Controversies in Formative Shiʿi Islam The ghulat Muslims and their Beliefs by Mushegh Asatryan (London: I.B. Tauris, 2017. 206 pages.)

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Sajjad Rizvi



Research into the formative period of Shiʿi Islam has come a long way in
the last couple of decades. This welcome development has been inspired,
in particular, by the work of Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, whose main insight
has been to posit that “ancient” Shiʿism is marked precisely by those
doctrines and positions that the later rationalizing tradition rejected as “extreme”
(ghulūw). This particular form of heretication and othering made sense once the communities had been established; were seeking official
recognition by the Abbasid and other royal courts; and developed the institutions
of learning, as well as structures and hierarchies, visible in other
Muslim confessions.
Nevertheless, there remained the questions of what made Shiʿi Islam
distinct, how one could differentiate among those tendencies that defined
themselves as Shiʿi, and what sort of construction was “extremism” (I recognize
that this is a highly inadequate rendition of ghulūw). Amir-Moezzi’s
contribution is further complicated by Hossein Modarressi’s groundbreaking
study of the formative period during the early 1990s, in which he
posited that ghulūw was exterior to the circle of the Imams and perceived
as a constant contrast and threat to the moderation of the scholarly community
that remains to this day ...

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