Why We Need To Read ‘After the Prophet’

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Born in a world where the Muslim community has been divided into two indefinite sects makes for a reality that we have come to accept and also overlook. The conflict between Sunnis and Shias is the news of everyday, but there has never been a proper, unbiased understanding of the real issue.

Where did all of this animosity really stem from? The Sunnis have their version and the Shias have theirs.

Lesley Hazleton is a British-American author whose work focuses on the intersection of politics, religion, and history, especially in the Middle East. She answers the question in an unbiased account of history, taking a neutral approach to what actually happened and why this turmoil between one of the major religions came to be.

Through her writing, you come to see her fondness for the people at heart of the story, and just how politics and religion made the world we live in today. She acknowledges that her main source was Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, generally known as the most prestigious and authoritative early Islamic historian.

The book of roughly 200 pages is clearly divided into three parts and recounts history in the most exquisite way possible – so much so that events begin to make sense and putting the book down becomes impossible. You see, we’ve solely grown up with a general idea of what the issues were that ultimately brought about the rift, but Hazleton brings more to the table. She brings an account of history that many of us haven’t truly bothered to find out. We’ve only accepted circumstances and yet have never delved into the events that lead to our present.

It’s fast paced, moving in a chronological manner starting from the death bed of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and ending with Karbala. Differences had started way back, small as they were, but as we know, events have a way of stemming from something small to something big.

Hazleton takes intricate care as not to let biases narrate history, and instead brings both sides to the table. The way she describes each event with as much detail as she can muster, having cited all her sources at the end of the book, paints a history that many of us have been ignorant towards and explains with the general idea that at the end of the day everything has the power to become an excuse.

She writes “…the most intense point comes not when Hussein is actually killed but the moment he dons his white shroud.  For all the terrible pathos of what has already happened, this moment — one of the least dramatic to Western eyes — is the most unbearable for the audience. It is the moment of calm in the face of death, the willing acceptance of the call to self-sacrifice ( p 189).

At another point she writes: “Westerners finally need to stand back, to acknowledge the emotive depth of the Sunni-Shia split and to accord it the respect it demands…  Among the stories of life and death, Hazleton weaves explanatory details and correctives — Islam was spread, for instance, ‘more by messenger than by the sword.’ She stresses that the West shouldn’t forget that ‘what unites the two main branches of Islam is far greater than what divides them… The vast majority of all Muslims still cherish the ideal of unity preached by Muhammad himself – an ideal more deeply held for being so deeply broken (p 211).

“Hazleton ties today’s events to their ancient roots, resurrecting seventh-century Arabia with respect 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.

This book is a mandatory read for anyone trying to understand the sectarian war within Islam that refuses to end and for those who love history.

Sana Noor is an avid reader, travel enthusiast and writer. Her interests include poetry, history and music.

WHAT OTHERS SAY

“This book is about the dangers of interpretation and the power of symbols… and is almost certain to educate lay Western readers (and, let’s hope, policy makers) about the history of the world’s fastest growing religion…

“Indeed, After the Prophet will be held up as a primer for grasping the modern-day Middle East. Understand the history, Hazleton’s book suggests, and you understand why somebody would pack a truck with explosives and ram it into a shrine.” — Miami Herald

“Best, she doesn’t pontificate or argue religion. She just thrillingly and intelligently distills one of the most consequential trains of events in all history.” 

 Ray Olson in the Booklist

“If this book were a person, I would marry it. OMG! It’s just that good! I reviewed After the Prophet for the Dallas Morning News back in September, and here’s just a slice of my effusion: “Reading these voices from the seventh century,” [Hazleton] writes of her source material, ‘you feel as though you are sitting in the middle of a vast desert grapevine, a dense network of intimate knowledge defying the limitations of space and time.’ One might easily say the same of this remarkable book. Surely anyone with an interest in the Muslim world or U.S. foreign policy should pick up After the Prophet at the first opportunity — and so, too, should any reader interested in a story of human passion and consequence, told with consummate skill.” OMG! — Emily L. Hauser (American writer)

“Lesley Hazleton’s warning is ominous: ‘History is often made by the heedless.’ And as she demonstrates in her new book, leaders of any constituency, in any era, who fail to pay attention to the context of a conflict will meet with devastating results. – Barbara Lloyd McMichael 

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