After the Ayatollah: Institutionalisation and Succession in the marjaʿiyya of Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Faḍl Allāh

in Die Welt des Islams
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


This paper deals with the death of a high religious authority, the Twelver Shiʿi marjaʿ al-taqlīd, or “Grand Ayatollah”, Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Faḍl Allāh. The emphasis given to following a living authority within the Twelver Shiʿi tradition makes their passing a moment of crisis, all the more so in the case of a figure who made “contemporaneity” a cornerstone of his distinctive appeal. I examine not only the events surrounding Faḍl Allāh’s death but also its aftermath, in particular the question of the “succession” to his legacy. In an unorthodox move that maintains his reputation for controversy, Faḍl Allāh’s organisation has continued to operate as an independent foundation in his name without falling under the aegis of a living authority. This serves as an illuminating case study of issues of succession and institutionalisation within the Twelver Shiʿi tradition and beyond.

After the Ayatollah: Institutionalisation and Succession in the marjaʿiyya of Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Faḍl Allāh

in Die Welt des Islams




 Mohamad Ali Harissi“Thousands Attend Funeral of Lebanon Ayatollah”Agence France-PresseBeirut 6 July 2010. Accessed online: > accessed 1 January 2013. See also Pa­­trick Galey “Hundreds of Thousands Attend Funeral for Sayyed Fadlallah” The Daily Star Beirut 7 July 2010. Accessed online: ac­­ces­sed 25 September 2013. Obviously enough the extent of the mourning for such a figure reflects on his stature. See Meir Litvak Shiʿi Scholars of Nineteenth-Century Iraq: The ʿUlama⁠ʾ of Najaf and Karbala⁠ʾ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1998) 98.


 LouërTransnational Shia Politics109. See also Sajjad Rizvi “Political Mobilization and the Shiʿi Religious Establishment (Marjaʿiyya)” International Affairs 86 (6) (2010) 1308n24.


 E.g. Saskia Gierling“The ‘Marjaʿiya’ in Iran and the Nomination of Khamanei in December 1994”MES 33 (1997) 779; Walbridge “Introduction” 5; Lynda Clarke “The Shiʿi Construction of TaqlīdJournal of Islamic Studies 12 (2001) 55; Robert Gleave “Conceptions of Authority in Iraqi Shi’ism: Baqir al-Hakim Ha’iri and Sistani on Ijtihad Taqlid and Marja’iyya” Theory Culture and Society 24 (2007) 77n24. According to Lynda Clarke “The Shiʿi Construction” 55ff. the concerns are: the reliability of taqlīd of someone who cannot testify to their opinion (an objection rendered redundant by the ubiquitous publishing of the risāla ʿamaliyya Clarke notes and now the advent of the website I would add); that the authoritativeness (ḥujjiyya) of the mujtahid disappears with death as with senility and insanity; and the most commonly cited in my own experience that the changing circumstances of life continuously demand new interpretations of the religious law (see also Gleave “Conceptions of Authority” 77n24). More sociologically the principle would serve to protect the interests of the scholarly class itself for with no need for the opinions of a living mujtahid it would be threatened with extinction. See also Said Amir Arjomand The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam: Religion Political Order and Societal Change in Shiʿite Iran from the Beginning to 1890 (Chicago: Chicago University Press 1984) 140 cited by Ahmad Kazemi Moussavi Religious Authority in Shiʿite Islam: From the Office of Mufti to the Institution of Marjaʿ (Kuala Lumpur: International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization 1996) 86.


 Lara DeebAn Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi’i Lebanon (Princeton: Princeton University Press2006) 71. So too Robert Gleave (having first noted that “following a dead marjaʿ […] is something normally forbidden”) finds that Ayatollah Kaẓim al-Ḥāʾirī also rules it permitted to follow a dead marjaʿ if the most learned living scholar finds it so. As Gleave says “This question seems of merely technical interest until one reads Ha⁠ʾiri’s fatwas in which he validates those who continue to support Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (who was killed in 1999) through precisely this mechanism thereby acquiring Sadiq al-Sadr’s numerous supporters”. Gleave “Conceptions of Authority” 77n24.


 Deeb“Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah” 406; Browers “Fadlallah”26. In the early conversations I had with the offices the unwelcome possibility was mentioned that where a new marjaʿ held different opinions from the former previous actions such as prayers for example might have to be re-done; but that does not seem to have emerged as a problem since. This is a point dealt with in the fiqh discussions although most authorities do seem lenient (Khūʾī seems to have been relatively strict in this regard) (see e.g. Mirʿī Jāmiʿ al-aḥkām 18 section 16; Sīstānī Minhāj vol. 1 13 section 17; Faḍl Allāh Fiqh al-sharīʿa vol. 1 22 section 43 al-Masāʾil (2005 ed.) vol. 1 19 question 3; Fayyāḍ the Q&A pages cited above question 20).


 Munā SukkariyyaʿAn sanawāt wa-mawāqif wa-shakhṣiyyāt: hākadhā taḥaddath… hākadhā qāl (interviews with Ayatollah Muḥammad Ḥusayn Faḍl Allāh). Beirut: Dār al-Nahār2007) 220f.


 Contra MoussaviReligious Authority271. For some other instances of ad hoc appointment or election to the marjaʿiyya see Litvak Shiʿi Scholars 46 54f. 93.


 LitvakShiʿi Scholars90.




 Robbins BurlingThe Passage of Power: Studies in Political Succession (New York and London: Academic Press1974). For some attempts see Litvak Shiʿi Scholars 51 54f. 70.


 LitvakShiʿi Scholars31.


 Goody“Introduction”9. See Louër Transnational Shia Politics 65f. 93 on the controversy over Muḥammad al-Shīrāzī’s self-proclamation of marjaʿiyya status when still in his thirties and the use of lateral rather than vertical succession to his marjaʿiyya after his death by his younger brother Ṣādiq.


 Rizvi“Political Mobilization”1304; Reinar Visser “The Sadrists Between Mahdism Neo-Akhbarism and Usuli Orthodoxy: Examples from Southern Iraq” in Lloyd Ridgeon (ed.) Shiʿi Islam and Identity: Religion Politicians and Change in the Global Muslim Community (London: I.B. Tauris 2012) 118f. According to Luizard Muḥammad al-Ṣadr himself pointed to Ḥāʾirī saying: “Let my emulators follow Ayatollah Kāẓim al-Ḥāʾirī until one of my students becomes a marjaʿ”. The Qom-based Ḥāʾirī has however proved incapable of fulfilling the role. Ṣadr’s followers thus apparently prefer to continue following their deceased marjaʿ rather than Ḥāʾirī and Muqtadā al-Ṣadr’s spokesmen maintain that Ḥāʾirī himself said that was permissible (and see note above) – in case of new issues they should then refer to Muqtadā. Muqtadā has other rivals Maḥmūd al-Ḥasanī in Karbalāʾ and in Najaf Muḥammad al-Yaʿqūbī one of his father’s students who has precociously proclaimed his mujtahid status and posted a video on his website where Muḥammad Ṣādiq al-Ṣadr indicates him as his heir. See Luizard “The Sadrists” 258 269f.; and also Harling and Nasser “The Sadrist Trend” 288 293–8.


 Morgan ClarkeIslam and New Kinship: Reproductive Technology and the Shariah in Lebanon (New York: Berghahn2009) 194f.


 Ḥusayn al-Khishnal-Sharīʿa tuwākib al-ḥayāt: qaḍāyā islāmiyya muʿāṣira (Beirut: Dar al-Hadi2004); idem al-Islām wa-l-bīʾa: khaṭawāt naḥw fiqh bīʾī (Beirut: Dār al-Hādī 2004); idem al-Islām wa-l-ʿunf: qirāʾa fī ẓāhirat al-takfīr (Beirut: al-Markaz al-Thaqāfī al-ʿArabī 2006); idem Fī fiqh al-salāma al-ṣiḥḥiyya: al-tadkhīn namūdhajan (Beirut: Markaz Ibn Idrīs al-Ḥillī 2007). The online biography notes in addition to his articles and lectures sixteen books in all: other notable titles include one on human rights in Islam and one on non-Muslims entering mosques.


 Ḥasanial-Maʿālim159–75; and see Talib Aziz “Baqir al-Sadr’s Quest for the Marjaʿiya” in Linda Walbridge (ed.) The Most Learned of the Shiʿa: The Institution of the Marjaʿ Taqlid (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2001). Similar ideas had been aired by Khumaynī Muṭahharī and others: Ann Lambton “A Reconsideration of the Position of the Marjaʿ al-Taqlīd and the Religious Institution” Stud. Isl. 20 (1964) 115–35; Walbridge “The Counter-reformation” 230.


 Walbridge“The Counter-reformation”239.


 Rizvi“Political Mobilization” 1307; Corboz “The al-Khoei Foundation”105–8; Walbridge The Thread of Muʿawiya 99–102.


 BurlingThe Passage of Power126.

Index Card

Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 17 17 13
Full Text Views 15 15 13
PDF Downloads 2 2 0
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0