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Editorial Reviews
The Wall Street Journal

"In After the Prophet, veteran Middle east journalist Lesley Hazleton tells with great flair the 'epic story of the Shia-Sunni split in Islam,' as she rightly calls it..."

"Ms Hazleton frames her account between such ghastly events as the bombing of the Shia shrine in Karbala on March 4, 2004, and the later, equally devastating attack by Al Qaeda on the Askariya Mosque in Samarra in February 2006.. But After the Prophet isn't simply on-the-spot reportage. Ms Hazleton has steeped herself in the work of classical Muslim historians and in recent scholarship...

"The book is often thrilling in its depiction of long-ago events such as the tragedy of Karbala in 680, when Ali's son Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet, was massacred with most of his family. The slaughter -- still commemorated by the Shia in the annual Ashura rites -- is evoked vividly by Ms Hazleton, and it forms the inevitable climax of After the Prophet. Though she's quite even-handed in her narrative, her sympathies tend to lie with the Shia. That is to the good. Earlier accounts have almost always been skewed to the Sunni version of history. Sometimes the sheer telling of a tale, passionately and scrupulously done, can ease even the oldest and sorest of grievances -- with luck, maybe Ms Hazleton's work will have that effect on at least a few of these entrenched adversaries.

-- Eric Ormsby, author of Ghazali: the Revival of Islam

(Click here for the full review)
Publishers Weekly, starred and boxed review, 7/13/09

"Much American foreign policy has been shaped by the centuries-old disagreement between Islam's two main factions, and yet Americans in general, and our politicians in particular, often can't tell Sunnis apart from Shias. With the publication of this outstanding book, we no longer have any excuse.

"Hazleton ties today's events to their ancient roots, resurrecting seventh-century Arabia with respect and vivid immediacy. Here are rich recreations of the lives of the Prophet Muhammad and his beloved wife Aisha; here are often overlooked details (why is green the color of Islam? why do some Muslim women veil?) filling in the contours of the narrative. The battle to name Muhammad's successor is gripping, but it is Hazleton's ability to link the past and present that distinguishes this book: The main issue is again what it was in the seventh century -- who should lead Islam? -- played out on an international level. Where Ali once struggled against Muawiya, Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia today vie with each other for influence.

"Anyone with an interest in the Middle East, U.S. international relations or a profound story masterfully told will be well served by this exceptional book."
Booklist, starred review, 9/1/09

"In June 632, the founder of Islam died without having clearly designated a successor. It seemed obvious to some that Muhammad's first cousin, Ali, who occupied the place of a son in the prophet's circle, would assume leadership. But Aisha, Muhammad's favorite, youngest, and most forceful wife, favored her father, and others backed Muhammad's greatest warrior. Ali would succeed, but not until 25 years later.

"Thus began the turmoil that eventuated in the bisection of Muslims into Sunni and Shia and that Hazleton describes in a new masterpiece of a kind of history seldom seen these days, in which the telling of a complicated, eventful story takes precedence over constant quotation of documents and squabbling with other historians. Hazleton closely relies on the great texts of early Islam and vivifies the main players by following what common sense would deduce about their temperaments and personalities from their actions and statements. She brings in parallel modern events only to emphasize the depth of the trauma the conflict she recounts inflicted on Islam.

"Best, she doesn't pontificate or argue religion. She just thrillingly and intelligently distills one of the most consequential trains of events in all history."

-- Ray Olson

Dallas Morning News

"In the marvelous After the Prophet, Lesley Hazleton takes the Shia-Sunni disagreement back to its sources, telling a tale of human frailty, political machinations and, ultimately, faith. She manages the not inconsiderable feat of maintaining scholarly respect for her subject while also showing a real fondness for the people at the story's heart -- people who, we learn, were not unlike us, and whose tale is directly linked to today's newscast...

"Among the stories of life and death, Hazleton weaves explanatory details and correctives -- Islam was spread, for instance, 'more by messenger than by the sword.' She stresses that the West shouldn't forget that 'what unites the two main branches of Islam is far greater than what divides them... The vast majority of all Muslims still cherish the ideal of unity preached by Muhammad.'

"'Reading these voices from the seventh century,' she writes of her source material, 'you feel as though you are sitting in the middle of a vast desert grapevine, a dense network of intimate knowledge defying the limitations of space and time.' One might easily say the same of this remarkable book. Surely anyone with an interest in the Muslim world or U.S. foreign policy should pick up After the Prophet at the first opportunity, and so too should any reader interested in a story of human passion and consequence, told with consummate skill."

-- Emily Hauser

(Click here for the full review)
Ha'aretz Books, December 2009, front page review

Drawing heavily on the translated works of the ninth-century Islamic historian Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (though the book's full bibliography runs to eight pages ), Hazleton serves up a stirring tale propelled by ambition and naivete, rectitude and resentment, intrigue, venality, treachery, homicide and, ultimately, an act of self-sacrifice that has generated centuries of mourning and seething acrimony. Populated by noble but feckless heroes, cunning villains and an irrepressibly bold woman with a penchant for stirring the pot (Mohammed's second wife, Aisha ), the canvas extends over the half-century between the death of the Prophet Mohammed, in Medina (in today's Saudi Arabia ) in 632, and that of his grandson Hussein, at Karbala (in today's Iraq ) in 680. A film adaptation would deserve the likes of Cecil B. DeMille.

Hazleton's comparison of Hussein's sacrifice with the Christian Passion story also provides insight into why Shi'ite Islam developed a mystical bent marked by expectations of the return of the hidden Twelfth Imam as the Mahdi (Messiah ). Yet the Karbala story "has endured and strengthened," Hazleton stresses, "not least because it reaches deep into questions of morality -- of idealism versus pragmatism, purity versus compromise. Its DNA is the very stuff that tests both politics and faith and animates the vast and often terrifying arena in which the two intersect."

As fellow denizens of that arena, we'd do well to grasp this opportunity to familiarize ourselves with its history and fathom its workings as best we can.

-- Ina Friedman

(Click here for the full review)
Seattle Times

"Lesley Hazleton's fascinating new book After the Prophet vividly narrates the ancient arguments and horrific series of attacks and reprisals that coontinue to resonate today. Hazleton not only recounts the facts behind the split but also expertly uses centuries-old accounts to convey the depth of emotional and spiritual associations bundled within a sinmple name like 'Karbala'...

Hazleton deftly uses original sources, many based on contemporaneous or nearly so oral accounts, to give life and breath to figures familiar to every Muslim but unknown to most non-Muslims. Aisha, Muhammad's youngest wife and a fascinating and controversial character in her own right, played a key role in opposing Ali -- at one point even leading troops against him in battle...

"Anyone seeking to understand today's Middle East -- from what drives Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to why the bombing of Iraq's Askariya Mosque in 2006 reignited Sunni-Shia fighting -- can learn from this book. That includes U.S. policymakers, who learned far too late that, as Hazleton writes, "anyone so rash as to think it possible to intervene in the Sunni-Shia slit and come away unscathed is at best indulging in wishful thinking."

-- Drew DeSilver

(Click here for the full review)
Miami Herald, 09/29/09

"This book is about the dangers of interpretation and the power of symbols... and is almost certain to educate lay Western readers (and, let's hope, policy makers) about the history of the world's fastest growing religion...

"Indeed, After the Prophet will be held up as a primer for grasping the modern-day Middle East. Understand the history, Hazleton's book suggests, and you understand why somebody would pack a truck with explosives and ram it into a shrine."

(Click here for the full review)
Christian Science Monitor

"A Sunday school story it is not. Hazleton pits Aisha and Ali against each other in a bitter rivalry, paints a picture of calculating collusion among several of Muhammad's closest companions who would later be appointed caliph, and spares no gruesome detail in the recreation of battles in which warriors were disembowled, mutilated, and trampled...

"The book excels in its central aim, explaining the Shia-Sunni schism, the sense of disinheritance Shiites feel about their history, and the violent implications this has had on modern politics. Sunni readers like myself will appreciate Hazleton's insight into the Shiite mind: 'They had been disinherited, deprived of what they saw as their righful place, the leadership of Islam. And this sense of disinheritance would sear deep into Shia hearts and minds, a wound that would fester through to the 20th century... and erupt first in the Iranian revolution, then in civil war in Lebanon, and then, as the 21st century began, in the war in Iraq...'

"As sectarian aggression flares in Iraq, Hazleton's explanation of its deep, entrenched roots is essential."

-- Husna Haq

(Click here for the full review)
Fredericksburg Lance-Star, 09/20/09

"A page turner that reads like an incredible cross between a suspense thriller and a fairy tale. All the elements of a fantastic story are here: intense spirituality; murder, violence, and bloodshed; dynastic power struggles; poison and atrocities; wife murdering husband; slave killing caliph; inspiring heroes; dastardly villains; heresy and apostasy.

"The focus of After the Prophet is narrow and precise, telling 'the epic story of the Shia-Sunni split in Islam,' but the implications are huge. Hazleton not only describes the struggle for leadership in Islam, which began while Muhammad was on his death bed; she makes a strong case for why the resulting Sunni-Shia schism is vitally important to all of us...

"A superbly written first step for the uninformed to become knowledgeable. Don't miss it."

-- Peggy Carlson
Bellingham Herald, 09/13/09

"Lesley Hazleton's warning is ominous: 'History is often made by the heedless.' And as she demonstrates in her new book, leaders of any constituency, in any era, who fail to pay attention to the context of a conflict will meet with devastating results.

"Too many Americans still conceive of the Middle East as a featureless desert -- barren of plant life, rich in oil, and populated by ruthless religious fanatics. But Hazleton's gripping narrative of the rise of Islam and the subsequent split between Shia and Sunni branches paints a picture that is far more epic, nuanced, and tragic.

The disagreement has been passed down through generations -- riven with conflicting notions of loyalty, piety, and ambition, and defined by stunning examples of forbearance, treachery, and martyrdom. Hazleton unspools this historically tangled tale with assurance and admirable clarity.

-- Barbara Lloyd McMichael

(Click here for the full review)

September 15, 2009
from Doubleday