most learned in jurisprudence unless they demonstrate a deep knowledge of politics and society. He equated men and women in rights and duties in matters where religious law does not specifically state otherwise; he ruled that smoking does not break the Ramadan fast, depended on astronomical calculations to determine the beginning of lunar months, and accepted certain genres of music, previously prohibited, as lawful. Such relatively progressive opinions, coupled with certain interpretations of several problematic historical accounts pertaining to the earliest struggle over the succession to the Prophet that did not fully endorse the particular understanding of some Shī‘ī groups, brought upon him the wrath of the traditional religious authorities in Najaf and Qum.

In 2010, Faḍlallāh passed away leaving behind an enduring legacy and a wide network of religious schools, charitable institution, schools, hospitals, and a huge following around the globe. His great funeral in Dahiyah (southern suburb of Beirut) reflected his undeniable respect among his followers and opponents as well.

[See also LEBANON.]


  • Faḍlallāh, Muḥammad Ḥusayn. Al-ijtihād bayn asr al-māḍī wa-āfāq al-mustaqbal (The independent legal reasoning between captivity in the past and horizons of the future).1st ed. Al-Dar al-Bayḍā’ (Casablanca, Morocco: al-Markaz al-Thaqāfī al-‘Arabī, 2009). Important document that compiles Faḍlallāh's views on challenges of ijtihād and legal change.
  • Faḍlallāh, Muḥammad Ḥusayn. Al-islām wa-manṭiq al-quwwah (Islam and the logic of power). 2d ed. Beirut, Lebanon: al-Dār al-Islāmiyyah, 1981. Contains aspects of Faḍlullāh's earlier Islamic views.
  • Faḍlallāh, Muḥammad Ḥusayn. Al-masā’il al-fiqhiyyah: Al-juz’ al-awwal (Jurisprudential issues: Part 1). 7th ed. Beirut: Dār al-Malāk, 1997.
  • Faḍlallāh, Muḥammad Ḥusayn. Al-masā’il al-fiqhiyyah: Al-juz’ al-thānī (Jurisprudential issues: Part 2). 5th ed. Beirut: Dār al-Malāk, 1996.
  • Faḍlallāh, Muḥammad Ḥusayn. Fī āfāq al-ḥiwār al-islāmī al-māsīḥī (In the horizons of Islamic-Christian dialogue). Beirut: Dār al-Malāk, 1994. Important for understanding Faḍlullāh's views on Christian-Muslim relations.
  • Faḍlallāh, Muḥammad Ḥusayn, and Hasani, Salim. al-Ma‘ālim al-jadīdah lī al-marja‘iyyah al-Shī‘iyyah (The new features of the Shī‘ī religious authority). 3d ed. Beirut: Dār al-Malāk, 1994. Important dialogue on Faḍlullāh's views on the Shī‘ī religious authority and plurality of Islamic leadership.
  • Faḍlallāh, Muḥammad Ḥusayn, and Nur al-Din, Najib. al-Ḥarakah al-Islāmīyah: Mā lahā wa-mā ‘alayhā (The Islamic movement). Beirut: Dār al-Malāk, 2004.
  • Faḍlallāh, Muḥammad Ḥusayn and S. As-Samarrā’i. Ghadīr: An Islamic Perspective. Beirut: Dār al-Malāk, 2008.
  • Kramer, Martin. “The Oracle of Hizbullah.” In Spokesmen for the Despised: Fundamentalist Leaders of the Middle East, edited by R. Scott Appleby. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.
  • Mallat, Chibli. Shi‘i Thought from the South of Lebanon. Oxford: Centre for Lebanese Studies, 1988. A study on three religious scholars from the same generation including Faḍlallāh.
  • Muhammad Qasim, Abd al-Aziz. “Wilāyat al-faqīh naẓariyyah lā yarāhā akthar fuqahā’ al-Shīah (Wilāyat al-faqīh. A theory that most Shīī jurist do not recognize).” ‘Ukāz (21 February 2008, issue number 2440). Dialogue with Faḍlullāh on theory of government and wilāyat al-faqīh.
  • Srur, Ali. al-‘Allāmah Faḍlallāh wa-taḥaddī al-mamnū‘ (Faḍlullāh defying the prohibited). 2d ed. Beirut: Dār al-Malāk, 2004. A biography of Faḍlallāh, based on interviews with him.
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