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Publisher's Summary

In this gripping narrative history, Lesley Hazleton tells the tragic story at the heart of the ongoing rivalry between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam, a rift that dominates the news now more than ever.

Even as Muhammad lay dying, the battle over who would take control of the new Islamic nation had begun, sparking a succession crisis marked by power grabs, assassination, political intrigue, and passionate faith. Soon Islam was embroiled in civil war, pitting its founder's controversial wife, Aisha, against his son-in-law, Ali, and shattering Muhammad's ideal of unity.

Combining meticulous research with compelling storytelling, After the Prophet explores the volatile intersections of religion and politics, psychology and culture, and history and current events. It is an indispensable guide to the depth and power of the Shia-Sunni split.

©2009 Lesley Hazleton (P)2016 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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  • Overall
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Simply Fantastic

I came to this book with a cursory understanding of Sunni/Shia differences, as well as -- if I'm honest, a fairly meager understanding of the history of Islam. This book pulls off a major feat in being both informational and riveting. Totally riveting. Stay-up-far-longer-than-intended riveting.

At first, I was somewhat skeptical of the narrator. Meaning simply that I wasn't sure from the sample that I would enjoy her narration.) Well, I more than enjoyed it; I loved it. I can't think of a better narrator for this

I realize that I may come across as being hyperbolic, but this is simply one of the best audiobooks I've ever listened to -- in any genre. If you have the slightest bit of interest in learning more about Islam, about divisions within the religion, or even just if you're looking for a story that will command your full attention...well, then I would highly recommend listening to this audiobook.

17 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 04-01-17

Interesting narrative history

This is a subject I am not too familiar with. I am well versed on the gulf between Catholicism and Protestantism, but the politics of Islam is new information for me. I would assume this book would be of interest to those readers not familiar with the religion of Islam.

The split in the Islam world began as Muhammad lay dying. Apparently, the battle was between the family of the favorite wife, Aisha, against his son- in- law, philosopher/warrior Ali. Fifty years later, in what is modern day Iraq, Ali is assassinated. Soldiers of the first Sunni dynasty led by Muawiya massacred seventy-two warriors led by Muhammad’s grandson Hussein at Karbala in 680 AD. Hussein’s ordeal at Karbala became a passion story at the core of Shia Islam. It is part of the annual Ashura rites.

The book is well written and researched. Hazelton’s gripping prose provides insight into origins of the most volatile blend of politics and religion. The author balances past and present as she shows how these 7th century events are alive in the Middle East today. Hazelton states all would have been simple if Muhammad had had a son, but alas he did not.

This book will supply a starting point for readers attempting to understand a complex subject. Hazelton’s writing is biased toward the Shia. I wished she had presented a neutral telling of the facts and let me make up my own mind.

I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is about seven and half hours long. Leslie Hazelton narrated her own book. She has a most interesting deep voice.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Lazin
  • Virginia
  • 01-11-17

Gripping tale told extremely well

Absolutely loved it! Extremely detailed and gripping. I couldn't put it down. At the end of it, I was not sure if it was biased. The book spends a lot of time on Shia thought, not so much on sunni ideology. Absolutely loved it none the less. If you are unfamiliar with the history of these events, this is the book to read/listen to.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Andra
  • FREEPORT, IL, United States
  • 07-27-16

Understanding

This book provides a good start for understanding the split that exist in Islam, I would highly recommend reading and listening to this book.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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great explanation

fantastic story and explanation of the split, especially foe those who are not familiar with Islam

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Must read for those interested in Islamic history.

Fantastic read. Wonderful prose. Detailed history. Hazleton makes the complex history easy to understand and captivates the reader. A very even handed historical approach in my opinion. It sheds light on the core history of any Sunni - Shia tensions.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Captivating, insightful

This was an incredible look at the complex history of the Sunni-Shia divide. She did a great job of bringing me into the world of early Islam. This provided me valuable context in which to understand current events and Muslim culture.

She's a great storyteller and I love her voice. I'll listen to this one many more times!

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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How had it come to this?

'The shock wave was deafening. In the first few seconds after the blast, the millions of pilgrims stood 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. . . . There were nine explosions in all, thirty minutes of car bombs, suicide bombs, grenades, and mortar fire. Then there was just the terrible stench of burned flesh and singed dust, and the shrieking of ambulance sirens.'

Lesley Hazleton is describing the March 4, 2004 terrorist attack by Al Qaeda Sunni terrorists on Shia pilgrims to the holy city of Karbala in Iraq to commemorate the holy day of Ashura, to pay homage to the martyrdom of Muhammad's grandson Hussein and his other male descendants, who'd been massacred there 14 centuries earlier by fellow Muslims. What happened in 680 AD, less than 50 years after Muhammad died, and what happened in 2004, provoked the same question: How had it come to this? The answer is what Hazleton explores in her excellent book After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam (2009).

Her book tries to explain what happened in 680 and its persisting ramifications. This is important to understand today because what happened to Hussein and his family and followers in Karbala in 680--history to Sunni Muslims, sacred history to Shia Muslims--is the foundation of their persisting division. '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.'

It is, Hazleton says, an epic story. 'If there is a single moment when it all began, it was that of Muhammad's death.' Human nature being what it is, it is tragic but not so surprising that despite having been 'the prophet of unity who spoke of one people and one God,' when he died without a son Muhammad was followed by what would become the 'terrible, unending, bloody legacy of division between Sunni and Shia.' Muhammad's multiple widows and their fathers, his son-in-law Ali and his two sons, various clan and tribal leaders, all involved in a struggle for power and control of the faith and the people . . . Hazleton makes us care about the people involved in the history, especially Muhammad's favorite new wife Aisha, his cousin and son-in-law Ali, and his grandson Hussein, and writes so well about things she knows so well that her history is entertaining, moving, and absorbing.

She presents many key events fundamental to the division that have over time become stories with their own titles, including:

--The Episode of the Necklace
--The Episode of the Pen and Paper
--The Secret Letter
--The Day at the Palace
--The Battle of the Camel

She presents interesting details like about the origin of the hijab or the origin of Islamic fundamentalism. Or like Arabic being 'a subtle and sinuous language' in which the same word can mean different things, depending on context, like jihad, which can mean an internal or external fight or struggle, and fitna, which can mean trial, temptation, intrigue, discord, or civil war, and always implies chaos.

She incorporates cool quotations, like this one from a Muslim chieftain who didn't want to participate in the Battle of the Camel: 'I would rather be a castrated slave herding nanny goats with lopsided udders than shoot a single arrow at either of these two sides.' Or this one from a sociology scholar who partly inspired the Iranian Revolution: 'Religion is an amazing phenomenon that plays contradictory roles in peoples' lives: destroy or revitalize, put to sleep or awaken, enslave or emancipate, teach docility or revolt.'

She herself writes plenty of neat lines, like 'There is nobody as righteous or as blind to reason as the reformed sinner,' or 'As with Yazid in the 7th century, so with George Bush in the 21st, history is often made by the heedless.'

She reads her book perfectly, with a deep, husky, ironic, and compassionate voice and manner. She assumes no accents and doesn't try to sound like a man or a woman, and instead just naturally sounds wise, savory, and androgynous.

The book is illuminating and fascinating, especially to someone like ignorant me who hadn't known what happened after Muhammad died, or who Aisha, Ali, and Hussein were (or why their names are so popular). I have heard that Hazleton is biased against Sunni Islam in favor of Shia, but, although she does stress the nobility of Ali and Hussein, she also admires the chutzpah of Aisha and respects the cunning of Muawiya (the 5th Caliph) and sees the whole vast tragedy with sympathetic and objective eyes. Anyone interested in the history of Islam and the division between Sunni and Shia or in compact, potent, informative, and well-written history whose personages and events connect with our own lives today, should like this book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Incredible

I downloaded this book bc I enjoy history but I was not expecting to enjoy it this much. The author has an excellent writing style and his reading of his work is inspiring. He is passionate and engaging. Just an incredibly interesting and worth while listen/read. I highly recommend.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • United States
  • 08-01-16

This an Historical Novel Only

This audiobook is not to be understood as contemporary history. The Koran is the only written record of early Islam that has survived the era and is not a history. Everything else is oral history written down with great care beginning about two hundred years later. Accordingly this book is best described as an historical novel. For instance, there is strong evidence the events in the Koran may have little to do with Mecca.

We have several reasons for this. First, Mecca is not listed as a trading center at all in trading records or trading maps of any contemporary trading peoples. The records show sea routes touching coastal towns all along the edges of the Arabian peninsula and Mecca is not on the coast and is not on even on the land routes up the western coast of the peninsula called The Hajaz. (The author concedes it is a little out of the way).

In addition, the Koran mentions the word Mecca only once and not specifically as its holy place. In fact, the prayer niches in the earliest mosques pointed to Petra which was a very important trading center hundreds of miles North of Mecca. The niches were later reoriented towards Mecca. Finally, the Koran mentions vintculture, grain, and olive groves which are native to the Eastern Mediteranian but not Mecca


To put this story and all of early Islam into proper perspective I recommend "In The Shadow of the Sword" by Tom Holand.

8 of 12 people found this review helpful