- Twelver Shiism: Unity and Diversity in the Life of Islam, 632 to 1722 by Andrew J. Newman
There has been an increased interest in Twelver Shiʿism with the rise of Iran as a regional power and the political enfranchisement of Iraq’s Shiʿa majority following the American-led invasion. This interest has prompted several recent works which have been either historical in nature or focused on one country or area of geopolitical significance. While these works have contributed significantly to the academy by providing updated material, they lack the necessary attention to the religious traditions, theological treatises, and philosophical works that have shaped Twelver Shiʿa Islam over its long history. Andrew Newman’s latest book, Twelver Shiism: Unity and Diversity in the Life of Islam, 632 to 1722 endeavours to fill this vacuum by delivering a comprehensive intellectual history of Twelver Shiʿism’s first 1,100 years.
The Introduction begins by offering a cursory overview of the three main branches of Shiʿa Islam, namely the Twelvers, Ismāʿīlīs, and Zaydīs. One of the most important parts of the Introduction is the survey of what Newman calls ‘Twelver Shii Studies’. In this literature review, Newman identifies many prominent scholars and key sources that have shaped this emerging field of study. Also, by naming the field, Newman adds a sense of legitimacy to a field of study that is often forcibly adjoined to other, more encompassing fields, such as Islamic studies.
The first chapter chronicles the formative period of Twelver Shiʿa Islam from the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 ce to the disappearance of the twelfth Imam in the ninth century. The overview includes short but needed background information on the successors that followed the Prophet, referred to as the ‘rightly-guided’ or rāshidūn caliphs. The chapter identifies the recognized Twelver Imams along with other descendants of ʿAli who claimed the imamate various times. Newman also explains the countless conflicts and revolts that transpired [End Page 521] during the Umayyad and early ʿAbbasid dynasties. This chapter is a perfect tool for those who have little familiarity with the early period of Shiʿa Islam. Moreover, this historical review is a necessary prerequisite for the more intensive theological and philosophical debates that follow in the ensuing chapters. The remaining eight chapters can be grouped together based on focus with Chapters 2 to 4 focusing on the early Twelver Shiʿa scholars of Baghdad, Chapters 5 to 7 describing the post-1055 Seljuk invasion of Baghdad and the scholarship that was cultivated during this time, and the last two chapters exploring the institutionalization of Shiʿism during the Safavid period.
In the second chapter, Newman discusses how the transmitters of hadith in ninth and tenth century Qum and Baghdad were instrumental in developing early Shiʿa doctrine, theology, and practice. The major collections of hadith explored in this chapter include al-Barqī’s al-Maḥāsin (The Beauties) and al-Kulaynī’s al-Kāfī (The Sufficient, on the Knowledge of the Faith). The third chapter examines the body of works that were written during the period of uncertainty in the middle of the tenth century. During this time of confusion, many Shiʿa Muslims began to grow impatient and questioned whether the messianic twelfth Imam would indeed return as promised. This period witnessed the arrival of works such as ʿAli ibn Bābawayh’s Kitāb al-Imāmah wa al-Tabṣirah min al-Ḥayrah (The Book of the Imamate and Enlightenment from the Uncertainty), Nuʿmānī’s Kitāb al-Ghaybah (The Book of the Occultation), and Shaykh al-Ṣadūq’s Kamāl al-Dīn (The Perfection of the Religion) and al-Faqīh. These works not only address an array of questions about the occultation or ghabyah, but also encourage the faithful to remain steadfast in their belief in the return of the twelfth Imam. Continuing along...