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Crowds mourn at top Shiite cleric's funeral in Lebanon

By the CNN Wire Staff
Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah had become distanced from Hezbollah's Iran-influenced leadership.
Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah had become distanced from Hezbollah's Iran-influenced leadership.
  • Lebanese leader: Fadlallah was "a great national and spiritual scholar"
  • Hezbollah: He was a "prominent advocate of Islamic unity"
  • He was closely associated with Hezbollah when it formed almost 30 years ago
  • His views on various topics were considered liberal for a Shiite cleric
  • Hezbollah
  • Lebanon

Beirut, Lebanon (CNN) -- Throngs of mourners gathered Tuesday in Beirut to bid farewell to the man considered Hezbollah's first spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah.

Quranic verses rang out on loudspeakers as the funeral procession snaked its way through the Lebanese capital to al-Imamain al-Hassanein mosque in the Shiite-dominated southern suburbs, where Fadlallah will be buried.

Fadlallah's black turban was placed over the casket during the procession led by Lebanese officials and delegations from Islamic nations.

The Shiite cleric died Sunday in a Beirut hospital.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri called Fadlallah a "great national and spiritual scholar."

"He was at all times and circumstances the voice of moderation, calling for the unity of Lebanese in particular and Muslims in general, rejecting -- and issuing religious edicts against -- strife, and calling for dialogue as a means to resolve differences," Hariri said Sunday.

"He taught us to be a people of dialogue and to reject injustice and resist occupation," Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said in a statement Sunday.

Fadlallah was born in 1935 in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Iraq, and completed his Quranic studies there, according to his website.

He had lived in Lebanon since the 1960s and became a spiritual leader of Hezbollah after it was founded in 1982 in response to an Israeli invasion.

"He stood with great courage and clarity supporting the resistance against the Zionist enemy and was a prominent advocate of Islamic unity, fighting division and strife," Hezbollah said in a statement.

In recent years, however, Fadlallah had become distanced from Hezbollah's Iran-influenced leadership.

His views on various topics, including the role of women, were laid out on his website and were considered liberal for a Shiite cleric. But he never swayed from his strident criticism of Israel.

In a letter penned to President Barack Obama last year, Fadlallah said: "The size of support and cover-up provided by your country for the Zionist entity has become known. This entity was established on the land whose people were uprooted by the power of iron and fire. The subsequent American policies have contributed to the loss of the Palestinian cause, despite the ratification of many Security Council resolutions."

The United States considers Hezbollah, which has close ties to Iran and Syria, a terrorist organization. The Shiite group is a major provider of social services in Lebanon but also operates a militant wing.

Fadlallah's name appears on a U.S. list of Specially Designated Nationals, which names people and organizations U.S. citizens are banned from dealing with.

CNN's Nada Husseini contributed to this report.