This book is written by a Jewish female writer, Lesley Hazleton. Despite being a non-Muslim, she has described Muslim’s history in a very profound way. She has described every event and every concept, according to both Shia and Sunni theologies. Even though the topic is very controversial that a single piece of misinformation could have cause blazes of rage on both sides, i.e., Shia or Sunni, but things have been explained very carefully.
Now, let us move towards the book. This topic is sensitive, so I’d like to say that everything that I am going to explain is what written in the book, not my viewpoint. So, if anything goes against your belief regarding the topic, pardon me. And may Allah forgive me if I say something wrong.
The book consists of three parts, and the total number of chapters is fifteen.
Part One: Muhammad
The story began with the death of Prophet Muhammad (SAWW) when he was in the state of semi-consciousness in Aisha’s Chamber. Muhammad (SAWW) had married nine wives after the death of Khadija (RA), but he never had children from any of the nine wives. Only from Khadija (RA), He (SAWW) had four daughters and two sons, and both sons died in childhood. It is said that Muhammad (SAWW) had one son, named Ibrahim, from an Egyptian slave Maria, whom He (SAWW) had freed and kept as a mistress, but that son also died in childhood. The character of Aisha (RA), the most beloved, youngest, and purest wife of Muhammad (SAWW), is explained so beautifully. Muhammad (SAWW) once claimed that His love for Aisha (RA) is more than His love for anyone else. But the matter of concern in this book is of inheritance: who will be his successor? Who will unite Muslims under the flag of Islam after the Prophet? It is written in the book that Muhammad (SAWW) asked for a pen and paper to write his legacy but never did write anything. Sunni says that when He (SAWW) died, His head was in Aisha’s lap, but Shia says that it was in Ali’s lap. His last words sounded,
“Oh God, pity those who will succeed me.”
At his death, the Muslims were in deep agony. Then the Shura (meeting) decided to give Caliphate in the hands of Abu Bakar (RA). Shia maintains that Ali (RA) should have been the Caliph because he is an Ahl al Bayt, but Sunni says that leadership is not based on the family line, it is based on merit.
Part Two: Ali
After Abu Bakar (RA) held Caliphate, Ali (RA) did not pledge allegiance to him initially, but after six months, he did it, when Fatima died. Shia says that Ali (RA) wanted to become a Caliph; that’s why he didn’t pledge allegiance to Abu Bakar (RA). Ali (RA) was also not allowed to attend Shura, but that was because Medinan locals did not want Meccans to lead Muslims; but then the matter was settled and Abu Bakar, a Meccan, was declared as a Caliph. Shia claims that it was an agreement between certain people to keep Ali (RA) away from Shura, whereas, Sunni denies this claim. Abu Bakar’s Caliphate only lasted for two years until his death.
After his death, Shura was held again to decide the next Caliph. This time Ali (RA) was again surpassed and ignored, according to Shia. Omer (RA) was chosen as the second Caliph. As his rule began, Ali (RA) married the youngest widow of Abu Bakar (RA), Asma, and honoured Omer (RA) by giving the hand of his daughter Umm Kulthum (RA) to him in marriage. Both Ali (RA) and Omer (RA) worked well together; Ali (RA) stood as his deputy every time he had left Madina. Omer’s rule was very fair, including no favouritism. He was even biased to punish his own children if they had ever committed a sin. He introduced the Diwan system. A Persian slave daggered him six times when he bent down for morning prayer. The slave claimed that he did that because of having personal grudges against Caliph, and people also believed that story.
The Shura held again, consisting of six people. Each wanted to be a leader, and this time one of Ali (RA) and Othman (RA) had to be chosen, both son-in-law of Muhammad (SAWW). Ultimately, Othman (RA), an Umayyad, was selected to be the third Caliph. That was the point where the Shia-Sunni division actually sprung. With this, the ruling class of Mecca, the Umayyads, was back in control. Under previous Caliphs, simplicity prevailed but, this time, the Islamic empire expanded and increased in riches. Othman (RA) appointed other Umayyads on important military and chief posts. Under his rule, rebelliousness heightened. Othman (RA) was a very polite man. He failed to recognize the rebels in his close people, and ultimately this riff-raff led him to his murder. Rebels kept his palace at the siege for several days. They didn’t even allow drinking water to be taken inside the palace. Ali (RA) appointed his two sons, Hassan (RA) and Hussein (RA), at the gate of the castle to protect the Caliph. According to Shia, the son of first Caliph, Muhammad Abu Bakar, was leading the assassinator’s group of third Caliph. They entered his palace secretly and blood splashed everywhere, the first attack on Caliph was done by Muhammad Abu Bakar but not the fatal one and then another assassinator (unknown in history) killed the Caliph. On the other hand, Sunni does not find Muhammad Abu Bakr accountable for this assassination. They say that a group of rebels who killed the Caliph is still unknown; no one knows whose hand exactly did this. They also splitted Naila’s fingers, the Caliph’s wife, as she was trying to stop an attack on the Caliph. The bloodied shirt of Othman and Naila’s served fingers were sent to Syria, which they placed on the pulpit to arouse people to take revenge on Othman’s assassinators.
Next morning rebels appointed Ali (RA) as the new Caliph. Ali (RA) rejected the title of ‘Caliph’ for himself because he believed that this title had been corrupted beyond repair. He chose to be called ‘Imam.’ Both Shia and Sunni recognize Ali (RA) as the rightful leader of Islam. But the difference is that Shia only considers Ali (RA) as the rightful Caliph, not the previous ones, while Sunni considers the previous three Caliphs, including Ali (RA), as the legitimate and rightful Caliphs of Islam.
Aisha (RA) was so moved at the death of Othman (RA). She was furious when Ali (RA) claimed Caliphate first instead of taking Othman’s revenge. At this, she declared war at Ali (RA), called the ‘Battle of Camels.’ Ali (RA) won the war, and instead of humiliating Aisha (the Mother of Faithful), he sent her back to her place i.e, Madina, with respect. This war was the first civil war where Muslims were fighting against Muslims.
The next civil war, the Battle of Siffin, was fought against Muawiya, the governor of Syria because he believed that Ali (RA) conspired for Othman’s assassination. Ali (RA) was residing in Iraq in those days. Muawiya wanted to claim the Caliphate for himself. Both armies fought in year 657 when Muawiya’s army was about to lose; they brought pages of the Quran in their hands and started shouting,
Let the Book of God be the judge between us.
Ali’s army could not shed blood on the Quran, so the war ended this way.
Some three thousand people of Iraq who were not contented with Ali’s polite behavior in the Battle of Siffin left Iraq and went to live separately. They were called rejectionists. Because of their oppressions on the neighboring villagers, Ali declared war on them too. A civil war was the thing that he so much hated but had to do every time.
PART THREE: HUSSEIN
One day Ali (RA) was praying when an assassinator killed him with a poisoned dagger. After his death, Muawiya became the fifth Caliph. He did an agreement with Hasan (RA) that he will stay away from the Caliphate until his death and after that, he can claim Caliphate for himself. He remained Caliph for nineteen years. It is written in the book that Hassan (RA), the son of Ali, died because of natural death, several years before the incident of Karbala, according to Sunni. But Shia says that he died because his wife Jaada gave him poison on Muawiya’s order. After him, Muawiya’s son Yazid became the next Caliph. He did not want Hussein to claim Caliphate for himself in place of his brother, as per the agreement settled between Muawiya and Hassan. He asked Hussein to pledge allegiance to him, but he didn’t do that. Yazid ordered the governor of Madina, “Act so fiercely that he has no chance to do anything except giving public allegiance to me, if he refuses, execute him.”
When this news reached to Aisha (RA), she felt guilty for taking arms against Ali (RA) in the ‘Battle of Camel.’ Hussien (RA), with his family and seventy-two warriors, was going to Mecca when all this happened. Hussien’s cousin, Muslim, sent him a letter that there are twelve thousand men in Iraq who will fight under his command. He changed his route and started going towards Iraq to put Yazid down from the Caliphate. But after realizing the situation of Iraqis, Muslim again wrote a letter to request him to go back, as he said that their hearts might belong to you, but their swords belong to them.
But those letters did not stop Hussien (RA) from coming towards his fate because he knew he was moving towards the eternal life, the martyrdom. His caravan stopped by the army sent by Ubydullah, under the commander named Shimer. They stopped them from consuming water from the river. Gradually everyone started to die, every soldier, every member of his family, except few. They served Hussein’s head. Women and children were chained and taken to Kufa, where they presented Hussein’s head to Yazid.
At this, an elderly companion of Muhammad standing in his tent said to him that you are cursed, “How often have I seen Muhammad kiss that faces you now desecrate.”
He went outside and said, “You killed the son of Fatima when the bastard governer ordered you. You have accepted shame and humiliation. Let the destruction come to those who accept humiliation.”
Despite her bare head, torn clothing or chain entangling, Zaynab shamed Yazid by saying,
You, Your father, and your grandfather submitted to the faith of my Ali, the faith of my brother, Hussein, the faith of my grandfather Muhammad. Yet you have vilified them unjustly and oppressed the very faith you profess.
At this Yazid broke into tears, humiliation came over him. Perhaps he had remembered the last saying of his father, Muawiya, “If you defeat Hussien, pardon him, for he has a great claim.”
Maybe, Yazid realized his mistake, and he sent the survivors back to Madina with respect.
Shia faith has twelve Imams. According to them, the first Imam is Ali, then second Hassan, and then third is the one surviving son of Hussein, and then this linage goes on further. The twelfth Imam is Mehdi, who hid mysteriously in a cave, and he will reappear one day to herald a new era of peace and justice. The ground where Hussein was assassinated called Karbala. Hussein’s served head was buried in Damascus. Stories of Karbala were told by those who had survived. Every year people started visiting that place, wearing black dresses, and doing Matam (self-beating out of great sorrow). first hundreds, then thousands, and now millions of Shia follow this ritual.
At last, I’d say that this divisiveness actually began with Prophet’s death then shaped around Ali and then Hussein. Most of the religious norms and concepts are conflicting between Shia and Sunni. Indeed, everything that happened in Karbala was extremely oppressive and intolerable, but abusing and having grudges for each other on the basis of semi-clear facts that no one clearly knows about, is not a decent act and also not linked to this oppression. The reality would be revealed by the all-knowing Allah, on the Day of Judgment. Whoever you are, whatever sect you belong to, just keep your path straight. Remove hate from your heart and try to be a good Muslim by all means; because united we cherish, divided we perish.
Quotations: All taken from the book ‘After The Prophet’