Top Shi'ite cleric, 75, dies in Lebanon

Alleged Hizbullah leader blacklisted as 'terrorist' by United States.

Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah AP 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah AP 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
BEIRUT — Lebanon's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, died Sunday after a long illness, a close aide and a hospital official said. He was 75.
Israeli media reported Fadlallah was a top spiritual leader for Hizbullah, and according to AFP, he was blacklisted as a 'terrorist' by the United States along with Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah.
Fadlallah, known for his staunch anti-American stance, was instrumental in the rise of Lebanon's Shiites in the past decades and had a strong following among Shiite communities both in Lebanon and his native Iraq. According to AFP, Fadlallah is blacklisted as a terrorist by the United States along with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.
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Fadlallah 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's spokesman Hani Abdullah confirmed his death to journalists gathered outside Behman hospital Sunday, where the ayatollah was being treated. He said a detailed announcement would be made at a press conference later.
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 being hung up in a sign of mourning. Scores of Fadlallah's supporters, including women, wept openly.
Fadlallah's Al-Bashaer radio station and Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV station broadcast Koranic verses as news of his death broke.
Fadlallah was in hospital for the past two weeks but his condition deteriorated on Friday when complications from a liver problem led to an internal hemorrhage.
For long, the cleric suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure. In Nov. 2009, he underwent a minor procedure measuring blood flow to the heart and three months later was taken to hospital for a medical checkup.
A grandfatherly figure, Fadlallah was known for his courageous fatwas, or religious edits — including one that gave women the right to hit back their husbands if they attacked them. The cleric also called for boycotting American and Israeli products.
He also issued an edict banning smoking and another saying the Baghdad government has no right to "legitimize" the presence of foreign troops but should call for an imminent and unconditional withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
Although Fadlallah supported the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, he distanced himself from the key principle advocated by its leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which placed the Iranian cleric as a supreme, undisputed spiritual leader for the world's Shiites.
Among his followers are many of Iraq's Shiite leaders, including al-Maliki.
Fadlallah, was born in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Iraq, in 1935, but his family is originally from the southern Lebanese village of Ainata. He lived in Najaf for many years and was considered among the top clergymen there.
His title is a "sayyed," reflecting a claims that he is a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed's daughter Fatima and her husband Imam Ali, revered by Shiites as a saint.