The Origins of Shia
Identity, Ritual, and Sacred Space in Eighth-Century Kufa
Cambridge University Press 2011
New Books in HistoryNew Books in Islamic StudiesNew Books in Middle Eastern StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in ReligionNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books Network May 23, 2014 Matthew Long
When did groups in Kufa begin forming unique identities leading to the development of Shiism? Najam Haider, professor of Religion at Barnard College of Columbia University, answers this question in his book, The Origins of Shia: Identity, Ritual, and Sacred Space in Eighth-Century Kufa (Cambridge University Press, 2011). This study is a boon for those with research interests in early Shiism, or the history of Islam prior to the ninth century. In the first section of his book, Haider announces his intention to test literary narratives of the origins of Shiism: namely, if Shiism did, in fact, develop during the early 8th century and if it was the product of the merging of two distinct groups.
To answer those questions he proposes to analyze the 8th-century Kufa traditions. Haider examines these traditions on the basis of their legal authorities and the composition of their narrative styles.He applies this method to three cases studies in the second section of his book: (1) the basmala in ritual prayer, (2) the use of qunÅ«t, a blessing or curse, in prayer, and (3) the prohibition of intoxicants. Each case study centers on ritual which Haider argues is a more determinative means of ascribing identity then an individual or group’s theology. Based on the results of these three case studies, Haider proposes a revised history of Shiism in his third section. Haider’s work stands out for the clarity of the questions he seeks to answer and the method he employs in doing so. Every chapter concludes with a concise summary of the major points and the entire work is filled with charts of data to help readers understand how the massive corpus of information he utilized was organized and categorized. Scholars will obviously benefit from its proposed revised history, but its readability makes it useful for undergraduates and laypersons.