The Prophet’s Heir: The Life of Ali ibn Abi Talib By Hassan Abbas (Yale University Press, March 2021)
This book tells the story of Ali ibn Abi Talib (599–661), a fascinating yet mystifying tale of an extraordinary man. Ali’s life is inextricably linked with the history and politics of Islam. It is as relevant to Islam’s rise and growth as it is to the contemporary trials and tribulations faced by its adherents. Ali’s legacy is projected by his antagonists as a divisive factor in Islam, yet a glance at popular Muslim literature brings him into the limelight for his matchless valour as well as spirituality, and he emerges as the most-loved Muslim hero after the Prophet Mohammad.
The book contains maps, chronology of Islamic history, family charts and 16 color images of paintings and pieces of art from Ottoman and Safavid eras linked to Ali’s legacy. Chapter titles reflect the themes and approach adopted by the book:
- Chapter 1: The Early and Struggling Years of Islam
- Chapter 2: The Rise of Ali
- Chapter 3: The Prophet’s Farewell and Delegating Spiritual Guardianship
- Chapter 4: The Succession Politics and Imperial Islam (632–656)
- Chapter 5: Ali as the Fourth Caliph of Islam
- Chapter 6: The Legacy of Ali
- Conclusion: Ali and the Future of Islam
Abbas traveled across Middle East and South Asia to interview religious scholars and writers for writing this modern biography of Ali. This included many trips to Iraq for interviewing leading scholars in Najaf.
His main argument is that “While Ali’s teachings about wisdom, justice and selflessness continue to be cherished by both Shia and Sunni Muslims, his pluralist ideas have been buried under sectarian agendas and power politics.” He further argues, that Ali’s message and legacy remains a powerful one of peace and tolerance.