Islamism,  The Left

Islamism and the misunderstandings of the Left

This is a guest post by Igor

An article on Comment Is Free lauding the recently deceased Lebanese Grand Ayatollah, Muhammed Hussein Fadlallah, provides a vignette of how leftists tend to interpret the statements and actions of Islamists according to their own frame of reference, and more often than not get it hopelessly wrong.

Ian Williams writes:

In fact, the Ayatollah, who had his own website ( epitomised what Western critics, with varying degrees of sincerity have been suggesting Islam should be. He took the West at its face value, decried the idea of theocratic rule in affairs of state and indirectly paved the way for Hezbollah, formerly the party of economically, socially and politically excluded Lebanese Shi’a to become part of a, relatively, democratic polity.

In a small way, his indicative fatwa, allowing women to use nail polish by turning obscurantist Islamic doctrine around, symbolizes his achievement in helping Hezbollah and Lebanese Shi’a into the mainstream. It is almost inconceivable to think of middle class Lebanese women without manicures!

The implication is clear: Fadlallah’s fatwa permitted the general use of nail polish, in an effort to meld Islamic doctrine with Western practice.

In fact the fatwa meant nothing of the sort: it related only to whether women had to remove their nail polish to perform their ritual ablutions before prayer. As commenter ‘ahmadsh’ points out in the thread:

A practicing Muslim does prayers five times a day. before each prayer, there is a certain ritual called “Wudoo”, which is basically washing his face, arms, and feet. the ritual specifies that water should reach all areas of these specific parts. so, a question aroused regarding nail polish, whether it being on the nail is a barrier to having a full wodoo. so nail polish in principle has always been used, but a woman had to remove it before doing her wudoo in order to be able to pray. the fatwa came in this sense, and it was not only regarding nail polish, it was also about any paint that stains the skin, and leaves a color even after being removed. Sayyed Fadlullah (may God have mercy on his soul), issued that fatwa to ease things for people. and what i summarized in a paragraph falls actually in a number of pages. because like any other religious order, it has to have valid reasons and maintain compatibility with the original doctrines of Quran and Hadeeth. yes, non Muslims might find it complicated, but remember that to each his own. you only read a final report of the government taxes to be paid, you never read the thousand of pages that were written in order to explain why a new tax is to be collected.

I kindly request that any further comments made would be based on enough knowledge about the subject. Thank you Ian for having interest in writing about Sayyed Fadlullah, though i dont agree with some parts in your article. Yet please be more elaborating regarding certain issues, so that your readers wont have a wrong image about Islam. i know they already have a bad one, lets just not add to it.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, as ahmadsh points out, although the purpose of Fadlallah’s fatwa was reported when he published it last year. On the specific question of whether women have to remove their nail polish before performing wudu’, you could argue that Fadlallah was more liberal than other authorities, such as Ayatollah Sistani or the Islamonline website. He wanted to make prayer a bit more convenient for women who paint their nails. But Williams thought he had a symbol of Fadlallah’s secularising instinct, because – as a self-described “happy athiest” – that is what he wanted to find.

Meanwhile, the fatwa is not thought to extend to Hizbollah’s fighting troops. Here is a photograph of them, presenting their clean nails for inspection.

UPDATE: To truly understand the wishful thinking in Williams’ article, compare it with the obituary for Fadlallah on Hizbollah’s own al-Manar TV website (emphasis added):

Dubbed by the media as the “Spiritual Leader” of the Islamic resistance “Hezbollah,” in Lebanon, Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlullah inspired the leaders for the resistance group, and served as a highly influential beacon of truth for all the oppressed peoples of the world.

From the pulpit of the Imam Rida mosque in the Bir al-Abd neighborhood (Beirut’s southern suburb), Sayyed Fadlullah’s sermons gave shape to the political currents among mainly the Muslim Shiite sect, from the latter half of the 1980s till the last days of his life.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 was a watershed event for the Lebanese, mostly the Shiites living in the south, and the public career of Sayyed Fadlullah. The beginning of Hezbollah as an armed resistance movement dates back to that Israeli invasion. “What martyrdom is greater than making yourself a human bomb detonating it among the enemy? What spiritualism is greater than this spiritualism in which a person loses all feeling of his body and life for the sake of his cause and mission?”

This quotation and many others fumed the flame of the resistance ideology.


“Israel poses a great danger to our future generations and to the destiny of our modern nation, especially since it embraces a settlement-oriented and expansionist idea that it has already begun to apply in occupied Palestine and it is extending and expanding to build Greater Israel, from the Euphrates to the Nile,” Sayyed Fadlullah said in one of his lectures.

Sayyed Fadlullah often explains that Judaism, Christianity and Islam were all Divine religions, however he always differentiated between a Jew anywhere in the world and another Jews who comes to Palestine and take part in the occupation of this Arab land. 

All of Palestine is a war zone and every Jew who unlawfully occupies a house or land belonging to a Palestinian is a legitimate target. There are no innocent Jews in Palestine. They kill many of our women, children, and elderly people. They destroy our homes. They confiscate our water and freedom.”

In an interview with Al-Manar TV on March 21, 2008, Sayyed Fadlullah stated:

“The Hebrew state is preparing to celebrate its 60th anniversary – 60 years since it plundered Palestine – in a festival, which will be attended by the countries of the world, most of which still support the Zionist state and consider the resistance movement to be terrorism. This is what led German Chancellor Merkel to visit that plundering country, which extorted and continues to extort Germany, using as a pretext the German Hitlerist-Nazi past, and the placing of the Jews in a holocaust. Zionism has inflated the number of victims in this holocaust beyond imagination.”