Ask anyone why there are two factions in Islam in the West and you’d be hard pressed to get a good answer. That’s why I love Lesley Hazelton and her books. What is unique about Hazelton is that she is totally impartial. She is not a Muslim, nor is she really a theist. She claims she is Agnostic and so her perspective is not clouded by religious belief, either in Islam or in any other belief system. This secular perspective is interesting, but also needs the utmost of caution. I wonder what Muslims think about her book and the veracity of what they know to be true about this historical event.
The Sunni-Shia split occurred over a broken necklace. To set the stage, Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah and lives in Medina where he has been banished to for some time. His favorite wife, Khadija, has passed but he has taken on other wives. The youngest, and the most favorite at the time, was a young girl named Aisha. While a caravan of Muhammad and Aisha are traveling back to Medina, her precious necklace Muhammad gave her is snagged on a tree and snaps. She doesn’t realize it at the time, and goes back without telling anyone to find it. When she returns, the caravan is gone. In her stubbornness, she waits for help instead of chasing the caravan. A young warrior finds her and rides into Medina to scandal.
Muhammad claims to have had a vision that exonerates Aisha of any wrong doing. In the process, a faction begins that pits Aisha’s father, Ibn Abu Bakr, with that of Muhammad’s cousin and closest confidant, Ali. When Muhammad comes close to death, some speculate that he perhaps vaguely insinuated that Ali should be successor. However, it was not clarified and Muhammad passed away before sorting out the succession issue.
The Muslims of that time were forced to decide who would be successor. They voted and Ibn Abu Bakr became the first Caliphate of Islam. Then Umar (pronounced “O-Mar”) the second Caliphate. Then a man named Uthman. And finally, Ali.
There is a lot of background information I must leave out for brevities sake, but this book was fascinating. This is an issue that I didn’t know a lot about and the uncovering of the story makes for a riveting piece of history. It’s a true shame that such things are not taught in more detail in Western culture as I feel that it would round out an all too often focus on Western history (which, there is nothing wrong with, but in today’s every shrinking global community, to understand a people is to understand their history).
A note: get the audible version. Hazelton reads it herself and it is incredible!