cover image The Caliph and the Imam: The Making of Sunnism and Shiism

The Caliph and the Imam: The Making of Sunnism and Shiism

Toby Matthiesen. Oxford Univ, $34.95 (592p) ISBN 978-0-19068-946-9

Matthiesen (The Other Saudis), a Marie Curie Global Fellow at Stanford University, delivers a monumental review of Suniism and Shiism’s complicated relationship. Tracing nearly 1,400 years, Matthiesen contends that “Islam’s foundational conflict” began as a political disagreement and devolved into a sectarian split defined by social, spiritual, and intellectual differences. Matthiesen takes readers from Karbala, Iraq, to Mount Tomor, Albania, and beyond, illustrating that while standard narratives of the Sunni/Shia split suggest a perennial state of conflict, the relationship has shifted constantly due to social and political forces. Focusing particularly on post-1500 history, Matthiesen examines conflicts between the Safavid and Ottoman empires (in which “Ottoman scholars extended the notion of jihad to justify going to war against fellow Muslims”), the post-WWI contest for hegemony (after colonial interventions, religious divisions were “institutionalized”), the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 to elucidate how Sunnis and Shiites are not “hermetically sealed” opposites, and took centuries to become distinct groups with cohesive identities. Matthiesen manages to balance thoughtful analysis of broad religious shifts with rigorous detail, making for a comprehensive yet readable resource. This is destined to become a standard text in the field. (Mar.)