Book Review: After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam by Lesley Hazleton



Lesley Hazleton published a book named “After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam”. The book has focused on Sunni and Shia versions of the incidents on which there are differences among Muslims. But the main focus of the book can simply be seen as hate, which is evident throughout, along with biased opinions in the end. She has mentioned Quran as Word of God because of its beauty and divine message. She has also mentioned Prophet Muhammad PBUH as literally the Prophet from God because of the divine revelation of Quran on Him. It is highly regarded however I couldn’t understand is as she mentions herself as “Agnostic Jew” in a Ted Talk on Quran.

But apart from that, her study on Islam while writing on it was more than poor on various Islamic laws. She mentioned in Chapter 3 of the book:

For a wronged woman, there could have been no better outcome, yet the form of it would be cruelly turned around and used by conservative clerics in centuries to come to do the opposite of what Muhammad had originally intended: not to exonerate a woman but to blame her. The wording of his revelation would apply not only when adultery was suspected but also when there had been an accusation of rape. Unless a woman could produce four witnesses to her rate – a virtual impossibility – she would be considered guilty of slander and adultery, and punished accordingly. Aisha’s exoneration was destined to become the basis for the silencing, humiliation, and even execution of countless women after her.”

Here, like most of other Western authors, Lesley Hazelton has presented her weak knowledge and lack of study before writing the book. To come up with four witnesses is only in case of adultery or fornication. There is nothing like to present four witnesses when someone is raped. Some clerics in Muslim world, and recently in Dubai, have done as what Lesley Hazelton has mentioned, but these clerics and countries are not Islam. Islam is not what we are. Islam is Quran and Sunnah; and to judge Islam, one has to study Quran and Sunnah, not us.

The whole boot is written without citations and endnotes, making it more vulnerable. However the book is written in a balanced way like;

  • To praise the dimensions where Sunnis and Shias have no conflict.
  • To defame the dimensions where there are conflicts. The book is meant to present the differences, but not the hate and biased views.

Mood of the author also seemed to change frequently. On some stages it is felt as the author is angry with Islam, and on other sides her mind is blown away on the remarkable early successes. She is confused in certain areas, and makes this similar effect on the reader. But still, the overall book is a piece of knowledge. People who want to learn more can read Al-Tabari from where she has gathered material for her book mainly, however her personal opinions have ruined the tastes in various places, as well as made some beautiful points as well.

While presenting history, authors should be careful. At least they should be honest as a researcher, as well as a writer. They have the right to opinionate certain aspects, but they should have thorough grip.

In the end of the book, there are some current political scenarios mentioned by the author, which are strongly mentioned. These are lessons, messages and things to remember for Muslims. Some of these fragments are as follow;

Whatever balance there was would be changed utterly by World War I and the consequent partitioning of the former Ottoman Empire. Western intervention reshaped the Middle East, often in what seems astonishingly cavalier fashion. The British enabled the Wahhabi-Saudi takeover of Arabia, installed a foreign Sunni king over Shia majority Iraq, and shored up the Nazi sympathizer Reza Khan as Shah of Iran. After World War II, the United States took over as prime mover. Motivated by Cold War ideology, it helped engineer a coup d’état against Iran’s newly elected prime minister Muhammad Mossadegh and reinstated the autocratic regime of Reza Khan’s son, Shah Reza Pahlavi, under whom Iran first aspired to nuclear power—with American encouragement. Successive U.S. administrations backed the Wahhabi-dominated kingdom of Saudi Arabia not only for access to its oil but also as a bulwark against Nasser’s pro-Soviet regime across the Red Sea in Egypt. In the 1980s the United States joined forces with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to fund the anti- Soviet mujahidin—literally jihad fighters, or as Ronald Reagan preferred to call them, freedom fighters—in Afghanistan, and in a rather stunning example of unintended consequences, these troops later formed the basis of the Taliban. In that same decade, the United States found itself arming both sides in the Iran-Iraq War, supporting Saddam Hussein in order to counter the fierce anti-Americanism of post revolutionary Iran, while also supplying Iran in the murky “arms for hostages” Iran-Contra affair.

Sunni and Shia radicals alike called on a potent blend of the seventh century and the twentieth: on the Karbala story and on anti-Westernism. By the 1980s such calls were a clear danger signal to the pro-American Saudis, who were highly aware that radical Sunni energies could come home to roost in an Arabian equivalent of the Iranian Revolution. Their answer, in effect, was to deal with radical Islamism by financing it abroad, thus deflecting its impact at home. The Saudis became major exporters of Wahhabi extremism and its bitterly anti-Shia stance, from Africa to Indonesia, countering a newly strengthened sense of Shia identity and power—“the Shia revival,” as it’s been called—energized by the Iranian Revolution. The Sunni-Shia split had again become as politicized as when it began.

 As the United States has at last recognized, with thousands of American troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Westerners enter such a power struggle at their own peril, all the more since many in the Middle East suspect that Western powers have deliberately manipulated the Shia-Sunni split all along in order to serve their own interests. The chaos unleashed by the invasion of Iraq in 2003 may have resulted in yet another unintended consequence in American eyes, but it was not so unintended in Iraqi eyes. “The invader has separated us,” declared Muqtada al-Sadr in 2007. “Unity is power, and division is weakness.”

The Karbala story has endured and strengthened not least because it reaches deep into questions of  morality—of idealism versus pragmatism, purity versus compromise. Its DNA is the very stuff that tests both politics and faith and animates the vast and often terrifying arena in which the two intersect. But whether sacredness inheres in the Prophet’s blood family, as the Shia believe, or in the community as a whole, as Sunnis believe, nobody in the West should forget that what unites the two main branches of Islam is far greater that what divides them, and that the vast majority of all Muslims still cherish the ideal of unity preached by Muhammad himself —an ideal the more deeply held for being so deeply broken.