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Opposing the Imam
The Legacy of the Nawasib in Islamic Literature


Part of Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization

  • Date Published: November 2022
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108965767

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About the Authors
  • 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 this book, Nebil Husayn 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.

    • Offers a detailed study of the claims and arguments of Muslims opposed to the rule of the fourth caliph, Ali
    • Examines the previously obscured yet long processes of contestation that facilitated the rehabilitation of Ali's reputation in Sunni Islam
    • Surveys a wide range of literary traditions across multiple genres to enrich our understanding of medieval Muslim scholarly debates on theology and history
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'A valuable contribution to a sensitive topic concerning the development of sectarian identity in Islam. Husayn compellingly examines assumptions about the place of ʿAlī in Islamic thought and carefully analyzes the complex process through which his image was formed, based on representative voices from the Sunnī, Ibāḍī and Muʿtazilī traditions.' Hussein Abdulsater, University of Notre Dame

    'A welcome addition to the field. Inasmuch as opinions about ʿAlī 's role are already diverse, Husayn not only shows that there was a much wider range of opinions about him in the past, but explores - across the variety of genres that comprise the Islamic literary traditions - how those opinions came to be, and also how they came to disappear.' Aaron Hagler, Troy University

    'An innovative elucidation of a persistent epistemological and theological Sunnī conundrum: the simultaneous appropriation and suppression of pro-'Alid sentiment. By enriching our understanding of this ambivalence, and in charting how it changed over time, Husayn's work compels us to reconceptualize the nature and development of sectarianism itself.' Nancy Khalek, Brown University

    'Analyzing Umayyad and Khārijī hostility toward ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib in the early centuries of Islam, Nebil Husayn uncovers a very real, yet suppressed strand in Muslim collective memory. This carefully researched and persuasively argued book is a vital contribution to the study of Islamic history and Sunnī doctrine.' Tahera Qutbuddin, University of Chicago

    'A major contribution to the historiography of Islamic identity construction. More than just a simple trajectory of anti-Shiʿi sectarianism, it demonstrates the unease that developing Sunni normativity had with praise of ʿAlī and the desire to oppose Shiʿi claims of his saintly authority. Through this creative study of historical texts as rhetorical glimpses of memory, myth and self-fashioning, we can interrogate convenient histories of the erasure and oblivion of negativity in the formation of identity.' Sajjad Rizvi, University of Exeter

    'Nebil Husayn's meticulously researched and lucid book provides a rich and detailed description of the multiple ways in which a figure as central as ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib was variously imagined and re-imagined in early and classical Muslim thought. It is a model of Islamic intellectual and religious history and ought to benefit specialists as well as non-specialists interested in parallel cases, such as that of Paul of Tarsus.' Hadi Qazwini, Shii Studies Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2022
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108965767
    • length: 249 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 13 mm
    • weight: 0.367kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. 'Ali: A Contested Legacy
    2. The Umayyads and the 'Uthmanis
    3. The Mu'tazili: al-Jahiz
    4. The Ibadi: al-Warjalani
    5. The Sunni: Ibn Taymiyya
    6. The Rehabilitation of 'Ali in Sunni Hadith and Historiography
    Chapter 1 Appendix: Anti-'Alid Statements in Historical Literature
    Chapter 2 Appendix: Reports about the Umayyads and the 'Uthmanis
    Chapter 5 Appendix: Ibn Taymiyya's Minhaj al-sunna.

  • Author

    Nebil Husayn, University of Miami
    Nebil Husayn is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Miami where his research considers the development of Islamic theology, historiography and debates on the caliphate. Husayn obtained his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University.

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