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

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

329 Pages ·2017·1.24 MB ·English

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

ALSO BY LESLEY HAZLETON


Jezebel: The Untold Story of the Bible’s Harlot Queen


Mary: A Flesh-and-Blood Biography of the Virgin Mother


Jerusalem, Jerusalem: A Memoir of War and Peace, Passion and


Politics


Where Mountains Roar: A Personal Report from the Sinai Desert


Israeli Women: The Reality Behind the Myths Contents


Note on Usage and Spelling


Map: The Middle East in the Late Seventh Century


P


ROLOGUE


P O


ART NE


M


UHAMMAD


P T


ART WO


A


LI


P T


ART HREE


H


USSEIN


Acknowledgments


Notes


Sources Note on


Usage and Spelling


Throughout this book, I have used (cid:633)rst names for major


(cid:633)gures rather than full names, in order to avoid the


“Russian novel e(cid:643)ect,” where English readers su(cid:643)er the


confusion of multiple unfamiliar names. Thus, for


instance, I have used Ali instead of Ali ibn Abu Talib,


Aisha instead of Aisha bint Abu Bakr, Omar instead of


Omar ibn al-Khattab, and so on. I have used fuller names


only where there is a risk of confusion; thus, the son of


the (cid:633)rst Caliph, Abu Bakr, is referred to as Muhammad


Abu Bakr, itself abbreviated from Muhammad ibn Abu


Bakr.


I have used the spelling “Quran” instead of the more


familiar English rendering “Koran” for the sake of both


accuracy and consistency, and in order to respect the


di(cid:643)erence between the Arabic letters qaf and kaf.


Otherwise, wherever possible, I have used more familiar


English spellings for the names of major (cid:633)gures


(Othman, for instance, instead of Uthman or Uttman, and Omar instead of Umar) and have purposely omitted


diacritical marks, using Shia rather than Shi’a, Ibn Saad


instead of Ibn Sa’d, Muawiya instead of Mu’awiya,


Quran instead of Qur’an. Prologue


T . I after the blast, the


HE SHOCK WAVE WAS DEAFENING N THE FIRST FEW SECONDS


millions of pilgrims were rooted to the spot. Everyone


knew what had happened, yet none seemed able to


acknowledge it, as though it were too much for the mind


to process. And then as their ears began to recover, the


screaming began.


They ran, panicked, out of the square and into the


alleys leading to the gold-domed mosque. Ran from the


smoke and the debris, from the blood and shattered glass,


the severed limbs and battered bodies. They sought


security in small, enclosed spaces, a security obliterated


by the next blast, and then the next, and the next.


There were nine explosions in all, thirty minutes of


car bombs, suicide bombs, grenades, and mortar (cid:633)re.


Then there was just the terrible stench of burned (cid:635)esh


and singed dust, and the shrieking of ambulance sirens.


It was midmorning on March 4, 2004—the tenth of


Muharram in the Muslim calendar, the day known as


Ashura. The city of Karbala was packed with Shia


pilgrims, many of whom had journeyed on foot the (cid:633)fty miles from Baghdad. They carried huge banners


billowing above their heads as they chanted and beat


their chests in ritualized mourning for the Prince of


Martyrs, Muhammad’s grandson Hussein, who was


killed in this very place. Yet there was an air of


celebration too. The mass pilgrimage had been banned


for years; this was the (cid:633)rst time since the fall of the


Saddam regime that they had been able to mourn


proudly and openly, and their mourning was an


expression of newfound freedom. But now, in a horrible


reverse mirror of the past, they too had been transformed


into martyrs.


The Ashura Massacre, they would call it—the (cid:633)rst


major sign of the civil war to come. And on everyone’s


lips, the question, How had it come to this?


The Sunni extremist group Al Qaida in Iraq had


calculated the attack with particularly cruel precision.


When and where it took place were as shocking as the


many hundreds of dead and wounded. Ashura is the


most solemn date in the Shia calendar—the equivalent


of Yom Kippur or Easter Sunday—and the name of


Karbala speaks of what happened on this day, in this


place, in the year 680. It is a combination of two words


in Arabic: karab, meaning destruction or devastation,


and bala, meaning tribulation or distress.


Muhammad had been dead not (cid:633)fty years when his


closest male descendants were massacred here and the women of his family taken captive and chained. As word


of the massacre spread, the whole of the Muslim world at


the time, from the borders of India in the east to Algeria


in the west, was in shock, and the question they asked


then was the same one that would be asked fourteen


centuries later: How had it come to this?


What happened at Karbala in the seventh century is


the foundation story of the Sunni-Shia split. Told in


vivid and intimate detail in the earliest Islamic histories,


it is known to all Sunnis throughout the Middle East and


all but engraved on the heart of every Shia. It has not


just endured but gathered emotive force to become an


ever-widening spiral in which past and present, faith


and politics, personal identity and national redemption


are inextricably intertwined.


“Every day is Ashura,” the Shia say, “and every place


is Karbala.” And on March 4, 2004, the message was


reiterated with terrifying literalness. The Karbala story is


indeed one without end, still unfolding throughout the


Muslim world, and most bloodily of all in Iraq, the cradle


of Shia Islam.


This is how it happened, and why it is still happening.


ALSO BY LESLEY HAZLETON


Jezebel: The Untold Story of the Bible’s Harlot Queen


Mary: A Flesh-and-Blood Biography of the Virgin Mother


Jerusalem, Jerusalem: A Memoir of War and Peace, Passion and


Politics


Where Mountains Roar: A Personal Report from the Sinai Desert


Israeli Women: The Reality Behind the Myths Contents


Note on Usage and Spelling


Map: The Middle East in the Late Seventh Century


P


ROLOGUE


P O


ART NE


M


UHAMMAD


P T


ART WO


A


LI


P T


ART HREE


H


USSEIN


Acknowledgments


Notes


Sources Note on


Usage and Spelling


Throughout this book, I have used (cid:633)rst names for major


(cid:633)gures rather than full names, in order to avoid the


“Russian novel e(cid:643)ect,” where English readers su(cid:643)er the


confusion of multiple unfamiliar names. Thus, for


instance, I have used Ali instead of Ali ibn Abu Talib,


Aisha instead of Aisha bint Abu Bakr, Omar instead of


Omar ibn al-Khattab, and so on. I have used fuller names


only where there is a risk of confusion; thus, the son of


the (cid:633)rst Caliph, Abu Bakr, is referred to as Muhammad


Abu Bakr, itself abbreviated from Muhammad ibn Abu


Bakr.


I have used the spelling “Quran” instead of the more


familiar English rendering “Koran” for the sake of both


accuracy and consistency, and in order to respect the


di(cid:643)erence between the Arabic letters qaf and kaf.


Otherwise, wherever possible, I have used more familiar


English spellings for the names of major (cid:633)gures


(Othman, for instance, instead of Uthman or Uttman, and Omar instead of Umar) and have purposely omitted


diacritical marks, using Shia rather than Shi’a, Ibn Saad


instead of Ibn Sa’d, Muawiya instead of Mu’awiya,


Quran instead of Qur’an. Prologue


T . I after the blast, the


HE SHOCK WAVE WAS DEAFENING N THE FIRST FEW SECONDS


millions of pilgrims were rooted to the spot. Everyone


knew what had happened, yet none seemed able to


acknowledge it, as though it were too much for the mind


to process. And then as their ears began to recover, the


screaming began.


They ran, panicked, out of the square and into the


alleys leading to the gold-domed mosque. Ran from the


smoke and the debris, from the blood and shattered glass,


the severed limbs and battered bodies. They sought


security in small, enclosed spaces, a security obliterated


by the next blast, and then the next, and the next.


There were nine explosions in all, thirty minutes of


car bombs, suicide bombs, grenades, and mortar (cid:633)re.


Then there was just the terrible stench of burned (cid:635)esh


and singed dust, and the shrieking of ambulance sirens.


It was midmorning on March 4, 2004—the tenth of


Muharram in the Muslim calendar, the day known as


Ashura. The city of Karbala was packed with Shia


pilgrims, many of whom had journeyed on foot the (cid:633)fty miles from Baghdad. They carried huge banners


billowing above their heads as they chanted and beat


their chests in ritualized mourning for the Prince of


Martyrs, Muhammad’s grandson Hussein, who was


killed in this very place. Yet there was an air of


celebration too. The mass pilgrimage had been banned


for years; this was the (cid:633)rst time since the fall of the


Saddam regime that they had been able to mourn


proudly and openly, and their mourning was an


expression of newfound freedom. But now, in a horrible


reverse mirror of the past, they too had been transformed


into martyrs.


The Ashura Massacre, they would call it—the (cid:633)rst


major sign of the civil war to come. And on everyone’s


lips, the question, How had it come to this?


The Sunni extremist group Al Qaida in Iraq had


calculated the attack with particularly cruel precision.


When and where it took place were as shocking as the


many hundreds of dead and wounded. Ashura is the


most solemn date in the Shia calendar—the equivalent


of Yom Kippur or Easter Sunday—and the name of


Karbala speaks of what happened on this day, in this


place, in the year 680. It is a combination of two words


in Arabic: karab, meaning destruction or devastation,


and bala, meaning tribulation or distress.


Muhammad had been dead not (cid:633)fty years when his


closest male descendants were massacred here and the women of his family taken captive and chained. As word


of the massacre spread, the whole of the Muslim world at


the time, from the borders of India in the east to Algeria


in the west, was in shock, and the question they asked


then was the same one that would be asked fourteen


centuries later: How had it come to this?


What happened at Karbala in the seventh century is


the foundation story of the Sunni-Shia split. Told in


vivid and intimate detail in the earliest Islamic histories,


it is known to all Sunnis throughout the Middle East and


all but engraved on the heart of every Shia. It has not


just endured but gathered emotive force to become an


ever-widening spiral in which past and present, faith


and politics, personal identity and national redemption


are inextricably intertwined.


“Every day is Ashura,” the Shia say, “and every place


is Karbala.” And on March 4, 2004, the message was


reiterated with terrifying literalness. The Karbala story is


indeed one without end, still unfolding throughout the


Muslim world, and most bloodily of all in Iraq, the cradle


of Shia Islam.


This is how it happened, and why it is still happening.


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