Islam's fourth caliph, Ali, can be considered one of the most revered figures in Islamic history. His nearly universal portrayal in Muslim literature as a pious authority obscures centuries of contestation and the eventual rehabilitation of his character.
In Opposing the Imam: The Legacy of the Nawasib in Islamic Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2021), Nebil Husayn, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Miami, examines the enduring legacy of the nawasib, early Muslims who disliked Ali and his descendants. The nawasib participated in politics and scholarly discussions on religion at least until the ninth century. However, their virtual disappearance in Muslim societies has led many to ignore their existence and the subtle ways in which their views subsequently affected Islamic historiography and theology. By surveying medieval Muslim literature across multiple genres and traditions including the Sunni, Mu'tazili, and Ibadi, Husayn reconstructs the claims and arguments of the nawasib and illuminates the methods that Sunni scholars employed to gradually rehabilitate the image of Ali from a villainous character to a righteous one. In our conversation we discussed approaching early Muslim sources, the spectrum of anti-ʿAlid positions, Ibn Taymiyya’s take, the rehabilitation of 'Ali, and the legacy of anti-ʿAlid sentiment within Sunni theology.
Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at email@example.com.