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Narrative history at its most compelling, After the Prophet relates the dramatic tragic story at the heart of the ongoing rivalry between Shia and Sunni Islam. Even as Muhammad lay dying, the battle over his successor had begun. Pitting the family of his favorite wife, the controversial Aisha, against supporters of his son-in-law, the philosopher-warrior Ali, the struggle would reach its breaking point fifty years later in Iraq, when soldiers of the first Sunni dynasty massacred seventy-two warriors led by Muhammad's grandson Hussein at Karbala. Hussein's agonizing ordeal at Karbala was soon to become the Passion story at the core of Shia Islam.
Hazleton's vivid, gripping prose provides extraordinary insight into the origins of the world's most volatile blend of politics and religion. Balancing past and present, she shows how these seventh-century events are as alive in Middle Eastern hearts and minds today as though they had just happened, shaping modern headlines from Iran's Islamic Revolution to the civil war in Iraq. After the Prophet is narrative nonfiction at its finest, and an emotional and political revelation for Western readers.
“Thrilling in its depiction of long-ago events. . . . Passionately and scrupulously done.”-The Wall Street Journal
“As sectarian aggression flares in Iraq, Hazleton’s explanation of its deep, entrenched roots is essential.”-Christian Science Monitor
“A remarkable and respectful telling of the story of Islam—a tale of power, intrigue, rivalry, jealousy, assassination, manipulation, greed, and faith that would have made Machiavelli shudder (had he read it), but above all it is a very human story, told in a wonderfully novelistic style that puts most other, often dreary, explanations of the Shia-Sunni divide to shame.”-Hooman Majd, author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ
From the Hardcover edition.
If there was a single moment it all began, it was that of Muhammad's death. Even the Prophet was mortal. That was the problem. It was as though nobody had considered the possibility that he might die, not even Muhammad himself.
Did he know he was dying? He surely must have. So too those around him, yet nobody seemed able to acknowledge it, and this was a strange blindness on their part. Muhammad was sixty-three years old, after all, a long life for his time. He had been wounded several times in battle and had survived no fewer than three assassination attempts that we know of. Perhaps those closest to him could not conceive of a mere illness bringing him down after such concerted malice against him, especially now that Arabia was united under the banner of Islam.
The very people who had once opposed Muhammad and plotted to kill him were now among his senior aides. Peace had been made, the community united. It wasn't just the dawn of a new age; it was morning, the sun bright, the day full of promise. Arabia was poised to step out of the background as a political and cultural backwater and take a major role on the world stage. How could its leader die on the verge of such success? Yet dying he definitely was, and after all the violence he had seen—the battles, the assassination attempts—he was dying of natural causes.
The fever had begun innocuously enough, along with mild aches and pains. Nothing unusual, it seemed, except that it did not pass. It came and went, but each time it returned, it seemed worse. The symptoms and duration—ten days—seem to indicate bacterial meningitis, doubtless contracted on one of his military campaigns and, even today, often fatal.
Soon blinding headaches and wrenching muscle pain weakened him so much that he could no longer stand without help. He began to drift in and out of sweat-soaked semiconsciousness—not the radiant trance in which he had received the Quranic revelations but a very different, utterly debilitating state of being. His wives wrapped his head in cloths soaked in cold water, hoping to draw out the pain and reduce the fever, but if there was any relief, it was only temporary. The headaches grew worse, the throbbing pain incapacitating.
At his request, they had taken him to the chamber of Aisha, his favorite wife. It was one of nine built for the wives against the eastern wall of the mosque compound, and in keeping with the early ethic of Islam—simplicity, no inequalities of wealth, all equal as believers—it was really no more than a one-room hut. The rough stone walls were covered over with reed roofing; the door and windows opened out to the courtyard of the mosque. Furnishings were minimal: rugs on the floor and a raised stone bench at the back for the bedding, which was rolled up each morning and spread out again each night. Now, however, the bedding remained spread out.
It was certainly stifling in that small room even for someone in full health, for this was June, the time when the desert heat builds to a terrible intensity by midday. Muhammad must have struggled for each breath. Worst of all, along with the headaches came a painful sensitivity to noise and light. The light could be dealt with: a rug hung over the windows, the heavy curtain over the doorway kept down. But quiet was not to be had.
A sickroom in the Middle East then, as now, was a gathering place. Relatives, companions, aides, supporters—all those who scrambled to claim closeness to the center of the newly powerful religion—came in a continual stream, day and night, with their concerns, their advice, their questions. Muhammad fought for consciousness. However sick, he could not ignore them; too much depended on him.
Outside, in the courtyard of the mosque, people were camped out, keeping vigil. They refused to believe that this illness could be anything but a passing trial, yet they were
Excerpted from After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam by Lesley Hazleton
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