A millennium ago, Baghdad was the capital of one of history’s greatest civilizations. A new Islamic era was under way. Yet despite the profound cultural achievements, many Muslims felt their society had gone astray. Shiˀa Muslims challenged the dominant narrative of Islamic success with stories of loss. Faithful Muslims have long debated whether Sunni caliphs or Shiˀa imams were the true heirs of the Prophet Muhammad. More influential has been the way Muslim communities remembered those disputes through stories that influenced how to think and feel about them, Matthew Pierce argues.
Twelve Infallible Men focuses on the role of narratives of the imams in the development of a distinct Shiˀa identity. During the tenth century, at a critical juncture in Islamic history, a group of scholars began assembling definitive works containing accounts of the twelve imams’ lives. These collective biographies constructed a sacred history, portraying the imams as strong, beautiful, learned, and pious. Miracles surrounded their birth, and they became miracle workers in turn, but were nevertheless betrayed and martyred by enemies.
These biographies inspired and entertained, but more importantly they offered a meaningful narrative of history for Muslims who revered the imams. The accounts invoked shared memories and shaped communal responses and ritual practices of grieving. Mourning the imams’ tragic fates helped nascent Shiˀa communities resist the pressure to forget their story. The biographies of the imams became a focal point of cultural memory, inspiring Shiˀa religious imagination for centuries to come.
[A] compelling study of the imams of Ali’s line.
Pierce’s scholarship is impressive…[He] expertly takes us through these stories [of the imams], examining themes like suffering, memory, gender, political power, and theology…A lovely book that does much to teach us about Islam, its many traditions, and the ways in which memory functions in the lives of its followers.
Forgoing some well-worn topics, Pierce adds a fresh perspective by peering at the Imams’ biographies through the lens of gender. In fact, Pierce is at his best when he engages in questions of gender…Twelve Infallible Men is a well-written analysis of the stories that have been told and retold about the Imams…This book is sure to spark valuable discussion.
Pierce provides a clearly articulated and stimulating reading of an understudied but fascinating and historically significant body of writings.
An exemplary work on a hitherto understudied yet highly significant topic. Pierce succeeds admirably in making these biographies speak to central concerns in the contemporary study of Shiˀism in particular and of Islam in general. He writes with ease and precision, and is especially effective at using collective memory to document the formation of communal boundaries and expressions of piety. This compact and accessible work will go a long way towards offering a robust understanding of a major religious phenomenon.
A successful book that singles out a number of the most influential themes related to the portrayal of the imams and treats them with considerable insight.
- 272 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
Sorry, there was an error adding the item to your shopping bag.
Sorry, your session has expired. Please refresh your browser's tab.