Philosophy, Religion and Science: Sacred Space and the Holy War: The Politics, Culture and History of Shi'ite Islam

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PHILOSOPHY, RELIGION AND SCIENCE

Sacred Space and the Holy War: The Politics, Culture and History of Shi'ite Islam, by Juan Cole. London, UK and New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2002. viii + 211 pages. Notes to p. 247. Bibl. to p. 250. Index to p. 254. $59.50 cloth; $22.50 paper.

Soon after the Prophet Muhammad's death in 632, the nascent Muslim community was split into a multitude of groups, movements and schools of thought. However, in time Islam became characterized in terms of its two main divisions, the Sunnis and Shi'ites, who themselves were subdivided into a number of schools or branches. Amongst the Shi'ites, who have always represented a minority, disagreements revolved mainly around the identity of their imams or spiritual leaders who descended from the Prophet. The book under review, notwithstanding its title, is not about Shi'ite Islam in its entirety, but relates to selected regional aspects of the majoritarian Twelver branch of Shi'ism since around 1500.

It is, in fact, rather difficult to categorize Professor Cole's Sacred Space and Holy War, which does not have much to say about either of the two components of its title, as a coherent monograph with stated aims, since it is comprised of a collection of specialized case studies loosely interconnected by their reference to Twelver Shi'ism. Most of the studies collected here were previously published between 1985 and 1997 under somewhat different titles in periodicals or collective volumes. It is beyond the scope of this review to evaluate individually the ten studies of uneven quality appearing in this volume under three main headings: Early Modern Arab Shi'ites and Iran (pp. 16-122); India and the British Empire (pp. 123-172), and The Twentieth Century (pp. 173-211). In these studies, which range in scope from considering the Shi'ites as an Ottoman minority to what is referred to as the Khomeinist brand of Shi'ite Islam in Iran, the author adopts a transnational approach, examining aspects of Twelver Shi'ite religion and rituals in the Arab world, in Iran, and in South Asia with special reference to the kingdom of Awadh in northern India which provided the focus of an earlier study by Juan Cole.

The author presents a wealth of detailed but sketchy information, often extracted meticulously from biographical dictionaries and genealogies of Shi'ite families, on regional characteristics of Twelver Shi'ism, without tracing their broader implications or discussing any causal relations. …