Det store skisma i Islam

Shi'itiske mullah'er på besøg i den sunittiske Umayyade-moské i Damaskus.
Shi'itiske mullah'er på besøg i den sunittiske Umayyade-moské i Damaskus.

JERUSALEM (29.09.2009): Jeg bliver tit bedt om at forklare forskellen i islam mellem sunni og shi'a, og hvad det var, der førte til denne splittelse. Skismaet går helt tilbage til tiden lige efter profeten Muhammeds død, og spørgsmålet om, hvem der kunne fylde tomrummet ud efter ham. Være hans stedfortræder - khalif. Men denne splittelse internt i islam spiller stadigvæk en rolle i det moderne Mellemøsten.

Eric Ormsby's anmeldelse i The Wall Street Journal af en ny bog om spørsmålet er ganske mlæseværdigt, blot for at få svar på det spørgsmål. Den bog, han anmelder, "After the Prophet", af Lesley Hazelton, en veteran når det kommer til dækningen af Mellemøsten, er givetvis også god. Jeg har ikke selv fået den læst endnu. Men her kommer anmeldelsen:


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Tracing the history of a religious divide that still haunts the world

By Eric Ormsby
The Wall Street Journal
September 11, 2009

After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam

When the Prophet Muhammad died unexpectedly after a brief illness in Medina, in present-day Saudi Arabia, on June 8, 632, his followers were stunned. A contemporary called it "the greatest of calamities." Their grief was not only for the loss of an irreplaceable leader. Muhammad was "the seal of the prophets," the last in a line that stretched back to Adam. He had received revelations as "God's emissary" for some 20 years—revelations that he had communicated to the embattled community of his followers, first in Mecca and then, after the hijra, or emigration, in 622, in Medina—but now they came to an end. It was as though God, who revealed Himself through the Prophet, had suddenly fallen silent.

In fact, the calamity was greater than Muhammad's mourners could have foreseen. Muhammad had not unambiguously named his successor. The question of succession would haunt Islam for centuries to come. The wrangling began within hours of Muhammad's death; it would quickly lead to a momentous rift between two implacable factions, Shia and Sunni. It is a divide that continues to this day, often with horrific consequences. In "After the Prophet," veteran Middle East journalist Lesley Hazleton tells with great flair this "epic story of the Shia-Sunni split in Islam," as she rightly calls it.

Those who supported Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law Ali found themselves pitted against those who favored Abu Bakr, the Prophet's closest friend. Muhammad was also his son-in-law: Abu Bakr's daughter Aisha was Muhammad's third, and favorite, wife, and a force to reckon with in her own right. Ali's supporters formed the "shi'at Ali," the "party of Ali," from which the term Shia derives. The partisans of Abu Bakr would come to be known as "Sunni" Muslims—those who follow the "sunna," the code of pious practice based on the Prophet's example.

That Abu Bakr was almost immediately named caliph—the title then meant no more than "successor"—embittered Ali's supporters; when their man was passed over for the caliphate two more times they felt that a monstrous injustice had been perpetrated. Ali did finally accede to the caliphate in 656, but his claim was contested. When he was assassinated in the mosque of Kufa, in 661, by an extremist wielding a sword laced with poison, his murder struck a tragic note that would reverberate ever after. The Sunni-Shia schism pitted Muslim against Muslim and led to civil wars, massacres and assassinations, and even the collapse of dynasties.

Ms. Hazleton frames her account between such ghastly events as the bombing of the Shia mosque in Karbala on March 4, 2004, and the later, equally devastating attack by al Qaeda on the Askariya Mosque in -Samarra in February 2006. Both assaults were Sunni strikes against Shia shrines and provide ample evidence that the ancient dispute is still lethally alive. But "After the Prophet" isn't simply on-the-spot reportage. Ms. Hazleton has steeped herself in the work of classical Muslim historians, such as the 10th-century chronicler al-Tabari (whose "History" is now available—all 39 volumes!—in English translation), and in recent scholarship, especially Wilferd Madelung's magisterial 1997 study, "The Succession to Muhammad," the most authoritative account of these impossibly tangled events.

Unfortunately, Ms. Hazleton has a tendency to romanticize, especially in her depiction of Muhammad's wife Aisha. And perhaps because Ms. Hazleton has practiced as a psychologist, she is also given to mind-reading. She believes that the enmity between Ali and Aisha was the result of Ali's loyalty to Khadija, the Prophet's first wife, and comments: "To her, Ali's devotion to Khadija's memory was a constant reminder of the one rival she could never conquer." There is simply no way of our knowing such a thing. Similarly, in discussing Aisha's reported hostility to Muhammad's daughter Fatima, Ms. Hazleton writes: "More daughter than wife, Aisha saw herself as competing with Fatima for Muhammad's affection." But we have no idea how Aisha "saw herself." In Ms. Hazelton's account, this child-bride, a tough desert nut if there ever was one, becomes "a spirited city teenager," all "sassiness and charm."

Then there is the notorious "affair of the necklace," when Aisha lost a cherished piece of jewelry and was escorted back to Medina by a "virile young warrior" after the Prophet's caravan had unwittingly left her -behind. Aisha had risked compromising her own, and the Prophet's, honor, much to the glee of his opponents, Ms. Hazleton rightly observes. But then she over-eggs the story: "A teenage girl under a cloud, Aisha -finally did what any teenage girl would do. She cried."

Well, maybe. But is this blubbering "maiden in distress" the same Aisha who not too many years later would rally her troops against those of Ali with hair-raising shrieks until the last of her warriors lay butchered at her feet? Ms. Hazleton gives a splendid description of this terrible encounter—called the Battle of the Camel because Aisha commanded her men from a camel-mounted howda—but the author doesn't seem to notice the discrepancy. Old desert bones don't need a thick coating of schmaltz to make them shine again—as Ms. Hazleton herself demonstrates when the narrative of "After the Prophet" grips her.

The book is often thrilling in its depiction of long-ago events, such as the tragedy at Karbala, in 680, when Ali's son Husayn, 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.

—Mr. Ormsby is the author, most ¬recently, of "Ghazali: The Revival of Islam."

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