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LEBANON: Tens of thousands mourn senior Shiite cleric Fadlallah in streets of Beirut

July 6, 2010 |  7:01 am


Tens of thousands of mourners gathered in Beirut's southern suburbs Tuesday to honor the late Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a leading Shiite cleric with a following estimated to be in the millions worldwide.

"This is a great loss for the entire Islamic nation," said 27-year-old Ikbal, standing among a group of black-clad women, some of them crying. "He may have died, but his thoughts and his wisdom will live on."

Despite the midday heat, the streets were packed with supporters who prayed and chanted in unison, some holding pictures of the deceased cleric.

"There is no God but God, and [Fadlallah] is beloved by God," they shouted, right hands raised to the sky.

Nearby, security officers from the militant group Hezbollah shepherded crowds down the main boulevard, some of them walking in the procession and others standing off to the side, all of them equipped with walkie-talkies. Hezbollah controls much of the southern suburbs where its headquarters and offices are located.

Fadlallah, who died Sunday, was considered a spiritual mentor to Hezbollah, although there were rumors of tension, especially in the early 1990s, over the group's aspirations toward an Islamic state, which Fadlallah rejected.

In later years, Fadlallah became known for his progressive stance on social issues and support for melding  modern science and religion.

But despite these disagreements over religious interpretation with Hezbollah and its patron, Iran, Fadlallah's support for armed opposition to Israel was unwavering, and the United States considered him a terrorist.

Fadlallah's death leaves a gap in the religious leadership that may be filled by his brother, Mohammad Ali Fadlallah, or his son, Ali Fadlallah, although the latter is considered too young by many.

Other media reports have floated the name of Bahraini cleric Abdullah al Ghuraifi, one of Fadlallah's inner circle, as a contender for the next great Shiite leader.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Mourners carry the coffin of Shiite cleric Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who died this weekend, at his funeral in Beirut on July 6, 2010. Credit: Anwar Amro / AFP