Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, a leading Twelver Shi’i religious authority in Lebanon, combined the training of a traditional Shi’i jurist with the analysis and concerted activity of a political ideologue. He exerted a strong influence on the political aspirations and military activism of the Shi’is of Lebanon, including Hizbullah (Hizb Allah) in particular; of Lebanese Sunnis; and of Shi’is and Sunnis outside Lebanon. He was born in 1935 in Najaf, Iraq, the foremost center for Shi’i legal education in the world, while his Lebanese father, ‘Abd al- Ra’uf Fadlallah (1907– 84), was studying and teaching there. The Sayyids claimed descent from the Prophet’s grandson Hasan through his son Hasan al- Muthanna. Fadlallah’s grandfather, Sayyid Najib (1863– 1917), had been a scholar of some renown in Bint Jubayl, his hometown in southern Lebanon, where he taught at his personal madrasa (Muslim school). Fadlallah grew up in Najaf, studying first with his father and then under a number of other teachers, including Abu al- Qasim al- Kho’i (1899– 1992), Muhsin al- Hakim (1889– 1970), and Mahmud Shahrudi (1882– 1974). He completed his education under Kho’i in 1965 and received from him a certificate recognizing him as a mujtahid or fully qualified jurist.
While in Najaf, Fadlallah showed a profound interest in literature, particularly Arabic poetry, and edited a journal titled Majallat al- Adab (Journal of literature). He also became involved in Iraqi politics, and his early debates with Marxists and secularists and his experience with the organization of leftist movements influenced his views concerning political action. He was inspired by the teachings and example of the prominent Iraqi Shi’i authority Muhammad Baqir al- Sadr, who advocated the involvement of jurists in political and social spheres and, before being executed by Saddam Hussein’s regime in 1980, played an important role in the Islamist political mobilization of Shi’i youth through Iraq’s Da’wa Party.
In 1966, having completed his studies, Fadlallah moved back to Lebanon and settled in al- Nab’a quarter, an eastern suburb of Beirut populated by poor Shi’is, immediately establishing himself as an effective community leader and an excellent teacher. He founded the Islamic Legal Institute, a center where students could study teaching the traditional curriculum of Najaf, and also built mosques and centers for Shi’i religious ceremonies. In 1976, in the course of the Lebanese Civil War, the Nab’a quarter was bombarded and eventually occupied by the Maronite Christian Phalangists. The experience of bombardment and being driven out of his home in a Beirut suburb along with thousands of other Shi’i residents radicalized Fadlallah. During this time, he wrote the book al- Islam wa- Mantiq al- Quwwa (Islam and the logic of power) under heavy shelling and working by candlelight. It shared with other modern Arabic works on political theory an emphasis on resistance and the right to resist drawn ultimately from French anticolonialist writings, but it had an innovative aspect aimed at critiquing the traditional quietist position adopted by Shi’i jurists. He drew on Friedrich Nietzche’s (1844– 1900) 1887 work On the Genealogy of Morality, which critiqued the passive posture historically adopted by Christians, characterizing it as slave morality, and suggested that they should adopt noble morality instead, seeking to attain redress for grievances by taking revenge through action rather than through the imagined revenge traditionally adopted in Christian thought. Fadlallah applied this same argument to Shi’i tradition, urging their jurists to adopt an activist stance and to become directly involved in social, economic, political, and military issues. The work describes two opposing groups, the mustaḍ’afūn (the downtrodden), referring primarily to Shi’is but also to Muslims in general, and the mustakbirūn (the arrogant), referring primarily to the United States and Israel, whom he held responsible for the crimes of the Phalangists. According to Fadlallah, following the examples of ‘Ali and Husayn, Muslims must oppose force with force; they have a duty to gain economic, political, and military power in order to resist these oppressive forces in an effective manner.
At this juncture, Fadlallah, newly ensconced in the Bi’r al-’Abd quarter in southern Beirut, was named by Abu al- Qasim al- Kho’i, the leading jurist and religious authority in Najaf after the death of Hakim in 1970, as his representative in Lebanon. This gave Fadlallah access to khums funds— the 20 percent income tax collected from Shi’i believers for religious purposes— which allowed him to undertake large charity projects such as the building of schools and hospitals. He, somewhat more than his quietist and learned rival Muhammad Mahdi Shams al- Din (d. 2001), filled the void left by the mysterious disappearance of Musa al- Sadr in Libya in 1978. Islam and the Logic of Power, published in 1976, had established him as a leading Islamist ideologue, and he continued to decry foreign influence in Lebanon and encroachments on Lebanese sovereignty, particularly in the journal of the Lebanese Muslim Students Organization, al- Muntalaq (The outbreak). Establishing himself in the role of mentor and guide to Islamist cadres throughout Lebanon,