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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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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 the Audio CD edition.
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 the Audio CD edition.
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This book details the death of the prophet Mohammed and his initial successors, particularly that of his cousin and adopted son Ali. Ali, initially passed over for the leadership of Islam, eventually became its leader. However, the struggle for the leadership of Islam and Ali’s assassination set the stage for the eventual struggle between the Shia (followers of Ali) and the Sunni who believed that the leadership of Islam should not be through Mohammad’s kin. Ali’s son Hussein (also Mohammad’s grandson because Ali married one of Mohammad’s daughters) was likewise killed by the Sunni leadership, creating the basis for Shia martyrdom. The events surrounding the deaths of Ali and Hussein and the nature of how and why they died are highly relevant to today’s world as they created the basis both the Sunni fanaticism of groups like Al Qaida, and Shia fanaticism. The author is clear in explaining these connections, making this book important for understand the modern world.
Experts on the history of Islam may find the treatment superficial. For the rest of us, this book is a labor of love that gives wonderfully.
There are no doubt hundreds of books of written on the subject, many written from a sectarian point of view, while a few scholarly book from a more neutral outlook (such as of Wilfred Madelung). This is one of the most accessible and easy to read addition to the latter collection of books.