By Dr Mohsen Saleh
The past few months have provided an opportunity to review the ideology of the late scholar Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, who died recently in Lebanon, and his vision of the Palestinian situation. There is no doubt that Grand Ayatollah Fadlallah was one of the greatest Shiite authorities in the world. His personality was characterized by openness, moderation and innovation in Shiite ideology and doctrine; he was at the same time a great theorist and supporter of the resistance against the Israeli occupation.
A careful reading of Ayatollah Fadlallah’s writing and speeches shows an erudite depth of vision able to overcome sectarianism to put his ideas into a wider Islamic framework embracing a humanitarian outlook. At the core was Ayatollah Fadlallah’s vision of Islam which called for its adoption in thought and deed as a complete way of life. Similarly, his cultural vision was open to accommodate others, enabling meetings on common ground to serve the nation and confront its enemies.
For Ayatollah Fadlallah, Palestine is a Muslim issue over and above in importance any other in the world today, from which spring all other issues affecting Arab and Muslim countries. Hence, “Our position towards the Palestinian case is a religion we believe in, and not just a political slogan we consume today to leave tomorrow.”
He stressed that Palestine summarises the past century, all the pains of the nation and all the dreams of the nation: “I do not dream without Palestine, and all the dreams fall when Palestine falls… It is not a battle, not negotiations, and it is not details; Palestine is the story of the nation: to be or not to be.”
Ayatollah Fadlallah called for adopting Islam as the healthiest and safest method to achieve victory over the Zionists, saying “There’s an axis and that is Islam in the face of Israel… we are stronger than any day because we are with Islam. The political battle of Islam is the conflict with Israel, and there is no Islam and Islamic political movement that is outside of the conflict with Israel.”
He stressed that Israel is a usurper state, “and usurping [others’ rights] is forbidden just as alcohol is forbidden, and there won’t come a time when usurping becomes lawful”. The passing of time – even hundreds of years – does not give legitimacy to the taking of anything that is not rightfully yours. He was part of the scholarly consensus that forbids the giving up of any part of Palestine; if an individual has the right to give up part of his own home, that’s one thing, but a nation does not have the right to give up its land, because the nation does not just belong to the people living at any one time, it is the sum of generations of people who have lived and died therein. “The duty of the nation’s scholars, whether Sunni or Shiite,” he said, “is to restore Palestine in its entirety, from the river [Jordan] to the sea, and to mobilise the Arab and Muslim conscience for its sake.”
Justice, believed Ayatollah Fadlallah, is a supreme value which helps to sustain life; to remove injustice and restore rights to the people – including the right of the Palestinians to live in freedom and independence in their holy land and with their holy places – is what is required of justice, a mission upon which religion is based. “Your righteousness lies with God, with yourself, with people and life; this summarises all religions,” claimed the Ayatollah. “To be unjust means you’re neither a Muslim nor Christian nor a follower of Moses, because injustice has no religion. Justice is what unites religions.”
According to Ayatollah Fadlallah it is not possible to make a distinction between Makkah and Jerusalem in Muslims’ religious and spiritual focus. He drew attention to the symbolic importance of Jerusalem, as a place that gives the land, the region and politics a meaning beyond borders and size, so the land itself becomes an issue and a message. He explained that politics needs to have a message and the homeland must have a message, and all of that is gathered in Jerusalem because it was the cradle of religious messages from God, who wanted through this pure spot to give to humanity a meaning.
The size and seriousness of the challenge, believed Ayatollah Fadlallah, requires us to widen the conflict with the enemy and integrate all of its concentric circles: Palestinian, Arab, Islamic and humanitarian. It also imposes on us that we prepare for a battle until God wishes victory and liberation. The Palestinian issue, he said, is Palestinian in its geography and its people, Arabic in its nationality and Islamic in the depth of meanings that govern its people.
Hence, Ayatollah Fadlallah refused to allow those who follow national, Islamic and leftist ideologies to indulge in disputes that could distract them from the liberation project, exhausting their energy in something that he considered to be useless. He also claimed frequently that Israel will not be strong forever and Arabs and Muslims will not be weak forever. As such, the struggle to liberate Palestine will span generations and he invited Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims not to impose time limits for resolving the issue. Just as, he said, we face an enemy who lived for many generations until it usurped the land, we must live even more generations to recover what is rightfully ours: this “equation of freedom is truly understood only by the mujahideen [freedom fighters]”.
Although Ayatollah Fadlallah saw the struggle with Israel and Zionist Jews as having a religious dimension, he dismissed this with regards to Jewish politicians who, he felt, looked at religion as just a series of slogans which do not affect their laws and policies or their relationship with the legitimate aspects of Judaism. They have made the issue one of Jewish nationalism which incorporates many racist concepts.
For Ayatollah Fadlallah, the Zionists and Jews in general, do not distinguish between Zionism and Judaism, because a distorted view of Judaism contains within it the concept of a “chosen people”, which lends itself to racist ideas against others who are not Jews. It was thus relatively easy to mobilise Jewish thought and action against Arabs and Muslims.
In the eye of Ayatollah Fadlallah, Israel represents an extension of Western civilization, established with Western colonialism with a relationship built on mutual interests that benefits both parties at the expense of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims. This alliance puts Israel under the protection of the West, especially the United States, whose representatives, of course, have control over effective UN resolutions and the international media. In seeking by all possible means to uphold Israel’s security, these forces, said Ayatollah Fadlallah, are like “an octopus, which has an arm in each part of the world”. This means, of course, that “the issue between us and Israel is not limited to facing racist Israel in Palestine, but it’s a battle between the forces of global arrogance and the vulnerable.”
Conflict with Zionist Jews is not just a Palestinian matter, he believed, but is related to the Arab and Muslim presence in a region where America and other Western countries have sought to secure their own interests. Hence, they created Israel and make sure that it is the strongest state in the heart of the Arab world to prevent the latter from communicating, and meddle in its economics, politics and security in war and peace.
America’s support for Israel, concluded Ayatollah Fadlallah, is the reason for Arab and Muslim hatred of American policies; the US policy on Palestine is “hypocritical”, giving lethal weaponry to Israel and only words to the Palestinians. America, he claimed, is not interested in peace; it wants to buy time, creating despair until Israel completes its plan to control most of Palestine and imposes its terms for an agreement.
Ayatollah Fadlallah supported resistance against the Israeli occupation and the intifada in Palestine with all his strength and said that although the intifada alone cannot liberate Palestine it can liberate our collective belief that the Israelis are unbeatable. The intifada has let it be known that the Arab is not the man who is always slain, but is a man “who kills and gets killed”, a quote from the Qur’an. He issued a fatwa authorising martyrdom operations against the Israeli enemy by virtue of having no other option but to do so, even if such operations led to the killing of civilians. A martyrdom operation, he said, represents the oppressed depth of the Palestinians’ conscience which stores inside it the Muslim Arab character and its aspirations and pain but which is open to spiritual values, including jihad, pride, dignity and freedom, leading to the approval of God and paradise. At that stage, said Ayatollah Fadlallah, the body has no meaning and the male or female martyrs are encompassing the pain of the nation in their actions, as though the nation is struggling through them, and as if the nation gathers to give them its strength and courage, so that they can move towards the cause and forget the body. Thus, he ruled that “martyrdom operations are jihadist first class operations, but are the highest types of jihad.” He pointed out that there is no difference in martyrdom operations between men and women, but the women’s movement has more reward and is more altruistic than men’s.
He often stressed the need to refuse to surrender to reality and what is being imposed by others, and called for the adoption of a revolutionary reality which refuses to accept the current depressing reality and seeks to change it in a realistic manner.
The Ayatollah expressed great appreciation for the role played by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the resistance factions in the Al-Aqsa Intifada, and did not hide his delight at the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. He supported the position of Hamas and its government in the Gaza Strip and their steadfastness in the face of the siege, and supported efforts to lift the siege. He met with a delegation which had managed to break the siege on one of the ships and thanked them for their efforts, saying, “The Gaza Strip is the largest prison in the world, and not only do continuing numbers of Palestinians who do not get their needs delivered to them die in this prison, but what also dies is the detained conscience of this world, which does not consider others except through the eye of material interests.”
A “peace agreement” represents a vital Israeli and American interest, but Ayatollah Fadlallah said that both are pushing to get the greatest gains for themselves while Palestinians should get nothing beyond basic autonomy. He asked all the supporters of negotiations to “show me just one stream of light” in them. In the Gaza/Jericho agreement (the Oslo Accords) he saw an Israeli agreement, not Arab, not Palestinian, and claimed that it was an agreement that represented an “Arab Palestinian defeat, with a knockout… an agreement of crime in every sense of the word”. He said that the most difficult dilemma facing the Palestinian leadership involved in the negotiations is that they cannot leave them, but nor can they continue with them; this plus the lack of a strong card to play.
Ayatollah Fadlallah remained optimistic about the future of the Palestinian resistance, saying that “the future will smile for the Palestinian people through bleeding wounds, and through the stream of blood flowing with giving, jihad and martyrdom.”
In considering Ayatollah Fadlallah’s perspective on the Palestinian issue, it can be seen that he regarded it as something to unite Sunni and Shiite to use their combined energies to take on the enemies of Islam and win.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.