The Caliph and the Imam: The Making of Sunnism and Shiism

ISBN : 9780198806554

Toby Matthiesen
400 Pages
156 x 234 mm
Pub date
Feb 2022
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Illuminates with clarity and insight a centuries-old sectarian division that continues to shape events in the Middle East and around the world. In 632, soon after the prophet Muhammad died, fights broke out among his followers as to who would succeed him. A small number of Muslims-who would become known as the Shia - believed only members of Muhammad's family should lead. The majority, however-the Sunnis-insisted that the leader should be elected by the community's elite. This initial dispute marks the origin of the Sunni-Shia split in Islam. In The Caliph and the Imam, Middle East scholar and expert Toby Matthiesen explores this hugely significant division from its origins to the present day. Moving chronologically, Matthiesen sheds light on how this initial divide has shaped and continues to influence current events in the Middle and Near East. His book spans from the 7th century to the present, and in particular focuses on one of the key moments in the conflict-the Saudi-Iranian divide, the source of so much conflict in the Middle East. Matthiesen emphasizes the period after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which precipitated the first recent "hot" war in the rivalry, between Iran and Iraq, and he reflects on Sunni and Shia jihadists and their influence on the political landscape of the world today. Detailed, thorough, and illuminating, The Caliph and the Imam will become the standard text for readers looking for greater understanding of the region's contemporary conflicts and their historical roots.


Part 1 The Development of Sunnism and Shiism
Introduction: The Problems of Definition (Confessional Ambiguity)
1 After the Prophet: The Party of Ali and the People of the Tradition and the Community
2 Competing Visions of Legitimate Rule
3 The Codification of Sunnism under the Umayyads and Abbasids
4 The Codification of Shiism and the Shii Century
5 The Decline of Shii Dynasties and the Sunni Reassertion during the Crusades
6 The End of the Abbasid Caliphate: Mongol-Mamluk Rivalry, Confessional Ambiguity and Polemics
Part 2 The Shaping of Muslim Empires
7 Ottomans and Safavids
8 Sunnism, Sufism and Shiism in India
9 Ottoman Reform, the Wahhabis and Shiism
Part 3 The Modern State
10 Empire, Orientalism, and the Institutionalisation of Difference
11 The Modernising Ottoman State and European Powers
12 The British Mandate for Iraq
13 The French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon
14 Salafism, Islamic Unity and Arab Nationalism
15 Sectarian Identity and Nationalism
Part 4 Islam in Revolution and Inter-State Rivalry
16 Political Islam and the Iranian Revolution of 1979
17 2003 and after: Sectarianism in International Relations
18 2011: The Sectarianisation of the Arab Uprisings

About the author: 

Toby Matthiesen is a Fellow at St. Antony's College, Oxford. He is the author of a number of books, and won prizes from the American Political Science Association and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and Foreign Policy, and has published op-eds in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian. He has been a guest on CNN, BBC, NPR, ABC and al-Jazeera English.

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