Shiism, as Hamid Dabashi explains in his challenging and brilliant new book, is a perfect foil for power but unimpressive as a modern state ideology. Its origins lie in the disputed succession to Muhammad, who died in 632 in his early sixties without unambiguously naming a successor. His closest kinsman was Ali, his younger first cousin and husband of his daughter Fatima. The Shiite minority came to believe that Ali had been designated to succeed Muhammad and that he was passed over three times for the caliphate, or leadership of Islam, before being murdered by a disillusioned supporter after a brief and contested tenure.
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