In this gripping narrative history, Lesley Hazleton tells the tragic story at the heart of the ongoing rivalry between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam, a rift that dominates the news now more than ever.
Even as Muhammad lay dying, the battle over who would take control of the new Islamic nation had begun, beginning a succession crisis marked by power grabs, assassination, political intrigue, and passionate faith. Soon Islam was embroiled in civil war, pitting its founder's controversial wife Aisha against his son-in-law Ali, and shattering Muhammad’s ideal of unity.
Combining meticulous research with compelling storytelling, After the Prophet explores the volatile intersection of religion and politics, psychology and culture, and history and current events. It is an indispensable guide to the depth and power of the Shia–Sunni split.
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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)About the Author:
Lesley Hazleton is an award-winning writer whose work focuses on the intersection of religion, history, and politics. She reported on the Middle East from Jerusalem for more than a dozen years, and has written for Time, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, Harper’s, The Nation, and The New Republic, among others. Her book After the Prophet was a finalist for a PEN Center USA Literary Award, and she is the recipient of The Stranger’s Genius in Literature Award. Hazleton lives in Seattle.
For more information, visit: www.aftertheprophet.com.
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