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After the Ayatollah: Institutionalisation and Succession in the marjaʿiyya of Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Faḍl Allāh

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This paper deals with the death of a high religious authority, the Twelver Shiʿi marjaʿ al-taqlīd, or “Grand Ayatollah”, Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Faḍl Allāh. The emphasis given to following a living authority within the Twelver Shiʿi tradition makes their passing a moment of crisis, all the more so in the case of a figure who made “contemporaneity” a cornerstone of his distinctive appeal. I examine not only the events surrounding Faḍl Allāh’s death but also its aftermath, in particular the question of the “succession” to his legacy. In an unorthodox move that maintains his reputation for controversy, Faḍl Allāh’s organisation has continued to operate as an independent foundation in his name without falling under the aegis of a living authority. This serves as an illuminating case study of issues of succession and institutionalisation within the Twelver Shiʿi tradition and beyond.

Affiliations: 1: University of Oxford


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