Shi'ism: A Religion of Protest by Hamid Dabashi. London: Harvard University Press, 2011. 392pp., £22.95, ISBN 9780674049451
Article first published online: 10 JAN 2013
© 2013 The Authors. Political Studies Review © 2013 Political Studies Association
Political Studies Review
Volume 11, Issue 1, page 144, January 2013
How to Cite
Gasparetto, A. (2013), Shi'ism: A Religion of Protest by Hamid Dabashi. London: Harvard University Press, 2011. 392pp., £22.95, ISBN 9780674049451. Political Studies Review, 11: 144. doi: 10.1111/1478-9302.12000_112
- Issue published online: 10 JAN 2013
- Article first published online: 10 JAN 2013
Shi'ism: A Religion of Protest represents Hamid Dabashi's attempt to reach the real nature of the second largest denomination of Islam after Sunnism. Through a historical approach, he contends that Shi'ism is a successful religion as long as it shares no power – ‘when it is politically defiant’ – but it loses any moral as well as authoritative claim when it seizes power – ‘when it politically succeeds’ – as the experience of the Islamic Republic of Iran has shown for the last three decades or more.
The author goes back to the historical genesis of Shi'ism during the seventh century bc to state that its revolutionary character and loathing of injustice is naturally carved from the crucial event of the battle of Karbala (in the year 680) in which Imam Hossein was slaughtered by the Sunni ruler Yazid; an event soon manufactured as a trauma or a complex that would have an influence on Shi'ism ever afterwards.
In this book, which is aimed at both specialist and non-specialist readers looking for a general but accurate history of Shi'ism, Dabashi analyses the main doctrinal foundations of Shi'ism starting from its birth, just after the Prophet's death, and passing through the centuries up to the present time.
Dabashi succeeds well in showing how the defiant nature of Shi'ism is deeply rooted in its history. Nonetheless, this argument is not new, as Shi'ism has always been a minority religion often conceived in its closed sectarian mould. Indeed, what is ground-breaking is the idea that in the present day and from its sites of contemporary contestation – Iran, Iraq and Lebanon – Shi'sm is claiming political attention on a global level, facing the possibility of restoring a syncretic cosmopolitanism typical of the Safavid empire. In doing so, Shi'ism defies a singularly American neo-colonial effort to divide the Muslim community along its sectarian lines at the onset of the new millennium.
Dabashi's thesis is reliable and convincing precisely because it is constantly tested against the benchmark of history. Written by a prominent cultural critic and professor of comparative literature, this book is very readable and rather exciting, thanks to plenty of biographical notes on important figures who left a mark on the historical evolution of Shi'ism and notes on the specific practices and customs of a part of the world that eventually deserves to be taken into account.