Beginning with Husayn - the prophet Muhammad's grandson - facing his death at the hands of the forces of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid I and ending with the rise of the Khomeini in Iran, this chapter of No God but God highlighted the rise of Shi'ism as a sect of Islam. Husayn was abandoned by the people of Kufa and left to be massacred, however, later some of these Kufans were sorry for their abandonment and openly mourned their unfaithfulness and the loss of Husayn's life. Aslan points out that even those who didn't want the tribe of Muhammad to have political power were stunned at how the Umayyads treated the family of the prophet. A rebellion formed that ended with both the holy cities of Mecca and Medina ruined and the sanctuary of the Ka'ba burned to the ground! (Can you imagine Muslims hating each other so much that they would allow this to happen today? It's quite stunning if you think about it!)
Karbala, where Husayn was killed, became the "Garden of Eden" for Shi'ism with "humanity's original sin being not disobedience to God, but unfaithfulness to God's moral principles." The Shi'ah claimed that just as Jesus was said by his early followers to know that he was supposed to die, Husayn also knew he was to be a martyr for the cause and he willingly fulfilled it.
Besides Jesus, another parallel was made to Ismail (though the Bible's account says Isaac) and how Abraham was provided a ram to sacrifice in the place of his son. This, according to the Shi'ites wasn't a mere replacement, but a postponement because Husayn was destined to fulfill this role. Christians believe God did offer a ram in the place of Isaac, but this was a picture of what was to come. Jesus, as John the Baptist stated, was the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world. So the Lamb who took our place was Jesus according to the Christian faith. It's interesting to me that the Shi'ites have made this parallel connection - only with Husayn instead of Jesus!
Indeed I found the whole atonement by blood and sacrifice doctrine familiar in some ways though some of the funereal practices (matam) that the Shi'ites carry out seems a bit much. Especially when Aslan noted they whipped their backs with chains until the streets were stained with their blood! See, I believe Jesus died in our place and there is no more need for blood sacrifice. If we accept the work he did on the cross, there is no reason for us to try to earn God's favor by shedding our own blood. Only the perfect Lamb was able to fulfill this role.
Aslan points out that Sunnis dislike this bid'a (religious innovation) of the Shi'ah mostly because Shi'ites believe paradise is only for those who weep for Husayn. And since the Sunnis aren't weeping, I guess they wouldn't like it to be implied that they are not paradise-bound. Understandable. I do find it curious that Sunnis don't like the hitting rituals of mourning for this is very historical in Middle Eastern religions. In the Bible, people in grief would often tear their clothes and put ashes on their heads. Although this is not how we display grief in my culture, I respect that others mourn in various ways.
The Imam in Shi'ism reminds me of the Pope in the Roman Catholic faith. Basically the common folk are too ignorant to understand God's ways so we have to have some wise man tell us what God really means. The Imam was "endowed with the living spirit of the Prophet and, as such, is thought to possess a spiritual authority that sets him above any earthly ruler."
Aslan notes that an Imam is proof of God on earth and as such, Adam was the first imam! He distinguishes between a prophet - one who transmits the message of God - and an imam - one who translates it for human beings. He gave examples of Abraham receiving God's message and his sons, Isaac and Ishmael - as his Imams - fulfilling it. He also gives the example of Moses having the divine law revealed to him, but then made me take note of what he said next: "but it was Aaron who carried it into the Promised Land." Huh? Aaron died before Moses (see Numbers 20) and not even Moses was allowed to enter the Promised Land. Remember Joshua and Caleb were the only Israelites of that original group to make it to the Promised Land because they were the only two spies who came back from Canaan believing God! The ten others were too frightened by what they saw and didn't believe God. Thus the whole group was made to wander forty years in the wilderness. It's not really an important fact to this chapter, but a conflict with the Biblical account that took my attention.
Imams -- like the Prophet -- are "infallible and sinless" according to Aslan, and made not from dust, but eternal light. Imams also know the hidden messages of the Quran. Ja'far - the sixth imam - was the most influential and after the son he chose to succeed him died prior to his opportunity to lead, some people splintered from mainstream Shi'ism. Since Ja'far was "infallible" how could he choose a son who would die prior to his taking the leadership role? To make sense of this fact, this group declared that Ismail didn't die, but was 'hidden' somehow and would come back to rule later. This group was called the Ismailis or "Seveners" because they believed in only seven Imams. (Mainstream Shi'ites believe in twelve, thus they are "Twelvers.")
The role of the Mahdi or "one who guides divinely" became more accepted around this time. Although he is not mentioned in the Quran, several hadiths abound though the details vary according to what area the tradition arose. Shi'ites were in a state of taqiyyah "cautionary dissimulation" and considering all governments illegitimate pending the Mahdi's return when in 1501, "a sixteen-year-old amir named Ismail conquered Iran and installed himself as the first Shah, or King, of the Safavid Empire." Twelver Shi'ism was declared the state religion. This is from what modern Iran evolved. The final shah was removed in the 1979 revolution which ushered in the religious ruler taking control of the country. Religion mixed with politics in a rather questionable way, but Iran became an Islamic state under the rule of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. His "radical religious innovation" - the Valayat-e Faqih (or "the guardianship of the jurist") established the role of the Khomeini as forming a state and governing it for the Mahdi until he returns. Thus, as the Mahdi's top guy on earth, he required absolute obedience from the people. What power!
I get the impression the author of this book, Reza Alsan, wasn't fond of this political and religious mixture.
Some Shi'ites believe the Mahdi will return with Jesus to defeat the antiChrist.
Shi'ites often add "and Ali is God's Executor (wali)" to the Muslim profession of faith.
Hopefully I wrote all that accurately! Thoughts?