Luis Alberto Vittor’s Shī‘ite Islām: Orthodoxy or Heterodoxy provides a privileged and sublime view into the core and essence of Shī‘ism as well as the early history and development of Islām. Written for a Western audience, it restores Shī‘ism to its rightful place as a fully-fledged aspect of Islām, rather than as a rebellious offshoot which does not adhere to core Islamic beliefs and standards. In this task, the author’s analysis of Islām and the meaning of sect and schism went the full distance in establishing Shī‘ism’s complete legitimacy.
Further, the author takes the reader back to the birth of Islām and the profound influence of the Prophet Muḥammad to demonstrate the partnership he intended to create between the secular and spiritual lives of Muslims via the wilāyah or guardianship of the correctly appointed Imām. While not a Muslim myself, I could sense the generations’ long frustration of those who believed that the very trajectory of Islām was altered by the ego/tradition driven actions of a few powerful men.
Analogy is perhaps the most eloquent means of describing what Shī‘ah Muslims believe happened with the appointment of Abū Bakr, instead of ‘Alī, to the Caliphate. If a rocket is intended to land on a certain lunar crater 238,856 miles from Earth, the calculations must be precise to a ten-thousandth of a fraction. Any slight variation will mean that not only will the spacecraft not land on the right spot, but it may miss the moon entirely. I believe that the Prophet Muḥammad’s designation of ‘Alī as his successor was based on just such infinitesimal calculations; a complete knowledge of the Qur’ān and its divine message as well as a realization of human frailty.
The appointment of ‘Alī was meant to inhibit the incursion of human ego into the burgeoning acceptance of the Qur’ānic message. When that did not occur, the human manifestation of Islām altered. The message and means remained pristine and perfect, but human interpretation was clouded by personal interests and a reluctance to release power. This volume offers a clear and rational look at events, ideas, and the essence of Muḥammad’s intentions. For believers and non-believers, it is an authoritative source of arguments rarely heard. As such, it is a gift to a more complete understanding of this world-class religion and the place of Shī‘ism within it.
Barbara Castleton, M.A.