BEIRUT: The death of prominent Shiite scholar Sayyed Hani Fahs will be deeply felt in a region mired with sectarian tensions that is in desperate need of his brand of moderation and openness, according to a close friend.
“Today we lost one of the most important voices advocating moderation and solidarity among the Lebanese,” said Saoud El-Mawla, a university professor who had known Fahs well since the 1970s.
“He was working on defusing sectarian tension on the Lebanese and regional levels,” Mawla told The Daily Star, adding that Fahs’ opinions were incredibly important to a range of Sunni, Shiite and Christian intellectuals.
Fahs died in hospital Thursday at the age of 68 after a long illness.
Having reached the status of allamah, an honorary title carried by high-ranking Islamic scholars, Fahs was viewed by various sects and political parties as an icon of moderation and tolerance in a time of soaring Sunni-Shiite tensions.
Although he was a religious figure, Fahs was an advocate of secularism and the separation of state and religion, and was a staunch critic of sectarianism and fanaticism.
As a member of the Shariah Council of the Higher Shiite Council, Fahs was an outspoken critic of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war.
He also disagreed with Hezbollah on several other issues, including the Wilayat al-Fakih doctrine, which stipulates that for any Shiite in the world, Iran’s supreme leader or highest religious authority has a final say in political as well as religious matters. Instead, Fahs encouraged Shiites to integrate into their own societies.
He stood against Hezbollah’s internal policies after Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, especially the unyielding stance the group took in the face of requests that it give up its arms.
Fahs was close to the late Sheikh Mohammad Mahdi Shamseddine, head of the Higher Shiite Council.
He was also a founding member of both the Permanent Conference for Inter-Lebanese Dialogue and of the Arab Team for Muslim-Christian Dialogue.
“This is the second major loss after the death of Sheikh Mohammad Mahdi Shamseddine, particularly as we witness this sectarian situation,” Mawla said.
Born in the Nabatieh village of Jibsheet in 1946, Fahs went to school in the district before traveling in 1963 to the Iraqi city of Najaf, a pre-eminent Shiite seminary center, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Arabic language and Islamic studies.
In 1972, he returned to Jibsheet, where he served as the village’s imam up to 1975.
He was politically active from an early age and joined the Fatah Movement after its leadership moved to Lebanon in the early 1970s. He briefly ran for parliamentary by-elections in 1974 before withdrawing from the race. He was also among the hopefuls of the 1992 general elections, but failed to make it to Parliament.
Between 1982 and 1985 Fahs lived in Iran, where he worked at the press office of the school of theology in Qom.
A writer and a poet, he published at least 13 books on religion, politics and society.
Fahs is survived by his wife Nadia Ello and his children Hasan, Zayd, Mustafa, Badiya and Raya.
His funeral will be held Friday in Jibsheet at 3 p.m.
Condolences can be offered in Jibsheet Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Fahs’ house. Respects can also be paid from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. in various places next week: at the Imam Shamseddine Cultural and Educational Complex in Shatila Tuesday, at BIEL Wednesday and at the Embassy of Palestine Thursday.