(Greetings of Peace):
As a Black man in America who began his journey to Islam at the age of 18 - in a rather unique fashion, having been spared some of the divisive cultural baggage that far too many of my brethren from abroad carry around with them, like a yoke around their necks - I have no problem accepting the "Shi'a" as valued family within the fold of Islam. For me, the "Shi'a" are just as valued (generally speaking) as are the members of my family who call themselves "Sunni" (among other things); and for this outlook I have been greatly enriched.
For years now (by the grace and mercy of Allah) I have avoided the labeling trap; for I long ago recognized this tendency for what it truly is, nothing more than a political tool used to divide and exploit the Ummah, both internally and externally. What am I? I am a Muslim...period.
(I require no other appendage.)
That being said, what follows is a very inspiring profile on a truly remarkable man/Muslim/leader - a brother of mine who happens to be "Shi'a." May Allah Ta'ala bless him, his family, and the committed Muslims within his ranks. Ameen.
El-Hajj Mauri' Saalakhan
Director of Operations
The Peace And Justice Foundation
August 3, 2006
by Annia Ciezadlo –
In the early hours of September 13, 1997, the Israeli army killed one 45-year-old woman, two Hezbollah fighters, and six Lebanese soldiers in the mountains of southern
That evening, Nasrallah was scheduled to give a speech in Haret Hreik, the southern
Though the entire nation knew by then that he had lost his son, Nasrallah didn't mention it. He commemorated the anniversary of the September 13 massacre, a 1993 incident in which the Lebanese army opened fire on Hezbollah supporters. As he spoke, the audience began to clamor: Why wasn't he talking about his son?
To this day, people in
Timur Goksel, then a senior adviser to the United Nations in
And then there is Nasrallah. Revered by the Shia, respected by his enemies, he has already earned the distinction of being the only Arab leader to evict
By Friday, July 14, everyone in
Friday evening, at about 8:30, Nasrallah called in to Al Manar, Hezbollah's TV station. He sounded tired and sleep-deprived, like a man living underground. But his voice was firm, and the photograph that accompanied his speech showed, somewhat surreally, his trademark sunny, open smile. He began by offering condolences to the families of the martyrs, who had given their lives "in the noblest confrontation and battle that the modern age has known, or rather that all history has known." He taunted the Arab regimes that had abandoned him and reminded the Lebanese of the victory they had won on May 25, 2000, when Israeli troops withdrew from southern
Then he did something no one from Hezbollah had ever done before. Reminding his audience that he had promised them "surprises," he announced that they would begin momentarily. "Now, in the middle of the sea, facing
Everyone tuned in to Nasrallah that night. I live in a mixed
It was classic Nasrallah, charismatic and pointed, as if to underscore his difference from other Arab leaders. "In the Arab world, you have two kinds of rhetoricians: the very fiery, passionate kind, who make a lot of false promises, à la Yasir Arafat--the typical Arab rambling and passion that gets you nowhere," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a professor of political science at Lebanese American University and author of Hizbu'llah: Politics and Religion. "And you have others who are populist leaders, who are more plainspoken and practical. And Nasrallah is in between both."
With his dramatic attack on the Israeli ship, Nasrallah upped the stakes, and not just for
"Nasrallah, he's becoming like bin Laden--a star," says Lebanese journalist Paula Khoury. "Because now he has this ability to address the world. This is a new thing, and it's dangerous."
Hezbollah's pioneering tactic of massive suicide bombings once inspired bin Laden, becoming a classic in the Al Qaeda playbook. With his current war, Nasrallah is innovating once more, this time in the world of images, creating a new template for speaking to the Muslim world. Unlike the Sunni jihadists, he attacks the enemy's armies, not just its civilians. Unlike Zarqawi, Nasrallah has style. He can match rhetoric to action, as he proved on July 14. And, unlike the lugubrious bin Laden, he can appear practical and pragmatic, down-to-earth--even fun. As Saad-Ghorayeb points out, "What other Arab leader threatens
Unlike bin Laden, and in a country where most political leaders inherit their positions, Nasrallah was born into a poor family. It was 1960, a time when Shia were moving to
After the civil war broke out, the teenage Nasrallah joined Amal, a Shia empowerment movement created by the charismatic cleric Musa Al Sadr. When Nasrallah decided to study Islam, an Amal cleric wrote him a letter of introduction to Muhammad Baqir Al Sadr, the revolutionary Iraqi cleric who was one of the leading lights of Najaf (and a relative of current Iraqi militia leader Moqtada Al Sadr). In Najaf, he studied with Sayyid Abbas Musawi, who would later become the leader of Hezbollah.
Nasrallah surprised the nation--and angered Hezbollah hardliners--when he decided to bring the party into electoral politics, a move that some saw as tantamount to laying down Hezbollah's arms and giving up its guerrilla status. But, in 2000, when
But, even more than this savvy political maneuvering, it was his son's death, and his stoic reaction to it, that elevated Nasrallah from a sectarian guerrilla leader to something altogether more potent. In the days after Hadi was killed, Lebanese leaders from across the political spectrum--even Christian warlord and bitter enemy Elie Hobeika--paid their respects to Nasrallah and his wife. Nasrallah capitalized on this moment of popularity, opening the ranks of Hezbollah to Lebanese from all sects and forming the Lebanese Brigades, a unit with several thousand non-Shia recruits. A quintessentially Shia leader--a cleric, even--had transcended his sect to become a national hero. The more
There are others who have been vying for that title. In 2004, a London-based Salafi named Abu Basir Al Tartusi wrote a document called "The Lebanese Hezbollah and the Exportation of the Shi'ite Rafidite Ideology." In the document, Tartusi claimed that Hezbollah is a front group concocted by
On July 21, nine days after his forces captured the two Israeli soldiers, Nasrallah answered Zarqawi and Tartusi. Looking relaxed and reasonable, in a carefully staged interview with Al Jazeera, he mentioned Zarqawi's statement. "Today, we are Shia fighting
Hardcore Sunni jihadists, especially those who congregate online, will probably continue to distrust Nasrallah and all Shia. But, closer to the Islamist mainstream, powerful and popular Islamist groups like the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood have come out strongly in support of Hezbollah. On Al Jazeera, the Brotherhood's leader, Mahdi Akef, hailed Nasrallah, saying that "the Lebanese who captured the Zionist soldiers are true nationalists, led by a great man."
What do the Shia, his main constituency, really think of Nasrallah and his war? Among the religious majority, especially the moderates, Nasrallah is adored and respected, an emblem of Islam and Arab pride. According to the independent Lebanese pollster Abdo Saad, people have begun referring to him as the "shadow of God."
Not all Shia are happy.
Annia Ciezadlo is a Beirut-based writer.
Annia Ciezadlo PO Box 113-5498 Beirut, Lebanon +961 1 750 982 (land) +961 3 274 360 (mobile) email: firstname.lastname@example.org