Sheikh Abdullah al-Harari, the founder of the Sunni Muslim group Habashi, has died. He was 98.
The death was announced by the group, which is also known as The Association of Islamic Philanthropic Projects. It said Harari died at his home in Beirut at dawn Tuesday. The group described the death as a "loss to the entire Islamic nation."
It said Harari, also known as al-Habashi, was buried after noon prayers Tuesday in Beirut.
Harari kept a low-profile in Lebanon's internal politics.
He was born in Ethiopia in 1910, and received religious training from a number of clerics there as well as in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.
He came to Lebanon in early 1950s and wrote several books on Islam. The Habashi group, which he founded in the 1970s, stayed out of Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war that killed more than 150,000 people.
Unlike other Lebanese groups, the Habashis never ran a militia. The group was founded mainly to gain ground among Sunnis, offering financial aid and social services to the needy. It runs schools, clinics and supermarkets in mainly Sunni areas of Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon.
The group supported Yasser Arafat's PLO in the 1970s and later shifted allegiance to Syria in the early 1990s but never grew into an influential political force in Lebanon. It strongly backed the Hizbullah-led opposition during the power struggle with the Western-backed parliamentary majority last spring.
The group's previous leader, Sheikh Nizar Halabi, was assassinated by gunmen outside his Beirut home in 1995. Halabi was reportedly vying to become the spiritual leader of Lebanon's Sunni community, and his murder appeared to result from rivalry over the post.
Three Muslim extremists -- a Palestinian and two Lebanese -- were convicted in the assassination and executed in 1997.