Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Book Review: After the Prophet

After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam
(available on Amazon)

I was told about this book by my brother, who had heard the author (Lesley Hazleton) being interviewed over the radio for this book. The title naturally seemed intriguing, and after listening to the interview myself, I decided to buy the book because the author seemed extremely well-informed and had obviously done her research on the early history of Islam. You can listen to the entire hour-long interview yourself on the radio station's web site here.

So I bought the book so I could read it during this trip home, and I just finished reading it yesterday. I think it makes for excellent reading for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The British author does an excellent job in my opinion of presenting the historical facts of Islam's early history in an objective manner. Too often when we Muslims look at that history, we glorify and exaggerate a lot of the characters and portray a larger-than-life image of the people of the time when, in fact, they were normal people with normal problems. The same goes for the society and the power struggle that ensued once Islam had started making its presence felt in Arabia as as real as anything we see today.

The author presents the facts from the point-of-view of the central characters that helped shape Islam's early history. Starting with Muhammad (PBUH), Ali, Ayesha, Omar, Abu Bakar, Usman, Muaviya, and Marwan (to name the major ones). Shes does a good job of conveying the story of a religion that was plunged into crisis following the Prophet's demise, and had the potential to self-destruct as a succession crisis materialized between the people. As she aplty put it, no one denied the Prophet's actions, but debated what they actually meant (for one reason or another). The schisms that were eventually led to the tragic events at Karbala only 50 years after the Prophet's demise, a shameful stain on the religion of peace. These schisms still exist today, and to say anything else would be naive. Another observation I couldn't help but make was the sparkling similarity between the Kharjiites and the Taliban of today. I had not read about the particular act of violence done by Kharjiites that is described in is, and suffice it to say it was sheer barbarism on their part (something we associate with the Taliban today).

For the historical facts presented, the author relies heavily on hadith accounts from the renowned historian Al-Tabari. I have personally always been a critic of the glorified version of our history that is taught to us in schools and colleges. That history paints everything in a positive light, from Islam's early period to Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphs to Muhammad bin Qasim. How conveniently they forget to mention how these dynasties came to power, and how they left no stone unturned in asserting their rule through violence and tyranny. The sooner we are at peace with our shortcomings, and accept the history for what t is, the sooner we can ensure that none of it is repeated.

As one commentator on Amazon said, the book should be required reading for all journalists covering the Middle East or for anyone remotely interested in knowing more about Islam. So, whether you're a Muslim or not, I would highly recommend getting your hands on this book.

Related Links:

The book on Amazon

The author's interview on KUOW

The book's website -

Seattle Times Article on the book


Captain said...

From reading your post i have to agree me and this author has a lot in common. I'll be sure to get me hands on the book. Thanks for sharing! =]

Anonymous said...

for the first time.. iam seeing such an understanding muslim who knows what is reality and does not follows what has been taught in the make-belief historical accounts of text-books and course materials which is the general case existing....

kudos to u buddy !!

Unknown said...

Do read it, its worth it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Raza for sharing this and providing an overview of the book. I really appriciate your thoughts about the very early days of the Islam, specifically, the time just after the demise of the Holy Prophet(peace be upon him and his progeny). I will definitely try to read this book.

Ausif Hussain.

sukaina said...

Just finished reading this book and was searching for other people's reviews on it. I agree with you that Islamic history has been very glorified in teaching as have other religions' histories; I believe this happens through years and years of story-telling from one generation to the next.
I am interested in knowing what you thought about the personalities painted by Hazleton of the Prophet's family - regarding some of their physical flaws mentioned and also the portrayal of some self-doubt by Ali and Hassan regarding their decisions.

Thanks, and keep up the great review!

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