The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future

The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future

4.5 16
by Vali Nasr

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A New York Times Bestseller

"Historically incisive, geographically broad-reaching, and brimming with illuminating anecdotes."—Max Rodenbeck, New York Review of Books

Iranian-born scholar Vali Nasr has become one of America's leading commentators on current events in the Middle East, admired and welcomed by both media and


A New York Times Bestseller

"Historically incisive, geographically broad-reaching, and brimming with illuminating anecdotes."—Max Rodenbeck, New York Review of Books

Iranian-born scholar Vali Nasr has become one of America's leading commentators on current events in the Middle East, admired and welcomed by both media and government for his "concise and coherent" analysis (Wall Street Journal, front-page profile). In this "remarkable work" (Anderson Cooper), Nasr brilliantly dissects the political and theological antagonisms within Islam, providing a unique and objective understanding of the 1,400-year bitter struggle between Shias and Sunnis and shedding crucial light on its modern-day consequences.

Editorial Reviews

Irshad Manji
Americans may be paying more attention to Muslim conflicts now. They had better. In The Shia Revival, a fast-moving, engaging and ultimately unnerving book, Vali Nasr writes that wars within Islam “will shape the future.” A professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and an occasional adviser to the American government, Nasr argues that Operation Iraqi Freedom has tilled the soil for a “new” Middle East — one fueled less by the ideal of democracy than by an age-old animosity between Islam’s two major sects, the majority Sunnis and minority Shiites.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
One of the least remarked upon aspects of the war in Iraq, at least in the American press, has been how conflict and instability in that country have shaken the delicate balance of power between Sunni and Shia throughout the wider region. Nasr, professor of Middle East and South Asia politics at the Naval Postgraduate School, tackles this question head-on for a Western audience. His account begins with a cogent, engrossing introduction to the history and theology of Shia Islam, encapsulating the intellectual and political trends that have shaped the faith and its relations with the dominant Sunni strain. Nasr argues that the Shia Crescent-stretching from Lebanon and Syria through the Gulf to Iraq and Iran, finally terminating in Pakistan and India-is gathering strength in the aftermath of Saddam's fall, cementing linkages that transcend political and linguistic borders and could lead to a new map of the Middle East. While Nasr's enthusiasm for Iraq's Shiite leader Ayatollah Sistani sometimes borders on the hagiographic, and he makes a number of uncharacteristic errors, such as conflating the Syrian Alawi community with the Turkish Alevis, his book is worthwhile reading for those seeking a primer on the second-largest Muslim sect. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The war in Iraq has by now made it abundantly clear that the struggle for the soul of that country goes beyond good vs. evil or democracy vs. authoritarianism. What matters in the Middle East and what determines the region's future may well have more to do with Shia vs. Sunni, Arab vs. Persian, Kurd vs. Arab, and other such internal cleavages. More specifically, as the subtitle of this book indicates, conflicts within Islam will likely play a significantly larger role in determining the Middle East's future than what happens between the countries of the region and the outside world. This timely and important book sheds light on an enduring conflict within Islam-the historic divide between its Shia and Sunni branches. Although Sunnis make up the majority of Muslims, the Shia, suppressed by Saddam Hussein, make up over 60 percent of Iraq's population. Nasr (Middle East & South Asia politics, Dept. of National Security, Naval Postgraduate Sch.), who has published extensively on politics and religion in South Asia and the Middle East, explains the genesis and specific development of Shia Islam and the making of Shia politics in the contemporary Middle East. The entrenched historical, theological, and political disputes within Islam are analyzed here in an eminently readable and informative book that should be read by both policymakers and informed Western readers. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/06.]-Nader Entessar, Spring Hill Coll., Mobile, AL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A conflict of civilizations may be raging between Islam and the West, but a sectarian battle within Islam itself could turn out to be the main event. When American politicos boasted not so long ago of bringing the light of freedom to the Arab world, writes political scientist Nasr, "it was in effect the old Sunni-dominated Middle East that they were talking about democratizing." The question of whether those Sunnis want democracy in the first place notwithstanding, Sunnis do control the most powerful nations in the Arab world, particularly ultraconservative Saudi Arabia. Nasr likens the Sunnis to Protestants (perhaps hardshell Baptists), with their faith in documents and direct experience, whereas the Shia, like Catholics, place more value on the authority of clerics and textual interpreters. Sunnis outnumber Shias ten to one in the Islamic world generally but are roughly even in number in some parts of the Middle East, while Shias predominate around the Persian Gulf-and have now attained power, if tenuously, in Iraq, where they were formerly excluded. Much of the violence now taking place in that country, writes Nasr, is directed against Shias, and the anti-American insurgency there is predicated on what its leader, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, calls "a difficult, fierce battle with a crafty enemy who wears the garb of a friend." Interestingly, Nasr shows, other political events in the Muslim world can be explained in sectarian terms: In 1977, for instance, a coup to overthrow Bhutto-a Shia-was led by Sunni fundamentalists whose draconian campaigns inspired the fledgling Taliban in next-door Afghanistan. Much blood has been spilled over the doctrinal dispute between the two factions, a gap thatcontinues to widen. Nasr's book is a helpful footnote to the headlines, now that "war on America is war on Shi'ism, and war on Shi'ism is war on America."
New York Times
Provocative.— Thomas L. Friedman
Philadelphia Inquirer
Brilliant and very readable.— Trudy Rubin
Dallas Morning News
A must-read.— Robert Hunt
New York Times - Thomas L. Friedman
Philadelphia Inquirer - Trudy Rubin
“Brilliant and very readable.”
Dallas Morning News - Robert Hunt
“A must-read.”
Thomas L. Friedman - New York Times
Trudy Rubin - Philadelphia Inquirer
“Brilliant and very readable.”
Robert Hunt - Dallas Morning News
“[A] must-read for those who find themselves perplexed about the sectarian violence in Iraq, the unpredictable politics of Iran, and the suddenly resurgent Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
Warren Bass - Washington Post
“Smart, clear and timely.”
Irshad Manji - New York Times Book Review
“Fast moving, engaging and ultimately unnerving.... The Shia Revival is at its most provocative when exposing how the Sunni-Shiite power imbalance seeps out of classrooms and infects life on the ground.”
L. Carl Brown - Foreign Affairs
“This book offers compelling corrective reading.... Broad-ranging and detailed, but still eminently readable.”

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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Meet the Author

Vali Nasr is Dean and Professor of International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

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Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Vali Nasr makes the ancient Shia-Sunni divide understandable to a wide audience. Nasr reminds his readers that between the toppling of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and 9/11, the U.S. looked at the Middle East from the vantage point of Sunni dictatorial elites (pp. 21, 27). The American focus on Sunnism is not so surprising when one realizes that Shias represent only 10 to 15% of the world¿s 1.3 billion Muslims. However, Shias are about as numerous as Sunnis in the Near East (p. 34). Most Sunnis have a legalistic approach to Islam and are convinced that as the dominating group they should have the upper-hand on earth to guarantee order and religious orthodoxy (pp. 39, 50-51, 57-59, 87, 91, 150, 156). Islamic fundamentalism was originally closely related to the Sunni conception of their right to rule and their reaction against Western imperialism and secularism (pp. 93-94, 96, 100-01, 106, 143-44). One major exception to this majority rule is Syria where the Alawi minority, an offshoot of Shiism, holds the keys to power at the expense of the Sunni majority (pp. 65, 92). Nasr clearly demonstrates that outside Iran, most Shias are often treated as second-class Muslims and branded as heretics for their esoteric, millenarian approach to Islam (pp. 23, 28, 44, 52, 84, 93-94, 130-34, 159-63, 234-40). Nasr compares the Shiite historical experience with that of the Jews because of a common tale of martyrdom, persecution, and suffering (pp. 57, 65, 87, 112). Interestingly, Iranian Shiism has got increasingly sunnified under the influence of Ayatollah Khomeini and his successors, who did not remain totally indifferent to Sunni fundamentalism (pp. 58, 125-26, 145). Iran became the epicenter of Shia fundamentalism in its clashes with both Sunni fundamentalism and the West (pp. 107-09, 115, 117, 138, 141-42). In ending Saddam Hussein¿s Sunni minority rule over Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. gave a voice to the oppressed Shia majority and inadvertently gave a new life to the Shia-Sunni old mutual hatred (pp. 82, 90, 170, 245). The Shia revival in Iraq has a ripple effect across the Islamic world (pp. 65-66, 179, 184, 231, 241, 247-50). The U.S. started interacting with Shia leaders for the first time since the Iranian revolution (pp. 22, 27). Unsurprisingly, Shia clerics such as Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the renegade Muqtada al-Sadr have emerged as key power brokers in Iraq because of their wide influence on their flock (pp. 70, 85, 91, 171-76). The sectarian conflict in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, cannot be understood without considering the unbalanced distribution of wealth and power between Shias and Sunnis (pp. 28-29, 179). In contrast to their Iranian counterparts, the Shia clergy in Iraq has overwhelmingly adopted a quietist, orthodox approach to the faith under the influence of Ayatollah Sistani. The quietist Shia clergy is more open to the separation of religion and politics based on the principle of majority rule while protecting and promoting Shia piety (pp. 125-30, 145, 172, 176, 180, 190). This Iraqi quietist approach is increasingly influential in Iran (pp. 177, 219-21). Modern Iraq shows striking similarities with the Turkish core of the Ottoman Empire after WWI: 1) Foreign powers such as the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia and Sunni outsiders involved in jihad are at cross-purposes about how to expand their influence in Iraq and about how to eventually partition its territory (pp. 184, 204, 208, 211-26, 231, 241-42, 244-54). Iran has its ¿Prussian moment¿ in looking for regional hegemony (pp. 222-23). Like Germany before, Iran will ultimately pay a heavy price for its quest for supreme power in the region. Focusing attention on the U.S. and Israel to divert attention from the sectarian divide betrays desperation (pp. 226, 241). 2) Ancient mixed communities are bearing the brunt of an increasingly lethal civil war (pp. 25-27, 204, 207, 242). The remaining moderates wit
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I was fascinated with the book on its account of history, theology, & practicality. It gave me a better understanding of the muslim faith and the differences & disparties the shia face. It is definatley recommended for one who has no prior knowledged of Islam.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Maybe after reading this book, some will see there is more to Middle East politics than just hate. I have many Muslim friends, both Shia and Sunni and have visited Southern Lebanon. This book helps put together some pieces I didn't quite link. A must read for anyone who would truly like to understand.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a must read. Nasr brillantly tells the history about Sunnis vs Shias. This a great read for anyone trying to make sense on what is happening in the Middle East.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What an excellent source of information for all who want to know more about the history, present, and future of the Middle East. My only gripe is that it was short, but the author still seemed to wrap everything up without cutting any corners. Get this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Everyone has an opinion about the War in Iraq but most don't have the slighest idea of what the Middle East is like or what they are talking about including myself. After reading this book I feel I have a better understanding of the Middle East, but if the truth be told, I had very little undersanding of the situation previously. This book is unbiased and a real revelation and really opened my eyes. While reading you might want to have a dictionary with you or a computer so you can look up things you are not familiar with. In the past I believe I have made many statements and voiced many opinions about Iraq when really I had no knowledge about what I was espousing. Hopefully now I will keep my mouth shut but at least I am now informed a little.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Please read this book if you wish to understand the Middle East. Nasr, a native Iranian, US Naval Post Graduate School professor, and US Foreign Policy aid and advisor, provides Shia and Sunni history, theology, and politics without filter.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This one of the best books I have recently read on the Middle East. It is unbiased, beautifully written, and thought-provoking. If you want to understand what is going on in the Middle East read this book
Guest More than 1 year ago
Once in a while you read a book that changes how you see things. This is such a book. It is beautifully written, lucid and concise, and presents the Middle East from a whole new perspective. Do you yourself a favor and read it. You'll love it
Guest More than 1 year ago
A few friends recommended this book and I am glad I read it. It is really well-written in layman's language. It is also not like other Iraq books, no cheap shots at Bush. It really explains conflicts in Iraq and Lebanon. I learned a lot and I think anyone who wants to make sense of the problems there shouldread it.
Tango2 More than 1 year ago
Unfortunately, I am unable to review this book because I cannot load it into my Nook. Appears to be a disconnect between Adobe and B&N, but none of the many customers who have faced this problem have provided fixes that will work for me. Nice cover, though