Resistance and Jihad in Contemporary Lebanese Shi'a Discourse

Monday, January 5, 2009: 11:00 AM
Murray Hill Suite A (Hilton New York)
Rola El-Husseini , Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
In recent years, the terms jihad and martyrdom have become synonymous in the Western media with terrorism.  This simplistic conflation disregards the multiple meanings of these terms as they are used within their discourses of origin.  This paper aims to add conceptual clarity to this muddled understanding of the terms by examining contemporary Shi'a understanding of these concepts and the closely related concept of resistance through an analysis of the writings of two leading Lebanese Shi'a scholars, Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah and Muhammad Mahdi Shams al-Din.  By doing a close reading of four of their works published in Lebanon between 1998 and 2003, I shall tease out their conceptions of jihad and martyrdom and explain how Shi'a tradition shapes the ideas of these prominent ayatollahs.  I shall address the following questions: What constitutes jihad and "Islamic resistance" in the Shi'a tradition?  Are they one and the same?  If so, are they to be understood exclusively in terms of armed resistance, or can "Islamic resistance" be non-violent?  Who is the proper target of this resistance?  More specifically, should Muslims resist local rulers deemed corrupt, or should resistance always be directed against Israel, the United States, and "Western imperialism"?     Having addressed these questions, I shall then show the impact of the writings of the two ayatollahs on resistance movements in the region and weigh the significance of their discourse on the local Islamic resistance movement, Hizbullah, and, more broadly, on the discourse of the Sunni movement, Hamas, in the Palestinian territories.
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