After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam

After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam - Lesley Hazleton NO SPOILERS:

On completion: Much of what we know about Muhammad and those closest to him was passed down from generation to generation verbally. This book presents their lives in the same manner. The author relates these very same tales to the reader. This is captivating story telling for adults. You learn history in an engaging manner through tales such as The Affair of the Necklace, People of the Cloak, The Episode of the Pen and Paper and more. This book covers primarily the 50 years 630-380 up to the Karbala Massacre. There is a twofold shift in the book, geographically from Arabia to Iraq and the Middle East and from a narrative of tales to a discussion of politics. You learn about the subtleties of the Arabic language and how a spoken work can be interpreted in several ways. The author clearly has a thorough grasp of the subject. The main focus of the book is to explain the history that lies behind the Shia-Sunni split. The focus is less on current events, although there is some discussion on how the split played a role in the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the Iran-Iraq wars of the 1980s. The similarity between particular historical events and Saddam Hussein's deeds are also pointed out. There is discussion of later day Sunni (Ibn Taymia) and Shia (Ali Shariati) proponents. The beginnings of Islamic fundamentalism is also covered.

From my point of view, the text became harder to follow as it progressed to the modern day issues. Politics became the central theme. It became less engaging to me, probably because I was having a harder time grasping all the details. I think I would need to read the book several times to suck up all that is presented. So while this is not a criticism of the book, I want to make clear that the focu changes from tales to a discussion of politics. To understand the Shia-Sunni split you have to understand the role politics came to play. In the beginning, for Muhammad the spiritual and the political were one.

One other issue troubles me. I wonder where the author's sentiments lie. Does she have a preference fo one side or the other? I clearly feel a stronger liking for Shia rather than Sunni beliefs. I started out not even knowing the differences between the two. I now favor one side! This worries me. Have both sides been presented to me in a balanced impartial manner?

I highly recommend this book to those of you interested in understanding the similarities and differences between Schiism and Sunni beliefs. You have to be genuinely interested in and curiousaboutn the subject to enjoy the entire book. I am happy I read it from cover to cover. I probably should immediately start over and read it again to grasp all the innuendos. I also recommend this book to those of you who are interested in the tales that tell the earliest history of Islam. You can stop when you find your interst sagging. You will have at least learned a bit about an interesting subject - the birth of Islam. Futhermore it is startling to see the clear similarities between Islam, Judaism and Christianity in the seventh century.


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Through page 37: I have to share my thoughts with you! Reading a book is fun, but sharing it with others is perhaps even more fun. You learn about the personalities and little quirks of the main protagonists - Muhammad, Aisha, Khadija, Ali and more. Each one is fascinating. I was going to include an excerpt about Ali, but then I ran into this about Muhammad, the Prophet himself:

Sure enough, the man who remained without sons of his own soon had two adored grandsons, Hassan and Hussein. Only a year apart, they instantly became the apples of their grandfather's eye. It is said there is no love purer than that of a grandparent for a grandchild, and Muhammad was clearly as doting and proud a grandfather as ever lived. He would bounce the young boys on his lap for hours at a time, kissing and hugging them. Would even happily abandon all the decorum and dignity of his position as the Messenger of God to get down on all fours and let them ride him like a horse, kicking his sides with their heels and shrieking in delight. These two boys were the future of Islam, as the Shia would see it - and by fathering them, Ali, the one man after Muhammad most loyal to Khadija, had made that future possible. (page 37)

Did you know that Muhammad was monogamously married to Khadija until her death. She was his first wife. After her death he married Aisha, and after her he accumulated nine other wives. None of these produced offspring with Muhammad, although several had children from previous marriages. Aisha was a virgin. When Muhammad gave his daughter to Ali, his first cousin and adopten son, he demanded that they too have a monogamous marriage. This was not typical of the times, not at all. Marriage was a political instrument, and of course a means of producing offspring.

I will not say any more, but I hope I have enticed you enough so you choose to pick up this book. I want you to have the experience of learning the facts from an author who has a knack for telling a story. A story? No, this isn't a story. This is history.

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Through page 25 of 212: No, I haven't read much, but the relaxed narrative style of this non-fiction book is simply delightful. Even if I were to stop now, which I have no intention of doing, I would have learned a lot. What I want to say here is that this book does not present the facts in a dry, boring manner. This is non-fiction that reads like a story. Tell me, does this sound like non-fiction? I will give you an excerpt:

...it is enough to know that it was the kind of necklace a young girl would wear, and treasure more than if it had been made of diamonds because it had been Muhammad's gift to her on her wedding day. (Aisha's lost necklace)

Its loss and the ensuing scandal would be known as the Affair of the Necklace, the kind of folksy title that speaks of oral history, which is how all history began before the age of the printing press and mass literacy. The People of the Cloak, The Episode of Pen and Paper, The Battle of the Camel, The Secret Letter, The Night of Shrieking-all these and more would be the building blocks of early Islamic history. This is history told as story, which of course it always is, but rarely in such vivid and intimate detail.

For the first hundred years of Islam, these stories lived not on the page but on the tongues of those who told them and in the ears and hearts of those who heard them and remembered them to tell again, the details gathering impact as the years unfolded.
(page 18)

And then the story continues about how this necklace gets lost, but you must read the book yourself to find out.

This quote begins with a bit of the story which helps explain the antipathy between Aisha and Ali. The antipathy between these two lies at the bottom of the Islamic Sunni-Shia split. The topic is fascinating, and the way it is told is captivating - at least so far!

I assume you do know that the split is fundamentally a split between the followers of Aisha, Muhammad's youngest and favorite wife, and the followers who supported Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law, married to his first wife's oldest daughter Fatima. Muhammad had no living sons to suceed him. Neither did he designate who would suceed him after his death. He didn't want to proclaim a successor because he had finally suceeded in uniting the Islamic people. He had finally suceeded even in bringing the aristocratic Quraysh clan of Mecca into his fold, despite his teachings being clearly egalitarian. He had stopped intertribal warfare. He had expelled pagan gods. He had founded the world's third great monotheistic faith. Perhaps he simply couldn't face the ruckus that would unfold if he were to name his successor. History is fascinating, but it must be told in a manner so we don't yawn and fall asleep.