"His career as an interpreter of Islamic jurisprudence and Shiite intellectual culture spanned more than half a century and touched on every aspect of public and private life for the millions of Shiite Muslims who considered him their 'marja', or 'object of emulation', a title bestowed upon only those clerics who have attained the highest level of scholarship and influence.
"But despite these varied religious and intellectual accomplishments, he is best remembered for his fierce resistance to the 1978-2000 Israeli occupation of Lebanon, as well as his role as the first major Muslim cleric of any sect to use religious justification for suicide bombing operations...
"Willingness to discard prior religious precedent...often endeared him to his community of followers far more than his support for military action against Israel, and turned him into one of the most liberal intellectuals in the Muslim world.
"In an interview four years ago, Fadlallah described much of what is considered Sharia as 'nothing more than outdated Arabic tribal traditions that both pre-date and contradict the teachings of the prophets but are continued by falsely linking them to Islamic tradition'.
"It was this mentality that led him to challenge many tenets commonly associated with Islam that involve family law, divorce, women’s rights and even sex outside of marriage.
"He often granted divorces to women who could prove abuse or neglect by their husbands and would do so without consulting or even informing the husband or his family, as in his view their opinion was irrelevant once the tenets of marriage were broken by abuse or infidelity...
"This liberalism towards women led him to argue that not only would it be permissible for women to lead prayers in mosques for mixed audiences but that God had actually commanded that women should be allowed into the highest ranks of Shiite Islam as ayatollahs."
Good pieces on his life and role have been written by Mohamad Bazzi and Juan Cole. Despite living in Lebanon, he was not that close to Hizbullah, but was deeply involved with the leaders of Iraq's Da'wa Party, as well as its offshoots in the Gulf, particularly Bahrain, and the Bahraini cleric 'Abdullah al-Ghurayfi is one possibility to rise to the head of his network.
UPDATE: Global Voices has a round-up of links from Arab blogs.
(Crossposted to American Footprints)