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After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam Paperback – September 7, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

Book Description
Narrative history at its most compelling, After the Prophet relates the dramatic tragic story at the heart of the ongoing rivalry between Shia and Sunni Islam.

Even as Muhammad lay dying, the battle over his successor had begun. Pitting the family of his favorite wife, the controversial Aisha, against supporters of his son-in-law, the philosopher-warrior Ali, the struggle would reach its breaking point fifty years later in Iraq, when soldiers of the first Sunni dynasty massacred seventy-two warriors led by Muhammad's grandson Hussein at Karbala. Hussein's agonizing ordeal at Karbala was soon to become the Passion story at the core of Shia Islam.

Hazleton's vivid, gripping prose provides extraordinary insight into the origins of the world's most volatile blend of politics and religion. Balancing past and present, she shows how these seventh-century events are as alive in Middle Eastern hearts and minds today as though they had just happened, shaping modern headlines from Iran's Islamic Revolution to the civil war in Iraq.

After the Prophet is narrative nonfiction at its finest, and an emotional and political revelation for Western readers.

Lesley Hazleton on After the Prophet

It began with a question asked after a particularly ghastly suicide bombing in Iraq: "How come Muhammad, the prophet of unity who spoke of one people and one God, left behind him this terrible, unending, bloody legacy of division between Sunni and Shia?" The question haunted me, and led me to the magnificent story of the struggle for leadership after Muhammad's death, an epic as alive and powerful today as when it first happened.

I knew then that how I wrote this book was as important as what I wrote. I had discovered a story so rich in characters, culminating in such a tragic and unforgettable sacrifice, that it would have made a writer like Gabriel Garcia Marquez green with envy. Of course--how else could it survive and gather power over so many centuries? How else inspire people to forfeit their lives and those of others in its name? Yet though it is deeply engraved in Muslim consciousness--to the Sunnis as history and to the Shia as sacred history--the story of the events that divide them has remained largely unknown in the West. And our ignorance of it has haunted us as one Western power after another has tried to intervene in a conflict they barely understand.

That's why I wanted to bring Western readers inside the story, to make it as alive for them as it is in the Middle East, so that they can not only understand it on an intellectual level, but experience it--grasp its emotive depth and its inspirational power, and thus understand how it has survived and even strengthened, and how it affects the lives of all of us today.

The subject was all the more irresistible to me personally since it brings together many of my deepest interests: the interplay of religion and politics, more intricately intertwined in the Middle East than anywhere else in the world; my own experience living in and reporting from the Middle East for Time magazine and other publications; my affinity for narrative nonfiction and for tracing the interplay of past and present; and my original training as a psychologist, which comes into play as I explore the story, the way it has endured, and how it is used today in politics, society, spiritual life, and, too often, war.

I could almost imagine that if all this had only been better known in the West, American troops would never have been sent within a hundred miles of Iraqi holy cities like Najaf and Karbala, which figure in it so largely, and that we would never have tried to intervene in an argument fueled by such a volatile blend of emotion, religion, and politics. But I know this is wishful thinking. In the end, I will be happy if readers simply turn over the last page and breathe out the words I found myself saying again and again as my research deepened, and that seem to me an entirely appropriate response to a story of this power: "Oh my God..." --Lesley Hazleton

(Photo © Lesly Wiener)

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Much American foreign policy has been shaped by the centuries-old disagreement between Islam's two main factions, and yet Americans in general, and our politicians in particular, often can't tell Sunnis from Shi'ites. With the publication of this outstanding book, we no longer have any excuse. Hazleton (Jezebel) ties today's events to their ancient roots, resurrecting seventh century Arabia with reverence and vivid immediacy. Here are rich recreations of the lives of the Prophet Muhammad and his beloved wife Aisha; here are often overlooked details (why is green the color of Islam? why do some Muslim women veil?) filling in the contours of the narrative. The battle to name Muhammad's successor is gripping—but it is Hazleton's ability to link the past and present that distinguishes this book: the main issue is again what it was in the seventh century—who should lead Islam?—played out on an international level. Where Ali once struggled against Muawiya, Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia today vie with each other for influence. Anyone with an interest in the Middle East, U.S.-international relations or a profound story masterfully told will be well served by this exceptional book. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 8.8.2010 edition (September 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385523947
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385523943
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (189 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Dilara Hafiz on November 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As a Sunni Muslim, I feel that I have been privileged to re-learn some history from a more objective viewpoint. Hazleton has written an educational, yet engrossing account of the 50 years following the death of Prophet Muhammad. Her sympathetic treatment of the main characters relies on historical accounts by the famed Islamic historian al-Tabari who died in 923AD, while her deft treatment of the implications of the Sunni-Shia split offer valid lessons to anyone interested in current events. Highly recommended to all who desire to delve deeper into history than the media soundbites of today - should be required reading for all reporters & journalists covering the Middle East!
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55 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Loves the View VINE VOICE on April 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran Hooman Majd describes the Rosah which are annually performed by Iran's Shi'a to commemorate the Battle of Karbala. These are retellings or recreations of events that continue to inspire. People cry and shiver in sadness at these performances year after year as they remember and relive the suffering of the Prophet's grandson and his supporters. If you don't know the background of the Sunni-Shi'a split, it seems to be a strange custom.

The reasons cannot be told in sound bites. Their sadness results from the disrespectful treatment of the Prophet's family for two generations. The complex series of events culminates in extreme cruetly at Karbala.

Leslie Hazelton makes the history and its participants come alive. She gives the people character and shading so that you can understand what they do and possibly why. Barnaby Rogerson in The Heirs of Muhammad Islam's First Century and the Origins of the Sunni-Shia Split tells the same story but not in a way that helped me to understand the passion of the Shi'a. Now, through Hazelton, I finally understand the split and passion of the Shi'a and why, even today, why this story remains so stirring.

This telling of the story is favorable to Ali and his children and suggests there is an alternative Sunni interpretation.

This is an excellent book and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to really understand the story.
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54 of 63 people found the following review helpful By nemo on February 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
overall, i would give it 4. If there was an option I would have given it a 3.5.

What I like:
1. Unlike Martin Ling, she question things. In majority of instances, she acknowledges that the incidents she is quoting are not unanimous. She questions things. For example, if Ali was known for his depth of character, tolerance and spirituality, how can he give a mean-spirited advice. At many places, she tries to use logic and makes the reader think.
2. She discusses an often overlooked topic - a topic that majority of Sunni Muslims don't want to confront. This is difficult as it makes question so many beliefs and assumption on which an ideal is built about so much of the history.
3. Her background in psychology helps her examine the human dimension in these epoch historical events.
4. The root of sunni extremism - Kharjjis - I found it very interesting and made me think about irony of slef-righteousness and holier than thou attitude. It is so much easier to understand wahab's progenies who are spreading their terror today.
5. some people have commented that after talking about all the rifts she says what unites them is much more than what divides muslims. The readers have argued her comments to be unqualified. However, I disagree with those readers. A writer cannot spell out every thing. She mentioned at plenty of places that how the prophet and quran is the common link. she also mentioned constantly how unity was the key factor in making decisions to fight or make peace. I guess she thought these accounts qualify her statement without one last spelling out the reason why she thinks so.

What I don't like
1. Try as we may, we are humans and our endeavors will never be 100% objective and she picks and choose stuff.
Read more ›
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Steve Reina VINE VOICE on February 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover
When Muhammed lay dying a fight was about to be born in Islam...the fight for who would have the legitimate right to succeed him as leader of both the new religion and his new community.

The story of Muhammed's final days and the beginning of this fight are told with flourish and immediacy by Lesley Hazelton, who's brought those self same qualities to the life of Mary of Magdelen and also Old Testament Queen Jezebel. As with her other works, Hazelton deftly avoids taking sides while giving a fair synopsis of all the various aspects of the matter.

In the case of the Sunni/Shia split, her writing also has an added degree of immediacy owing to the significance of the tensions which still brew in the Muslim world between the Sunni and Shia communities.

This book also sheds light on historical factors which had a role in creating Islam's current view on the role of women in religion and society. Significantly, with respect to both this view and also the Sunni/Shia split this book covers territory covered by the Muslim author who wrote The First Muslims but does so in a more readable fashion.

As with all her writing I would highly recommend this book. Lesley Hazelton is emerging as a leader in writing readable ancient history probably by understanding the not so ancient motivations of the characters and their still powerful effect on modern day life.
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