Fadlallah, known for his staunch anti-US stance, helped in the rise of Lebanon’s Shiite community in the past decades. He was one of the founders of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s governing Dawa Party and was believed to be its religious guide until the last days of his life. He was described in the 1980s as a spiritual leader of the Lebanese militant Hezbollah — a claim both he and the group denied.
Fadlallah was born in Iraq in 1935 and lived in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, where he was considered among the top clergymen, until the age of 30. His family hailed from the southern Lebanese village of Ainata and he later moved to Lebanon, where he started lecturing on religion and prodded Shiites, who today make up a third of Lebanon’s population of four million, to fight for their rights in the 1970s and 80s.
During Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war, he was linked to Iranian-backed Shiite militants who kidnapped Americans and bombed the US Embassy and Marine base in Lebanon, killing more than 260 Americans.
Although he adamantly denied involvement in those events, he contended such acts were justifiable when the door is closed to dialogue. “When one fires a bullet at you, you cannot offer him roses,” he had said.
Announcing Fadlallah’s death at a Beirut news conference, Bahraini Shiite cleric Abdullah al-Ghuraifi, described him as a “father, religious authority and spiritual leader to all Islamic movements in the Arab and Islamic world.”
Outside the hospital and at the Al-Hassanayn mosque in Beirut’s suburb of Haret Hreik, where Fadlallah gave religion lessons and Friday sermons, black banners were hung up in a sign of mourning.