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The Story.

Even as Muhammad lay dying, the battle over who would succeed him had begun. If he had had a son, the whole history of Islam might have been different. The discord, the civil war, the split into Shia and Sunni -- all might have been avoided. But the Prophet of Islam died without sons, and without leaving a clear will.

What happened next is the epic foundation story of the Shia-Sunni split, a history that leaps to life in the vivid, gripping narrative of After the Prophet. With a cast of characters that would be the envy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, this magnificently Machiavellian tale of power, intrigue, assassination, and passionate faith starts in Arabia but reaches its terrible climax just fifty years later in, of all places, Iraq.

At the center of the story are two formidable opponents. On the one hand, the philosopher-warrior Ali, Muhammad's closest male relative; on the other, Muhammad's outspoken favorite wife, the controversial Aisha, who would be the first Muslim to hurl a shoe in protest, and would defy all expectations by leading an army into battle against Ali.

A generation later, soldiers of the first Sunni dynasty massacred seventy-two warriors led by Ali's son and Muhammad's grandson, Hussein, and the Shia-Sunni split was forged in blood. Hussein's story is the Passion story at the core of Shia Islam, and the desolate stretch of sand where he was killed would become the holy city of Karbala, a name that means "the place of trial and tribulation."

As Lesley Hazleton shows, the Shia-Sunni split is a story still being played out in the cities and mountains of Iraq and Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. After the Prophet takes Western readers inside the ongoing struggle for dominance in the Muslim world, balancing past and present so that the reader never loses sight of where the original seventh-century events have taken us, and why they matter so much today.

Placed squarely at the volatile intersection of religion and politics, narrative history and current events, After the Prophet is an emotional and political revelation.

September 15, 2009
from Doubleday