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Hanin Ghaddar

Fadlallah and the Shia, beyond Hezbollah

“A sane, adult and independent woman does not need a guardian,” that was part of the late Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah’s religious edict, or fatwa, on the occasion of Women’s anti-Violence Day last November. The ruling allowed women to use violence to defend themselves against domestic abuse.
 
Fadlallah’s fatwa provoked much criticism from conservative clerics and religious figures within the Shia community in Lebanon and elsewhere, especially those who consider women to be under the custody or guardianship of their husbands or fathers.
 
Fadlallah always believed in women’s independence and potential. But his value was that he had serious credibility among Shia, and it was this that meant he could change attitudes.
 
I’ve known this from a personal experience.
 
I was 21. I had just graduated from college, and did not want to go back to my village in the South. I got a job in Beirut and started to plant the first seeds of my independence. My father was not happy about me living alone in Beirut. “This is not a respectable girl’s lifestyle,” he told me many times, hoping I would listen to him and, fearing for my reputation, would come back home. I didn’t.
 
Then, my father, with the confidence of a guardian, and armed with the custody given to him by religion, ordered me to pack my things and come back. “If you don’t, then you can stay in Beirut, but you cannot step foot inside my house.” Those were his exact words.

Of course my father is not a typically religious man, but he is very traditional and like many others of his ilk, wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of the power granted to them by religion whenever they see fit, to control, for example, their daughters.
 
For two months, my father wouldn’t budge. I was living happily by myself in Beirut, but the rest of my family, especially my mother, were infuriated by the situation. She sought to overturn my father’s ruling and came up with a brilliant idea.

Soon after, a letter landed on my father’s lap. It told him that he had no right to tell me what to do, as I was an independent and sane and adult woman. It was signed Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.

So both my father and I realized that I had no guardian, that I was a free human being. Along the way, my mother also became conscious that she also is a free woman and not under my father’s custody. Her life also changed drastically after that; in a good way.

Since then, I have been able to visit my family anytime I want. Fadlallah’s letter said I could.

Aside from the personal story, I also understood that only figures like Fadlallah could change the status quo. People who position themselves as anti-Hezbollah, critics of resistance, or atheists, will rarely be heard within the Shia community because people will not listen to them. The Shia who support Hezbollah and those who practice religion with deep faith will be on the defensive when someone like me for example presents a different point of view and any conversation will go nowhere.

Fadlallah on the other hand could reach out to the people because he was one of them. He was a respected, esteemed and established religious leader who supported the Resistance. People listened to him.

But he also diverged from many of the established givens. He did not believe in Wilayat al-Faqih (or Guardianship of the Jurist) or Hezbollah’s organic relationship with Iran. He was a liberal Marja who wanted the Shia to be Lebanese first and foremost, and tried to modernize the community through his often controversial, but nonetheless deep-rooted, beliefs.

People like him, if strengthened, can bring about real change. He is one of those rare people whom Hezbollah and Iranian leadership feared. They feared him, attacked him and never recognized him as a Marja because people liked him and respected him. He was strong.

Today, Hezbollah will praise Fadlallah because he can no longer intimidate them. Before he died, he was not particularly their hero. Likewise, his followers were not big fans of Hezbollah. But Hezbollah will try to fill the void left by his death, and this started with his funeral where Hezbollah filled every available space between his house and the burial site at his mosque.
 
But a political party like Hezbollah cannot replace Fadlallah, because, simply, his significance lies in interpretations that went beyond politics and weapons. His learning offered the Shia a way of life that transcended sectarian tensions and political agendas. He offered intellectual debate and encouraged people to question. 

Hezbollah offers a way of life that places the Shia right in the middle of regional and sectarian struggles. All social and cultural debate is snuffed out because the priority is the military struggle. The Shia in Lebanon should not ask questions or debate issues. According to Hezbollah, they must follow and blindly believe in the party and its doctrines.  

When my grandmother stopped following Fadlallah and shifted to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, she turned into an arch conservative person. She lost interest in anything but religion and the speeches of Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. She started commenting on the length of my skirt and sleeves, whereas she used to be more interested in my studies and that new invention called “the computer.”

What happened to my grandmother? Well, Hezbollah happened.

Fadlallah was never a drastic liberal. He called for women’s rights, but within the limitations of Islam. Last year, I had the chance to meet Fadlallah for an interview. I went to his house in Haret Hreik in the southern suburbs of Beirut. I rushed there carrying my recorder, notebook and a list of questions for him. Of course, I forgot that I was still meeting a religious figure and was obliged to wear the veil.

Hanin Ghaddar is managing editor of NOW Lebanon.

  • Sami

    I never ever commented on the dress code in Turkey,the US or anywhere in the world.My comments were limited to the policies of these countries that affect Lebanon.Your comments are limited to the Muslim woman's dress code which I only pointed out that this code is similar and originated in Christianity and is an ethnic/cultural code .I said,you can read it again,that a nun is born to Christianity not to nunnery.The nunnery is a solely Christian institution,your misinformation on this subject is subject to ridicule.It is not your business to criticize other religions dress code as long as no one is imposing it on you...

    July 23, 2010

  • Hassan

    MohammadFawaz you are funny. A nun is not born a nun silly and not all nuns are born into Christianity! The "we" is the free human beings or human kind "we" and yes you qualify too, surprised? And why isn't what happens in Iran my buisness? Because you screamed so? You have an unhealthy high opinion of yourself of what you can dictate. I am free to give my opinion on any subject I wish but the concept of being free is foreign to you and your ideology. Do you have to look in a book, Chinese Little Red Book style, before you give an opinion. I've seen you comment on the US, Palestine, Turkey, Syria how come they are your business? You brought up maturity and screaming at people like a spoiled little girl is not a sign of maturity, mental stability or intellectual intelligence.

    July 20, 2010

  • Sami

    Were the nuns not born to Christianity as well,or did they choose it?When you say "we" who do you mean by "we"?The Lebanese or the Iranians?If you mean by "we" the Lebanese then tell us please who is forcing you to wear anything?If you mean by "we" the Iranians,then let me enlighten you : THIS IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.

    July 19, 2010

  • Hassan

    MohammadFawaz so you genuinely can't see the difference between a nun who chose to join an order and woman or man born into Islam or Christianity or whatever, the later group should be free to reject the rules for they did not chose them, free will is one of the basics of our humanity, this should be obvious to anyone with even an once of logic. Some regimes are so oppressive they need to control every facet of our lives including what we wear the fact that you can't see that is puzzling. You can reply with "well if they don't like it they can leave", but they can't the state has the say in that too. People living in those oppressive states are in fact living in a giant jail cell with internationally recognized walls. Wow, this is embarrassing I thought you were a cultured man but now I wonder. Sorry this is not a personal attack I'm just taken aback.

    July 19, 2010

  • Sami

    "....a nun who joins an order and has to follow it's rules ..."A Muslim woman joins Islam and has to follow its rules as well.If a nun does not follow the church's rules then she will be banished from the nunnery order(punished).I still do not see the difference.Refrain from personal attacks and stick to the point discussed;it is a sign of maturity.

    July 18, 2010

  • Hassan

    MohammadFawaz first of all I'm not here looking for love so don't call me habibi. Secondly, are you seriously telling me that you can't see the difference between a nun who joins an order and has to follow it's rules and a women being told by the state what she should wear under the threat of punishment? If you have trouble dressing yourself and you want the state to lay it out for you that's your problem but I can dress myself fine without it's help I can also think for myself without the state's help. Now run along go ask whoever you ask what you should think about and comeback to me with "your" reply. Lastly missionaries where here before there was Islam and if you lack the intellect to comprehend that Christianity is not a European invention I don't blame you it's not your fault it's God's will and I surrender to it we all have our limitations, live and let live.

    July 17, 2010

  • Sami

    Hassan,habibi,how could I deny that the Islamic countries do impose head cover?Or did I?I thought I was explaining that ,traditionally,this is not an Islamic tradition. It is still a choice in Egypt,Syria,Lebanon etc.If you object to head covers,do you objects to nuns covering their heads or your objection is only directed towards Muslims?Religious traditions and practices are not a matter of opinion;they are matters of faith;one either believes or does not believe in a practice or another. Your opinion does not matter,does not have any value and will not change anything anywhere.You can preach all night long for days and years,with no effect.Missionaries failed miserably in the Islamic world.

    July 17, 2010

  • Hassan

    MohammadFawaz, take a look at older men in any rural village they wear hats. Traditionally women wore scarves and men wore hats but we, men, don't wear hats anymore unless we want to, but women, every single one, in some countries and communities are obliged by law to cover their heads and are punished if they don't, guess what countries and communities those are.

    July 15, 2010

  • Hassan

    Again we read closed minded commentators with a limited intellect that can't understand that one can disagree with another on one issue while supporting them on one or more issue, it's the sheep mentality that parties like the so called hezbala enshrines in their followers. Grand Ayatollah Fadlallah openly disagreed with many aspects of the ideology of the Iranian Islamic republic and it's hard core fundamentalist dogma, ideology blindly followed by the so called hezbala, but he fully supported the so called hezbala's resistance ideology. The Communist, Qawmi and Baath parties are secular parties and can't subscribe to the so called hezbala's Islamic ideology but they still can wholeheartedly support it's armed struggle.

    July 15, 2010

  • any

    you choose fadlallah fatwas you like and ignore the rests ? you do not wear a veil, you wear short skirts, you are against those who defend your country, you are a part of anti-resistance propaganda, you do not respect your father etc.. does fadlallah accept this ? be sure you are not praising fadlallah in this ... article, you are like those who read "la ilah" and forgets about "illa allah", the only objectif from this article was to criticize hezbollah, and be sure you failed.

    July 13, 2010

  • ASAAD

    i liked this essay very much ...but hey Iwish i could see how would you look like wearing hijaab.

    July 12, 2010

  • CEDAR REVOLUTION / GEBRAN SONS

    Thanks Hanin for your personal account. You are a voice of reason in a restless sea that carries no echoes or hopes. Hizbollahstan looks today intellectually bare like China after its Cultural Revolution or Cambodia during Kmer Rouge. Sayyed Fadlallah clearly speaks with dignity and knowledge and his views on women rights and accountability of religious leaders are enlightened. However, the rest of his views are unimpressive having the same tonality of Christian fundamentalists from the Dark Ages, lost in narrow literal interpretation of scriptures , separating the world into good and bad, and assuming all problems will go away if Inquisition or Sharia is imposed. Hizbollahstan is in a desperate need of Imam Mousa Saddr’s constructive and caring spirit, one of Lebanon’s true giants. He understood Lebanon is best hope in the world for Shiaa reformation and advancement, and that’s exactly why Ahmadinajad and Hizbollah have made it a priority to put the community in a straightjacket.

    July 12, 2010

  • Sami

    2-The head cover that Haneen was "obliged" to wear is not a Shiaa tradition,it is not a Muslim or an Arab tradition either.Take a look at older women in any rural village in the old world you will see that they cover their hair,even when they enter the church for worship they cover their hair.Mother Teressa covered hair hair,Virgin Marry did as well as every nun and even monks.Attributing all society's "ills"(if this is one) to Hizballah is a disinformation that your naive readers will pick up even though their grandmothers in Mount Lebanon still wear them.Years after the US invasion of Afghanistan,the women there still wear the Burka.Unless you think that Hizballah is controlling the traditional lives of the Afghan women,you should address this issue from a cultural not religious or sectarian perspective....

    July 11, 2010

  • Sami

    1-"men can not be careless,women and children can be careless".A quote by the godfather to his son Michael Corleone.Male "guardianship"over females is not a Muslim tradition neither is it an Arab one.This male superiority attitude was prevalent before Islam in al jahliyeh and is still prevalent in non Muslim non Arab cultures.Haneen wants us to believe that it is strictly a Shiaa thing.Your grandmother was ,as my grandmother was ,when the television was introduced; she thought that the news commentators on TV can see her so she covered her hair.There was no Hizballah then so we did not blame them for her naivete. Haneen blames Hizballah for her grandmothers resentments to the computer unaware that HA's use of the latest technology is attested to by both friend and foe.

    July 11, 2010

  • Amjad

    but we didnt forget his interfere many Fatwas that encouuraged hizballa to kill many shia in the end of 90's and end of 80;s ...did u forget or that was deleted ... but who were effected from this" killing fatwas " did not forget it

    July 10, 2010

  • Jad

    Hezbollah feared Sayyed Fadlallah? His followers didn't like Hezbollah? Are you sure you live in Lebanon...? Sayyed Fadlallah progressively shifted closer to HA (politically, at least) when he saw the threat against Lebanon's Shiite community as a whole. You know nothing of the Shiite community and you think you can be viewed as hip or modern or "liberal" by others by opposing HA because of your own deep-rooted insecurities. Its ungrateful and shallow individuals like yourself that do not deserve the sacrifices HA paid in blood for the welfare of their community and Lebanon as a whole. Dont think for a second that other Lebanese will actually care about you deep down because it'll set the stage for one of a rude awakening.

    July 10, 2010