In 1976, the early days of Lebanon's civil war, the Shiite cleric Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah was driven out of the Beirut suburb where he lived when the area was taken over by Christian militias.
The searing experience of being forced out of his home, along with thousands of other Shiite residents, helped to radicalise him. During the months when his neighbourhood was under siege, Fadlallah wrote a seminal book, Islam and the Logic of Force. In the volume's introduction, he described how he worked “by candlelight, under heavy shelling. This is a word I record so that it may be remembered”.
Remembered it certainly has been. What Fadlallah wrote in those perilous days helped catapult him to a leading role in transforming the Shiite community into a dominant political and social force in Lebanon. He would become a grand ayatollah and Lebanon's most influential Shiite cleric.
His death on Sunday at the age of 75 leaves a vacuum in that community, and robs the Muslim world of a voice that advocated a politically active, yet moderate, brand of Shiism.
In Islam and the Logic of Force, Fadlallah argued that Shiites must reject centuries of acquiescence and political withdrawal and must follow the tradition of the sect's founding figures, Ali and Hussein, who struggled against tyranny. The Shiite community, Fadlallah argued, must assert itself in Lebanon and beyond.
“Force means that the world gives you its resources and its wealth; conversely, in conditions of weakness, a man's life degenerates, his energies are wasted; he becomes subject to something that resembles suffocation or paralysis,” he wrote. “History, the history of war and peace, of science and wealth, is the history of the strong.”