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IRAQ: Muted reaction to celebrated Lebanese Ayatollah Fadlallah's death

July 8, 2010 |  9:02 am

Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah was mourned by hundreds of thousands in Lebanon this week, but in Iraq's Shiite holy city of Najaf, where Fadlallah was born, the influential cleric received a chilly reception. No banners or open displays of mourning were seen as clergy in Najaf expressed discomfort over the ayatollah's legacy.

They faulted his relatively liberal religious teachings. In particular, some cited his defense of women's rights. Clergy also criticized Fadlallah's promotion of an activist role for clergy, far away from the more traditional school of noninterference advocated in Najaf.

"First of all ... Fadlallah belongs to the movement ... that interferes in politics, contrary to the classical or conservative schools that consider Najaf as a headquarters," said Sheik Nima Abbadi, a teacher of political sciences at the Hawza, Najaf's loose confederation of religious schools. 

Abbadi said clergy in Najaf considered Fadlallah to be closer to the interventionist spirit of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran's Islamic Republic.

Najaf's clergy appeared bothered by Fadlallah’s more liberal decrees for men and women in Islam.

"He allows people to shave their beards, and women to beat their husbands," one cleric said, on condition of anonymity.

The disavowals of Fadlallah could also stem from the healthy completion among clergy. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most senior cleric in Iraq, while associated with a hands-off approach to politics, has himself provided guidance to Iraq's democracy since 2003.

Fadlallah's ties to the founders of Iraq's Dawa Party could also have played a factor in Najaf's cool reception to him. Iraq's Shiite elite are divided over who should be the country's next prime minister, and the celebration of a cleric, considered an early Dawa Party member, may have proven unpopular in Najaf. Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, the current leader of the Dawa Party, follows Fadlallah's religious teachings. On Thursday, Maliki's office announced that the prime minister had gone to Beirut to pay his respects.

-- Saad Fakhrildeen in Najaf, Iraq, and Ned Parker in Baghdad

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