Sunday, September 2, 2012

After the Prophet, Part 4

Deeply Sympathetic, Gripping Page-Turner. Though At Times Overly Melodramatic Narrative.
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5 stars

Part 4 - The End of Ali, and the Beginning of the Split.  (See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Thus outmaneuvered, as Ali's army began the march back to Kufa, the murmurs of disappointment began to arise. Rather than confront their own gullibility, some turned an accusatory finger at Ali. The leader of the disgruntled was Abdullah ibn Wahb, and they were to be the "first Islmaic fundamentalists". The name Abdullah ibn Wahb "still reverberates in the Islamic world since it calls to mind Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect." Wahb and his followers accused Ali of sinning by entering into an agreement with Muawiya. Yet it was Ali's followers who had forced him into negotiations. Wahb would hear none of it, and argued that he had repented, and so was clear of sin. Ali would have to do the same. Wahb, and some three thousand of his followers, left and,  "Fifty miles north of Kufa they established a new settlement on the Tigris at Nahrawan. It was to be a haven of purity"

These self-proclaimed purists, fundamentalists, "began to terrorize the countryside around Nahrawan, submitting everyone they caught to a kind of mini Inquisition. If the answers failed to satisfy their rigid standards, the punishment was death. Matters came to a head when they chose the farmer son of an early companion of Muhammad’s as their victim." The gory end that the farmer and his wife and their unborn son met is too barbaric to imagine, but it is nonetheless instructional to reproduce it here:
"They made the farmer kneel and watch as they disemboweled his wife, cut out the unborn infant, and ran it through with a sword. Then they cut off the farmer’s head."
Wahb's reply to Ali's demand that they surrender the killers was typical. "All of us are their killers. And all of us say: Your blood, Ali, is now halal - permitted - for us."
Note here that for these fundamentalists, not even the Prophet's son-in-law and adopted son meant anything. Theirs was an implacable fury. You could transport these words into the twentieth century, the twenty-first century, and you will find any number of radicals spouting the same rubbish, with the same zeal and deluded self-belief.

And so Ali led a Muslim army against Muslims at Nahrawan, and less than four hundred of the "Rejectionists" survived.

Meanwhile, things went from bad to worse for Ali. Muawaiya's chief of staff, Amr, represented him at the arbitrations with Ali, who was represented by the ageing and simple Abu Musa. Those arbitrations ended in disaster, with Muawiya proclaiming himself as a second Caliph. Things got even worse when, in response to an imminent invasion of Egypt by Amr, Ali sent one of his "most experienced generals" to help shore up Egypt's defenses. The general was welcomed by the chief customs officer, who offered Ali's general "the customary honeyed drink in welcome." The drink was laced with poison, and the general was dead within hours. Egypt fell soon thereafter. Muhammad Abu Bakr, Aisha's half-brother and Ali's stepson, was hunted down and killed.
"...the Syrian soldiers carried out their revenge for Othman on the man who had led his assassins. Ignoring orders to take Abu Bakr alive, they sewed him into the rotting carcass of a donkey, then set it on fire. Some accounts have it that he was already dead by then; others, that he was still alive and burned to death."
If the brother was a demon, the sister was no less sadistic. "Muawiya’s sister Umm Habiba", sent Aisha a "'condolence gift' of a freshly roasted leg of lamb, dripping with bloody juices. The accompanying message read: 'So was your brother cooked.'"

Ali's end also came soon after - "at dawn on Friday, January 26, in the year 661, midway through the monthlong fast of Ramadan. Ali had walked to the mosque in Kufa for the first prayer of the day" A Rejectionist, hiding, fell upon Ali, and opened a large wound on his head with a sword. While the wound was not fatal, the poison laced on the sword was. What of the assassin? Ali forbade his followers from not only any reprisals but also forbade his followers from mutilating the assassin.
"And do not inflict mutilation on this man, for I heard the Messenger of God say, 'Avoid mutilation, even on a vicious dog.'"
As per Ali's last wishes, Ali's sons set his shrouded corpse on his favourite camel, and "gave it free rein". The camel "knelt some six miles east of Kufa, atop a barren, sandy rise - najaf in Arabic - and there his sons buried the man"

And thus Najaf would come to be the first of the two holy cities in Iraq, where Ali was buried - "revered by all Muslims, but by two very different titles: the first Imam of Shia Islam, and the last of the four rashidun, the Rightly Guided Caliphs of Sunni Islam."

(... to be concluded)
The Accidental Theologist
After the Prophet by Lesley Hazleton « Knopf Doubleday - Doubleday

Kindle Excerpt:

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.