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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.


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