In May 1980, when the author arrived in southern Lebanon, the horrid killing of Baqr al-Sadr was often discussed, usually coupled with a denunciation of Iraq—and its Lebanese allies. Baqr al-Sadr was a major thinker whose books in Arabic, particularly Iqtisaduna (Our Economy) are revered as seminal. (His nephew, of course, is Muqtada al-Sadr, the young firebrand who formed the Jaysh al-Mahdi [the “Army of the Guided One”] in Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s Ba"thist regime was toppled in 2003.) In my visits with middle-class Amal supporters and officials, in 1980 and 1981 and many times later, I often spotted Baqr al-Sadr’s books on a bookshelf, but perhaps more as an emblem of respect than as a volume that actually had been read. In Lebanese Shia villages, in those early chaotic days, posters honoring Baqr al-Sadr were almost as widespread as those featuring Musa al-Sadr, which far outnumbered images of Ayatollah Khomeini.
When young Lebanese Shi"i men were selected for a religious education, their traditional destinations had been the revered Shia seminaries of al-Najaf or Karbala in Iraq. By the end of the 1970s, however, as the revolution in Iran gathered force, Iraq had become inhospitable for foreign Shia. In 1978 Ayatollah Khomeini was himself expelled from Iraq at the insistence of the Shah, thereby gaining international notoriety in a suburb of Paris with much of the international media just a few steps away as the Iranian revolution gathered force. Young Lebanese Shia clerics such as Subhi al-Tufayli and "Abbas al-Musawi, who later played important leadership roles in Hezbollah’s early days, trickled back into Lebanon from Iraq. Al-Musawi established a hawza, or religious seminary, in Baalbak, where the future Hezbollah leader Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah became his student and prote´ge´. The returnees from Iraq brought with them revolutionary fervor and the commitment to change their societies. They shared antipathy toward Israel and loyalty to Iran. Most of the returnees were members of the Hizb al-Da"wa party (“Party of the [Islamic] Call”), founded in Iraq in 1958 as an Islamic alternative to the Communist Party. The Lebanese Da"wa was disbanded, and its erstwhile members were instructed by party strategists to infiltrate the secular Amal and reform it from within. Sayyid Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah urged them in the same direction—away from Amal’s de facto secularism toward something approximating an Islamic system of rule. After Musa al-Sadr’s disappearance in 1978, Fadlallah was the most influential scholar in Lebanon.