The Origins of the Shi‘a Identity, Ritual, and Sacred Space in Eighth-Century Kufa By Najam Haider (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 278 pages.)

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Todd Lawson



This book will be of interest to scholars in a variety of fields and disciplines:
Islamic studies (history, thought, institutions, and modern developments), history,
religion, anthropology, and sociology, to name a few that immediately
come to mind. The book’s great virtue lies in its bringing together two heretofore
somewhat antagonistic or apparently mutually exclusive scholarly temperaments
to focus on a problem (or rather a cluster of problems) of the very first importance, articulated as the title of a seminal article by one of the great
minds of the last century engaged in the academic pursuit of Islamic history:
How did the early Shi‘a become sectarian?
Marshal Hodgson’s interest and task in that complex and erudite study
(published in 1955) has been admirably continued and, in a real sense, consummated
in this excellent book. One of the many reasons the question as
well as the answers it may generate are so important (even urgent, one might
add) is because to ask how the early Shi‘a became sectarian is also to ask
how Sunni Islam eventually came to be configured in its classical and enduring
form, how Sufism arose, and how Islam acquired its singular cosmopolitan
profile frequently characterized by the perhaps spurious prophetic
hadith: ikhtilOEf ummati raúmah (Disagreement in my community is a divine
mercy) ...

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